There could have been little to distinguish the sounds from the tumult of traffic below the windows. Horses were neighing, carriages were grinding up the dusty street, and beyond that, there was the faraway thrum of the pumping station out near the Genesee County Mills.
Yet above the din, Newton Edward Rowell, who was a quiet, diminutive businessman, could somehow identify tell-tale noises rippling through the thin walls of his home. The banging headboard and the sinister squeaking of bedsprings were undeniable.
He finally had to admit what he’d known all along. His wife was cheating on him – and now she and her lover were in the very same bed from which he’d risen that morning.
Standing in an adjacent room, Rowell took a moment to steel his nerves for what he was about to do.
Inhaling deeply, he then stepped out into the hallway, paused to listen to the sounds of lovemaking emanating from the bedroom, and kicked the door open.
Rowell’s pretty young wife, Jennie, shrieked in surprise – and then horror – as her husband leveled a pistol on her 30-year-old lover, Johnson Lynch.
Startled, Lynch sprang naked from the bed and ran out, pushing past Rowell. But the angry husband caught him on the stairs and fired consecutive shots in pursuit, the blasts exploding like thunder in the narrow hallway.
Lynch, who was a big, muscular man, was dead before he hit the landing.
Rowell then calmly descended the stairs, stepped over Lynch’s body, and headed out into the bright Batavia, New York, sunlight. Out on the street, he approached a neighbor he’d known for years.
“I found this man in my house and I shot him,” he said, motioning toward his home, the pistol still dangling at his side. “He had seduced my wife. I caught him in the act.”
The shooting on October 30, 1883, became known as the “Batavia Sensation.” The tragic incident involved a scoundrel, a love-blinded cuckold, and something not so common back in those days: a cheating wife.
Opportunity and Temptation
Then as now, the conventional wisdom was that men cheat more than women. That has, by all accounts and throughout the world, always been true.
But the infidelity gap is now narrowing – and it’s happening at a rate that has made researchers sit up and take notice.
In fact, experts agree that more wives are fooling around nowadays than ever before. The US National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey shows wives were nearly 40 percent more likely to be cheating on their spouses in 2010 than in 1990.
The number of husbands who reported infidelity over the same decade stayed constant at 21 percent. That meant that wives were – even then – cheating 70 percent as often.
Tammy Nelson, a couples-therapist, says there’s every reason to suspect that women are cheating even more frequently now, a full decade later. She also believes that – unlike Jennie – they’re getting away with it.
While there obviously is no data on just how many women have managed to conceal their affairs, Nelson is convinced it’s happening more regularly than most people assume. Women simply hide it better, she says.
“Traditionally women have faced harsher punishment for cheating,” says Nelson. “They have lost their financial support, risked the loss of their children, and in some countries even risked the loss of their lives.”
Janice Desmond, a private investigator in New York, says she gets a rush trying to catch cheating wives in the act.
She’s seen it all, she claims, from a bookkeeper leading a double life as a stripper to women rekindling romances with high school sweethearts.
“There is just more opportunity and more temptation out there,” Desmond told USA Today in 2018. “They usually tend to be in their 40s and are generally high maintenance.”
Boredom, Neglect, and Loneliness
The phenomenon is by no means a uniquely American experience. Globally, Ashley Madison has become one of the world’s most successful dot-com businesses with more than 50 million members. A little over half of them are women.
In 2014, the site reported that 40 percent of its Australian members were women. That was the largest percentage of female members from any single country in the world at the time.
More recently, the site saw another huge spike in membership from Down Under. Many of the Australians who signed up during the lockdowns were – again – women.
Nearly 80 percent of the site’s female Australian members say that social distancing has not influenced their already existing urge to cheat, say researchers commissioned by the site.
What is driving more and more wives to be unfaithful? The user data for Ashley Madison more or less confirms a cheating trend among higher-paid female executives and managers.
This lends credence to a widely-held notion that wealth and power play a role in encouraging infidelity.
Still, the results of recent research out of the University of Tennessee indicate that the most common reason is that some wives simply don’t love their husbands anymore.
To this, Alicia Walker, an associate professor of sociology at Missouri State University, adds boredom and a feeling of neglect. She says, however, that women’s reasons for cheating are as varied and nuanced as their marriages.
Indeed, some respondents to the University of Tennessee study admitted to succumbing to a nagging urge for sexual variety. Others said they went astray while on a drunken night out.
But Walker cautions against any sort of categorization, which, she suggests, might be misleading. Some women cheat just because they can.
“A lot of the time the reasons are physical, sometimes they’re emotional, and, sometimes, as much as we don’t want to admit this or know this, sometimes it’s just a matter of somebody having an opportunity,” she says.
Not an Easy Decision
There appears to be a general consensus that social media plays a key function in providing women with opportunities to cheat. And Ashley Madison is hardly the only platform available for that purpose.
Desmond says Facebook has been a persistent common denominator in the cheating cases she’s investigated over the past few years. “They go to their high school reunions and suddenly they are connecting with an old boyfriend,” the private detective says.
While Walker doesn’t discount that the internet may be expanding the opportunities for infidelity among women, her work allows her to dig deeper into the cracks within marriages.
Many of the women Walker interviewed said that when they talked openly about their fantasies or desires to their husbands, they were met with disgust and ridicule. The rejection made more than a few wives feel ashamed.
Cheating presented them with an opportunity to live out their fantasies and feel validated, says Walker. She points out that none of the women held frivolous attitudes toward infidelity.
For women who struggle with guilt and for wives who feel their own happiness isn’t enough to justify divorce, she says, cheating is the only relief valve.
“They believed that if they continued to go without their sexual needs being met, they would have to break up their families and break their partner’s heart,” she says. “None of the women made the decision to cheat lightly.”
“One last kiss, Jennie?”
By the time law enforcers came riding up to the Rowell house, a murmuring crowd had formed out on the street. The small town of Batavia was, by and large, a stranger to scandals, and its citizens were certainly unused to the sound of gunfire.
But many in the town suspected that Jennie was having an affair – and had perhaps half-expected trouble. The young wife had even confessed her dalliances to Rowell’s business partner, William Palmer.
“He’s as cold as an iceberg,” she’d said of Rowell, adding that her husband tended to be “very slow in finding out things” about her.
But Palmer says his friend and associate wasn’t slow at all. Rowell was just a lovestruck husband who didn’t want to believe his wife was cheating on him.
That much was evident when, even as lawmen took him away, Rowell had sidled up to his lovely wife with a plea. “Well, Jennie, I’ve got to go to jail,” he told her. “Won’t you kiss me before I go?”
He didn’t get a kiss, but the jury did grant the heartbroken businessman an acquittal after a 10-day trial that made headlines nationwide.
He and Jennie were divorced not long after.
Photo Credits: Wallhere
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