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.
Thrilling ... A true-crime thriller, revivifying a very cold case and portraying the early decades of the university ... It’s astonishing that Jane Stanford’s murder went unacknowledged for so long, and it’s equally shocking to realize how unlikely the existence of today’s Stanford University...is at all ... White is well positioned to excavate this tale. He digs deep into papers from Stanford’s archives...for context and clues ... White concludes with a convincing case fingering a killer, plus accessories after the fact ... The book is a reminder that our origin stories shape our present — and though past events can’t be changed, our interpretation of them certainly can.
Jane Stanford’s poisoning remains one of the most dramatic unsolved murders of its day ... Mr. White is...a brilliant, acerbic guide into a world that resonates with the present ... Offering a detective story with more twists and turns than a Dashiell Hammett novel, Mr. White leads us through his research into the labyrinth ... But he fails to make us care much for any of this dastardly cast of characters—including the victim ... Who Killed Jane Stanford? puts to rest any lingering doubts that the university’s co-founder was, in fact, murdered ... Mr. White is an adept and engaging tour guide to this corrupt and vivid world, as well as to Jane Stanford’s devotion to spiritualism. I found myself envying the undergraduates in Mr. White’s classroom, in which he used the murder to teach historical research methods ... The subtitle of Mr. White’s book might as well have been 'Why she deserved what she got.' The result is that the narrative largely relegates its subject to the role of victim—rather than to her rightful place as the forceful woman who kept the university alive in its early years. That emphasis may, in part, be due to the incomplete or distorted material Mr. White had to work with ... Mr. White has done an astonishing job of sifting through the available clues—and turning up an impressive array of new details, including a mysterious pharmacist with shifting addresses ... Fascinating.
Combining a prosecutor’s zeal for uncovering evidence with a crime novelist’s flair for suspense, White shows that Stanford died from ingesting strychnine ... Exactly who gave her the lethal dose is the book’s central mystery, but far from its only revelation. The unsolved murder of the college’s founding matriarch, it turns out, is integral to understanding how Stanford eventually became one of the world’s great universities ... White makes a compelling case for why Jordan and the university’s trustees would want to be rid of their overbearing benefactor. But there were other suspects who also had strong motives ... The mystery is only solved—satisfactorily, if not definitively—in the final pages of White’s book.