It may seem like sex abuse by the rich and powerful is a new phenomenon, something that has only become regular news after the crimes of people like Jeffrey Epstein, R-Kelly, and Bill Cosby were exposed. The prevalence of these crimes can make it appear that powerful and well-connected men can almost groom and exploit children at will, and the list of those who have remained in significant positions despite such crimes is endless.
Yet, this is nothing unique to our era, and these abominable crimes have always been there; they were just hidden away.
In 1931, this underbelly of pedophilia by the rich and famous was publicly exposed when the body of Starr Faithfull was found on a Long Island beach.
Raped since the age of 11, her abuser was a former mayor of Boston and a member of the House of Representatives. Many thought he'd had her killed; others blamed the mob. Few wished to look at a society that allowed these vile crimes to be swept under the rug and for a young woman to spiral completely out of control.
WHO WAS STARR FAITHFULL?
Starr Faithful was born Marian Wyman in Evanston, Illinois, in 1906. She was born wealthy, with her father being Frank Wyman II, an investment banker. Starr's mother, Helen, meanwhile, had herself once been part of a wealthy family but saw her father lose his entire fortune before she married Frank. Despite the loss of wealth, the family remained socially well connected and respectable.
Helen's cousin was Andrew James Peters, who served as Mayor of Boston between 1918 and 1922 and previously in both the House of Representatives and State Senate as a Democrat. Helen and Frank often took their children to visit the Peters', and the family supported Helen with gifts and even went as far as to pay for the children's education. Andrew was particularly fond of the young Marian and would take her on trips alone.
The Wymans divorced in 1924, and Helen married Stanley Faithfull the following year. Stanley was a widow and inventor who was self-employed but consistently short of money as his schemes and inventions found little favor with investors. Desperate, he gained a reputation for bringing lawsuits over trivial matters, all in aid of cash. However, he too had connections, with his former wife being the one-time governess of Leverett A. Saltonstall, then serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Saltonstall went on to have a notable career as Governor of Massachusetts and as a senator.
While on the outside, the lives of the Faithfulls and Peters were ones of upper-class connections and money, the real truth was much darker.
As Marian entered her teenage years, she began to show signs of emotional distress. She received mental health treatment, voluntarily admitting herself for a short stay at Channing Sanitarium at Wellesley in the greater Boston area. In June of 1926, she told her mother Andrew James Peters drugged and sexually abused her since she was 11, much of the gifts and trips alone being what we would today recognize as grooming.
Stanley Faithfull negotiated a settlement with Peters in 1927 where the politician agreed to pay the family $20,000 to cover medical bills and treatment. In return, his pedophilia would be covered up.
How much of this money was actually used for helping Starr is debatable, and there were further payments between the family and Peters, suggesting some level of extortion. The total amount received was $80,000 and seemingly the only source of income for the family.
What was spent on Starr's recovery is controversial. Her parents enlisted a "sex tutor" to teach Starr to have an everyday sex life after her abuse, with other money was spent sending their daughter around the globe to places such as London and the Mediterranean. Without any productive help for her trauma, Starr descended into a world of alcohol, drugs, and sex, regularly attending speakeasies and raucous parties. After one incident in London, Starr overdosed on sleeping pills.
In another, she was left beaten and naked in a New York hotel after checking in with a man she had just met. Increased promiscuity is not uncommon amongst survivors of child sex abuse.
STARR FAITHFULL’S DEATH
It was on June 5, 1931, that Starr Faithfull's family last saw her alive. She left the family apartment at St. Luke's Place in New York and was attired in an expensive dress alongside gloves, shoes and coat. She planned to have her hair done, according to her family. However, Starr seemed to have other plans and was seen at 1 p.m. by a taxi driver in the company of a sailor who she called "Brucie," the unenthusiastic man being told she would see him at the Chelsea Piers Wharf at 4 p.m. He told he not to return.
