Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005188, Wed, 21 Jun 2000 19:25:57 -0700

Re: The Grammar Case from LOLITA (fwd)
In re Ryan Asmussen's fascinating account of LOLITA and the Grammer case.
VN had a fascination for cases of car catastrophes used to cover up
murders. The plot of DESPAIR is based on such a case and, as with the
Grammar affair, it derived from a real sensational crime. In the early 30s
there was a rash of such cases in Europe. I discuss the "primal incident"
and several related ones in a recent article. When I get back to
California I'll check the title and journal.

D. Barton Johnson
Department of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies
Phelps Hall
University of California at Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
Phone and Fax: (805) 687-1825
Home Phone: (805) 682-4618

On Tue, 13 Jun 2000, Galya Diment wrote:

> From Ryan Asmussen (rra@bu.edu):
> At the beginning of LOLITA's Chapter 33, Humbert is in Ramsdale, revisiting his
> past, walking alone through a cemetary:
> "On some of the graves there were pale, transparent little national flags
> slumped in the windless air under the evergreens. Gee, Ed, that was bad luck --
> referring to G. Edward Grammar, a thirty-five-year-old New York office manager
> who had just been arrayed on a charge of murdering his thirty-three-year-old
> wife, Dorothy. Bidding for the perfect crime, Ed had bludgeoned his wife and
> put her into a car. The case came to light when two county policemen on patrol
> saw Mrs. Grammar's new big blue Chrysler, an anniversary present from her
> husband, speeding crazily down a hill, just inside their jurisdiction (God bless
> our good cops!). The car sideswiped a pole, ran up an embankment covered with
> beard grass, wild strawberry and cinquefoil, and overturned. The wheels were
> still gently spinning in the mellow sunlight when the officers removed Mrs. G's
> body. It appeared to be a routine highway accident at first. Alas, the woman's
> battered body did not match up with only minor damage suffered by the car. I
> did better."
> I had the pleasure a month or so ago of meeting a relative by marriage of the
> Grammer's, Paul Churchill, a Sherlockian (we were at the 60th anniversary dinner
> of the Boston Speckled Band; I was a guest) and teacher of Latin at a Baltimore
> high school. We began talking about VN at one point and he related to me his
> interesting association. I asked him if he wouldn't mind writing the story up
> for us and he graciously has done so, helped by personal research. I wasn't
> sure if the Grammer, or as VN puts it "Grammar" (for, I believe, obvious
> reasons), case had been mentioned before, but, yes, Alfred Appel, Jr. does so in
> his marvellous "Annotated" ("an actual crime, notes Nabokov, drawn from a
> newspaper"). What follows in quotes from Paul is more about the crime and
> subsequent case. For me this information, when read in tandem with the above
> quote from LOLITA, is a wonderful glimpse inside VN's artistic 'fact to fiction'
> crucible (you'll notice VN's changes and additions). The passage itself, I
> find, is another clever, half-hidden warning to the reader not to mistake the
> surface for the essence.
> PAUL: "I searched through the Baltimore Sun web archives and found that they
> only go back to 1990. However they do have two editorials about the Grammer
> case and one of them has ALL the lurid details listed. Here's what I found.
> Aug 20, 1952, Dorothy May Grammer, age 33, wife for 13 years of a metals
> company executive and mother of three girls, drove her Chrysler town car
> down Taylor Avenue and it careened downhill toward Belair Road, zigzagged,
> nearly hitting a police cruiser, bounced into a bank, went airborne, hit a
> tree and flipped over onto its right side. Police investigated and Mrs
> Grammer was pronounced dead on arrival at St Joseph's Hospital with a
> fractured skull. A stone was found wedged under the accelerator. The
> victim's blood was all on the driver's side of the car but the car was on
> its right side and so the blood should have flowed to the passenger side.
> The victim's husband, G Edward Grammer, was arrested by police and
> confessed. At the trial Dr Russell S Fisher of the medical examiner's
> office pronounced that the head injuries had been inflicted during a brutal
> beating, not as a result of the crash, and said, "Someone killed that
> woman, then cleverly tried to conceal it....Blood doesn't flow uphill."
> The Judge was Herman Moser and he sat alone, unusual in such a case without
> a jury. Andrew Sodaro, later a judge, was the chief assistant state's
> attorney who prosecuted the case. The case was big news in Baltimore. The
> courtroom was packed and a crowd of 700 gathered outside. A lady, Mathilda
> Mizibrocky, age 28, a secretary with the Canadian United Nations mission,
> testified that she and Mr Grammer had been having an affair. She was
> Catholic so there was no prospect for marriage after a divorce. The trial
> lasted nine days. Ed Grammer was found guilty and was sentenced to be
> hanged. On June 11, 1954, not quite two years after the crime, Ed Grammer
> died in one of Maryland's most miserably botched hangings. It took twenty
> minutes for him to die and this event led directly to the introduction of
> the gas chamber in Maryland. After the trial, Miss Mizibrocky quit her
> job, moved to California, and changed her name.
> "My wife, Jo Ann Grammer, had told me about the case when we were dating in
> the 60's. She was related to the Grammers, a cousin perhaps, and
> remembered the day her father came home "white as a sheet." That was the
> day of the hanging. I have since heard that it was the last hanging in the
> State of Maryland, and now that I have read the Sun editorials I am
> inclined to believe that it is true."