The Well Mystery of Manhattan
Levi Weeks was acquitted of murdering Gulielma Sands, but the debate continues.
Levi Weeks might be the only person to ever have Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton fight a legal case on the same side. Burr would go to kill Hamilton in a duel but not before they successfully argued that Weeks had not killed the girl at the center of a murder mystery that still confounds New York City to this day.
In 1798, Weeks moved to New York City to help his older brother, Ezra, with his construction business. Ezra was one of the most respected and successful builders in the city, he was also happy to have his younger brother come to help with the business. The pair seemed to be close, and it is rumored that Ezra was on Levi's case to find a girl to settle down and start a family with.
Taking his brother's advice, Levi started courting Gulielma Sands, known to her friends as Elma. Both seemed content with the relationship, and those that saw the couple together were convinced that love had blossomed between the pair. Marriage seemed to be inevitable and the small island of Manhattan was rooting for them.
Elma herself had started telling people that she was soon to marry Levi. A smile seemed permanently fixed on her face as she gushed about the man she loved. Though some folks began to talk about how the young woman was deeply troubled and possibly suicidal. There's no word on how this rumor got started but it spread in the weeks before Elma died.
December 22, 1799, Elma Sands was seen alive for the last time. She had told her cousin Hope Sands that she and Levi were going to secretly get married that night. This was news to Hope because Levi had been paying her romantic attention as well. A love triangle seemed to at play here, and when Elma went to meet Levi at the Manhattan Well, she may have been a bit upset to find out her boyfriend was allegedly sleeping with her cousin. A real scandal.
While she waited, Elma was either pushed or fell into the well and drowned. Levi was accused of being the one who killed his lady love, it is alleged that he was seen with Elma just before she disappeared and did not seem too upset about her death. With that public opinion turned against him, and Levi was arrested shortly after.
Ezra wanted to protect his baby brother and make sure that he was acquitted of the crime that he stood accused of. Even though at this period in time defendants did not have the right to counsel, Ezra hired Hamilton, Burr, and Brockholst Livingston. The judge in the case, John Lansing happened to be the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court, allowed this. The prosecution was not pleased with this development but hoped that political rivals, Burr and Hamilton, would take each other down. They didn't they worked together in building a sturdy defense.
Which may not have been necessary. The Prosecution's case was built on speculation and circumstantial evidence. It was easily picked apart by the defense and it took jurors less than five minutes to come back with a not guilty verdict. A devastating blow for the prosecution.
So what did happen to Elma Sands? Many still believe that Levi pushed her into the well, as he had no intention of marrying her. They believe that he enjoyed being a single guy, whom women loved. And he was not ready to give up that lifestyle, at least not at the juncture in his life and not with someone who he viewed as less than.
Another school of thought is that Hope Sands or Margaret Clarke could have pushed Elma into the well. Both women were allegedly involved with Levi sexually. Both were single ladies and charmed by the young man, and thought they might have a chance with him if they gave him what he wanted. It would have been easy for them to cast doubt on their guilt by spreading the rumor that Elma was suicidal and thinking of taking her life, as they were socially connected and known to be gossips.
It is likely that Manhattan's Murder Mystery may never be solved, it happened more than 200 years ago and all of the evidence has likely been destroyed by time. The question of who killed Elma Sands will haunt the area currently known as SoHo for the rest of time.