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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Getting Away With Murder.

American justice is largely fair and impartial, but it is not perfect; sometimes mistakes are made. It is always disturbing when an innocent person is unjustly punished, but it is far more common for a guilty party to be set free. When the crime in question is murder, this result can be equally disturbing.

In the nineteenth century (as now) accused murderers were tried in the court of public opinion before ever entering a court of law, and sometimes the verdicts did not agree. Whether through prejudice, money and influence, legal maneuvering, or simply lack of evidence a defendant is set free when the community “knows” he is guilty. Here are a few notable defendants who, very likely, got away with murder:


Richard Robinson

Helen Jewett, a high-end New York City prostitute was murdered in her bed by an axe wielding killer. Though it was fairly clear that Helen was murdered her ex-lover Richard Robinson, the jury found him not guilty. The judged was prejudiced against the testimony of prostitutes, and it was rumored that Robinson bribed at least one juror.

Minnie Wallace Walkup

James Reeves Walkup died of arsenic poisoning less than a year after his marriage to sixteen-year-old Minnie Wallace. Minnie was tried for his murder but her charm and beauty drove witnesses to perjury and jurymen to acquittal. Her second husband died under similar circumstances.

Jimmie Malley, Walter Malley, Blanche Douglas

Jenny Cramer was almost certainly raped by Jimmie Malley then murdered by him with the help of his cousin Walter and Walter’s girlfriend Blanch Douglas. Walter’s father, Edward Malley, the richest man in New Haven, Connecticut, paid for the defense that won their acquittal.

Ned Stokes

Ned Stokes, with premeditation, shot Jim Fisk in the Grand Central Hotel. Any question of his guilt disappeared when Fisk, on his deathbed, identified Stokes as the shooter. But stokes had political connections and after three trials was found guilty of manslaughter and served only six years.

Daniel Edgar Sickles

Dan Sickles shot his wife’s lover, Phillip Barton Key, in front of eye witnesses. Sickles did not deny the murder, but his attorney argued that his wife’s infidelity had driven Sickles temporarily insane. Sickles was set free in the first successful use of the temporary insanity plea in America.

Albert J. Tirrell

Albert Tiirell was acquitted for the charge of murdering Maria Bickford on the grounds that he was sleepwalking at the time and not responsible for his actions. While the “sleepwalking defense” never caught on as a legal ploy, in 1849 it was enough to free Albert Tirrell.

Lizzie Borden

Most people today believe that Lizzie Borden killed her father and stepmother in a vicious daylight axe murder. But in 1893 there was not enough evidence to convict her, and given the same evidence, she would probably be acquitted today as well. Either way, someone got away with murdering Andrew and Abby Borden.

 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

John J. Delaney

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:
John J. Delaney.

"John J. Delaney is only 17 years of age and is a self-confessed murderer. On June 3d, 1887, Mary Jane Cox was found dead in the kitchen of the house where she worked in Brooklyn, and in the pocket of her dress was found a bottle one-third filled with a preparation of arsenic. Delaney afterwards confessed that he had purchased the poison and given it to Mary, with the intention of getting rid of her, and telling her it was a harmless preparation which would do her good."









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

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Murder at Bloomingdale.

Harvey Keith
While boating on Max Lake in Bloomingdale, Michigan in August 1885, Frank Lackey and his companions saw what they thought was a dead sheep floating in the water. Closer inspection revealed that it was the body of a man, wearing only a white shirt and a pair of socks. The body was soon identified as Harvey Keith who had been missing for several days. With no signs of violence on the head or upper body, the death would probably have been ruled a suicide except that the man’s genitals had been cut off.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Modern Macbeth Murder Case.

Little Murders
(From New York Tribune, March 26, 1877)

 


A Modern Macbeth Murder Case.
 

An old man named Thomas J. Poyntz, living at Bay Shore, was found dead in a bed at the house of Nathaniel Evans, near Thompson’s Station on the Long Island Railroad, Jan. 29, with a deep wound in the left side, apparently inflicted with a carpenter’s gouge. Evans was a cabinetmaker and upholsterer, and apt to be in possession of such a tool. This, with other circumstances, excited strong suspicion against him. After an investigation by Coroner Preston of Amityville, in which it was shown that Evans and Poyntz—possibly Kennedy and others—had been carousing on the day previous. Evans was held for the murder, although there was doubt of his guilt, and there seemed to be a probability that the Grand Jury would refuse to find an indictment against him. There has been a suspicion, strengthened by the actions of the woman herself, that Evans’s wife knew more about Poynitz’s death than Evans himself—who, according to the evidence at the inquest, was very drunk on the night of the occurrence, and probably incapable of committing the deed. The Grand Jury, which has just adjourned, indicted both husband and wife for murder in the first degree. The impression is strong that though Evans may have a guilty knowledge of the crime, his wife is the principal criminal. They are both now in the County Jail at Riverhead awaiting trial at the next term of the Oyer and Terminer, which will be held in April. This is the first indictment for murder in the first degree found by a Suffolk County Grand Jury since Nichols Behan for the Wickham murder 22 years ago.



"A Modern Macbeth Murder Case." New York Tribune 26 Mar 1877: 8.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Cain and Abel.


Hiram Sawtell
Like the Biblical brothers Cain and Abel, the Sawtell brothers of Boston took divergent paths through life. While Hiram settled down and raised a family, supported by his successful fruit business, Isaac was doing time in Charlestown prison. And as with the Bible’s first murderer, Isaac’s jealousy of his brother became unbearable. Upon his release from prison, he lured Hiram from his family and killed him in cold blood.