Hamilton, Burr, and the Murder of Elma Sands

We dive into the Manhattan Well Murder Mystery.

Listen now:

In our Season 4 premiere, we dig into the tragic story a young woman named Elma Sands who disappeared one December night in 1799 in New York City. A week later her body was found in a well owned by the Manhattan Company—a company founded by Aaron Burr.

We explore how Burr and his fierce political rival Alexander Hamilton worked side by side to defend Levi Weeks, the man accused of killing Sands. And we look at the boardinghouse full of suspects who emerged during the wild trial and how it seems like no one could be trusted.

Sketch of Lispenard’s Meadows, the site of the Manhattan well. New York City by Alexander Anderson, New York Public Library


Illustration of this dramatic moment with Aaron Burr (or Hamilton, depending on who’s telling it) with Richard Croucher, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, v. 14, no. 3 (1882 Sept.), p. 233. Library of Congress


The now-excavated well where the body of Elma Sands was found, in the basement of a COS clothing store in Manhattan

Next week we’ll dig further into the history behind this well as we explore the history of Burr’s Manhattan Company and Hamilton’s role in creating what would become “a perfect monster.”

History Camp America 2022

Jess and I will be doing a short video minisode at History Camp America 2022. The online conference is November 5th and there’s still time to sign up to join hundreds of history enthusiasts from across the country and beyond to hear from and chat with historians, authors, and docents and even take virtual tours of historic sites. In addition to attending, you can get an amazing package of history gifts—check out this short video of me unboxing the awesome items.

If you want to check out this year’s History Camp America, use promo code PLODDING22 to sign up and you’ll get $5 off.


Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins

Report of the trial of Levi Weeks, on an indictment for the murder of Gulielma Sands, on Monday the thirty-first day of March, and Tuesday the first day of April. Transcribed by William Coleman. [New-York: Printed by John Furman, and sold at his blank, stamp & stationary sic shop, opposite the City-Hall, 1800] Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, October 24, 2022

A Brief narrative of the trial for the bloody and mysterious murder of the unfortunate young woman, in the famous Manhattan well. Taken in short hand by a gentleman of the bar. Published by David Longworth.

Report of the trial of Richard D. Croucher, on an indictment for a rape on Margaret Miller; on Tuesday, the 8th day of July, 1800. Taken in short hand.

The Death of Gulielma Sands by Edmund Pearson, Vanity Fair, April 1929



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