Freda Lesser

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Freda Lesser (born August 6, 1899 in Indiana; died July 4, 1919 in Topanga Canyon, California) was the daughter of Emil and Alice Lesser.

During her childhood, Freda and her mother frequently spent part of their summers visiting the Oeser family at their farm outside Cullman. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1912.

Freda took work as a stenographer at a manufacturing plant. She became socially acquainted with one of her co-workers, a truck driver named Harry S. New Jr. He was the older of two sons born out of wedlock to Lillie Burger and then-U.S. Senator Harry New of Indiana, whom he did not meet until adulthood.

Lesser accompanied New on a 4th of July outing to the beach near Santa Monica, and then to Topanga Canyon. Accounts of what happened there are disputed. In any case, she was killed by a gunshot from his pistol. New returned to the city with her body in his car and, according to his first statement, drove around for hours before arriving at the Los Angeles police headquarters to confess to shooting her during a quarrel.

According to New, and to Freda's mother, the couple were engaged and planned to marry the following day. Friends of Freda's disputed that account and referred to earnest love letters exchanged with a boyfriend in Birmingham. New claimed that she asked to postpone the wedding and that he shot her in rage. His attorneys later made a case that she had informed him she was pregnant, but wished to end the pregnancy and not to marry him, while the press speculated that perhaps she had been suicidal. Attorneys also brought evidence that New was not of sound mind. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to serve 10 years at San Quentin. New was paroled in June 1931 and died on June 15, 1950.

Freda's remains were cremated at the Rosedale Crematory.

Lesser's murder was one of several well-publicized crimes which were used as inspiration for Theodore Drieser's 1925 novel "An American Tragedy".


  • "Freda Lesser victim of murderer. Former Cullman girl slain by son of Senator New in Los Angeles." (July 10, 1919) Cullman Democrat.
  • Plank, Kathryn M. (1991) "Dreiser's Real American Tragedy" Papers on Language and Literature, No. 27, pp. 268-287