Episode 535: Florence Burns and the Murder of Walter Brooks

Morbid

Feb 5 2024 • 1 hr 25 mins

When twenty-year-old Walter Brooks was found dead from a bullet to the head on Valentine’s Day 1902, suspicion immediately fell on Brooks’ nineteen-year-old sometimes-girlfriend, Florence Burns. The two were known to have a tumultuous relationship and had fought violently on the morning of his death, and there was considerable evidence indicating that Burns had been in the hotel room at the time of Brooks’ murder. However, despite all the evidence indicating guilt, Florence Burns was never brought to trial for Brooks’ murder or even formally charged with a crime, and Walter Brooks murder officially remains an unsolved case in New York.


While the story of Walter Brooks and Florence Burns is relatively uncomplicated in terms of the crime around which the story is built, the story is a remarkable illustration of the ways in which things like class, gender, and technological advances can influence and even shape how the law is applied in the United States. Indeed, at the time of the murder, the nation was undergoing incredibly social and cultural changes as a result of dramatically expanded transportation and communication technology, giving rise to a youth culture the likes of which had never been seen in the nation prior. That youth culture and the rebelliousness it produced in many young wealthy Americans played a direct role, not only in Walter’s life and death, but also in the socio-cultural perspectives and Victorian beliefs that allowed Florence to get away with murder.


Thank you to the wondrous Dave White of Bring me the Axe Podcast & 99 Cent Rental for Research!


References

Evening World. 1902. "Denised she shot broker in hotel." Evening World, February 15: 1.

Ferranti, Seth. 2019. The Affluenza Murder Case That Shocked America 100 Years Ago. March 15. Accessed December 11, 2023. https://www.vice.com/en/article/d3meyv/the-affluenza-murder-case-that-shocked-america-100-years-ago.

McConnell, Virginia A. 2019. The Belle of Bedford Avenue: The Sensational Brooks-Burns Murder in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press.

New York Times. 1902. "Brooks murder case ends." New York Times, May 21: 5.

—. 1903. "Florence Burns on the stage." New York Times, February 15: 10.

—. 1902. "Jerome on Burns case." New York Times, March 25: 7.

—. 1902. "Man shot, girl arrested ." New York Times, February 16: 3.

New York Tribune. 1910. "Florence Burns again in hands of police." New York Tribune, September 21: 1.

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