An American Tragedy Book 3, Chapters 1-2 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 3, Chapters 1-2 Summary

Fred Heit, the coroner of Cataraqui County, receives a call with the news that a couple drowned at Big Bittern Lake. He tells his young assistant, Earl, to take notes as he hears the facts: the body of the wife is found, but not that of the husband; the boat was upset on the south shore; a straw hat without any lining was recovered, the body had bruises around her mouth and eye; her coat and hat had been left at the inn, but a hat and a veil had been found; a letter in her pocket addressed to Mrs. Titus Alden. The sheriff’s officers were still dredging the lake to find the husband’s body. Mr. Heit tells Earl to grab some subpoena forms to fill out on the train up to Big Bittern Lake. Earl is elated at the excitement caused by the tragedy. He tells Miss Saunders, the secretary, to call his mother when she calls Mrs. Heit to tell her that they will not be home any time soon.

At the inn, Heit learns that the woman had been young and attractive, while her companion had been a young man of some means, by his appearance. John Pole, a local woodsman, had recovered Roberta’s body and noticed the bruises on her face. This immediately arouses suspicions, especially since they cannot find her companion’s body. The two names, Carl Graham and Clifford Golden, had been given to the two innkeepers, which leads the officials to suspect foul play. They do not believe that the “husband’s” body ever sank into the lake. Heit reads the letter found in Roberta’s pocket. It is addressed to her mother, telling her that she is going to be married but it must be kept a secret. Due to the fact that she and her companion had registered as Mr. and Mrs. Carl Graham, Heit sees the truth of the matter: that the couple had been pretending to be married. He thinks this case might help his friend, the district attorney, who is up for a judgeship. A local guide described a stranger who fits Clyde’s description, and Heit deduces that this is the one who was with Roberta. The word immediately spreads out across the state that a young woman was murdered by a male companion who has since escaped. The public outcry is swift to call for his capture and punishment for this tragedy, which might conceal an even more sinister crime.