|Mary Roberts Rinehart.|
The real-life case involves the 1896 murders on the Herbert Fuller of Captain Charles Nash; his wife, Laura Nash; and August Blomberg, the second mate. Thomas M. C. Bram, the first mate, was convicted of the crimes in a second trial held in 1899 and originally was sentenced to death; his sentence was changed to life imprisonment after a Supreme Court appeal.
According to Rinehart (see "Mary Roberts Rinehart Shows How Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction" and her autobiography My Story), a Pittsburgh lawyer told her about the case, and she subsequently read about it in a magazine for lawyers. Her choice for the perpetrator was the ship's Scandinavian wheel-man, Justus Leopold Westerberg, who was nicknamed Charley Brown. Westerberg had tried to kill his nurse while he was a patient in a mental hospital. A fictionalized version of Brown, Charlie Jones, appears in Rinehart's novel The After House (1913). The After House began serialization in McClure's in June 1913, attracting further interest to the case, and Bram was paroled in August 1913.
As Reader's Digest editor Fulton Oursler (aka mystery writer Anthony Abbot) relates in The Mystery Bedside Book (ed. John Creasey, 1960), Theodore Roosevelt read The After House and called on Rinehart. Oursler states that Roosevelt concurred with Rinehart's view of the case and wrote President Woodrow Wilson, asking for a pardon for Bram. Wilson granted the pardon in June 1919. Bram went on to captain the ship Alvena and to own a restaurant in Florida.