The note was signed twice, once in script and once in print: "Jean Harris, Jean Harris." It was dated March 10, but addressed to no one.
It said, "I wish to be immediately cremated and thrown away."
On that date, the day of the Scarsdale murder, the day Harris drove from her home on the Madeira School campus to her lover's home in New York, she left behind a number of suicide notes.
One was sealed and addressed to her sister, another to her secretary, one to Alice Faulkner, the head of the Madeira School board. One piece of paper -- found lying with the others on a chair near the front door -- simply gave the phone numbers of the people to be contacted after her death. One sealed letter -- the one to Faulkner -- was a study in lonelines, anger and pain.
But perhaps it was the letter signed twice, the one about being thrown away, that indicated the full measure of Jean Harris' self-hatred and despair.
The letter addressed to Faulkner was undated and did not mention death explicity, instead focusing on professional problems. But it was, in its own way, as much a record of an isolated, alienated woman as the suicide note.
"Alice, I'm sorry," it began. "Please, for Christ's sake, don't open the place again until you have adults and policemen and keepers on every floor. God knows what they're doing.
"And next time choose a head the board wants and supports. Don't let some poor fool work like hell for two years before she knows she wasn't even wanted in the first place.
"There are so many enemies and so few friends."
And finally, most pignantly: "I was a person and nobody ever knew."
Former headmistress of the Madeira School in McLean, Va., Harris has been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of her lover, Dr. Herman Tarnower, in the bedroom of his Harrison, N.Y., home. The prosecution, emphasizing that Tarnower had been seeing a younger woman and that he was shot four times, insists that Harris killed Tarnower in a jealous rage. The defense has called the shooting a "tragic accident," a suicide attempt gone awry.
Harris, defense attorney Joel Aurnou said in his opening arguments, was the victim of professional and personal problems tht she could no longer endure. Harris had left suicide notes at her home on the Madeira campus showing he argued, that she "did not intend to return to Virginia alive."
Today, as the defense continued to present its case, some of those notes, long touted, were finally made public. The contents of the letters to Harris' sister, Mary Margaret Lynch, and to her secretary were not revealed.
But with Faulker, the school's board chairman, on the stand, the terse and bitter Harris suicide note and the letter to Faulkner were passed, one by one, to the jurors -- a few of whom, apparently shocked, read the letters a second time. The letters were never read aloud, in total. But the impact of their presence -- and that of the coolly correct Faulkner -- seemed to unhinge Harris as much as anything during this trial. Seemingly humiliated, she cried, she wiped her hands, she covered her face. She avoided looking at Faulkner and seemed almost to shrivel in her chair.
Faulkner, an exceedingly tall woman dresed in a dark burgundy suit, her brown hair pulled back in a bun, was a composed witness, formally polite. She almost ignored Harris, and when required in testimony to acknowledge her, did it with a cool smile. Her graciousness to Harris, under questioning from defense attorney Aurnou, was as unsettling at attack from a hostile witness.
Aurnou: Harris' whereabouts, the summer of 1978?
First an educational conference, then some vacation time -- "richly deserved," said Faulkner.
Aurnou: Harris' home prior to the day she left the suicide notes?
"Lovely," said Faulkner, strongly.
Aurou: The condition of the house the day the suicide notes were found?
"The living room was all right but the bedroom was. . . ." There was a pause, while the board chairman seemingly searched for the proper word. "It was . . . uh . . . messy. . . ." she said, with a nervous little smile.
Apparently the first of the Maderira School staff to be contacted after the shooting, Faulkner testified of being told of shooting at 1 a.m., March 11, by Harris' lawyer. Faulkner then, she said, went to Harris' home on the campus -- the home was not locked -- found the letters and notes, packed a pag for Harris, and arranged for a school groundskeeper to look after Harris' two dogs. She left the letters with a neighbor and fellow member of the Madeira board -- Nancy Baker Skallerup, who also took the stand today. (A highlight of her testimony was an account of the inventory she and Faulkner made of the letters before turning them over to a lawyer.)
In a keeping with her composure, Faulkner did not discuss her emotional reaction upon learning of the shooting, or upon reading the pained note addressed to her. But her reactions to the depressed person Harris had turned out to be were somewhat evident -- in a veiled and genteel way -- as Aurnou questioned her about Harris' letter.
"The language about choosing a headmistress you want and support -- do you know what she's referring to?" asked Aurnou.
"That's surprises me in a way -- but I know what she's referring to," said Faulkner.
"The language about not being wanted in the first place -- do you know to what that refers?" asked Aurnou.
"That is something I don't understand," said Faulkner.
"And the part that said, I was a person and nobody ever knew' -- do you know to what that referred?" asked Aurnou.
"No," said the chairman of the board.