Jacques Heath Futrelle was born to Wiley H. H. Futrelle and Linnie Bevill Futrelle of French Huguenot descent on April 9, 1875, in Pike County, Georgia. Recorded information about his early life is scant. Evidently he read widely in Poe, Doyle, and François-Eugène Vidocq and developed a love of logical detail. It is also clear that he had a considerable depth of knowledge in the sciences and criminology. He first worked for a newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, at the age of fifteen and briefly served as a theatrical manager while there (1902-1904). Later he moved to Boston to join the editorial staff of the Boston American newspaper (1904-1906). He married L. May Peel, also a writer, on July 17, 1895.
Futrelle gained prominence when the Boston American serialized his famous short story “The Problem of Cell Thirteen” from October 30 to November 5, 1905. The story was used to encourage readers to write in and suggest possible solutions, with prize money of one hundred dollars for the best possible answer. Most of the Thinking Machine stories appeared in this newspaper, but some, no one knows how many, are presumably lost among stacks of old papers tied in huge bundles at warehouses.
Futrelle began to attract attention as a freelance writer and published his first novel in 1906. Although he wrote both Westerns and detective stories successfully, by the time of his death he had become known internationally as a writer of light, lush romances and so-called Edwardian novels. Since that time, however, his popularity as a writer of romantic fiction has waned. The Diamond Master, published in 1909, is generally considered his best novel, but the weight of criticism lies heavily in favor of his short stories.
For the remainder of his life he resided in Scituate, Massachusetts, until his heroic death April 15, 1912, aboard the Titanic, which was returning from England. Seven of his stories went down with him in the Atlantic Ocean. Always a gentleman and a devoted husband, Futrelle put his wife aboard a lifeboat as the Titanic was sinking but refused to take his place on the boat until others were taken care of first. Such courtesy cost him his life.