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
Germany as a haven after the Lincoln assassination
One of the lesser known aspects of the Lincoln assassination is the aftermath that played out in Germany. All the surviving occupants of the presidential box at Ford’s theater ended up moving to Germany. Mary Todd Lincoln and her son Tad lived in Frankfurt from 1868 to 1870, and Henry Rathbone moved to Hanover with his wife Clara and children in 1882 when the president appointed him U.S. Consul there. [Rathbone then became involved in a true crime himself. He murdered his wife a year later in Hanover – but that will be the subject of another post.]
I enjoy following the Lincoln and Rathbone sojourns in Germany because I live here, speak the language, and can research them. And that’s why a letter from Mary Todd Lincoln about a castle ghost caught my eye. There’s a possible mistake in there that’s leaked out into the biographical literature and I hope to point it out with this post.
Mary Todd Lincoln in Germany
Mary stayed at the Hotel d’Angleterre in Frankfurt while Tad attended boarding school nearby. By February, Frankfurt had gotten too cold for her and she decided to travel to the Mediterranean. Along the way, she stopped at the spa town of Baden-Baden in the Rhine Valley. Once she reached Nice, France, Mary penned a letter to her friend Eliza Slataper, a member of the Lee family in Virginia:
En route to Nice, I stopped for a day or two at Baden to see a lady from America, who resides most of the time in Europe. We visited a castle near Baden, where the veritable “White Lady,” is said, delights most to dwell, and where Napoleon signed his memorable treaty, in roaming the immense building, I said to our two attendants “have you ever seen her” – to which, of course, they both replied – “We often do.” As you know, Germans are very superstitious, and from the King of Prussia, down to his humblest subject, believe in her frequent appearance.*
Mystery of Mary Todd Lincoln’s castle ghost
Who or what was Mary Lincoln’s castle ghost? And where was the castle the white lady haunted? The answer is elusive.
One biography identifies the castle as the Hohenzollern castle in the Province of Hohenzollern. The royal family of Hohenzollern fits nicely to the white lady story. Kunigunde von Orlmünde, a widowed mother, she was engaged to marry another member of the Hohenzollern family, but thought her children came between herself and her fiancé. So she stabbed her children’s skulls with a needle and killed them. Later she sought repentance in Rome and entered a convent, where she died in 1351. According to legend, her ghost appeared throughout history to various members of the Hohenzollern family before they died, including the King of Prussia. Thus, Mary’s mention of the king in her letter appears to be a reference to the white lady of the Hollenzollern dynasty.
But the Hohenzollern castle as the dwelling for Mary Todd Lincoln’s castle ghost presents some problems. Several Prussian castles, including Berlin, Kulmbach, Rudolstadt, and Bayreuth, belong to the white lady’s traditional haunts, but I can’t find a reference to her ever spooking the Hohenzollern castle itself.
Problem of distances
There’s yet another reason why Hohenzollern can’t be the home of Mary Todd Lincoln’s castle ghost. It’s too far away. Baden-Baden lies on the west side of the Black Forest. To travel from Baden-Baden, Mary would have had to cross or skirt the Black Forest mountain range from the Grand Duchy of Baden into the Kingdom of Wurttemberg, and from there cross the Neckar Valley to the east and travel up into the Prussian Province of Hohenzollern on the Swabian Alb plateau. That was 44 miles as the crow flies, but at least 68 miles on the road, and three different countries.
Mary and her friend couldn’t have saved time by travelling by train, either. The Zollenalb train line connecting Tübingen to Hechingen (the nearest town to the castle) didn’t open until June 29, 1869, several months later. The women would have had to have completed at least part of the trip by horse and carriage. The journey, then, would have been too long to fit in as a side trip during a one to two day visit to Baden-Baden.
Napoleonic treaty riddle
Mary’s other clue, that Napoleon signed a treaty at the castle, doesn’t help either. Napoleon, as far as I can determine, never signed a treaty at the Hohenzollern castle nor at any other castle in southwestern Germany. Mary might have been confused on that point. Please correct me if I’m wrong and leave a comment if you know what Mary might mean by Napoleon’s castle treaty.
Hohenbaden castle and the gray lady
A prime location for Mary Todd Lincoln’s castle ghost would have been the Hohenbaden castle right next to Baden-Baden – one of the city’s major tourist attractions – and a very manageable side trip from town. The Hohenbaden castle doesn’t have a white lady, though. It has a gray one. And her story would have been far more intriguing to Mary Todd Lincoln.
