Jean Harris Biography

Murderer, Educator (1923–2012)
In 1982, Jean Harris shot and killed author and cardiologist Herman Tarnower, who wrote the international best-seller The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet.


Born in Ohio in 1923, Jean Harris met New York cardiologist Dr. Herman Tarnower in 1965, and the couple dated for years. In that time, Tarnower authored the international bestseller, The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet. Jealous of his womanizing, Harris said she was attempting suicide when she shot and killed Tarnower in 1980. Found guilty of second-degree murder, she served 12 years before Mario Cuomo granted her clemency in 1992. Harris died in December 2012.

Early Life and Marriage

Murderer Jean Harris was born Jean Struven on April 27, 1923, in Cleveland, Ohio. The daughter of a Christian scientist and a civil engineer, Jean Harris graduated from Smith College with a degree in economics. Soon after graduation she married a handsome Navy veteran, Jim Harris, and they settled in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Their first son, David, was born in 1950 and Jimmie quickly followed in 1952. After the couple divorced in 1965, Jean was introduced to Dr. Herman Tarnower, a renowned New York cardiologist who founded the Scarsdale Medical Center.

Murder of Herman Tarnower

Tarnower was a notorious playboy, and it surprised many when he proposed to Harris in 1967. Though she turned him down, the couple carried on seeing each other for 14 years, during which time Tarnower continued to date other women. During this period, Tarnower published the international bestseller The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet. Harris became particularly jealous of Lynne Tryforos, Tarnower's young and attractive secretary. The women embarked on a competition for the doctor's affections.

Harris's depression became acute when combined with personal and professional struggles as the headmistress of the exclusive Madeira girls school. In 1980, she went to visit Tarnower, allegedly to meet with him one last time before committing suicide. But a struggle over the gun ensued, resulted in her firing five bullets and killing Tarnower.

Trial and Conviction

During her trial, Harris pleaded temporary insanity and accidental death insisting that she had only wanted to kill herself. The jury found Harris guilty of second-degree murder, and she was sentenced to 15 years to life at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. After serving 12 years of her sentence in 1992, Governor Mario Cuomo granted her clemency on grounds of ill health.

Her crime remained a subject of public fascination, even after her release from prison. Annette Bening played the former school headmistress in the 2006 television movie Mrs. Harris. Jean Harris died on December 23, 2012, at the age of 89, at an assisted living center in New Haven, Connecticut.

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