Saturday, February 26, 2011

William Showers

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

William Showers.

"This fiend murdered his two grandsons at his farm, at a place called Annville, in Pennsylvania.  The old man fell in love with Mrs. Sergeant, of some 45 summers, but she refused to become mistress of his farm until the two lads were put away in some orphan asylum.  Instead of doing this, he strangled the two lads, with devilish deliberation, burned their clothes and buried their bodies in a ditch near his home; but fortunately the crime was discovered a few days afterwards and his arrest followed."

Defenders and offenders. New York: D. Buchner & Co., 1888.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vamp of New Orleans

James Walkup, successful businessman and politician from Emporia, Kansas met Minnie Wallace on a trip to New Orleans in December 1884 and instantly fell madly in love. He was 48 years old, she was 15. A year and a half later they were married and a month after that James Walkup was dead from arsenic poisoning. During her murder trial Minnie would have help from other prominent, successful men. The same was true in 1897 when her second husband, also much older, died mysteriously.  And again in 1914 when a male companion died from cyanide after including Minnie in his will. What power did this New Orleans vamp have over middle-aged men?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Early American Crime

I was interviewed today at Early American Crime. Stop by and read what I have to say about Murder by Gaslight and my new blog, The National Night Stick.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The National Night Stick

I’m pleased to announce the launch of The National Night Stick, a blog devoted to Crime, Eccentricity and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America. Modeled after the National Police Gazette, the National Night Stick will feature stunningly illustrated stories of the dark side of American history:

We will present all facets of 19th century crime. “Rogue's Corner” features a weekly mug-shot and criminal biography of a noted ne’er-do-well from the pages of Inspector Thomas Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America (aka Rogues’ Gallery.) And more often than not, the feature stories will include a bit of larceny.

We will bring you the big ideas that came from an era in America when anything seemed possible - not the ideas that led to progress and invention, but dangerous ideas like train wrecks as entertainment, secret societies and private armies, religious movements that failed miserably and political machines that were all too successful.

The Sporting Life
We will visit those utterly disreputable but raucously joyous institutions found in every American city: saloons, vaudeville houses, dime museums, boxing rings, gambling hells, opium dens, and brothels.

The National Night Stick will also feature post summaries from Murder by Gaslight and other crime and history related blogs. It is guaranteed to be different on each visit.

As The Sunday Flash said in 1841:

"We follow vice and folly where a police officer dare not show his head, as the small, but intrepid weasel pursues vermin in paths which the licensed cat or dog cannot enter.”
The National Night Stick

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Three Little Murders

Little Murders:

Here are three very short stories from the same edition of the Elyria Democrat, Elyria, Ohio:

The Trial of James Sawyer
The trial of James Sawyer at Warren for the murder of William Holcomb has resulted in a verdict of acquittal. Holcomb’s body was found in the woods near the centre of Vernon, on the 27th of May, 1867. He went to hunt some squirrels with a rifle, and was found lying dead with a bullet-hole through his head.
     Sawyer happened to be the person who discovered him, and he was charged with murder, the motive being a suspected improper intimacy between Sawyer and Mrs. Holcomb. This, the testimony showed, was without foundation.
Last week, Geo. Foreman, of Woodsfield, Ohio, confessed on his death-bed to the murder of Miss Josephine Allen, of Salem, Ohio, in 1858. He did not intend to kill her at first, but struck her during a quarrel, and finding that he had seriously hurt her, carried her home, killed her with an ax, and secreted the body where it was afterwards found.
Dr. G. M. Sandors of Dyersburg, Tennessee, was murdered on Friday.—
Two respectable ladies of that place called upon him the day before for medical advice. He administered chloroform and ravished them while under its effects. His assassin is supposed to be the brother of one of the ladies.

Elyria Democrat, Elyria, Ohio, August 5, 1868

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Defenders and Offenders

I found a very colorful book of lawmen and criminals published in 1888 entitled Defenders and Offenders (no author). It includes color portraits and brief but fascinating biographies of each subject.

Some of the offenders are well known— like Thomas G. Woolfolk who chopped up his family in Georgia in 1887—but most are fairly obscure. If I can find enough information I will feature some of the murderers, if not, they will probably turn up from time to time in the Little Murders series.

The defenders are all New York City police superintendents and inspectors like Thomas Byrnes who led the investigation of Carry Brown’s murder and most other major New York criminal investigations in the 1880s. Though not as interesting as the offenders, I will occasionally post their portraits as well.

Defenders and offenders . New York: D. Buchner & Co., 1888.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The St. Louis Trunk Tragedy

On Sunday, April 12, 1885, the manager of the Southern Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, entered room 144 responding to guests’ complaints of a foul odor emanating from inside. The manager found nothing amiss on Sunday but by Tuesday the stench was unbearable.  He checked again and it appeared that the occupants had moved out, leaving behind several trunks. Inside one of the trunks was the decomposing body of a man wearing only a pair of white drawers. Apparently one of the two young Englishmen sharing the room had murdered the other.  Though the death had been made to look like a political assassination, it was in fact the tragic ending of a “peculiar relationship.”