Real quick now: What are the first things that come to your mind when you think of the Texas frontier?
But how about paleontologists? Did you think about them, too?
Fossil hunters tended to stick to the background, picking their way through the Texas bone beds, but they were very much part of the frontier. Texas was a magnet for 19th-century collectors. Universities and museums on the east coast, even in Europe, hired them to augment their collections. Mix the paleontologists up with the usual cast of characters and you sometimes had a great recipe for violence and murder.
In her book, Death of a Texas Ranger (2014), Cynthia Leal Massey successfully stirs a paleontologist into the frontier murder recipe. Her book deals with what was once the coldest case on the San Antonio court docket (37 years to case closure!) and features all the traditional characters listed above. The culinary result was a winner. Death of a Texas Ranger took the 2015 Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award for Best Western Nonfiction and the 2015 San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award.
Cynthia Leal Massey joins us for an interview today. Welcome, Cynthia!
Death of a Texas Ranger actually chronicles two homicides, one of a Ranger in 1873 and another of a postmaster in 1878. Tell us first how the Ranger died.
On the morning of July 9, 1873, Minute Men Texas Ranger Troop V of Medina County was breaking camp at a site in northwest Bexar County, Texas, near the settlement of Helotes, getting ready for a scout. Private Cesario Menchaca came out of the bushes and confronted Sgt. John Green (a German immigrant originally born Johann Gruen). After a few tense words, Sgt. Green moved toward Menchaca, who had a rifle in his hands, and Menchaca shot him, killing him on the spot.
John Green’s company was a colorful mixture of Texans, Germans, and Mexicans. Did Germans and Mexicans often serve as Rangers?
During the early days of the Ranger companies, Mexicans did serve in a sort of multicultural unit; however, it was not the norm. The Ranger company that John Green served in was composed of ranchers and farmers from northwest Bexar County and southeast Medina County. A mixture of Germans, Mexicans (or Texicans), and Anglos, lived in this region. These men had something in common–they wanted to protect their families and their livestock.
Menchaca fled to Mexico. The U.S. and Mexico already had an extradition treaty at the time of the killing. Why didn’t it help Texas extradite Cesario Menchaca from Mexico?
Apparently, no one was able do the work necessary to get the extradition paperwork together.
How did the Green homicide end up becoming the coldest case on the San Antonio court docket?
The United States has no statute of limitations on murder. The 1873 indictment charge was murder, so by necessity, it moved forward on the docket, despite no activity in his apprehension. In 1897, Deputy Will Green, the victim’s son, petitioned the court for a new Bill of Indictment, since the sitting judge was eager to remove old cases from the docket. Deputy Green was successful and with a new bill of indictment and case number, the murder case remained on the docket. However, because of circumstances regarding the outcome of the extradition request, the case remained on the docket until Menchaca’s death in 1910, 37 years from the initial indictment.
How did a turtle fossil lead to a fossil hunter killing the postmaster?
Gabriel Wilson Marnoch, a frontier naturalist, lived in Helotes. He was a neighbor of the Green family and was allegedly involved in the Green killing. Marnoch collected specimens and fossils and mailed large boxes of his finds to scientific institutions around the country. He was a frequent visitor to the Helotes Post Office, where Carl “Charles” Mueller was postmaster. In the spring of 1877, Marnoch received correspondence from Professor Joseph Leidy of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, indicating that one of Marnoch’s packages to him, which contained “turtle remains,” had arrived in a state of “ruins.” Marnoch confronted the postmaster about the mishandled package, demanding recompense, which elicited bad feelings on both sides. This ignited what came later.
In Death of a Texas Ranger, you write that post-Civil War Texas was a magnet for paleontologists. Why?
The mid-nineteenth century is often referred to as the Age of Darwin, a nod to British naturalist Charles Darwin, who in 1859 and 1871, respectively, published his seminal scientific works, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Texas was still very much a frontier, with virgin landscape, and those interested in the natural sciences descended upon Texas in troves. According to Samuel Wood Geiser, author of Naturalists of the Frontier, “several hundred men of science labored in Texas in the pioneer days.” Marnoch’s father, Dr. George Frederick Marnoch, a graduate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh, was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and likely shared a medical class with him. Gabriel mentioned this many years later, saying that he’d had “considerable correspondence” with Darwin and fellow naturalist Thomas Huxley, although said letters have yet to surface.
Gabriel Marnoch collected for Professor Edward Drinker Cope at the Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Cope’s feud with paleontology Professor Othniel Marsh of Yale is now the stuff of legend. Can you tell us about their clashes?
