Lewis Lapham: Hamilton, Burr Team Saved Accused Murderer

“Crucify him!” shouted people crowding the courthouse as the prisoner arrived. Levi Weeks was on trial for the murder of Elma Sands, a young Quaker girl who lived in the same boardinghouse. She’d been strangled, her body dumped into a Manhattan well just before Christmas, 1799.

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To defend his brother, Ezra Weeks hired eminent lawyers -- and bitter rivals -- Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, both of whom owed him money. They established an alibi for Levi, and, in a surprise move, Burr produced a witness who revealed that the dead girl had been having an affair with the married boardinghouse owner.

After the longest murder trial in New York City’s history, it took the jury just a few minutes to reach a verdict of not guilty.

I spoke with Paul Collins, author of “Duel With the Devil,” on the following topics:

1. Mysterious Disappearance.

2. Body in Well.

3. Eminent Politicians.

4. Cloud of Witnesses.

5. Prosecutor’s Case Dismantled.

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg on NYC Weekend and Jeffrey Burke on books.

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