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Love Quadrangle

June 2024
1min read

Lost Love: A True Story of Passion, Murder, and Justice in Old New York

by George Cooper, Pantheon, 272 pages, $23.00 . CODE: RAN -14

George Cooper, a former professor of law at Columbia University, has rescued a sensational nineteenth-century New York murder case by telling it through original diaries, reportage, letters, and courtroom testimony. Behind the jealous-husband-slays-wife’s-lover story Cooper finds four interesting, accessible people: an adventuring newspaperman, Albert Deane Richardson; his mistress, the actress Abby Sage; his wife, Lou; and Sage’s husband, Daniel McFarland, who, after divorcing her, shot Richardson dead in the counting room of the New York Tribune in November 1869.

Cooper reconstructs the parallel stories of the two marriages, and their collision takes on a noirish inevitability. Richardson makes his name covering the West while his wife writes lonely letters from home; Abby Sage escapes from her hard marriage into acting while her husband gradually comes unhinged. Richardson moves into the boardinghouse where McFarland and his wife live and, according to Sage’s courtroom testimony, does her “many kindnesses.” In February 1867 McFarland goes into one of his abusive rages, and his wife leaves him. A month later he makes his first attempt on Richardson’s life; the journalist refuses to press charges for fear of scandal and writes Sage after his wounding: “I should have been your helper and comforter and shield, to have brought you into such a storm … if I live , I am going to see you safely out of it. If I should not live to go into harbor with you, the Father will take care of your sunny head.” Out of a sensational murder tale, Cooper gleans the inspired love story.

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