Hairy Hand Case: A Vampire in the Law School Casebook

The hand of a vampire is a hairy hand.

Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula has a hairy hand. (c) Yorkman, per Shutterstock, with permission.

Real quick now – can you name the hallmarks of a vampire? Pointed fangs, red eyes, a thirst for blood, and a fear of crucifixes? Did you think of the hairy hand, too? Hair on the palm of the hand is one of the lesser-known signs in vampire folklore. But it might explain some of the hype surrounding the most famous case in the U.S. law school curriculum: Hawkins v. McGee, better known as the “Hairy Hand case.”

The Hairy Hand case in the Law School Curriculum

Students dissect Hawkins v. McGee on their first day of law school. Even if you’ve never been to an American law school, you’re still likely to know the case. In the book and film “Paper Chase,” a Harvard Law School professor grills the students about the Hairy Hand case. You can watch that scene online.

Hawkins v. McGee is a contract case masquerading as medical malpractice. One of the things that makes it so delightfully squirrelly is that law school students have to examine a malpractice slide through a contracts microscope.

In 1922, in the early days of plastic surgery, a boy burnt the palm his hand by handling an electrical wire. When his physician promised to restore the hand 100%, the boy underwent an operation. The doctor grafted skin from the boy’s chest to his palm. Not only did the operation make functional use of the boy’s hand worse, when the boy entered puberty, his palm sprouted ungainly chest hair.

George Hawkins sued Dr. McGee in 1926 and was rewarded $3,000 in damages – a hefty sum for that time. Both parties appealed. In 1929, the appellate court found Dr. McGee’s promise rose to a contract. By failing to deliver the 100% good hand, Dr. McGee had breached the contract.

The Hairy Hand case when through the courts in the 1926-1929 period.

The Hairy Hand case when through the courts in the 1926-1929 period, at the same time Bram Stoker’s Dracula experienced a surge in popularity. (c) Linda Macpherson, per Shutterstock, with permission

But the real issue in the Hairy Hand case was how to measure damages. George Hawkins, the court held, was entitled to expectation damages – the difference between the value of the promised hand Hawkins expected and the value of the non-functional hairy hand he actually received. The court remanded the case back for a new trial, and just before the new trial, the parties settled for $1,400.

Functionality is one thing. But a hairy hand? Isn’t that a just cosmetic issue? I always wondered why anyone would make such a fuss about a problem they could manage on their own with a pair of tweezers.

What we never learned in law school was the vampire folklore flooding the popular period literature and budding on poor George’s palm. That could have explained Hawkin’s – and the jury’s – overreaction to a hirsute palm.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a Backdrop to the Hairy Hand case

A hairy hand appears in Stoker’s gothic novel, too. In chapter 2, Jonathan Harker describes Count Dracula when they first meet in Dracula’s castle. The count has massive eyebrows meeting in the center, pointed ears, and sallow skin. His breath was rank and nauseating. The fingers were squat, and “strange to say, there were hairs in the centre of the palm.”

Although Stoker’s novel eventually came to define the vampire, the book’s success wasn’t overwhelming when Stoker first published it in 1897. It got good reviews (Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, loved it), but Stoker died poor.

Sales didn’t pick up until another case came sailing through the courtroom. In 1922, the same year George Hawkins burnt his hand, F. W. Murneau produced a film version of Dracula called Nosferatu and released it in the theaters. Because he had neglected to ask Stoker’s widow for the rights, she sued him for copyright infringement and won. The legal battle sparked new interest in Dracula and book sales soared. A stage version, approved by Stoker’s widow, opened on Broadway in 1927, starring a then little-known actor named Bela Lugosi.

In the middle of this came George Hawkin’s operation, law suit, and appeal. It is quite likely that while the jury was devouring witness testimony in the Hairy Hand case, it was devouring another Hairy Hand case in the literature and theater. With the sign of the hirsute palm so plainly on the public’s mind, Dr. McGee’s failed surgery had about the same effect as an oral surgeon sending a patient home with fangs. For all appearances, Dr. McGee had sent home a vampire.

Fangs -- the most famous hallmark of the vampire.

