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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Revenge
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 23, 1911
Date of birth: 1869
Victim profile: David Graham Phillips, 43 (American journalist and novelist)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day

On January 23, 1911, novelist David Graham Phillips corrects proofs for his forthcoming novel, "Susan Lenox:  Her Fall and Rise".  He then takes a long walk—stopping at the Princeton Club, located at the corner of Gramercy Park and Lexington Avenue.  At 1:30, he is shot six times by Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, a man who believed that Phillips had slandered his sister in an earlier novel.  Goldsborough then kills himself.  Phillips dies the next day. 


A reader's revenge

In the Salman Rushdie affair, a "death sentence" has been imposed to punish an author for a book that gave offense that he did not intend or foresee. This is a remarkable chapter in the history of revenge, but not without precedent.

When the twentieth century was little more than a decade old, the American novelist David Graham Phillips was assassinated by one of his readers; the killer was a madman who imagined that his sister had been defamed by the writer's fictional portrait of a frivolous daughter of Washington's high society.

Phillips, forty-three years old, was a man of regular habits: so regular that they could be easily monitored by a secret enemy. It was the novelist's unbroken custom to work at his desk until the early morning hours, producing manuscripts at the rate of six thousand words a day; he had once boasted, "If I were to die tomorrow, I would be six years ahead of the game." Phillips, in fact, praised work and sleep as life's greatest joys, since only they, he said, brought full unconsciousness. This is, of course, a benefit that is also bestowed by death.

On Monday, January 23, 1911, the ruggedly handsome Graham Phillips rose as late as usual and dressed his tall figure in the dandified style which he had affected. In the afternoon, he put on his black, rather crumpled, alpine hat and left his apartment (shared with his adored sister, Mrs. Carolyn Frevert, after her separation from her husband) in the National Arts Club on the south side of Gramercy Park, a fashionable gated square in Manhattan.

Skirting Gramercy Park, Phillips headed for the Princeton Club, on the northern side of the square, to collect his mail; the club was the former residence of the famed architect Stanford White. As he walked eastward on Twenty-First Street towards the club, the novelist may have given little more than fleeting attention to a man leaning against the iron railing of a house a few doors before the club entrance.

Suddenly the man blocked his path, and in rapid succession fired six shots from a .32 caliber automatic pistol. As Phillips staggered back towards the railing, a florist, John Jacoby, was near enough to prevent him from falling.

Two club members, Newton James and Frank Davis, who had witnessed the scene in disbelief, heard the assailant cry something like: "There you are! I guess that does for you." The man then pointed the gun to his own head, adding, "I'll finish the job now." Walking to the curb, he fired again and fell dead.

James and Davis helped Jacoby carry Phillips into the clubhouse and laid him on a settee in the foyer not far from where Stanford White's coffin had stood five years earlier. Summoned by telephone, his private physician, Eugene Fuller, soon arrived at the club to superintend his removal by ambulance to Bellevue Hospital.

There the surgeons confirmed that the first bullet fired had caused the most dangerous wound; it had entered the upper part of Phillips's chest between the first and second rib, passed through the right lung and come out at the back under the left shoulder blade. Another bullet had passed through the right side of the abdominal wall without penetrating the intestines. The remaining shots had wounded Phillips in the left forearm, both thighs, and the right hip. The doctors removed from the muscles of his hip the only bullet that remained lodged in his body, and issued an optimistic bulletin, identifying as their main concern the risk of septic pneumonia in the injured lung.

The stricken novelist was visited in the hospital by Mrs. Frevert and his brother, Harrison C. Phillips, a Denver newspaper man, who by chance had come to New York unannounced almost at the very hour of the shooting.

When questioned by James at the club, Graham Phillips had said he did not know his attacker, but at Bellevue he told his sister that during the past few months he had been receiving anonymous threatening letters and telephone calls. Shortly before the shooting, he had received a message signed in his own name; it menaced, "This is your last day." A detective from police headquarters told reporters that Phillips had complained about the threats; in the policeman's view, "that crank has got him."

On Tuesday evening, January 24, Phillips's condition took a turn for the worse. He was unable to retain any food, even a little beef broth served at about nine. Soon afterwards, internal hemorrhages began from both his stomach and the punctured lung. As he steadily became weaker with the loss of blood, Phillips himself saw that the efforts of the doctors were futile. Shortly before he lapsed into unconsciousness, the surgeons bending over him heard him murmur: "I could have won against two bullets, but not against six."

The news of Phillips's death, coming so soon after the first hopeful reports, shocked the journalistic and literary world and the public at large. Phillips was born in Madison, Indiana, and was educated at DePauw University in his home state and at Princeton. After his graduation from Princeton, he began his career as a journalist at Cincinnati and in 1890 moved to New York, where he joined the staff of the Sun.

