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Born: November 29, 1976
Anderson, South Carolina, USA
Born: July 2, 1908
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Death: January 24, 1993, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
Sterling K. Brown
Born: April 5, 1976
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Live-in Butler-Chauffeur of Strubing Family
Born: April 19, 1979
Los Angeles, California, USA
Eleanor "Ellie" Strubing
Born: Jan 3, abt 1908
Birthplace: Woodbury, New Jersey, USA
Born: February 23, 1981
Hollywood, Florida, USA
Born: January 5, abt 1904
Death: November 25, 1994, Fairfield, Connecticut, USA
Attorney Hired by NAACP
Born: October 10, 1982
Croydon, Surrey, England, UK
Lorin W. Willis
Born: abt 1893
Birthplace: Connecticut, USA
Death: August 1, 1972, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA
Born: June 9, 1973
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Vivien "Buster" Burey Marshall
Born: February 11, 1911
Death: February 11, 1955
Born: June 21, 1982
Santa Rosa, California, USA
Born: February 1, 1902
Birthplace: Joplin, Missouri, USA
Death: May 22, 1967, New York City, New York, USA (complications after abdominal surgery for prostate cancer)
Born: January 27, 1940
Los Angeles, California, USA
Judge Carl Foster
Born: August 28, 1872
Birthplace: Waterford, Virginia, USA
Photo circa 1911
Roger Guenveur Smith
Born: July 27, 1955
Berkeley, California, USA
Walter Francis White
Born: July 1, 1893
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Death: March 21, 1955, New York City, New York, USA
Executive Secretary of the NAACP
Yes. The Marshall true story confirms that he met famed poet Langston Hughes while they were attending Lincoln University together. "Langston was at Lincoln with me," said Marshall. "One of the greatest people I've ever known. He knew everything there was to be known. He'd been around the world twice before he was 21 on tramp steamers. He studied and he just self-studied and then he went to Lincoln. He was a great guy. I liked him." Jazz musician Cab Calloway was also a classmate. -ThurgoodMarshall.com
Yes. During our fact-check of the Marshall movie, we confirmed that one of his great-grandfathers was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was captured and brought to America as a slave.
Yes. "My houseman must have gone berserk. He came to my bedroom door with a knife and raped me," Eleanor told Dr. Francis G. Zeier in her conversation with the physician who examined her. "I'm awfully glad to be alive. I don't think I could have stood it much longer" (The Helena Independent). During the day and a half she spent on the stand testifying, Eleanor, 32, told the jury that 31-year-old Joseph Spell attacked her when she emerged from the shower in her Greenwich, Connecticut home on the night of December 10, 1940. She said she screamed, hoping to wake his common-law wife, Virgus Clark, asleep upstairs in an attic bedroom. Eleanor claimed Spell hurled her onto the bed. She struggled at first, but he threatened to kill her. "I was frightened to death and could hardly breathe," she said repeatedly while being cross-examined (Kingston Daily Freeman). She stated that Spell had raped her a total of four times that night while her hands were tied.
Eleanor claimed that Spell, her butler-chauffeur, told her he was kidnapping her and forced her to compose a $5,000 ransom note to her husband who was away in Cincinnati. Spell drove her in her own car to the Kensico Reservoir in Westchester County just over the New York state line. Bound and gagged, she complained that the bonds on her hands were cutting into her skin. He cut them before ordering her out of the car. He threw her into the water to "get rid of her," and she said she was able to take off her heavy fur coat and undo the ropes that bound her legs. "But he stood at the top of the bank throwing stones at me and I decided to float as if I were dead, hoping to fool him into leaving," she told detectives. After he was gone, she swam the rest of the way to the shore. In the pre-dawn hours of December 11, two truck drivers, Henry Herlihy and Samuel Caesar, discovered her on the reservoir's edge in a semi-hysterical condition, her clothing drenched (The Philadelphia Inquirer).
In researching the Marshall true story, we discovered that like in the movie, Joseph Spell confessed, believing he would be convicted regardless of whether he assaulted his employer, socialite Eleanor Strubing, or not. According to Assistant Prosecutor Archibald H. Tunick, the details of Spell's confession were substantially similar to Eleanor's story. Spell supposedly confessed after 15 hours of questioning. However, when lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Sam Friedman spoke to him, Spell said that he did not confess to rape and kidnapping, only to engaging in consensual sex. -LegalAffairs.org
Joseph Spell had been working for the Strubing family for over a month before he was accused of rape. His childhood friend and common-law wife, Virgus Clark, who had already been working for the family as a cook, got him the job. -Kingston Daily Freeman
Yes. On his first day of employment with the Strubings, Joseph Spell was arrested for threatening to hurt a former employer when she wouldn't loan him money. -LegalAffairs.org
No. A fact-check of the Marshall movie confirmed that the $5,000 ransom note that Eleanor Strubing said Joseph Spell forced her to write was never found by the detectives. The missing note, in addition to the missing rope supposedly used to bound her, hurt the credibility of Eleanor's story. -The Philadelphia Inquirer
Not exactly. Joseph Spell was a short, stockily-built man with broad shoulders, while actor Sterling K. Brown is 6-foot tall and slender.