There are several good books about the feud between Cope and Marsh. In a nutshell, the paleontologists were involved in something now called “The Bone Wars.” This was a period of intense fossil hunting and discovery in the mid-nineteenth century. Trying to outcompete each other, they resorted to spying, counter-spying, bribery, theft and even destruction of bones to remain “on top.” Marsh’s charges of errors, distortion, and fraud against Cope and the professor’s countercharges were published in the spring and summer of 1873, in The American Naturalist, which Cope finally purchased in 1877 to stop further allegations from being published.
How did Marnoch help cement Cope’s reputation?
Marnoch hosted Cope in Helotes and other Texas environs on a two-week quest for new fossils in the fall of 1877. After that, Marnoch, whom Cope hired as a field correspondent, began sending specimens to the paleontologist. Marnoch discovered several new specimens, one a frog that Professor Cope said was “a new genus of Cystignathididoe.” Cope gave the cliff chirping frog the scientific name Eleutherodactylus (Syrrhophus) marnockii, in honor of his field correspondent. A few other Marnoch discoveries named by Cope: the Texas Banded Gecko, Short-Lined Skink, and the Barking Frog.
Why were the murder charges against Marnoch dismissed?
Marnoch killed the postmaster in March 1878. He was indicted for murder on April 4, 1878. In November of that year, the jury could not agree on a verdict and a mistrial was declared. At his second trial May 17, 1879, the jury convicted him of murder in the second degree and sentenced him to confinement in the penitentiary for twenty years. His attorneys kept him out of prison while they appealed his murder conviction and the appeals court remanded his case back to the district court for a new trial. The judge believed that the jurors weren’t given appropriate directions regarding self-defense. His lawyers were able to get continuances due to their inability to recall several important witnesses who’d moved out of the country. The murder case was finally dismissed in 1887.
How did John Green’s son try to reopen his father’s case decades later?
In 1897, Deputy Will Green learned that the 37th District Court of Bexar County was reviewing old cases on the docket and that caused him to seek a new indictment. The original indictment for murder against Cesario Menchaca was filed in October 1873. Deputy Green was able to assemble several of his father’s old Ranger comrades before a new Grand Jury, and was successful at obtaining a new indictment on May 26, 1897. This enabled him to seek and obtain an extradition requisition from the Governor of Texas.
A fascinating twist at the end of the book concerns a discovery about the paleontologist. He may be had more to do with the death of a Texas Ranger than Will Green originally thought. But I won’t spoil the ending for you – you need to read the book yourself.
Cynthia Leal Massey is working on a screenplay adaptation of Death of a Texas Ranger, and with luck, we might get to see it out the big screen. Fossils and felonies should make a great mix. I’ll be there if the film comes out. If you go too, grab an extra large bag of popcorn and come sit with me.
Literature on point:
Cynthia Leal Massey, Death of a Texas Ranger: A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier (Guilford, Connecticut: TwoDot, 2014).
Charles H. Sternberg, The Life of a Fossil Hunter (1st ed. Henry Holt & Co., 1909, reprint, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990) [Another account of a 19th-century paleontologist collecting for Cope, in part in Texas; considered a classic among paleontologists].Read More
The lives of our forefathers send ripples through the generations, shaping who we are today. If one of those forefathers happened to be a U.S. President, he shaped both national and familial history. And if that forefather was assassinated in office, his surviving family carried an extra burden of grief and shock.
Four U.S. Presidents were assassinated: Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. Of those, only two – James Garfield and John F. Kennedy – have living descendants today. Hank Garfield, a descendant of President Garfield, joins us today to talk about his forefather, family legacy, and life today.
Charles Guiteau, a disappointed office-seeker, shot and injured President Garfield at a Washington, D.C. train station on July 2, 1881. He died several weeks later, on September 19, as a result of his injuries. In a previous blog post, I interviewed author Fred Rosen, an author of a new book about the Garfield assassination. Rosen claims Garfield’s physician, Dr. Bliss, deliberately killed Garfield, committing second-degree murder, and that Alexander Graham Bell preserved the clues. Hank Garfield wrote the foreword to Rosen’s book.
Hank, you are a descendant of President Garfield. Just how are you related to him?
I’m the great-great-grandson of the president. He had four sons, and they all had sons, and so forth, so there are a lot of Garfields running loose in the USA.
Did the assassination still affect your family several generations later? If so, how?
I don’t know that the assassination affected my family at all within my lifetime. It’s an interesting conversation starter, but it also leaves people with the misguided impression that we have Kennedy-esque connections and wealth, which we don’t.
You actually got to meet one of the Kennedys at school. What was that like? Did you ever talk about either family’s history?
That would be Michael Kennedy, RFK’s son. We were in the same class at St. Paul’s in Concord, New Hampshire. He was small, athletic, charming, and much more worldly than I was. Our circles of friends overlapped a little. We played backgammon and had a conversation that went along the lines of “You’ve got the Garfield chin, and I’ve got the Kennedy nose.” We both liked the TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Some Secret Service agents came to school and followed him around for a couple of weeks when there was a threat against the family. He was killed in a skiing accident when he was about forty. I remember seeing it on the news in California.
