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Charles CHAPIN






A.K.A.: "The Rose Man of Sing Sing"

Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - New York newspaper editor
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 16, 1918
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: October 19, 1858
Victim profile: Nellie Chapin (his wife)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to a 20-year-to-life term in 1919. Died in Sing Sing prison on December 13, 1930

Charles Chapin (October 19, 1858 – December 13, 1930) was a New York newspaper editor. He was convicted of the murder of his wife and sentenced to a 20-year-to-life term in Sing Sing prison.

Chapin was born in upstate Watertown, New York and began his career on a Kansas newspaper, aged 14, moving later to Chicago to work for the Tribune, where he gained renown as a crime reporter. There he excelled sufficiently to be hired, in 1898, by the World, a New York daily, run by the Pulitzer family, which enjoyed one of the largest circulations in the country.

Chapin became editor of the evening edition of the World and was renowned as a hard taskmaster. He is said to have fired a total of 108 journalists during his tenure - one of them for daring to use the new-fangled word "questionnaire". Among his victims was his own publisher's son.

Opinions of Chapin differed. To many newspapermen he was "the greatest city editor who ever lived". Those who worked for him, however, often hated him; when Irvin S. Cobb, a World reporter, heard that his editor was sick, he is said to have looked up from his work and remarked, "I hope it’s nothing trivial." According to Andy Logan, a noted correspondent to The New Yorker, Chapin was "terrible tempered" and in the opinion of many of his staff had "a legendary imperviousness to human suffering, especially theirs."

One of Chapin's most celebrated coups was the publication of a photograph captured by an Evening World photographer showing the moment when New York mayor William Jay Gaynor was shot by a would-be assassin. William Warnecke, the photographer, who had been lining up a portrait of the mayor, snapped the shutter just as Gaynor crumpled to the ground; Chapin's response, when the developed photo arrived on his desk, was: "Blood all over him! And exclusive, too!"

Chapin's career in New York newspapers came to an end in September 1918 when, dogged by illness and debt, and concerned for his increasingly fragile wife of 38 years, he shot and killed his spouse while she was sleeping. News of the shooting shocked many of the newsman's colleagues. "They had known he would be involved in a murder some day," Logan writes, "but had always assumed he would be the victim."

Although he had apparently intended to commit suicide himself following the murder, the famous editor was instead arrested, convicted of the shooting, and sent to Sing Sing prison for a term of 20 years to life. There he wrote a memoir and became renowned for the rose garden he cultivated in the grounds, acquiring the nickname of "The Rose Man."

Chapin edited the prison newspaper at Sing Sing for a short time. He died there on December 13, 1930.


  • Logan, Andy (1970). Against the Evidence: The Becker-Rosenthal Affair. New York: McCall Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8415-0025-8.

  • Morris, James McGrath (2003). The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism. New York: Fordham University Press. ISBN 0-8232-2267-5


Justice Story: City editor Charles Chapin made his own news by killing wife after falling into financial ruin

'World' newsroom boss unraveled after missing out on $70 million inheritance

By David J. Krajicek / New York Daily News

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Charles Chapin loved a good crime story.

He began running to sirens as a teenage cub reporter for the Daily Champion in Atchison, Kan. And he rode ambition to big-league newspaper jobs in Chicago, St. Louis and, finally, at the New York Evening World.

Chapin spent two decades, from 1898 to 1918, as city editor of the World, helping to create the tint and tone of bawdy Yellow Journalism.

He also served as the human template for his editing position.

There are more exalted jobs in the news racket — editors with clean hands and pressed shirts who take cover in corner offices. But the city editor holds a special place, seated amid the inky smudge and shrill bawls at the center of a newsroom, trying to wrangle the cacophony into tune once a day, at deadline.

Chapin explained, “Gathering the news of a great city is a carefully thought-out and systematized piece of human machinery that operates under the personal supervision of the city editor.”

He supervised with a cudgel.

He wasn’t a big man, but Chapin could intimidate the burliest of news brutes by setting his jaw and using his eyes to burn holes in the object of his ire.

Chapin bragged that he fired 108 newsmen in his career — one for using the new-fangled word “questionnaire” in a story and another for failing to show a telltale limp after he missed work due to a supposed foot injury.

He was both reviled and worshiped. One reporter called him a “gnarled genius.” Another said he was “the most heartless and hardest-boiled city editor who ever lived.”

Exclusives were the only means of staying on Chapin’s slim sunny side. He loved scoops.

When a World photographer captured the attempted murder of New York Mayor William Gaynor, Chapin crowed, “Blood all over him! And exclusive, too!”

Chapin often read over the shoulders of his legendary rewritemen, deadline Shakespeares known as the “Big Four” — Lindsay Denison, Irvin Cobb, Martin Green and Barton Currie.

They had their moments with the volcanic boss, too.

When the acerbic Cobb heard that Chapin was ailing one day, he quipped, “I hope it’s nothing trivial.”

Chapin spent long days at the World Building on Park Row, but he was among the city’s most well-compensated newsmen, earning $150 a week at a time most didn’t make that in a month.

He showed off his success with a yacht and a touring automobile.

“He dearly loved money, not for the sake of hoarding it, but for what it could bring him in luxury and display,” said rewriteman Cobb.

Chapin and his wife, Nellie, lived in a suite at the Plaza Hotel, well beyond his means. He lived like a millionaire because he expected to inherit a fortune from his great-uncle, Russell Sage, a filthy-rich financier.

But when Sage died in 1906, he left just $50,000 of his $70 million estate to Chapin, who had been borrowing for years against his expected inheritance.

The will brought financial ruin to Chapin, but he was too proud to admit that he was broke, especially to his wife.

The childless Chapins had enjoyed a long marriage. They wed at age 21, months after they met in Chicago. Nellie quit an acting career to follow her husband from one newspaper gig to the next.

“She was the sweetest, the truest, the most lovable woman I have ever known — full of fun and joy of living,” Chapin said of his wife. “All who knew her loved her.”

Pinching pennies, Chapin sold his yacht, stiffed the Plaza for $2,000 and moved Nellie to the déclassé Cumberland Hotel, at 54th and Broadway. He lost the last of his equity when the commodities market tanked during World War I.

By 1918, he was flat broke.

“Worse than that, I was ruined and dishonored,” Chapin wrote. “Suicide, the last resort of a moral coward, I decided, was preferable to never-ending disgrace, so I went about preparing for it.”

He borrowed a revolver from a former police commissioner and shot his wife as she slept at the Cumberland on Sept. 16, 1918. He left two self-serving suicide notes.

“I have tried to think out what is best to do,” he wrote, “and cannot bear the thought of leaving my wife to face the world alone, so I have resolved to take her with me.”

He rode the subway to Brooklyn, planning to shoot himself there. But he got cold feet and surrendered to cops.

Chapin claimed insanity, and a number of reporters heartily agreed that their merciless city editor may have been crazy all along.

But he was cleared for trial by a lunacy commission and was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder, which spared his life. An editor to the end, he chided reporters for errors in their stories about him.

Chapin died of pneumonia at Sing Sing in 1930, after reclaiming his life story with a self-admiring autobiography.

Warden Lewis Lawes allowed Chapin to create a flower garden in a desolate prison yard. Someone said it inspired the inmates’ troubled souls.

But dirt-digging was a mere hobby for Chapin. His religion was news.

“I began life and I ended life,” he wrote, “as a newspaper man.”


Charles Chapin at the race track with his wife Nellie.



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