No. However, two African Americans had been on the panel of prospective jurors. One was an elderly clergyman who was challenged by the state and removed. The other was excused by Judge Carl Foster (portrayed by James Cromwell in the movie). -Kingston Daily Freeman
The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell had a lot riding on it for blacks in the North. They had been shut out of factory and union jobs, leading many to turn to domestic service for income. If Thurgood Marshall and Sam Friedman lost the case, then many blacks would likely be let go by their white employers due to racist fears that they might behave like Joseph Spell. -LegalAffairs.org
Such incidents certainly occurred in various cases throughout Thurgood Marshall's career as an attorney, and there are pictures to verify it. Given that the Spell case was fairly high profile, it's certainly likely that there were protesters holding similar signs. What we do know for a fact is that anonymous hate mail containing death threats was sent to Marshall and Friedman, as well as to the jurors and judge. Some of it contained graphic pictures of lynchings. -LegalAffairs.org
According to lawyer Sam Friedman (portrayed by Josh Gad in the movie), the state's attorney, Lorin Willis, was a bigot with a broad spectrum of prejudices. "He hated everybody," recalled Friedman. "If you were a Polack, if you were a Jew, if you were a wop—this was Willis. He was a no-good S.O.B., that's what he was." -LegalAffairs.org
No. In real life like in the movie, attorney Sam Friedman was hired by the Bridgeport NAACP to work on the case with Thurgood Marshall. The NAACP believed that having a white attorney argue the case would connect better with an all-white jury. In addition, Friedman was a Connecticut lawyer who was familiar with Connecticut laws.
It's not hard to imagine that his presence on the defense would anger intolerant individuals who were following the case, and it did. Friedman went on vacation after the trial to let his neighbors cool down. "A lot of people were sore," Friedman recalled. "I can't tell you the things they said." He also received letters threatening him and his family. However, in our research we found no evidence that Sam Friedman was beaten for defending Joseph Spell. In fact, Friedman's family has spoken out against this and other fabrications in the movie. "My uncle was never beaten up by anyone, especially racist thugs," wrote Roger Friedman, Sam's nephew who runs the movie website Showbiz411. The scene is fiction that the screenwriter introduced to evoke in Friedman (Josh Gad) a newfound understanding of the case and its importance, and to give Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) comfort in knowing that Friedman was "one of us now" as he says in the movie. -LegalAffairs.org
The true story confirms that if convicted, Spell faced up to 30 years in prison. -The Philadelphia Inquirer
Yes. After deliberating for nearly 13 hours, the superior court jury of six white men and six white women acquitted chauffeur Joseph Spell of the charges. After the state's attorney, Loren Willis (portrayed by Dan Stevens in the movie), decided not to pursue an appeal, Joseph Spell was released from custody a free man. Of the outcome, Willis said, "I completely disagree with the verdict." -Fitchburg Sentinel
No. Fact-checking the Marshall movie revealed that Eleanor and her husband, New York advertising executive and former Princeton athlete John K. Strubing, Jr, were not in the courtroom on the day of the verdict. However, he had been there when Eleanor was on the stand and throughout the trial. Eleanor's brother-in-law, Philip Strubing, a Philadelphia attorney, was present for the verdict. Audible gasps could be heard in the courtroom when the innocent verdict was read. -The Helena Independent
The jury concluded that there was enough reasonable doubt to render an innocent verdict for Joseph Spell. When Sam Friedman asked Eleanor if she could in fact not recall what she had done to fight off her attacker, she responded in near tears, "I don't remember, Mr. Friedman. I've tried to forget it. I was so frightened, so petrified, I didn't know what to do." Her lack of detail in recounting the attack, as well as her tendency to jump around time-wise when describing the events of that night, contributed to the jury's doubt. Also, the detectives were never able to find the ransom note or the ropes that she said Joseph Spell used to tie her up. In addition, the defense pointed out that she never called the police during periods of time when she was by herself during the ordeal.
Under cross-examination, she became angry and fired terse replies back at Attorney Friedman's long series of questions attempting to discredit her story. Friedman played on the fact that she had been married multiple times and had previously engaged in extramarital affairs. Under direct examination by the state's attorney, Lorin W. Willis, she was overly emotional and "alternately wept, choked, hesitated and quavered" (The Philadelphia Inquirer).
Her claim that she was raped four times in one night by the same man, though possible, also raised suspicions. Thurgood Marshall told his biographer Juan Williams, who wrote Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, that press coverage of the case sparked eye-rolling laughs at the NAACP offices. "He was supposed to have raped this woman four times in one night," recalled Marshall. "All I got to tell you is when the story got in the newspaper, all the secretaries, all of 'em, came and said, 'Hey, defend that man. We want to see it. Four times! Ha ha. Ha ha. Four times in one night. Yeah, bring him in here, let us see him.' I told 'em get out of my office."
Yes. After the verdict came down, John K. Strubing declared in a statement that he had "complete confidence in my wife's integrity and can only hope that, by love and affection, I will in time be able to make her forget the horrible reward she received for doing her duty to other women and the state" (Altoona Tribune). The Strubings moved from Greenwich to Old Lyme, and they stayed together until John's death in 1961, after which Eleanor married a well-known New Haven attorney.
After the innocent verdict was rendered and Spell was given his freedom, he would eventually move to East Orange, New Jersey where he spent the rest of his life with his common-law wife, Virgus Clark. Spell died in 1968.
Learn more about the Marshall true story by watching the interviews and videos below.