Note: The Kennedy Hank Garfield means was Michael LeMoyne Kennedy (1958-1997). He died went he hit a tree while playing football on skis on December 31, 1997 in Aspen, Colorado.
Did your family have any stories or memorabilia about President Garfield?
I honestly can’t remember any. I have a silver cup that Lucretia Garfield (the President’s widow) gave to my grandfather in 1903, when he was a boy. Their names are inscribed on it. I’m not sure how it came to be in my possession.
You are an author. What kind of books do you write?
I’ve published five novels under the name Henry Garfield but am now writing as Hank Garfield. I’m shopping a long novel called A Sprauling Family Saga, which is what it is, and I also write baseball science fiction.
Does your family history have an influence on your writing?
I guess I like to write with large ensemble casts; perhaps growing up with a large extended family had something to do with that.
In your foreword for Fred Rosen’s book, you state that President Garfield was one of the few scholars to occupy the White House. On what do you base that?
There’s a persistent legend that he could write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other. I’m not sure I believe this. But his mother put great stock in education, believing it was the way for him to escape the poverty of living in a fatherless household on the Ohio frontier (His father died when he was very young). He is also credited with an original proof of the Pythagorean theorem. He seems to have had a curious mind that moved in many directions. Most true scholars exhibit this kind of interest in a broad range of subjects. They used to be called Renaissance men, an allusion to Da Vinci, I guess.
Might the Garfield legacy have inspired you to write?
I grew up in a household full of books. A couple of them were about my great-great grandfather. His son Harry (my great-grandfather) became president of Williams College, the President’s alma mater. My parents were teachers and readers. In the summer we lived without TV. I was always encouraged to read. That, above everything else, inspired me to write.
What do you do now?
I write novels and teach creative writing at the University of Maine. Lately I’ve been working in the genre of baseball science fiction. I also write a weekly blog called Slower Traffic (slowertraffic.net) about living without a car in a rural state. I haven’t owned a car in ten years. It’s the only New Year’s resolution I’ve ever kept.
One of your books, The Lost Voyage of John Cabot, is a historical novel. What inspired you to write about the Age of Exploration?
Well, I love books, and I love boats. My father had a small schooner. I don’t remember not knowing my way around a small sailboat. Today I own a 25-foot sloop and a couple of dinghies. I’m fascinated by the lasting legacy of that time: why the Brazilians speak Portuguese and the Quebeckers speak French, but some Portuguese words creep into Canadian French because of the interactions between New World explorers. In 1983 I was working for a game company in California, and we were looking for mysteries in different genres that we could make into game scripts. John Cabot disappeared on his second voyage to America. I wrote a script in which the player sets out to search for him. The company went under before it could be produced, but it was a great starting point for a book.
Note: John Cabot (c. 1450-1500) was a Venetian explorer who sailed to mainland North American in 1497. Historians consider him to be the first European to visit the North American mainland since the Norse settlement of Vinland.
Do any of your other books touch on crime?
My first novel, Moondog, is a classic whodunit, in which a Holmes and Watson team lead the reader on a search for a murderer. Only the murderer is a werewolf. But the structure is basic: a series of murders that the reader is invited to solve along with the protagonist. From a review by Gahan Wilson, the New Yorker cartoonist: “[Moondog] moves along in the classic pattern and follows the rules; the twist Garfield’s given to it is to have the action take place in convincing Steinbeck country amidst Steinbeckian folk, all of whom are quite well-realized and true to the master’s leanings.” Obviously I was flattered by the comparison, as I was by the mention of Carl Hiaasen in a review of the sequel, Room 13. They are two of my favorite writers.
Thanks, Hank Garfield, for joining us!Read More
London, 1788. A fiend terrorized the city with his series of crimes. The “London Monster,” as the city dubbed him, didn’t kill, rape, or ignite.
Karen Lee Street has just launched a novel about the London Monster. She joins us today to talk about the true crime history on which she based her story.
Karen is a writer with extensive international experience in feature film script development. She has taught screenwriting at universities and professional training programs throughout Europe. Although born in Philadelphia and now in Australia, Karen has lived in London most of her adult life.
Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster is the first novel in her mystery trilogy. A summary of her novel follows at the end of the post.
Ann Marie: The London Monster was a serial criminal, but not a murderer or rapist. What did he do?
Karen: From 1788 – 1790, over fifty women in London complained of being attacked by a man who was dubbed ‘the Monster’. His victims were primarily attractive young women of comfortable means (with nice clothing) who were slashed across the buttocks with a sharp blade that ruined their skirts and often cut into their flesh. The victims also complained that the Monster abused them verbally. The crimes caused mass hysteria and satirical cartoonists of the day drew images of ladies wearing copper pots to protect their posteriors. It is important to note that in 1790 it was a felony to maliciously cut or deface a piece of clothing while it was worn by another person, a crime that could be punished by hanging or transportation.