Fangs — the most famous hallmark of the vampire. Morguefile photos.

Yikes! That has me wondering if poor George shouldn’t have gotten more than $3,000. We never discussed vampire damages in law school. But the strange timing of the Hairy Hand case, parallel to Dracula’s surge in popularity, makes me feel more sorry for George than anything in law school ever did.

George Hawkins originally wanted much higher damages ($10,000, I think), and now I know why. A page of history is worth a volume of logic.

Do you think the court should award extra damages if a doctor leaves a patient looking like a gothic monster?

Literature on point:

Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114, 146 A. 641 (1929)

McGee v. U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 53 F. 2d 953 (1st Cir. 1931)

Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)

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Archaeology Dogs: Cadaver Dogs on a 700 BC Site

One of the archaeology dogs alerting on a grave.

One of Andrea Pintar’s cadaver dogs alerting on an archaelogical grave site. Photo courtesy of Andrea Pintar and Christian Nikolic.

How far back in time can a cadaver dog’s nose go? Twenty years? A hundred? Some dogs work as archaeology dogs, and the age of the graves they can detect might surprise you.

Cadaver dogs have successfully sniffed out Civil War and Revolutionary War-era graves. So the next step, using dogs at ancient archaeological sites, is not a far-fetched experiment. Andrea Pintar, a cadaver dog handler in Croatia, joins us today to talk about her archaeology dogs. Andrea has a team of dogs she affectionately calls her “four-legged pack.” They work on grave sites dating back to 700 BC.

Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

I was born in Croatia and live near the capital city, Zagreb. I’m an architect at a government agency. Last year I started to study at Cambridge Ethology Institute to get my certificate as a Certified Applied Canine Ethologist. I hope I’ll finish that in spring.

My second job is working with my team and my cadaver dogs for various European governments on finding remains of missing persons (usually crime victims or war victims). Before that I was an active mountain rescuer (within our national Mountain Rescue Service), working with dual search and rescue (SAR) dogs. Dual dogs search for both living and dead victims.

Andrea Pintar with one of her cadaver dogs.

Andrea Pintar with one of her cadaver dogs. Photo courtesy of Andrea Pintar and Christian Nikolic.

Tell us about your dogs!

We (my husband Christian Nikolic, our son Patrik, and I) live with 5 dogs. All of them are working dogs. All of them have some special skills which help us in our job. Let’s start from the oldest one:

“Sattve” is 9.5 years old, a Belgian Malinois. She is my 4th and last regular SAR dog. She was trained to perform as a search and rescue dog for both living and dead victims on all terrains, including disasters and water search for drowned persons. She has participated in so many missions and findings that I don’t count any more. She had a bad elbow injury, and for the last few years she has been working on less demanding terrains, searching for buried victims. She loves to work so much that I need to give her an opportunity to work. It’s a compromise for that kind of dog.

The next three dogs are cadaver dogs, specialized for grave search. “Mali” is a 4.5-year old female Belgian Malinois. “Panda” is a 3.5 y.o. female Belgian Malinois. “Arwen” is a 2.5 y.o. female German Shepherd.

As you can see, I prefer female dogs for sniff jobs. It’s a subjective choice. I’m much more comfortable with females. These three girls are trained as human remains detection dogs for searches of human remains in all stages of the decomposition process, including grave search, forensic searches, and historical searches (archaeology).

Our fifth dog is “Peper” is a 3.5 y.o. and he is the only male dog in the family. He’s Chris’s dog. He is a dual dog (like Sattve), working mainly as a tracking and disaster dog. Most of the time we use him for discovering “trafficking” victims (on ships and trucks).

Mali, one of Andrea's archaeology dogs.

Mali searching an archaeological site. Photo courtesy of Andrea Pintar and Christian Nikolic.

You’ve been a cadaver dog handler for 15 years. How did you get started?

I have been in SAR dogs training for more than 15 years. I’m an international SAR dog instructor, and sport dogs trainer. 10 years ago, I started with dual SAR dogs and that was my “step into” the cadaver world. For the last 5 years I have been predominantly involved in cadaver dog training.

