Murder Mystery NYC Diaries - Case #4: The Unfortunate Murder of Benjamin Nathan

In order for our immersive theater and murder mystery experiences to be successful, all the necessary elements must fall into place. From the setting and mood, to the right immersive theater performers and audiences. Many times, creative teams must pull from their imagination to think of various clues, backstories, and character relationships that can be used in each production. However, every so often, there are stories, even historical ones, that unfold with all the elements to make a potentially great performance.

This week, Live in Theater returns to our Murder Mystery NYC Diaries blog series with the one such story, “The Unfortunate Murder of Benjamin Nathan.” Benjamin’s murder has become one of the most celebrated murder mysteries to ever occur in NYC.

Records say the night of July 28th, 1870 was one for the history books, with thunder and lighting combining to illuminate and shake the sky like never before. Benjamin Nathan, a wealthy stockbroker had been found murdered, in a pool of blood.

On the night of the murder, Benjamin had intended to spend the night with his sons on 23rd street and would travel back to his home in Morristown, New Jersey the next day. Little did Benjamin know that he would never make it home.

Screams of “MURDER!” had woken the neighborhood and alerted the nearby patrolman walking his beat. Rushing to the scene, the policeman found Nathan’s two sons on the stoop of their mansion, one of whom was covered in blood. Upstairs lay the mangled body of Benjamin Nathan, close to the door of the mansion’s library.

The police investigation found the door to a safe wide open with the key conveniently missing. A drawer from the safe was laying on a bed, and a tin containing papers near a blood-smeared writing desk. On the desk, a partially written check and stub for $10,000. The investigation concluded that Benjamin had been struck while writing the check. Lastly, the investigation found the murder weapon, an object known as a carpenter’s “dog” and a trail of bloody footprints leading from the murder scene, down the steps and out to the street.

Speculation for this case grew rapidly and wildly. Many claimed that Nathan’s oldest son Washington was the murderer, as he had the most to gain from his father’s death. Others believed that a burglar had been waiting in the shadows, having to kill Benjamin to prevent him from alerting his sons. Twenty-third street became a hotspot, with visitors and stage-drivers stopping to oggle the mansion and second-floor window.

An illustration depicting the crime scene

The murder remains unsolved, even after a confession of guilt by the notorious burglar John T. Irving. Irving promised to provide corroborating evidence for the murder, as long as the District Attorney would not prosecute him for two burglaries. However, the deal did not go as planned, with Irving unable to successfully come forth with the necessary evidence. He was subsequently arrested for the two burglaries and sent to jail.

Stay tuned for the next entry in our exciting Murder Mystery NYC Diaries series!

For the introduction to this series, click here.

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