When her lover was having an affair with a younger model Jean Harris took drastic action which ended his life and changed hers forever...


Jean Harris grew up a bright child from a good, middle-class family.

She graduated from university and married, later having two sons.

They divorced in 1966, and a few months later Jean met Dr. Herman Tarnower at a party.

Herman was a cardiologist and life-long bachelor when they began a relationship, enjoying exotic holidays together.

Jean even moved to New York before being relocated to McLean, Virginia, to become headmistress of the elite Madeira School for Girls.

She was regarded as a pioneer of modern education and a career-orientated woman.

Respectable and hard-working, during the week Jean Harris tutored the girls of America’s aristocratic society and lived with her two dogs.

At weekends she got the train to Herman’s six-acre estate in Westchester County, a suburb of New York.

The couple were regulars on a dinner party circuit that included members of the political and professional elite.

Jean believed she had a future with Herman.

Even helped him edit a book he wrote in 1979, The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet.

It became a bestseller. And Herman Tarnower became rich and famous.

But his success meant that he could indulge in affairs with younger women.

One of whom was his office assistant, Lynne Tryforos, who was two decades younger than Jean Harris.

Jean and Herman had been lovers for 14 years when in 1980 she discovered that he was going to a dinner with Lynne.

She finally snapped and wrote a long letter to Herman in which she said she was ‘at the end of her tether’ and felt isolated, powerless and unappreciated.

Unless he could stop cheating on her she could see no reason to go on living.

Then, on 10 March 1980, police were called to Herman’s home where they found him dead.

He’d been shot four times.

Jean Harris was arrested.

In October 1980 she appeared in court charged with the second-degree murder of Dr. Herman Tarnower. She pleaded not guilty.

It emerged that on that fateful day Jean had driven to Herman’s estate with a .32-caliber handgun.

According to her defence she was influenced by the drugs that Herman himself prescribed for her depression.

Jean testified that she planned to confront the doctor then commit suicide.

But after entering the sleeping doctor’s bedroom, she spotted negligee, suggesting that his mistress had recently slept over.

So when Herman woke up, Jean said she tried to commit suicide but there was a struggle for the gun.

And that she ended up accidentally shooting him. Four times.

Then, as he collapsed she tried to kill herself, banging the jammed weapon on the bath to try and unjam it.

Her defence argued that Harris had done a number of things before leaving home which showed she was definitely intending to kill herself, such as making her will, tendering her resignation and arranging to have her precious dogs looked after.

At first, the jury were impressed by her quiet, calm demeanour.

A sketch of Jean Harris in court (Picture: Getty Images)

But then they listened to the letter she’d sent to  Herman Tarnower.

With its accusations, insults at Lynne Tryforos and obsession with money, the prosecution claimed that Jean Harris had driven to Herman’s with murder in mind.

She wrote: ‘You keep me in control by threatening me with banishment – an easy threat which you know I couldn’t live with – and so I stay home alone while you make love to someone who has almost totally destroyed me.’

Jean Harris also wrote that he had betrayed her and that she was considering plastic surgery to win him back.

Jurors soon found Harris arrogant and jealous.

After a three month trial, in February 1981 Jean Harris was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life.

She served 12 years in prison where she became a force for reform and a mentor to fellow inmates.

Whilst in prison she wrote a book, A Stranger in Two Worlds, and used the profits to set up a charity funding education for incarcerated women.

In 1992, she was released on parole and died in 2012, aged 89.