I started as a SAR dog instructor in Croatian Mountain Rescue Service (CMRS) and was the chief instructor for 10 years. During that time I was involved in few hundred missions. My experience from told me that for this kind of work we need dual SAR dogs, because lots of missing persons are already dead when a SAR mission starts. That was the “kick” to start training dual SAR dogs.

So, I created the licensing procedure for CRMS SAR K9 teams not only for dogs, but their handlers, as well. With that approach, the success of our SAR missions went up to 70%. Now I can say that SAR dogs should be trained as dual dogs.

Everything is done using clicker training and positive stimulation.

I noticed that there is a need for cadaver/human remains detection (HRD) dogs, above and beyond the ones we use for SAR. So, I started learning, reading, and travelling around to find out training and work of cadaver dogs. I started working on criminal “cold cases” with my team and realized I had just scratched the surface of the “cadaver K9 world”.

I was lucky to meet some great people with the same interests I have, and now we have a good Cadaver K9 team. We work as a team because I could not do it on my own; all the documenting, search management, soil analysis… and many other things you need when you work out in the field.

I went to North Wales for a cadaver K9 seminar twice, and had a chance to see some good cadaver K9 teams working. My team and I also got the opportunity to work on few cold cases for some EU police forces. We also worked on WW2 mass graves. Our team cooperated with a wide range of law enforcement services around Europe (some I am not even allowed to name).

But as you probably know, the Balkan region is “explosive” and during our long history, we had a lot of wars. The last one was the Croatian liberation war in 1990s. And we did some mass grave work there as well. And we were successful.

During the spring of 2015, I spent some time in North Carolina, at the Western Carolina University (WCU), on their Forensic Osteology Research Station. It was a great experience for me.

From time to time I am called to do presentations or hold courses in Europe and Middle East, so I had the privilege to work with Qatar police, Turkish police and Gendarmerie, and the German police.

One of Andrea's dogs alterting on an unmarked WWII grave.

One of Andrea’s dogs alterting on an unmarked WWII grave. Photo courtesy of Andrea Pintar and Christian Nikolic.

You’ve started working your dogs as archaeology dogs. How did you get into archaeological research?

Well, I’m very interested in the possibilities of and opportunities for a dog’s nose. I need to feel and see what the limits of a dog’s nose are. Because of that I have so many working dogs at home.

Also, archaeology is complements architecture, so it seemed natural for me to follow that path in my education.

Over the last few years, when I was starting the project of grave search with my dogs and after few very complex criminal cases, after finding and opening a few mass graves from WWII, it was natural to go back into the past to understand what a dog’s nose can do.

You’ve tweeted about archaeological searches at Kornati islands and Karlobag in Croatia. Are those two different sites?

There were two sites: Karlobag and another site at Kornati islands. Kornati dates from 14th century.

The real challenge was “Drvišica” near Karlobag – that one is really very old, it dates back to 700 BC. And it was amazing.

The terrain at the Karlobag site.

The terrain at the Karlobag site.

Tell us about the site near Karlobag. Who is leading the research and what are they looking for?

Drvišica near Karlobag is a complex archaeological site which consists of a prehistoric hill fort with a necropolis dating from around 8th century BC., a Roman settlement, a late antique fortress, and a medieval church of St. Vid. Drvišica. It’s situated on the Adriatic coast near Karlobag, below Velebit mountain. It is the biggest site of that type in Velebit area.

Due to its specific geomorphologic and climatologic characteristics, Velebit is extremely difficult for ground reconnaissance. Navigating sharp fissures and Mediterranean scrub vegetation require great physical effort which very much complicates the work. Low vegetation prevents good visibility of the sites and makes it difficult to access the location, while fissures tremendously impede walking and therefore slow the research progress.

Even harder is locating the whole area of the prehistoric necropolis. The prehistoric necropolis of the Drvišica hill-fort was discovered on the north terrace of the hill. A total of three graves were excavated. The discovered artifacts and radiocarbon C-14 analysis dated them to the middle of 8th century BC.

How did your dogs get involved as archaeology dogs?