Were the London Monster’s crimes unique?
The Monster’s assaults could be labeled piquerism, which is defined as deriving sexual arousal from piercing another person’s body, most often the buttocks, with sharp objects, sometimes to the point of causing death. It is not a terribly common crime and many recorded cases are more brutal and gruesome than the Monster’s exploits. While the nature and number of the attacks suggest that the perpetrator (or perpetrators) might have been a piquerist, the descriptions of the attacks by his victims do not come across as sadistic or murderous, but rather as if he (or she?) were ridiculing the victims. In writing the novel, I had to play profiler and consider what the motive might be. An uncontrollable compulsion — a paraphilia — such as piquerism did not interest me as a motive for my perpetrator. I wished to explore a pre-meditated act driven by emotions that are easier to identify with such as jealousy and the desire for revenge.
How many victims were there?
Over fifty women claimed to have been attacked by the London Monster. Some of these claims did not fit the perpetrator’s modus operandi, however. For example, one woman was scratched on the nose by a pin when she (at invitation) leaned to smell an artificial nosegay. As it had been noted in the press that the Monster’s victims were attractive and these ladies gained a great deal of attention, some false claims were made. For example, Lady Eglantine Wallace stated that she had been accosted by the Monster, but later in court airily admitted that her story was a fabrication, one of her little jokes.
Did London even have a police force in 1788?
The Metropolitan Police was not established until 1829 and up until 1749 law enforcement was conducted by private citizens; thief-takers who pursued wrong-doers for a fee; and night watchmen who were often elderly or recruited from the workhouses. Corruption was a problem and the system was not considered very effective. In 1749, magistrate (and author) Henry Fielding founded the first unofficial British police force: the Bow Street Runners, who were connected to Bow Street Magistrates’ Office in Covent Garden where a group of magistrates headed criminal investigations. The Runners served writs and arrested individuals under the instruction and authority of the magistrates, and they were paid with government funds. The Bow Street Runners did not have a specific uniform, but were permitted to carry a truncheon with a crest to show their authority.
How did they try to catch the Monster?
Victims made formal complaints of being attacked to the Magistrate’s Office — magistrate Sir Sampson Wright was in charge of the London Monster investigation. The Bow Street Runners were given descriptions of the victims’ attacker, but unfortunately these descriptions varied a great deal, which did not make it easy to round up suspects. The Monster’s activities accelerated after the Queen’s birthday ball on 18 January 1790 when six women were accosted and newspapers published incendiary accounts of these attacks. The wealthy John Julius Angerstein became very interested in the Monster’s victims and personally interviewed these ladies, writing down their testimonies and summing up their appearances. Angerstein gathered donations from various gentlemen and advertised a reward of fifty pounds for the capture and an additional fifty pounds for the conviction of the Monster. Posters were put up around London on 29 April 1790 regarding this reward and describing the Monster as about thirty years of age, average in height, rather thin, pock-marked with a large nose and light brown hair. The notice also instructed servants to take notice if they discovered blood on a man’s clothing and cutlers to watch for any man asking to have a weapon sharpened. On 7 May 1790, Angerstein distributed a second poster that noted two culprits might be at work and gave a description of the Monster’s clothing during his various attacks. Vigilantes were formed to patrol the streets at night and one such group wore ‘No Monster’ badges to make it clear to ladies that they were protectors rather than perpetrators; none of these groups were successful in stopping the attacks or capturing the Monster.
One man was convicted and jailed, but you think he was innocent. Why?
First, the descriptions of the London Monster given by his victims varied so wildly. Some journalists posited that there might be two attackers at work or possibly an actor with a facility for disguise. On 13 June 1790, Anne Porter, one of the Monster’s victims, claimed that she saw her attacker and her fiancé, John Coleman, chased after him and persuaded the man she accused to accompany him to the Bow Street offices. The accused did not match the initial description Miss Porter had given of her attacker, but she stuck to her claim and her fiancé Mr. Coleman collected the one hundred pound reward. She married him in April 1791.
The accused had two trials, both of which were farcical, with seemingly little attempt to operate under the supposition of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The first trial on 8 July 1790 failed to present substantial evidence regarding the accused’s guilt, such as a weapon on his person or at his lodgings, and he was not identified without doubt by most of the victims. Indeed, those who thought him to be the wrong man were not called to testify. His moral character was criticized on the basis of his impoverished living circumstances and for generally being considered a pest by attractive ladies who had suffered his verbal ‘compliments’ in the past. When the accused took the stand, he was roundly hissed by the audience as were his character witnesses and those providing alibis. The jury found the accused guilty, but his sentence was deferred until the opinion of the twelve judges was heard; he was imprisoned in Newgate.