In 1893, the tyrannical Joseph Pulitzer hired him as London correspondent for the New York World, and four years later he became an editorial writer for the newspaper. An uncompromising enemy of economic and political privilege, Phillips climaxed his journalistic career in 1906 by attacking the servility of the United States Senate to big business in his series, "The Treason of the Senate," in William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan (long before the days of Helen Gurley Brown). These articles inspired President Theodore Roosevelt to brand Phillips and other reform-minded journalists, including Lincoln Steffens, as "muckrakers."

Beginning in 1901, Phillips also began to turn his acid-dipped pen to fiction. The development of characters was not his strong point or major interest as a novelist, for in his stories he trained his guns against the same targets he had incessantly attacked in his columns: the "extravagance of the wealthy classes, the abuse of political power, and the oppression of the poor." As time went on, he took a special interest in exposing the superficiality of America's leisured classes and particularly of their women.

One of his later caricatures was Margaret Severence, the female protagonist of The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig (1909), described by Phillips as one of the "fashionable noddle-heads" in Washington society. "Like the others of her class," Phillips wrote, "she left the care of her mind to chance. . . . Her person was her real care. To her luxurious, sensuous nature every kind of pleasurable physical sensation made keen appeal, and she strove in every way to make it keener." To Margaret Severence, "health meant beauty," and to make sure she had not neglected any muscle, she even engaged in daily yawning exercises.

Phillips was frequently criticized for basing his characters on people he had met, but readers generally did not identify Margaret Severence with a real person. One reader, however, thought otherwise. That was Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, Phillips's assassin.

The murderer's identity and address were discovered from an envelope in his pocket. A detective and reporters immediately proceeded to his lodgings, a top-floor rear-hall room rented for $3 a week at the Rand School of Social Science on East Nineteenth Street. The Rand School propagated an idiosyncratic brew of Christian socialism, a circumstance that led the New York Times to editorialize prematurely about the irony of a muckraking novelist being struck down by a socialist.

The facts as they emerged from the police inquiries were infinitely stranger. Goldsborough, known by fellow lodgers to be an impecunious and unsociable music teacher, had never been to the Rand School lectures; had shown not the slightest interest in socialism. He had taken a room at the school for quite a different reason: its location afforded him an excellent vantage point for spying on the movements of Graham Phillips.

The police learned that Goldsborough was a member of a prominent family of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which included a famous Civil War admiral. Fitzhugh, thirty-one years old, had been born in Washington, where his father Edmund was a well-known physician. He had early shown a musical talent, and was active in musical circles at Harvard, which he attended for three years. After studying and performing as a violinist in Vienna and Berlin, young Goldsborough joined the Pittsburgh Orchestra as a first violinist.

However, about 1910 he left Pittsburgh in mid-season, leaving behind the message: "The Pittsburgh smoke has driven me crazy. You will never see me again." Although Goldsborough had established his musical credentials, his real passions lay elsewhere. He prided himself on his poetic gifts, and according to William T. Mossman, manager of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, "insisted on inflicting his home-made poetry and epigrams on all who would listen." Goldsborough would rush into the manager's office "waving a new bit of poetry of his own making and insist on reading it to the whole office, and then would want to know what we all thought of it."

Goldsborough's captive audience judged his looks to be "those of a man we didn't care to tell the truth to about his compositions, and we would always praise his works." The caution displayed by Mossman and his colleagues seems to have been well-advised. Otto Kegel, trumpeter in the orchestra, was also compelled by Goldsborough to listen to some of the poet's verses. When the trumpeter candidly remarked that it was the worst poetry he had ever heard, Goldsborough broke a $400 violin over his head, fled screaming from his house and was not seen for three days and nights.

Apart from his devotion to poetry, Goldsborough nourished a second passion of comparable intensity: like Phillips, he was strongly attached to a sister. The violinist's frustrated literary aspirations and wounded family feelings were powerful emotional forces that, working in combination, were to prove fatal to Phillips.

Phillips's family was convinced that the murderer was the author of the anonymous messages he had been receiving. Harrison Phillips concluded that it was the novel The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig that had "inflamed" Goldsborough's mind; the murderer thought that he saw himself in the portrayal of Craig, an ambitious politician, and that his adored sister had been lampooned as Margaret Severence. Mayor William J. Gaynor's office was able to provide some support for this theory, and also revealed Goldsborough's belief that "he was being shadowed by detectives or some persons seeking to do him an injury."

In the early summer of 1910, the distraught violinist had paid a visit to the mayor's office to render a complaint, but had been shunted aside to Gaynor's secretary Robert Adamson. After stating that he was being followed by two private detectives without cause, Goldsborough asked the patient functionary: "Do you know David Graham Phillips"? When Adamson replied that he did, his odd visitor continued: "Well, he has written up me and my family in one of his books, The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig."