One of my friends (who is a professional diver and he works on underwater archaeology sites) put me in touch with an archaeologist, Vedrana Glavaš, PhD., who wanted to try dogs on one of the sites (Drvišica on Mt. Velebit) she was working on.

We were both eager to go out on the field and try, so we scheduled a date just 3 days later. It was in June 2015 that dogs gave clear alerts on unopened tombs. We left the site pretty confused because I was very skeptical about the whole thing.

Due to the fact that summer season was coming and it is not best time to search with dogs, because high temperatures and direct sunlight kills bacteria which produce smell, we made the agreement to come back with the whole team in early autumn for one week and to try to work more intensively on several sites. You see, to find a specific smell we need special weather conditions, an appropriate amount of moisture, shade, and “normal” temperatures, so bacteria can start doing their work.

The site is on a hill. Does the terrain affect how a dog picks up the odor? Do odors run downhill from a grave, for instance?

One of the facts that surprised me most was that the dogs’ alerts were directly on the headstone. I was expecting the primary smell pool to be downhill. When archaeologists opened the marked tombs, I found the reason why the smell was going nowhere: the bottom of the tomb is a natural big flat stone. Bodies were put on that stone, and the complete decomposing process happened on that stone. Geologically, Mt. Velebit is built of limestone and that kind of stone is porous and collects the smell inside. That can be the reason why dogs had an excellent opportunity to sniff and recognize the specific smell of human decomposition.

During the spring of 2016, we will try some other sites and different geological properties to find out what is going on and how the smell is preserved in different soil and bedrock environments.

How do your dogs alert to a find?

Sattve has barking alert. Mali primarily has passive alert but also can bark, and Panda and Arwen’s primary alert is also passive: they lie down and point their nose into the smell source.

Panda, one of Andrea's archaeology dogs.

Panda searching. Photo courtsey of Andrea Pintar and Christian Nikolic.

Radiocarbon dating indicates the graves date back to 700 BC. How old a grave can a dog still detect? Is 700 BC some kind of a record?

There is no written record of the oldest grave detected by cadaver dogs. However, I must emphasize that the age of the grave is not the crucial element in this kind of work. Dog handlers tend to stick only to the age of the grave. But, for positive results, you have to pay attention to important elements such as weather, type of soil, geology and so on.

Dogs are rarely used in archaeology world. I think the “Archaeology Dog Project” is just in its infancy. Dogs are perfect tools for archaeologists. Dogs offer a non-invasive method of searching the ground. Of course, dogs have limits, but now we need to find out what these limits are. The date of the site is obviously not among them.

Has the university been able to draw any conclusions about the people buried in the necropolis?

Unfortunately, tombs have previously been robbed. But, thanks to precise archaeological work researchers from the University of Zadar managed to collect some remains of the material culture that robbers didn’t see or weren’t interested in. These items, such as fibulae, pins, beads etc., show that Velebit’s communities held intensive contacts with contemporary Mediterranean world. All these items are currently stored at the Department of Archaeology at the University of Zadar, where Vedrana Glavaš, the main researcher of the Drvišica site, analyzes them. An interesting fact is the tombs were used for multiple burials. The results of the anthropological analysis showed at least two persons were buried in each grave – usually an adult and a child. However, the site is still being excavated and more data will be available after several years of research.

Currently, Dr. Glavaš and I are working on a research paper about our field work at the Drvišica site.

The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia co-sponsored a brief film in English that shows Andrea’s dogs searching the site, their alerting on previously unknown graves, and the archaeologists excavating human remains. It’s worth a view!

Thanks so much for participating, Andrea — I think your work is absolutely fascinating.

Thank you. I don’t think much about whether my work is fascinating or not. I’m thinking how fascinating the possibilities of a dog’s nose are.

What’s the most unusual thing your dog has ever sniffed out?

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Kate Warne: First Female Detective

Kate Warne was a master of disguise.

Kate Warne was a master of disguise. Photo from Pixabay.

Undercover Female Detectives

Men can do some things better than women. It’s no different in the world of undercover investigation. Men’s strength and ability to infiltrate male society makes men uniquely suited for certain undercover tasks.

