The attorney Virginia A. McConnell provides a riveting view of Connecticut in the late 1800s as revealed through the unrelated but disturbingly similar murders of two young women. The first, Mary Stannard, was an unmarried mother who worked as a domestic and believed herself to be pregnant for a second time. The man accused of her murder, Reverend Herbert Hayden, was a married lay minister whose seduction of Mary was common knowledge.
Three years later, Jennie Cramer, another woman of low social status, was found floating facedown in Long Island Sound off West Haven. The characters involved in the commission, investigation, and prosecution of these crimes emerge as vibrant individuals, and their stories shed light on many aspects of the Victorian world: sex and marriage; drugs, from arsenic to aphrodisiacs; forensic medicine; and courtroom procedures.