Saturday, November 27, 2010

Murderous New York

Fourteen of the fifty two stories and book reviews at Murder by Gaslight concern murders that took place in the state of New York. That’s 27%--higher by far than any other state. Why so many 19th century murders in New York? One reason is very simple, by 1800 New York was the most populous state in the union and New York City was the largest city in America.

But it was more than just population; New York was very good at publicizing its murders. New York City’s “penny press” of the 1830s learned quickly that nothing sold newspapers like a good murder. The murders of Helen Jewett, and Samuel Adams received heavy press coverage in New York that was picked up by newspapers throughout America. “Yellow Journalism” at the end of the century had Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World competing with William Hearst’s New York Journal for lurid details of murder cases like those of Evelina Bliss and Domenico Cataldo.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Minister and the Mill Girl

In December 1832, the body of a young pregnant woman was found hanging at a Tiverton, Rhode Island farm. She was identified as Sarah Cornell a worker in a textile factory in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts. Evidence implicated Methodist minister Ephraim Avery and the community was outraged that a man of the cloth had seduced and murdered an innocent mill girl. But Sarah Cornell was far from innocent and she had reasons hate Reverend Avery that had nothing to do with her pregnancy. Could Sarah Cornell have planted evidence against Avery before taking her own life? The story of the minister and the mill girl would put the town of Fall River at the center of a national controversy 60 years before Lizzie Borden would do the same. And the outcome would be just as inconclusive.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jack the Ripper: The Prime Suspect

Jack the Ripper: The Prime Suspect
by Michael Connor
What if Jack the Ripper wasn’t Prince Albert Edward, or Lewis Carroll, or Oscar Wilde’s lover or any of the dozen or so flamboyant, globe-trotting eccentrics usually named as suspects? What if he was just a local workman who fit the murders into his daily schedule? Someone like cart driver Charles Allen Lechmere, who was on the scene when the first body was discovered and who gave a false name at the inquest. Police in 1888 let him walk away, but in a modern murder investigation he would have been the prime suspect.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Killing of Bill The Butcher

Bill “The Butcher” Poole was a champion New York City pugilist in 1855—before the Marquess of Queensbury rules—when kicking, biting and eye-gouging were acceptable tactics and “fight to the death” was more than a metaphor.  It was also a time when a challenge was likely to be issued out of pure hatred for your opponent.  When John Morrissey, the Irish enforcer for Tammany Hall challenged Bill Poole of the the anti-immigrant “Know-Nothing” Party it promised to be the ultimate grudge match. But when the fighters turned to knives and guns, all pretext of sport was gone.  It would be Bill “The Butcher” Poole’s last fight.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Abby Borden Crime Scene

Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts has in interesting slide show of the Abby Borden crime scene as it was then and as it is now: Lizzie Borden Crime Scene. The entire house has been nicely restored and is now the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast in Fall River, MA. The murder is renacted there every August by the Pear Essential Players.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Bloody Benders

In the early 1870s the counties of Labette and Montgomery in Kansas were experiencing an alarming number of missing persons. The investigation passed several times through the cabin of the Benders, a family of German immigrants who ran a small grocery store and restaurant outside of Cherryvale, Kansas, but the Benders appeared completely innocent. When authorities found the cabin abandoned one day the picture changed. A closer look revealed nine murdered corpses, the handiwork of the Bloody Benders.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Devil on the Silver Screen

We learn from Omnimystery News: Leonardo DiCaprio Acquires Film Rights to The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Devil in the White City, of course, is the bestselling non-fiction book about serial killer H. H. Holmes and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

DiCaprio’s involvement means a big budget but that has never been a guarantee of success. We are hopeful that the right director and screenwriter will save this excellent book from the dismal treatment Hollywood gives most bestsellers. But Leonardo DiCaprio (who Kate Winslet described as  “A big girl’s blouse.”) as H.H. Holmes? Dubious.

What do you think?