Soon after, Theophilus Swift published a pamphlet The Monster at Large that claimed the accused was innocent and his accusers had been lying. On 10 November 1790, the judges met to discuss whether the accused had committed the felony of willfully cutting clothing; it was decided that his offence did not fall into that arena and a retrial was granted for the misdemeanor of willfully and maliciously cutting a person. At the second trial on 13 December 1790, Theophilus Swift conducted the defense. Unfortunately, this ‘defense’ was highly eccentric and did little to truly assist the accused. He was convicted again and imprisoned for six years in Newgate.
One fictional aspect of your novel is the inclusion of Edgar Allan Poe. What role does he play?
Poe plays sleuth, along with his fictional character the great ratiocinator C. Auguste Dupin, thus adding the element of alternative history. Poe’s grandparents had been actors on the London stage during the Monster’s reign and his grandmother immigrated to America not long before the accused’s release from Newgate. In my story, Poe is sent a collection of letters, allegedly written by his grandparents; these letters suggest they were the true perpetrators of the Monster’s attacks. As the story begins, Poe’s goal is to prove the letters forgeries. He cannot bear the idea that he might come from ‘bad blood’.
Why did you think of using Poe as a character?
I knew that I wanted to do something with the story of the London Monster as the trial scenes in particular had captured my imagination. I was given a collection of Poe’s stories with an introduction that noted that his grandparents were actors in London and that Poe had lived in London for a time as a child. For some reason that stayed with me. I don’t remember the a-ha moment of thinking to use Poe, although I do remember being delighted to discover that the dates worked. I liked the idea of Poe as an investigator who would need to call on the highly objective ur-detective Dupin to help him with his family mystery as Poe could not conquer his emotions. I felt that Poe’s personal history made his reactions to his strange (fictional) inheritance plausible. Poe was orphaned before he turned three and he and his two siblings were sent to different foster families. He expressed great pride in his mother’s career as an actress and I felt that pride would extend to his grandmother who was also a very talented actress. Finding out that she was a criminal would be quite a blow.
Thank you, Karen, for your insights into such an unusual chapter of London’s history.
Here’s the scoop on Karen’s book:
Summer, 1840. Edgar Allan Poe sails from Philadelphia to London to meet his friend C. Auguste Dupin, in the hope that the great detective will help him solve a family mystery. For Poe inherited a mahogany box containing a collection of letters allegedly written by his grandparents, actors who struggled to make a living on the London stage. The mysterious letters suggest that the couple played a more clandestine role as the ‘London Monster’— stalking well-to-do young women at night on the city’s streets, to slice their clothing and derrières.
Poe hopes to prove the missives forgeries; Dupin wonders if they are real, but their content is fantasy. Soon Poe is being stalked by someone who knows far more about his grandparents and their crimes than he does. And then he remembers disturbing attacks made upon him as a child in London … Could the perpetrators be connected?Read More
While Sherlock Holmes honed his forensic skills in Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, real Victorian detectives scoured dark alleys, beer houses, and even doctors’ offices to solve crimes. How did real investigators compare with the world’s most famous fictional sleuth?
Angela Buckley, author of The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada (Barnsley, England: Pen and Sword, 2014), joins us to pull back the curtains on the life of a real Victorian detective. Between 1870 and 1900, Jerome Caminada broke new ground as an investigator to become one of Manchester’s most legendary policemen. Angela also blogs about historical true crime on her website, Victorian Supersleuth.
Why the title, Angela? Was there any connection between Caminada, a Victorian detective, and the fictional Sherlock Holmes?
Angela Buckley: When I began researching the work of Jerome Caminada I soon realised that there were some startling similarities between his work as a detective and the cases of the great Sherlock Holmes. In fact, after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began publishing his stories, Detective Caminada soon became known as ‘Manchester’s Sherlock Holmes’ as contemporary newspaper readers made a connection, so it seemed an appropriate title for the book.
Did Arthur Conan Doyle base Holmes on a real Victorian detective?
It’s well known that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based his legendary character primarily on his mentor, Sir Joseph Bell. However, as an avid reader of the contemporary press, in which the cases of real-life detectives were regularly reported, Sir Arthur would have been aware of the more prominent figures, like Jerome Caminada.
How did the Victorian detective differ from the fictional Holmes?
Real Victorian detectives, like Jerome Caminada, investigated a much wider range of crimes and criminals than Sherlock Holmes, although their work was often less glamorous. Detective Caminada’s knowledge of his city would have been far more extensive, and he would have relied more heavily on his contacts on both side of the law. However, Caminada did use many similar strategies to Holmes, including disguise, deduction and keen observation.
