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Murder of famous New York Novelist David Graham Phillips

Updated on February 20, 2012
David Graham Phillips
David Graham Phillips


David Graham Phillips was born in Madison, Indiana, USA on 31st October 1867. He started his career as a journalist but made his name as an author in 1901 when he published "The Great God Success".

Phiilips was an habitual man, rising late in the day but remaining at his writing desk until he had completed 6000 words. He was quoted as saying "If I were to die tomorrow, I would be six years ahead of the game". Phillips lived with his sister Carolyn Frevert in the National Arts Club on the south side of Gramercy Park in New York.

Phillips had written for Cosmopolitan in March 1906 exposing campaign contributors being given favours by US senators. This article called "The treason of State" led to the passage of the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution initiating popular instead of state legislature election of United States Senators


On the morning of the 23rd January 1911 Phillips got up late as usual and got dressed. He affected the clothing of a dandy , in a white suit with chrysanthemum in his lapel which was topped off with a black alpine hat- a very unforgettable man, Phiilips set off for his club in order to catch up on the day with regulars and collect his post. As he walked to Princeton , eastward along 21st street a man stood in front of him, armed with a .32 calibre pistol. The man drew his pistol and shot Phillips six times. The shooting was witnessed by amongst others the florist John Jacoby who caught Phillips before he fell to the ground.

The destruction was not over. The attacker Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough cried out "There you are! I guess that does for you" before pointing the gun at his own head and killing himself. Members of the club, alerted by the gunfire carried Phillips into the club where he was put on a sofa to await the ambulance.

Phillips was taken to Bellevue hospital and upon examination it was found that a bullet had punctured a lung and the rest had hit his thighs, left forearm and right hip. The bullets were removed by surgery and the novelists prognosis appeared to doctors to be good.


After the operation Phillips was able to shed some light on the attack. He said that he had been receiving threatening letters the last received on the day of the attack said "This is your last day".

The doctors prognosis was sadly wrong. On the 24th January some three days after the shooting Phillips condition worsened and he suffered internal hemorrhages in his stomach and lung before lapsing into a coma from which he would never recover. He died that night at 11.10pm.

Investigation into the identity of the killer found him to be Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough a paranoid and deranged music teacher who had moved into the Rand School of Social Science in East 19th Street in November 1910.

Fellow students thought that Goldsborough had taken grave offence at Margaret Severence , a character in one of Phillip's books "The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig" and assumed that the character it was portraying was his sister shown in a very bad light. Phiilips novels had often commented on the events of the day and in some circles he was referred to as "a muckraker".Goldsboroughs family blamed the murder and his sequential suicide as the result of a bad case of the flu! Mental health problems were rife in the Goldsborough family. Just before Fitzhugh murdered Phillips his younger brother was committed to a lunatic asylum in Washington.


Following his murder Phillips sister arranged for his last manuscript to be published as "Susan Lennox: her fall and rise". This was scripted into a film in 1931 by MGM starring Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, two of the Great Holywood stars. Out of respect to Phillips the film had the same name as the book.

In 1992 Daniel D Victor published a book "The seventh bullet" which imagined a full Sherlock Holmes style investigation into the murder


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