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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on June 16, 2022
The title of the book posits the author's opinion; somebody killed Jane Stanford. Officially, Jane Stanford died of natural causes, not murder.
Leland Stanford was one of the founders of the Southern Pacific Railroad and later a Governor of and Senator from California. He and his wife, Jane, had one son, Leland Stanford, Jr., who died at age sixteen. In their son's memory, the Stanfords founded a university.. Leland Stanford died in 1894 leaving Jane as an extremely wealthy widow and the surviving founder of Stanford University.
From this point forward, the saga of Jane Stanford and her university is a complicated spiderweb of intrigue, questionable motives, changing alliances and all things nefarious. Early on in the narrative, one person repeated stands out as particularly suspicious. When the author finally identifies the alleged murderer, it comes as no surprise.
For all I know, every word in the book is exactly true. Given how deeply the author dives into the weeds, it appears that he has left no stone unturned. It details all manner of events and personalities.
The book is chocked full of characters. (The index runs to twelve full pages.) There are competing Chinese gangs, corrupt politicians and police and multiple competing San Francisco newspapers hungry for headlines. Two people stand out throughout the book, David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford, and George Crothers who wanted to protect the university regardless of collateral circumstances.
Ultimately, in my opinion, the author's conclusions are too pat. All things that lead to a finding of murder are laid out as irrefutable facts. Alternate theories of Jane Stanford's death are the work of quacks, paid deniers and others who had much to gain from a finding of natural death. The author convinced me that Jane Stanford was a difficult woman. Hardly any of the principle characters in the book liked her and might well have been grateful for her passing. Dislike alone is not evidence of murder, however.
When the author reveals the "murderer," he is forced to hypothesize a series of events and relationships that could be true, but he admits that he has no way of knowing for sure. Nonetheless, it is the only scenario that makes sense to him. He may be exactly right, but the fact remains that the record says that Jane Stanford died a natural death.