Your book is also a portrait of Victorian Manchester. Could tell us what the back alleys and dark streets were like?
In the 19th century, Manchester had some of the worst slums in the country. At the heart of the city was a labyrinth of dark alleys and closed courts, with cramped back-to-back terrace houses with no sanitation or ventilation. A no-go area for respectable people; the rookeries had gin shops, illegal beer houses and brothels, and they housed thieves, con artists and many other shady characters.
What kind of cases did Caminada work on?
Detective Caminada worked on all manner of cases, including pickpockets, charlatans, political agitators and even murderers. A man with a strong social conscience, he exposed many scams that exploited ordinary people, such as the quack doctors who sold fake potions to individuals worried about their health.
How did he display his investigatory genius?
Like Sherlock Holmes, Detective Caminada had excellent powers of deduction, which he displayed most effectively in his signature case, the Manchester Cab Mystery. When a businessman was found dead in a cab, Caminada deduced that his death was linked to illegal prize-fighting in the city and it took him just three weeks to bring the perpetrator to justice.
Terrorism and gang warfare are nothing new. Caminada had to deal with them also. What they were like in Caminada’s time?
Detective Caminada dealt with many organised attacks. He worked undercover for the British government tracking Fenian suspects, during the dynamite campaign of the 1880s, when Irish nationalists targeted public buildings throughout the UK. In Manchester, he tackled gangs of vicious street fighters, known as ‘scuttlers’, who terrorised the streets with violent turf wars. He also faced groups of anarchists, who led protests during periods of unrest.
You mention Caminada acting as a prosecutor and conducting cross examinations. Was it usual for a Victorian detective to assume functions of prosecutor?
The British criminal justice system evolved considerably during the 19th century and in the earlier decades, it was usual for the victim of a crime to act as prosecutor, as few had access to a lawyer, except in capital offences. Later, the state conducted all prosecutions. In the latter half of the century, police courts took more responsibility for trying minor cases and police officers were engaged in the process. When a magistrate decided not to pursue a case, an officer like Caminada could take it further as a private individual, which he did on occasion.
So who was the better detective, Jerome Caminada or Sherlock Holmes?
Great question – predictably I’d have to say Caminada, as he obviously solved ‘real’ cases!!
Thanks so much for joining us, Angela!
How realistic do you think Sherlock Holmes’s cases and investigative techniques were?
Not long after Jack the Ripper terrorized Whitechapel, another serial murderer stalked Ohio. The press dubbed this new killer “Jack the Strangler.”
When a University of Dayton criminal justice instructor discovered his great-aunt was one of the strangler’s victims, his curiosity drove him to the archives. Blowing the dust off old newspaper reports revealed a few surprises. Not only did this case receive international media attention, his family also became intricately involved in the investigation because his great-grandmother found a clue in her daughter’s coffin.
Brian Forschner joins us today to tell us how he discovered the case and to introduce his new book, Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders.
Discovery in the cemetery
I’m not sure what possessed me to take a lunch break that day, maybe it was having taught three intro courses to freshmen in the University of Dayton Criminal Justice Program. I decided to go across the street to the Woodland Cemetery (the Wright Brothers are buried there) and have a sandwich. Knowing I had some relatives buried there, I stopped by the office and rifled through the card catalogue. Under “Forschner” I found grandparents and great grandparents but found an outlier, a 15-year-old Mary Forschner who died on January 23, 1909. I immediately thought “There must be other Forschners in the area. I’ve never heard of her.” Within days I obtained her death certificate and, under “cause of death,” found “strangulation by the hand.” More stunningly, she was my grandfather’s sister. I saw him often when I was growing up! She was never mentioned.
Brian Forschner discovers the “Jack the Strangler” cases
I began searching newspapers around the date she died. I was astounded to find her face filling the front page of newspapers around the country. Not only that, but crime reporters were tying her death to that of several other women, which the New York Times had apparently named the “Jack the Strangler Murders.” Over a period of four years I read hundreds of newspaper articles and editorials in papers around the U.S. with references to some in Europe, searched death certificates, autopsies, and trial records where available. I read the newspapers out at least 9 months after each death to see if the murders were solved. They were all cold cases, police records long destroyed. I had to write a book on this, possibly a series of short stories since these cases had been cold for over 100 years.
