Saturday, February 23, 2013

How to Abolish Murder.

In 1869 H. H. Bingham, agent of the Michigan State Prison, issued a pamphlet analyzing the effect of Michigan’s abolition of the death penalty some twenty-two years earlier.  In place of hanging, Michigan sentenced capital offenders to solitary imprisonment for life (though the longest anyone actually stayed in solitary confinement was five years). Bingham concluded that, though the number of criminal convictions in Michigan increased during that period “…there is no evidence in the increased convictions that there is an increase of crime beyond the ratio of increase in population.” In fact, the number of convicted murderers, as a percentage of total convictions, actually decreased.

About five years later the information in the pamphlet was summarized in a number of mid-western newspapers. Bingham’s conclusions were greeted with a good deal of skepticism as illustrated by this sarcastic editorial in the Cincinnati Daily Gazette:


A correspondent writing from Michigan says the abolition of capital punishment in that State has diminished the murder rate. What an anomaly is human nature! Persons inclined to murder find that in Michigan they can not enjoy the privilege of being hanged for it; so they resolve they won’t play. Probably they go off to other States where hanging is allowed, to do their business. We presume that equally trustworthy statistics would show that murder has increased in the adjoining States since Michigan abolished Hanging. If this diminution of the terror of the penalty for murder has diminished murder in Michigan, it follows logically and morally that if she should abolish all penalties, murder would cease entirely in that State for want of encouragement. There are persons of equal intelligence of human nature who think that if the common people are permitted to see a public hanging, they will incontinently be seized with a propensity to go and murder somebody in order to play a star part in so attractive a spectacle.


Collections of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan. Lansing: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Company, 1907.

"How to Abolish Murder." Cincinnati Daily Gazette 15 Oct. 1875.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Brutal Murder.

Little Murders
(From Sedalia Daily Democrat, Sedalia, Missouri, October 15, 1876)

A Brutal Murder.
A Quarrel Between Colored Secret Societies Results in a Hanging Scrape.

St Louis, Oct. 12—A special to the Globe-Democrat from Waco, Texas says: A most brutal murder was committed near this place two weeks ago, and the coroner’s jury to-day completed the investigation, which proves that a body of colored Masons had opposition from another secret clique, and the Masons were to have their Worshipful Master, a person named Jones, murdered by another negro named McCann. Therefore Jones conterplotted, and McCann was urged several times to come out of his hole at night, but refused till the night of the 30th, when he agreed, and a party of negroes numbering ten, among them Jones, met and murdered him as per the following sample of evidence, given by Alex. Cox, who turned state’s evidence.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Contract with the Devil.

On April 16, 1897, cashier Joseph A. Stickney was murdered during a daring daylight robbery of the Great Falls National Bank in Somersworth, New Hampshire. The frenzied investigation that followed, crossed state and national borders resulting in the arrests of Joseph Kelley, a resident of Somersworth with peculiar habits. Joseph E. Kelley confessed to the murder, leaving the court to decide whether his actions were driven by a mental disorder, whether he was feigning mental disability, or whether Kelley had in fact made a contract with the devil.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Miss Fails in Court

Little Murders
This looks like a good one. I'll keep searching for more information.

(From Waterloo Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, December 15, 1897)

Miss Fails in Court
Murder in Second Degree

That is her Plea.—She Will Be Sentenced Saturday.—Kern Indicted for Murder.
Waverly, Dec. 10.— One chapter in the celebrated Kern murder  case was closed late yesterday afternoon, when Delilah Fails, supported by Mrs. Parrot, wife of Sheriff Parrott, staggered into the crowded court room, and through her attorney, E. L. Smalley, entered a plea of guilty to murder in the second degree.