The margravine who lived in the castle and became the gray lady after her death was a different kind of a mother than the white lady of the Hollenzollerns. By all accounts, she loved her baby son more than anything in the world. One evening, she wanted to show him his inheritance. She took him up a high tower and held him out over the balustrade to show him all the villages, fields, and farms over which he would one day rule. But he slipped out of her hands and tumbled down the castle walls and cliffs. Panicked, the margravine rushed down all the castle steps to search the ground below the cliffs. Although she had all her servants and maids help her, she never found her little boy’s body again. The margravine died in grief. Now, according to the Baden-Württemberg’s official website for its castles and gardens, she haunts the castle. You can still hear the margravine wailing as the wind whips the crevices in the cliffs, and at midnight, her gray-clad apparition drifts from room to room, her long white hair waving about her face.
Mary, who herself had two sons slip through her fingers into eternity, would have related much more to the mourning gray lady than the murderous white one. Might her memories of Edward and Willie have prompted her questions to her tour guides?
Gray lady in folklore
Although gray lady ghosts aren’t as common as the white ones, they do pop up in 19th-century literature. The gray lady of Caputh is another example, as is Maillais’s “Grey Lady” in Scotland. By 1846, a poem about the gray lady of Hohenbaden appeared in a collection of Baden legends. To give you a taste, I’ve translated the first four lines:
Habt ihr gehört von der grauen Frau
Im Bergschloß Hohenbaden?
Bethört von finstrer Macht, dem Gau
War sie zu Schreck und Schaden.**
Have you heard of the lady gray
In Hohenbaden’s cliffside palace?
Bewitched by darkness, she steals away
To spew her fright and malice.
The poem underscores the fame of the gray lady by the time Mary visited Baden-Baden in 1869. Today, the castle’s website describes the gray lady as the most famous of the castle’s legends. The ghost could have easily become a subject of the castle tours by the time Mary visited in 1869.
Hohenbaden as the better choice
It’s possible that Mary got the color of the ghosts mixed up by the time she reached Nice and wrote her letter. Even the names of the castles are quite similar, Hohenzollern and Hohenbaden. That might have confused her in any conversations or reading on the topic.
Nevertheless, the Hohenbaden castle, for its proximity to Baden-Baden and a ghost story that matches Mary’s letter, offers a far better alternative than Hohenzollern for Mary’s side trip destination and the haunt of Mary Todd Lincoln’s castle ghost.
The question of where she thought Napoleon signed his “memorable treaty” remains open and offers a way to solve the riddle of Mary’s destination. My cursory survey of the treaties Napoleon I and III signed didn’t turn up anything in a southwestern German castle. Knowledge, however, is a cumulative and cooperative effort, and perhaps a reader knows more about the topic than I do. Please leave a comment if you can contribute. In doing so, you’ll also augment Mary Todd Lincoln’s biography.
You might also enjoy reading about Mark Twain’s visit to Baden-Baden several years later and his encounter with the Prussian empress or two posts on Frederick the Great, a member of the Hohenzollern dynasty: How Frederick the Great’s Sword Helped Spark the Civil War and The Five Greatest Criminal Trials of History, which covers his judgment in the trial of the miller Arnold.
Literature on point:
Baden-Württemberg, Städtliche Schlösser und Gärten, “Ein Geist im alten Schloss: Die graue Frau,” Altes Schloss Hohenbaden.
Betty Boles Ellison, The True Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014).
Jan von Flocken, “Die weiße Frau – ein Gespenst macht Geschichte,” Welt (Oct. 7, 2007).
**Ignaz Hub, “Die Graue Frau von Hohenbaden,” in Badisches Sagen-Buch II, August Schnezler, ed. (Karlsruhe: Creuzbacher & Kasper, 1846), 180-184.
*Mary Todd Lincoln to Eliza Slataper, Feb. 17, 1869 (in Turner, 26-27).
Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, “Die graue Frau,” Literatur Port (2015) [gray lady of Caputh].
Stephanie Graham Pina, “The Grey Lady,” Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (April 19, 2017).
Justin G. Turner, “The Mary Lincoln Letters to Mrs. Felician Slataper,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 49(1):7-33 (Spring 1956).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
A royal funeral makes criminal history
Black plumes bounced on the horses’ heads as they pulled the hearse through the rain and mud. The muffled hoofbeats foreshadowed change. Neither horse nor guard nor mourner could know the path before them led into criminal history, but it did. The reaction to Queen Caroline’s funeral procession became the origin of the police lineup.