Hundreds of crime reporters asking different questions from different standpoints gave me snippets of information about the girls and their cases, enabling me to piece together their personalities. I wanted to tell their stories, as telling their stories would be a way to grant them some justice and show that they were just that, young girls murdered and raped, never allowed to grow up, long forgotten, families forever shamed and socially victimized. My training had been in philosophy and logic at the undergraduate level and human behavior and psychology at the doctoral level. I had been a probation officer and operated a group of halfway houses for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Ohio Department of Corrections, so I felt reasonably well armed to use one of the primary forensic techniques of the time, what some have referred to as “circumstantial logic.” Without eyewitnesses or confessions (forensics was in its infancy), would a reasonable person, given a preponderance of circumstantial evidence, be prepared to convict? This forensic thinking was buttressed by a perfect storm of the literature and press of the time, which painted a picture of the typical criminal, namely as a ruffian or animal, much like Poe did in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”(an orangutan did it!). This view was supported by the quintessential cold case of all time, Jack the Ripper, and, a disciple of Poe’s, Conan Doyle. Doyle showed that even an untrained individual like Sherlock Holmes could solve mysteries by using simple logic and determination. After all, solving crimes was “elementary.”
Clue in the coffin
My editor loved the Jack the Strangler stories, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to know who did it. It wasn’t until reading about the viewing of Mary Forschner in the parlor of my great-grandmother’s home, when in anguish she was helped to the casket and bent over to kiss Mary goodbye, that it came together. Great grandma immediately was shaken from her sobbing when she noticed that something was missing, something precious! She cried out to all present. Detectives in attendance rushed to the casket. They had missed it in their investigation.
“Aha,” I thought to myself! “How could I have missed it? The other four girls were the same MO, murdered and then raped, souvenirs had been taken, the crime was brazen, in full site of potential witnesses, a crime on the anniversary date of another crime, and I could trace all but one of the girls to the same bus stop.” Yet, it would not be until I came across an article written several years later about an arrest and conviction for an unrelated offense that I found the murderer/rapist.
My verdict is for you to judge. Read Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders. Get to know these girls, their stories, and the shame and disgrace their families endured. Tell me if you agree. A critical clue is in the clasped hand on the cover of the book, Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders © 2016 by Morgan James Publishers.
You can visit Brian Forschner’s website to learn more.
Have you ever discovered old family secrets like Brian Forschner did?
No history of a war is complete if it focuses solely on men. Women’s experiences, at home and on the battlefield, shaped the postbellum world. Women, perhaps more than men, held society together during the war and rebuilt it afterwards.
Giselle Roberts uses diaries and letters to tell documentary stories about women of the American South. She joins us for an interview.
Giselle Roberts is an Honorary Research Associate in American History at La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia), and co-editor, with Melissa Walker (Converse College), of the Women’s Diaries and Letters of the South series by the University of South Carolina Press.
You can read more about her biography below, or visit her website here. I’ve added some quotes by American women.
You live in Australia, Dr. Roberts. What got you interested in the American Civil War?
I was nineteen when I read the Civil War diary of Sarah Morgan. I discovered it in my local bookshop one Friday afternoon. For weeks I picked up the book, and put it back on the shelf. I was intrigued, but not entirely convinced it was a story for me. Sarah was a young, white, upper-middle-class woman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her family were slaveholders and she was a loyal Confederate. I wasn’t a historian, and the story didn’t resonate with me as a reader. I hesitated. Then one day, I bought it.
The book was Charles East’s edition of the diary; the first time Morgan’s account had been edited and published in its entirety. I read the first few pages, and I was hooked. I finished the book that weekend.
I was in my first year of an Arts degree, studying Australian politics and reading book after book on the American Civil War. I discovered that La Trobe University’s American history faculty was ranked in the top three in the southern hemisphere, changed my major, and studied under Pulitzer Prize winner Rhys Isaac and acclaimed labor historian, John Salmond. I received my PhD in 2000. I have published three books since then, including the courtship correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson. After reading Sarah’s Civil War diary, I wanted to know more!
“I only wish that the doctors would let us try and see what we can do!” – Kate Cumming, Confederate nurse
How is a documentary edition different from a monograph?
Documentary historians edit and annotate primary source material to tell a story. Editors can, and do, work with professional sources such as account books or government documents. Others, like myself, work with first person accounts such as diaries, correspondence, editorials, oral history interviews, speeches, or memoirs. Historians studying the twentieth century have a new frontier at their disposal, including email and blogs. Whatever the source, it’s the editor’s job to provide the narrative structure, the genealogical and historical context, and the interpretive framework to allow the reader to navigate, and appreciate, the story.
“We hear nothing, can listen to nothing; boom, boom goes the cannon all the time. The nervous strain is awful, alone in this darkened room.” – Mary Chestnut, southern diarist during the Civil War
What kind of books are in the Women’s Diaries and Letters of the South series by the University of South Carolina Press?
The Women’s Diaries and Letters of the South (WDLS) series publishes documentary editions of letters, diaries, memoirs, editorials, and oral history interviews created by women residing in the American South from the colonial era to the present day.
