9781324004332 198

Who Killed Jane Stanford?

A Gilded Age Tale of Murder, Deceit, Spirits and the Birth of a University

2 August 2022

Richard White (Author)


A premier historian penetrates the fog of corruption and cover-up still surrounding the murder of a Stanford University founder to establish who did it, how and why

In 1885 Jane and Leland Stanford co-founded a university to honour their recently deceased young son. After her husband’s death in 1893, Jane Stanford, a devoted spiritualist who expected the university to inculcate her values, steered Stanford into eccentricity and public controversy for more than a decade. In 1905 she was murdered in Hawaii, a victim, according to the Honolulu coroner’s jury, of strychnine poisoning.

With her vast fortune the university’s lifeline, the Stanford president and his allies quickly sought to foreclose challenges to her bequests by constructing a story of death by natural causes. The cover-up gained traction in the murky labyrinths of power, wealth and corruption of Gilded Age San Francisco. The murderer walked.

Deftly sifting the scattered evidence and conflicting stories of suspects and witnesses, Richard White gives us the first full account of Jane Stanford’s murder and its cover-up. Against a backdrop of the city’s machine politics, rogue policing, tong wars and heated newspaper rivalries, White’s search for the murderer draws us into Jane Stanford’s imperious household and the academic enmities of the university. Although Stanford officials claimed that no one could have wanted to murder Jane, we meet several people who had the motives and the opportunity to do so. One of these, we discover, also had the means...


"Irresistibly fascinating... Richard White has brought Jane Stanford and her peculiar entourage vividly to life—and also has persuasively figured out who killed her." — Nicholas Lemann, author of Transaction Man

"Offering a detective story with more twists and turns than a Dashiell Hammett novel, Mr. White leads us through his research into the labyrinth. Along the way, [he] uncovers a century-long campaign kicked off by the university’s first president to cloud the circumstances of Jane Stanford’s death.…[A] brilliant, acerbic guide into a world that resonates with the present,…Mr. White has done an astonishing job of sifting through the available clues—and turning up an impressive array of new details. In this fascinating 'whydunit,' he makes a convincing case for why Jane Stanford’s murder was covered up for so long." — Julia Flynn Siler, Wall Street Journal

"[A] rollicking account of Jane Stanford’s final years and violent death, all set against the seamy San Francisco carnival culture of the era." — Meryl Gordon, New York Times

Also By: Richard White View all by author...



160 x 236 mm • 384 pages


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