AP Was There: The rape case at the center of “Marshall” film
EDITOR’S NOTE — The new movie “Marshall” depicts the work of Thurgood Marshall as an NAACP lawyer in 1941 in a Connecticut case where he was defending a black man charged with raping a white woman. More than a decade later, Marshall achieved fame for his role arguing the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that outlawed segregation in public schools. He later became a Supreme Court justice.
The rape trial was covered by multiple news organizations, including The Associated Press. The AP story doesn’t mention Marshall’s involvement, saying only that the defendant, Joseph Spell, had been defended by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The Associated Press is republishing a version of its report of the acquittal.
Joseph Spell, 31-year-old colored servant accused of criminally assaulting his employer, Mrs. Eleanor Strubing, attractive Greenwich socialite, was acquitted tonight by a Superior Court jury of six men and six women.
The jury deliberated nearly 13 hours.
As the foreman announced the acquittal, audible gasps came from several in the courtroom. Spectators included Philip Strubing, a Philadelphia attorney and brother-in-law of Mrs. Strubing.
She and her husband, John K. Strubing Jr., former Princeton athlete, were absent, however.
State’s Attorney Lorin W. Willis, who had asked the jury for a conviction lest “shame and disgrace” fall upon Mrs. Strubing, moved that Spell’s bail be continued until the State could determine “what course of action is to be pursued.” The defense did not oppose the motion.
Spell, exclaiming “What a relief!” told newsmen:
“I’m going back to my sick mother in Louisiana where I should have been.”
He was arrested last December 11 in the basement of the Strubing home after Mrs. Strubing had been found on the banks of the Kensico Reservoir in North Castle, N.Y., and sobbed out to police a story of having been thrice raped by “my houseman.” who, she said, “must have gone berserk.”
He had driven her to the reservoir and thrown her into the water, she charged.
Testifying at the trial for a day and a half last week, Mrs. Strubing said Spell, who had been in her employ as a butler and chauffeur less than two months, accosted her in her bedroom as she emerged from a shower bath, attacked her, made her write a ransom note to her husband who was away at the time and then took her on a wild automobile ride.
Spell, defended by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, stolidly denied her story. His only purpose in going to her room, he maintained, was to ask for money for his mother and he declared he had been “led on” by his employer.
He testified he left her at the reservoir at her own request, and drove away only when she refused to heed his calls to return to the car.