The series has a strong Civil War collection. We have published the diaries and letters of doctors, plantation mistresses, and young women. One of my favorite books in the series is A Northern Woman in the Plantation South: Letters of Tryphena Blanche Holder Fox, 1856-1876. Tryphena was a teacher from Massachusetts who married a doctor from Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Her correspondence provides a middle-class portrait of life in the South from the late antebellum period through Reconstruction. It is fascinating indeed.
We have also published several books on twentieth-century women, most notably Melissa Walker’s Country Women Cope with Hard Times, a wonderful collection of oral history interviews with women from eastern Tennessee and western South Carolina. As daughters and wives, they milked cows, raised livestock, planted and harvested crops, worked in textile mills, sold butter and eggs, and practiced remarkable resourcefulness.
We have several exciting book projects in production, including an anthology on the Progressive Era featuring the documentary stories of nine remarkable women.
“Oh mother! you northern people know nothing of the horrors of war…” — Tryphena Blanche Holder Fox, teacher from Massachusetts who married a doctor from Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana
History, especially, military history, is so often a man’s world. How do women’s diaries and letters contribute to our understanding of Civil War history?
Women’s letters and diaries of the Civil War era mostly provide us with a privileged white view of the home front. In the South, which is my area of specialization, white women wrote about their struggles to maintain domestic life in the face of mounting Confederate defeats, Union occupation, the loss of slaves, and a crippling economy of scarcity.
But it’s not the only view we have: there were women on both sides who were spies, soldiers, and nurses. Some women lived with their husbands in military camps, and wrote home about their experiences.
Documentary stories allow us to peek through a window into the random, messy complexity of human experience in another time and place. It’s wonderful to know what women thought about the war effort and nationalism, but I also find the glimpse into their everyday lives most intriguing.
“A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
What are you researching now?
At the moment, my research has moved into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Melissa Walker and I are currently editing a book on the Progressive Era. The thing I enjoy most about this period is the documentary diversity. In the nineteenth century, diaries and letters were overwhelmingly written by privileged white women. By the early twentieth century, we find a growing body of material by African American women, for example. Our new book will feature a range of women from different backgrounds, and that is very exciting. We are working with several contributors who have identified some remarkable documentary stories.
“But alas! nothing that I had ever heard or read had givien me the faitest idea of the horrors witnessed [in the hospital ward].” – Kate Cumming, Confederate nurse
How often to you make it to the United States?
At least once a year. Since I took up the position as co-editor of the WDLS series, I have travelled annually to South Carolina. I love “talking shop” with Melissa and Alex Moore, our wonderful acquisitions editor at USC Press. Of course, no trip to South Carolina would be complete without some time in Charleston, my favorite city in the United States. The Lowcountry is magical – Charleston, Beaufort, and Bluffton make a delightful road trip. Then there is the food. After a day of exploring, I always look forward to sampling the local dishes such as shrimp and grits, and a slice of coconut cake, of course!
What’s your favorite book on the Civil War Era?
There are so many wonderful books! Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Laura Edwards examines the lives of slaves, free blacks, poor whites, and the white elite, and is a comprehensive introduction for those wanting to learn more about women of the South. Nina Silber’s Daughters of the Union provides a wonderful overview of the different struggles that confronted northern women during the war.
Anne Sarah Rubin’s A Shattered Nation is a brilliant examination of Confederate nationalism, and Stephen Ash’s A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865 is an important book and a joy to read.
My favorite documentary editions include Sarah Morgan’s diary, A Southern Woman of Letters: The Correspondence of Augusta Jane Evans, and Lisa Grunwal’s and Stephen Adler’s epic collection, Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present. To make sense of it all, Kimberly Harrison’s The Rhetoric of Rebel Women examines the ways in which the everyday speech of privileged white southern women contributed to the culture of the Confederate home front. It’s a great book.
And, of course, I am looking forward to PBS’s Mercy Street. Anya Jabour, author of Scarlett’s Sisters, worked as a consultant on the series, so we are assured of its historical accuracy.
“Oh! what a luxury it is to weep…” – Augusta Jane Evans, southern author
Giselle Roberts is author of The Confederate Belle (University of Missouri Press, 2003), and editor of The Correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson (University of Georgia Press, 2004) and A New Southern Woman: The Correspondence of Eliza Lucy Irion Neilson, 1871-1883 (University of South Carolina Press, 2012).
Her articles on Sarah Morgan Dawson have appeared in Lives Full of Struggle and Triumph: Southern Women, Their Institutions, and Their Communities (University Press of Florida, 2003), and the South Carolina and Louisiana editions of Southern Women Lives and Times (University of Georgia Press, 2010 and 2016).
Giselle Roberts has published over 60 book reviews in scholarly journals including the Journal of American History, Journal of Southern History, Journal of Women’s History, South Carolina Historical Magazine, and Civil War Book Review.
Which women do you admire for the roles they played during a war?