Adamson got the impression that the reference to Phillips and his book reflected appreciation rather than resentment. However, the depth of the murderer's antipathy to Phillips was revealed by examination of a notebook and diary, which had dropped from his pocket as he fell in Gramercy Park, and from numerous writings discovered in his room.

Goldsborough appeared to be strongly affected by George Sylvester Viereck's 1907 novel, The House of the Vampire, a dramatic version of which had recently run at a New York theater. The principal character in Viereck's fantasy was "an intellectual vampire who absorbed the genius of all those with whom he came in contact." Goldsborough formed the obsession that Phillips was a literary vampire who had sucked his ideas from Goldsborough's brain and had stolen his characters from the violinist's family. His diary entries contained many references to vampires, including the following note:

To create characters with real blood in their veins, beyond the powers of many writers. Much easier to take them from real life -- to utilize their actual flesh and blood by the easy, distinguished, legalized, and lucrative method of literary vampirism.

As a safeguard against being guilty of vampirism, the diarist proposed "brotherly love."

The search of Goldsborough's papers confirmed his preoccupations with his own name and with the career of the enemy he believed to be feeding on his life's blood. The solitary lodger "had the habit of writing his name on little slips of paper torn from book margins, flyleaves, or anywhere else that best suited his convenience."

Sometimes he wrote his name five times to form a star, but if he had enough space on the paper he made a big wheel, with his name, many times repeated, as the spokes. To reporters these autographs were evidence of the "exaggerated ego" to which Goldsborough referred in his diary.

The name of Graham Phillips also loomed large in the papers the suicide left behind in his room. The police found a clipping of a newspaper interview with Phillips, published on the very day Goldsborough had moved into the Rand School building, November 2, 1910; the portion dealing with the novelist's reported views on standards of morality was heavily underscored.

It was the diary, however, that disclosed the full extent of the murderer's preoccupation with his enemy. In the first entries, Goldsborough wrote of a woman he saw through a window in the second story of the National Arts Club building (in which Phillips resided on another floor). At first the violinist thought she was flirting with him, since she "smiled over at [him] in a pointed manner, and on first catching sight of [him] lifted her hand and waved it." But he revised his opinion when a man appeared behind her, half in sight near the window. Goldsborough thought this was Phillips, but was by no means sure. Ultimately he concluded that the woman was not attempting a flirtation but must be a friend of Phillips, plotting with the novelist to spread the story that Goldsborough was making advances.

Later Goldsborough found stronger evidence of the conspiracy when he was himself "shadowed by a man who, by fixed staring at [him] in an impertinent manner on the street and rattling the spoon in his coffee cup when he came in a ten-cent restaurant, evidently wished to arouse [him] into belligerency."

On one occasion the man on his trail seemed to bear a "good family likeness" to Mr. Adamson, Mayor Gaynor's secretary — but "his clothing was worn and second-hand looking." In another entry, Goldsborough mentioned passing a man in Central Park who looked very much like Phillips, walking with a girl. He noted yearningly his wish that he could have been introduced to him some time before.

The diary recorded Goldsborough's efforts to communicate with Phillips as early as the previous June. He wrote that he "called last night again on Phillips" but was told he had gone to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Reluctantly Goldsborough concluded that the information must be true since it was separately confirmed by two bellboys. In any event, he was furious that Phillips had ignored his letters (a pardonable offense if they were indeed anonymous, as Phillips had told Carolyn Frevert). Nevertheless, to Goldsborough's mind the failure to respond was an acknowledgment of the vampire's guilt:

At any rate P.'s ignoring my last letter and twice excusing himself after it, is in itself a confession of guilt of a sort. A man who has done no wrong will listen to one who claims he has; moreover the tone of that letter showed my intentions to be as amicable as he would let them be.

Despite his fancied slight at the hands of Phillips, Goldsborough continued to write to him; and the letters assumed a threatening tone. He signed the last of the letters "David Graham Phillips," showing that his identification with his enemy was complete. As he waited for Phillips in Gramercy Park on the afternoon of Monday, January 23, he was preparing to shoot his own double.

The funerals of victim and murderer provided a study in contrast. The arrangements for Phillips's service were made by Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana, his college roommate at DePauw and life-long friend, from whom he had learned the gospel of the strenuous life. Pallbearers included Senator Beveridge and the novelist Robert Chambers, who was best known among lovers of fantasy fiction for his The King in Yellow. The slain author was lauded by Hildegarde Hawthorne in the New York Times for his "vivid interest in the trend of American life, both in its public and private aspects."

The service for Goldsborough was conducted in private and in as much obscurity as his prominent relatives could manage. Shortly before, they were embarrassed by the disclosure that a younger brother of the murderer had been in a sanitarium near Washington for the past couple of months, under treatment for mental troubles.

