the headmistress and the diet doctor

Scarsdale Diet-Doctor Killer Jean Harris Dies at 89

On March 10, 1980, police in upstate New York found Dr. Herman Tarnower — the millionaire inventor of the low-fat, grapefruit-heavy Scarsdale diet — dying in bed from four gunshot wounds. Jean Struven Harris — the headmistress of an exclusive Virginia boarding school and Tarnower’s girlfriend of fourteen years — was seen driving away from the scene, and the cops quickly located a gun in her glove compartment. “I did it,” she reportedly said. “I’ve been through so much hell with him. He slept with every woman he could.” The subsequent 1980 murder trial spawned countless articles (including “The Headmistress and the Diet Doctor” in this magazine), two books, and several TV movies. It also created a debate among sociologists and feminist critics, some of whom argued that Harris’s actions were “a legitimate act of revenge.” (Writing in New York this year, the late Nora Ephron remembers, “We were all thinking, You go, girl.”) Harris was ultimately convicted of the crime and spent 12 years in jail, where she made the most of her time by counseling her fellow prisoners and writing about the conditions behind bars. After her release, she raised millions of dollars to fund scholarships for the children of female prisoners. She died last Sunday at an assisted-living home in New Haven, Connecticut.

Jean Harris, Diet-Doctor Killer, Dies at 89