The taxi driver insisted later to police that he dropped her back home, though he never saw her enter the house. At 2 p.m., the series of events would near repeat itself, and Faithfull was again put in the same cab by Brucie at the Chelsea Piers, highly intoxicated. The cabbie was told to take her home and not let her return to the docks, but she exited the vehicle a few blocks from St. Luke's Place, and the driver saw her again walking back toward the wharf and Brucie.
A little later, Faithfull was spotted in a beauty shop and then later back at Chelsea Piers, having managed to make it aboard RMS Mauretania and then RMS Carmania. There she was entertained by Dr. Charles Young Roberts with whom she’d had a brief dalliance.
The two spent the previous evening together at the Roosevelt Hotel and visited a speakeasy. It seems likely that the spiraling Starr was heartbroken when Dr. George Jameson-Carr had left aboard the RMS Franconia a few days prior and was rebounding with another Cunard doctor. Starr considered Carr to be the love of her life; however, the feelings were not reciprocated, and she had made an enormous scene when she had to be removed from the Franconia, the crew fearing she wished to stow away.
In a letter to Carr afterward, she explained that she had simply been too drunk to leave the ship.
Faithfull and Roberts enjoyed a meal, and Starr talked of traveling to India and France. At the end of their time together, Roberts put her in a cab and paid the fare to travel to the French liner SS Île de France, where there was a party. This was witnessed by a police officer.
The next morning, a woman fitting Starr's description was seen at the Tappe's Hotel in Long Island. She argued with a male companion and may have left with a group of other men. The spot was a notorious dive that was a favorite with all kinds of mobsters.
By that evening, she was reported missing to police by her family.
Interestingly, her parents also sent a letter to Andrew James Peters that said Starr was missing, requesting more money. The next day Starr Faithfull would be found dead on Long Beach.
AN INVESTIGATION STARTS
It was early in the morning on June 6 that Starr's body was found. She was clothed, wearing her dress and stockings, but nothing else, including no underwear.
The body showed several bruises, and the coroner stated they were inflicted before her death and by another person. However, this was not the cause of death, which he ascertained to be drowning.
There was a large quantity of sand in the lungs, suggesting she drowned close to the beach rather than at sea. She had eaten a large meal before death, and while she had not drunk alcohol for 36 hours, there was a considerable amount of sedatives in her system.
Both the time of death and whether Starr was sexually assaulted were matters of debate, with an initial report stating she had been raped. A second report later revised this to say she had engaged in sex before death.
Meanwhile, the time of death was given as either Friday night or Saturday morning, which was when she had seemingly been seen at the Tappe's Hotel. However, this sighting was unconfirmed, and it also seems possible she died after the trip to the SS Île de France.
This was contested by another expert who had handled many drownings in the area over the past few years. The expert suggested the body had, in fact, only been in the water for less than 10 hours, meaning the time of death was, late Sunday or early Monday. This would match the report Starr had been intoxicated at 2 p.m. on Friday, this well under the 36 hours without alcohol suggested by the coroner.
Nassau County police opened a homicide investigation and had an immediate lead when Stanley Faithfull told police he believed she'd been killed by Andrew Peters, revealing the history of child sex abuse.
Backing for the allegations would be found when police searched the family apartment and recovered Starr's diary. She detailed her affairs with 19 men in such explicit terms the pages were deemed too indecent to print.
The men listed were all initialized, but "AJP" was clearly identified as Peters. The full story wasn't immediately known to the press, with Stanley merely saying she had been "corrupted" by a wealthy and influential family friend. However, the euphemism would have been understood by the public, and tongues soon began to wag, with Peters' name linked with the affair in the press. He issued a statement denying any improper conduct.
Police suspected Faithfull was pushed overboard from the Mauretania or taken from that ship onto a boat and then drowned. The evidence of sand in the lungs forced them to change their thinking and hypothesize that she had been deliberately killed on the beach.
