Alice in Shan­dehland: Scan­dal and Scorn in the Edelson/​Horwitz Mur­der Case

Mon­da Halpern
  • Review
By – August 14, 2015

When we think of sat­is­fy­ing mys­tery sto­ries, we usu­al­ly think first of fic­tion; but Mon­da Halpern has suc­ceed­ed in craft­ing a jour­nal­is­tic yet rich nar­ra­tive of the true sto­ry of Alice Edel­son and Jack Hor­witz, a cou­ple whose tem­pes­tu­ous love affair was cut short by an untime­ly mur­der, a spec­tac­u­lar court­room tri­al, and, some say, a biased and unfair resolution.

Halpern is a his­to­ry pro­fes­sor at West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty in Cana­da, and her metic­u­lous research and cool yet tense style of writ­ing imbue this sto­ry with both author­i­ty and pas­sion. To gath­er mate­r­i­al for her book, she ana­lyzed hun­dreds of news­pa­per arti­cles and con­duct­ed dozens of inter­views of the two cou­ples’ fam­i­lies and friends, try­ing to find the forces in the com­mu­ni­ty that drew them togeth­er as well as those that mit­i­gat­ed against them. Mon­da also exam­ined archival pho­tos — many of which are includ­ed in the book — of the pair, try­ing to under­stand the con­text in which the mur­der took place.

In pre­sent­ing the facts and flesh­ing them out ful­ly with the human­i­ty of the char­ac­ters, Halpern delves deeply into the sto­ry. Alice Edel­son, a Jew­ish woman mar­ried for twen­ty years and the moth­er of sev­en chil­dren in Depres­sion-era Cana­da, met and fell in love with a hand­some Jew­ish mar­ried man, Jack Hor­witz. By 1931, although she remained mar­ried to her hus­band, Ben, Alice had been open­ly car­ry­ing on her affair with Jack for sev­er­al years. 

One autumn night, Alice, her hus­band, and Jack got togeth­er at the Edel­sons’ jew­el­ry store to try to set­tle” exact­ly what was going on in the rela­tion­ship. But instead of words prov­ing suf­fi­cient, a gun appeared, and Jack was shot and killed. A sen­sa­tion­al legal bat­tle ensued, in which Ben was accused of shoot­ing and killing Jack.

Alice’s behav­ior was seen as a shan­deh, a shame or dis­grace. Though Ben might have been a mur­der­er, Alice was def­i­nite­ly an adulterer.Although Alice had always been treat­ed as a respect­ed mem­ber of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty before, her behav­ior was now seen as inde­fen­si­ble. She was strong­ly cen­sured, both in the court­room and among her friends and fam­i­ly. At the same time, her hus­band, who was on tri­al for mur­der, was looked at as a respectable man who had been betrayed and had suf­fered great­ly. Ulti­mate­ly, after a long tri­al that cap­tured the head­lines for weeks, Ben was exon­er­at­ed; Alice, by con­trast, remained accused by her com­mu­ni­ty for the rest of her life.

Relat­ed Content:

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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