Despite the ample documentary evidence of Goldsborough's insanity, the crime and the subsequent suicide remained bewildering. In an editorial on January 26, the Times searched for a logical explanation for Goldsborough's having taken his own life. The insane, the newspaper argued, "differ from the sane by being more, not less, logical in passing from premise to conclusion, and they are weak, not in reasoning power, but in the power to select and judge the data from which they reaason." The special mark of a man like Goldsborough, with an "exaggerated ego," was the lack of a sense of proportion; this defect, according to the Times, tended to make men murderous but did not drive men to suicide.

On the contrary, most murderers with an oversized ego and a delusion of persecution (like Harry Thaw and Charles Guiteau, the murderer of President Garfield) were "confident that everybody would admit the rightness of [their acts]." Ergo, said the Times, the accomplishment of Goldsborough's long-meditated crime "was followed by a lucid interval in which he appreciated its enormity and punished it." If the Times was right, the lucid interval must have followed with blinding speed on the shooting of David Graham Phillips.

The family of the late Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough had a far simpler explanation. They accounted for both the murder and the suicide with the fact that Goldsborough had been suffering from a bad attack of flu.

This article was previously published in Jonathan Goodman( ed.) The Art of Murder 219-227 (London: Piatkus, 1990)

Collected Essays of Albert Borowitz / 1966-2005


David Graham Phillips (October 31, 1867 – January 24, 1911) was an American journalist and novelist.

Early life and career

Phillips was born in Madison, Indiana. After graduating from high school, Phillips entered Asbury College -- following which he received a degree from College of New Jersey in 1887.

After completing his education, Phillips worked as a newspaper reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio, before moving on to New York City where he was employed as a reporter for The Sun from 1890 to 1893, then columnist and editor with the New York World until 1902. In his spare time, he wrote a novel, The Great God Success, that was published in 1901. The royalty income enabled him to work as a freelance journalist while continuing to write fiction. Writing articles for various prominent magazines, he began to develop a reputation as a competent investigative journalist. Phillips' novels often commented on social issues of the day and frequently chronicled events based on his real-life journalistic experiences. He was considered a Progressive and a muckraker.

Phillips wrote an article in Cosmopolitan in March 1906, called "The Treason of the Senate", exposing campaign contributors being rewarded by certain members of the U. S. Senate. The story launched a scathing attack on Rhode Island senator Nelson W. Aldrich, and brought Phillips a great deal of national exposure. This and other similar articles helped lead to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, initiating popular instead of state-legislature election of U. S. senators.

David Graham Philips is known for producing one of the most important investigations exposing details of the corruption by big businesses of the Senate, in particular, by the Standard Oil Company. He was among a few other writers during that time that helped prompt President Theodore Roosevelt to use the term “Muckrakers”.

The article inspired journalist Charles Edward Russell to insist to his boss Hearst, who had just recently purchased the Cosmopolitan magazine, that he push his journalists to explore the Senate corruption as well. Philips was offered the position to explore more information about the corruption and bring it into the public’s eye. Philips’ brother Harrison and Gustavus Myers were hired as research assistants for Philips. Hearst commented to his readers about Philips starting a series that would reveal the Senate corruption so much, that most Senators would resign. This held true for some of the Senators, such as New York Senators Chauncey M. Depew and Thomas Collier Platt. Philips exposed Chauncey as receiving more than $50,000 from several companies. He also helped educate the public on how the senators were selected and that it was held in the hands of a few bosses in a tight circle, helping increase the corruption level. As a result of these articles, only four of the twenty-one senators that Philips wrote about were still in office. Philips also had some of the greatest success as a muckraker, because he helped change the U.S. Constitution, with the passage of the 17th Amendment, creating popular election for senators.

His talent for writing was not the only thing that helped him stand out in the newsroom. Philips was known to dress in a white suit with a large chrysanthemum in his lapel. (Fellow, Anthony R. "American Media History: Second Edition" Wadsworth. Boston, MA. 2005.


Phillips' reputation cost him his life in January 1911, when he was shot outside the Princeton Club at Gramercy Park in New York City. The killer was a Harvard-educated musician named Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, who came from a prominent Philadelphia family. Goldsborough believed that Phillips' novel The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig had cast literary aspersions on his family. When confronting Phillips, Goldsborough yelled, "Here you go!" After Phillips collapsed, he yelled, "And here I go!", shooting himself in the head. Admitted to Bellevue Hospital, Phillips died there a day later. A 1992 novel by Daniel D. Victor, The Seventh Bullet, imagines a Sherlock Holmes investigation into Phillips' murder.

Following Phillips' death, his sister Carolyn organized his final manuscript for posthumous publication as Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise. In 1931, that book would be made into an MGM motion picture of the same name and starring Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.

David Graham Phillips is interred in the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.


The victim

American journalist and novelist David Graham Phillips.



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