Officers found "Brucie," identifying him as David Blue and living in London. However, the taxi driver tasked with taking her to the SS Île de France couldn't be located. Some speculated that the driver may have been responsible for abducting and murdering Starr. Quietly, police were beginning to believe the killing was a suiide, yet DA Elvin Edwards thought differently.
Edwards was determined to nail Peters for the crime, the former Boston mayor being an integral part of Franklin D. Roosevelts' campaign to be Governor of New York.
The theory of murder would be undercut by the object of Starr Faithfull's desires, Dr. George Jameson-Carr. Carr had arrived in London and soon received three letters from Faithfull dated May 30, June 2 and June 4. The letters made clear her intent to commit suicide, stating, "I am going (definitely now – I've been thinking of it for a long time) to end my worthless, disorderly bore of an existence." The final letter stated she would enjoy one last meal and a day of pleasure, enjoying cigarettes, drink, and men. Then she would kill herself. Carr personally delivered the letters back to New York on June 23.
"I certainly have made a sordid, futureless mess of it all...I hate everything so – life is horrible. ...I am mad and insane over you. ...I have, strangely enough, more of a feeling of peace or whatever you call it now that I know it will soon be over. The half-hour before I die will, I imagine, be quite blissful." - Starr Faithfull suicide note.
However, despite the letters, some still denied Starr committed suicide, including her step-father and the DA.
While the finger of suspicion was pointed firmly at Peters, Edwards and Assistant DA Martin Littleton Jr became increasingly suspicious of the Faithfull family, feeling they were hiding evidence and had been involved in the killing. With the Peters money cut-off, the family was increasingly desperate for cash. Stanley began to tell stories to the newspapers of hitmen and powerful individuals who had silenced the police and district attorney's office.
Added into the mix was the Faithfulls weren't the only ones who had extorted money from Peters, as at some point, the Boston mob got wind of the abuse and began to extort money from the former Boston mayor as well.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
In July, Stanley finally named Peters in public, stating he had raped and abused Starr Faithfull since the age of 11, adding the full facts about the financial settlement that was in place.
Despite the nature of the allegations, Peters remained politically influential and was never charged with any crime. In December, the final inquest into the case reached no-decision.
While the official investigation may have been over, many have tried to shed light on what happened to Starr Faithfull on that beach, with most concluding that any conclusion of suicide is unsound and the case was almost certainly murder.
The author, Jay Robert Nash, has stated that there was no evidence Starr boarded the Île de France and that her past behavior suggested a sexual encounter on the beach may have gone wrong, leading to an unknown male murdering her. This theory would explain Starr's lack of underwear and the bruises she'd suffered before death.
British crime historian Jonathan Goodman meanwhile believes the killing to have been the work of the mob. In his 1990 classic “The Passing of Starr Faithfull,” Goodman states Starr could never have made it to the Île de France as the ship sailed at 10 p.m. before Faithfull left the dinner with Roberts.
Instead, Starr ended up with Long Island hood Vannie Higgins who wanted information about Peters and how he could extort money from him, having learned of the abuse and extortion, Goodman claimed. Higgins likely flew into a rage and beat Starr before dumping her in the sea, not realizing she was still alive.
Whatever the answer to the mystery of Starr Faithfull, it is a tragic ending to a life defined by the criminality of others.
Starr understandably spiraled out of control from the vile abuses of Andrew Peters and the extortion carried out by her parents. When the police needed to be contacted and serious help brought in, the lure of money clouded their judgment.
There was nobody there to get her the help she desperately needed, and without these support networks, tragedy was always inevitable.
Taking place almost 100 years ago, the story of Starr Faithfull is one that has been repeated thousands of times since and stood as a warning that went unheeded as to the lasting effects of grooming and child sex abuse. While police and other services are at last treating these crimes with the seriousness they deserve, there is still much more to be done to ensure that children are protected from sex abusers, both rich and poor alike.