But women can do some things better . They can more easily gain the confidence of other women. They’re sometimes better at reading nonverbal signals. In the 19th century, people were less likely to suspect a woman of spying than a man. Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, recognized that. Pinkerton’s became the first detective agency in America to employ female PIs.

Pinkerton Hires Kate Warne

Pinkerton  had only been operating his detective agency for one year when a young widow entered his office seeking a most unusual job, at least for a 19th century woman. Kate Warne wanted to become a detective. Pinkerton dismissed the idea at first, but Warne was persistent. A woman is far better in worming out secrets from other women, she pointed out. A female detective can befriend wives and girlfriends of suspects and charm her way into their confidence. Besides, men tend to become braggarts in the presence of females. Who knows what they might say?

Pinkerton, impressed with her arguments, hired Kate Warne in August, 1856.

Kate Warne helped solve a murder by posing as a fortune teller.

Kate Warne helped solve a murder by posing as a fortune teller. Photo (c) Shutterstock; with permission.

An Expert in Disguises

She was an immediate success. Kate Warne’s had a talent for disguises and could mimic foreign accents. Allan Pinkerton could count on her to slip into any social setting without arousing suspicion.

Her first case dealt with embezzlement in a delivery firm. By befriending the suspect’s wife, Warne gleaned crucial evidence. Combined with evidence obtained by the other detectives, it was enough to convict the thief.

Kate Warne later helped solve a murder case. The murder suspect’s girlfriend, Pinkerton determined, was the type to fall for a fortune teller. Warne disguised herself as a fortune teller and started telling fortunes in the girlfriend’s town. The girlfriend came for a consultation. Armed with confidential information about the girlfriend that Pinkerton’s detectives had obtained, Warne gained the woman’s trust. Convinced that Warne really had powers, the girlfriend confided her secrets, which helped lead to an arrest.

A sketch of the carriage transfer in Baltimore from Pinkerton's 1884 book, The Spy and the Rebellion. Lincoln is depicted wearing a shawl. One of the women was probably Kate Warne.

A sketch of the carriage transfer in Baltimore from Pinkerton’s 1884 book, The Spy and the Rebellion. Lincoln is depicted wearing a shawl. One of the women was probably Kate Warne. Public domain.

Abraham Lincoln Assassination Plot

Kate Warne’s most famous case involved Abraham Lincoln.

In 1861, Pinkerton sent Warne to Baltimore to scout out rumors of a plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln en route to Washington, D.C. Warne adopted a southern accent, and posing as a belle from Montgomery, Alabama, she charmed her way into Baltimore society. Kate Warne not only confirmed the plot, she could provide new details. Agitators planned to kill Lincoln as he transferred by carriage from Baltimore’s north train station to the south train station.

Lincoln hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to protect him, and part of Pinkerton’s plan was to send Lincoln to Washington, D.C. ahead of schedule. Kate Warne accompanied him. Lincoln abandoned his signature cylinder hat and wrapped himself up in a shawl. Warne played a sister travelling with her “invalid brother,” even embracing him and greeting him as a brother. The rest is history, because Kate Warn successfully delivered the president-elect to Washington, D.C.

Pinkerton hired several female detectives but made Kate Warne their superintendent. Unfortunately, Kate Warne didn’t survive long after the Civil War. She caught pneumonia and died in 1868. No contemporary images survive, and even her true name is unclear. She went by a variety of names ranging from Kate Warne to Kitty Warren. Her cover was so good, in fact, that it is hard to track her down in the archives today.

Whatever her true name was, Kate Warne played a role in American history and did it well.

Which of Kate Warne’s accomplishments impress you the most?

A female detective can do some things better than a male one.

Undercover women can do some things better than undercover men. Morguefile photo.

Literature on point

Allan Pinkerton, The Somnambulist and the Detective; The Murderer and the Fortune Teller (New York: G. W. Dillingham: 1875)

Allan Pinkerton, The Spy and the Rebellion (Toronto: Rose, 1884)

Eve Stephenson, Pinkerton’s Belle: Kate Warne, America’s First Female Detective (2013).

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