Scarsdale Doctor Killer Jean Harris Dead

Her trial was a cause célèbre in the early 1980s

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 29, 2012 6:27 AM CST

(Newser) – The woman whose killing of a famous diet doctor in 1980 became the stuff of made-for-TV movies—two, in fact—has died at 89, reports the New York Times and AP. Jean S. Harris spent a dozen years in prison for shooting her lover, Dr. Herman Tarnowner, creator of the wildly popular Scarsdale Diet of the 1970s. Harris, headmistress of a prestigious girls' school at the time, swore it was an accident and said she intended to kill herself, but was convicted of murder. She was granted clemency in 1993 and devoted herself to a foundation she created to help the children of female inmates.

The Times and AP have similar takes on why Harris' case became the sensation it did:

  • Times: Harris' "passionate defenders saw her plight as epitomizing the fragile position of an aging but fiercely independent woman who, because of limited options, was dependent on a man who mistreated her."
  • AP: "They pictured her as a woman victimized by a male-dominated society, adrift because she was getting older and her lover of 14 years was brushing her off in favor of his younger office assistant. In addition, they said, she was in the thrall of antidepressant drugs Tarnower had prescribed for her."

In this Feb. 24, 1981, file photo, Jean Harris, center, arrives at the Westchester County Courthouse.
In this Feb. 24, 1981, file photo, Jean Harris, center, arrives at the Westchester County Courthouse.   (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)
This March 1993 file photo shows Jean Harris in New York.
This March 1993 file photo shows Jean Harris in New York.   (AP Photo, File)
In this Feb. 9, 1981, file photo, Jean Harris, left, arrives at court in White Plains, New York.
In this Feb. 9, 1981, file photo, Jean Harris, left, arrives at court in White Plains, New York.   (AP Photo/David Handschuh, File)
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