From the beginning, the celebrity, the money and the status have made this more than just another murder case. But as the trial of Jean Harris continued here today, the jury was provided with an intoxicating glimpse of just how luxurious her life with Dr. Herman Tarnower really was.
There were fishing trips by private jet to Nassau, fishing expeditions to Florida and New Brunswick and St. Martin, vacations around the world and a gift of a diamond ring.
At least one trip around the world, in 1967, shortly after the affair had begun, hinted that it was extremely serious. But at the same time, the testimony of Suzanne Van der Vreken, housekeeper to the late Dr. Tarnower, suggested that -- even with all this -- within two or three years, the doctor dated other women.
Former headmistress of the Madeira School in McLean, Harris, 57 is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Tarnower, her lover of 14 years, in his Harrison, N.Y., home last March. The prosecution, noting that Tarnower had been dating another woman 20 years Harris' junior, Lynne Tryforos, contends that Harris shot Tarnower in a jealous rage.
The defense has termed the shooting a "tragic accident," a suicide attempt gone awry, and has consistently tried to underplay the love triangle. Harris' depression, the defense has insisted, had to do with personal pressures outside the relationship.
The chief prosecution witness, Van der Vreken, has done considerable damage to that position. In her three days on the stand, she has testified that Harris threatened that she would make Tarnower and Tryforos "miserable." She said that after the shooting, the doctor's room was a shambles, with many of Tryforos' possessions -- and those of Tarnower's -- thrown about.
"Some clothes of Dr. Tarnower that had been on the shelf before were on the floor . . . some of his fishing equipment . . . there were also curlers . . . electric curlers, the top of the box was broken . . ."
Beginning his cross-examination of Van der Vreken today, defense attorney Joel Aurnou attempted to elicit information about police methods of questioning after the shooting and tried to discredit the witness. The attempt often made Harris, who has suffered humiliating testimony at the hand of Van der Vreken, smile. As the day wore on, however, Aurnou turned his questions to Tarnower's relationship with Harris, apparently seeking to establish that it was a serious relationship until the time of the shooting.
"In the summer of '79, were Dr. Tarnower and Mrs. Harris in Nassau together?" asked Aurnou.
"Yes," said Van der Vreken.
Aurnou went back to the beginning of the relationship as well, suggesting that at one time Harris and Tarnower had considered marriage.
"Do you -- in the summer of 1967 -- remember Dr. Tarnower giving Jean Harris a diamond ring?" asked Aurnou. Van der Vreken did not.
"Did you begin to consider -- at that time -- working for someone else because the doctor might have children around the house?"
"I don't recall," said Van der Vreken.
Aurnou also attempted to portray Harris as a dutiful and correct woman -- a lady -- who did not sleep with her lover until several months into the relationship, and who was often accompanied on visits to the doctor's home by her youngest son, "little Jimmy," a boy who was 14 at the time.
"Is it correct to say that in April and May when Mrs. Harris came to see Dr. Tarnower she slept at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Schulte -- do you recall?" Aurnou asked Van der Vreken. Harris, a smile playing on her face, looked on intently.
"I don't recall," said Van der Vreken.
"Do you recall Mrs. Harris visiting with her littlest son, Jimmy, in May '67 . . . do you recall who slept in Dr. Tarnower's room?"
"Jimmy," said Van der Vreken.
"And where did Mrs. Harris sleep?" pursued Aurnou.
"In the guest room," said Van der Vreken.