News & Announcements

Denis Sullivan, Author of "In Defence of Her Honor" to Come to Centenary to Talk about the Tillie Smith Murder Mystery

10/11/2013, 03:10 PM

Hackettstown, N.J., – Denis Sullivan, author of the Tillie Smith murder mystery, “In Defence of Her Honor,” will be conducting a presentation on the subject and a signing of his book at 6:30 p.m. October 22, 2013, at Taylor Memorial Library at Centenary College.  This event is free and open to the public.

This book is the true story of the 1886 murder of Tillie Smith, a kitchen maid who worked at Centenary College.  James Titus, the building supervisor, was accused and found guilty of her murder, though many people felt that he was punished for a crime that he did not commit.

A native New Yorker, Denis Sullivan grew up within shouting distance of Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field in the days before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. He received his BA in Classics and World Literature from Brooklyn College, and attended NYU Law School for a year before deciding to undertake graduate studies in History instead. He ended up in the corporate world, however, as Director of Human Resources for a large international manufacturing company.

In 1984 he relocated from Montclair to Karrsville, here in Warren County. On an early sightseeing venture he and his wife explored Hackettstown’s Union Cemetery and came upon Tillie Smith’s grave. Intrigued by the idea of a heroic-sized monument to chastity (the inscription tells us that the deceased “died in defence of her honor,” and that it was “erected by an appreciative public”) he promised himself that he’d find out Tillie’s story some day when he had time. That day didn’t arrive for more than a decade, when retirement finally provided him an opportunity to indulge his love of history.

The book that resulted, In Defence of her Honor, was Sullivan’s first, and was published in 1999 by D.H. Moreau Books of Flemington. It is widely regarded as the definitive history of the Tillie Smith affair, not only for its content but for the detailed research that went into its preparation. Sullivan is currently completing a second full-length book, similarly researched and footnoted, about the 1888 Bollingshire case known as “the murder at the Oxford Tunnel.”

“I am so pleased that Mr. Sullivan will be holding his event here at Taylor Memorial Library,” says Timothy Domick, Director of Taylor Memorial Library.  “This story is one that is so interesting and is a part of the history here at Centenary College, so it makes perfect sense that we would welcome holding this opportunity here. I hope many people come to this event to find out more about Tillie Smith and the mystery surrounding her murder.”

Books are available for purchase that evening for $10. For more information, call (908) 852-1400, ext. 2345.

Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary
College is an independent, coeducational liberal arts and career studies college
distinguished by an accomplished faculty, small class size and diverse student body.  Centenary is the only baccalaureate and master degree granting institution in northwest New Jersey.

Centenary College’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township (Morris County).  The Centenary College School of Professional Studies offers degree programs in two locations: Parsippany and Edison, and at corporate sites throughout New Jersey.  The School of International Programs recruits international students for study at Centenary and Centenary students for study abroad.