Thirteen mourning carriages and the Life Guards, who had orders to escort the queen’s body, accompanied the hearse. Their route deviated from the normal royal funeral: Instead of going into the city center, the procession was to skirt the center and go around it. Ever since Caroline of Bruswick’s death a week ago, on August 7, 1821, officials feared the public would riot at her funeral procession.
And they were right.
But what they couldn’t foresee was how the procession would lead to an innovation in criminal procedure. Just one week later, London would stage an event that became the origin of the police lineup – with the Life Guards as suspects.
Lineups and showups
Police lineups – or identification parades, as they are known in the UK – have long been part of law enforcement’s tool kit for identifying suspects. But the origin of the police lineup is a bit murky.
The Baltimore Police Department has been using lineups for over sixty years. They’ve been part of British criminal procedure for much longer. An 1874 memorandum to the Home Office claimed the Metropolitan Police had used them since its inception. The earliest known police order for the regular use of the lineup was in 1860. Several court cases document lineups outside of London already in the 1850s.
Law enforcement developed lineups in response to criticism about the lineup’s older cousin, the showup. In a showup, the police apprehend a suspect matching a witness’s description, typically not long after taking the initial police report. The police bring the suspect back to the witness for an eyewitness identification: Was this person the perpetrator or not?
Showups, however, can lead to false identifications. The problem is suggestiveness. Because the police are showing only one suspect, witnesses might have tendency to pick that one out.
Misidentifications weren’t just a modern concern. Even in the 19th century, scholars discussed the danger. William Wills listed several cases on misidentification in his 1838 essay on circumstantial evidence.
Origin of the police lineup
When the British police first started regular lineups, they might have been thinking of the example of the Life Guards at Queen Caroline’s funeral. Caroline had a controversial career as queen consort, yet remained very popular with the people. The city folk, angry that her funeral procession wasn’t supposed to head downtown, decided to force it. People set up barricades along the route to detour the procession where they wanted it to go.
When the Life Guards encountered a set of barricades, a riot broke out. The crowd pelted the guards with rocks and injured several of the troops. With orders to use their weapons to disperse the rioters, the guards shot and slashed a path through the people. Two men in the crowd were killed.
One week later, on August 21, 1821, witnesses gathered at the barracks to identify which guards had been shooting. The regiment lined up in formation. Under the supervision of the Bow Street magistrates (an early police force), the witnesses walked through the troops’ ranks to study their faces. Their identifications and testimony were recorded in the inquest proceedings.
Edward Higgs calls the inquest proceedings at the Life Guard barracks one of the first recorded instances of an identification parade. In the UK at least, Queen Caroline’s funeral procession case played an important role in the origin of the police lineup.
But the idea of the lineup was much older. It may have come from France, and interestingly, that case also had a royal connection.
A controversial French showup
One of the greatest criminal scandals in the reign of Louis XIV was a vast network of poisoners. Between 1679 and 1680, French police arrested over 400 suspects for crimes related to poisoning and black magic. Witnesses alleged that the web of conspirators reached all the way to the king’s court – with the king himself, in once instance, as the intended victim.
Claude de Vin des Oeillets, the king’s former lover and once a member of his court, found herself facing accusations. And she thought she had a brilliant way of proving herself innocent. Her accusers were jailed in the dungeon of Vincennes. Why not take me there, she asked her interrogator, and show me to them? Oeillets swore none of her accusers would even recognize her.
Her plan backfired.
Investigators brought her down to a room near the dungeon and had the guards bring the witnesses in. Two identified her immediately.
Argument for the world’s first police lineup
Oiellets’s showup procedure reaped criticism. One of Louis’s ministers, Jean Baptiste Colbert, attacked the showup as prejudicial. Because she was the only person presented to the witnesses, Colbert said, it would have been too easy for the witnesses to guess who Oeillets was. Colbert said they should have shown her with four or five other people.
That is quite a modern argument! What Colbert was actually demanding was the world’s first police lineup.
So if France is not the birthplace of the lineup itself, it still might be the origin of the police lineup with respect to its philosophical underpinnings. And that’s fitting, because France also gave birth to the true crime genre.
Literature on point
John Adolphus, The Last Days, Death, Funeral Obsequies, &c of Her Late Majesty Caroline (London: Jones & Co., 1822).
Frederick H. Bealefeld, “Research and Reality: Better Understanding the Debate between Sequential and Simultaneous Photo Arrays,” University of Baltimore Law Review 42(3):513-534, 519 (2013).
David Bentley, English Criminal Justice in the 19th Century (London: Hambledon Press, 1998).
Rt. Hon. Lord Devlin (1976). Report to the Secretary of State fort he Home Department of the Departmental Committee on Evidence of Identification in Criminal Cases. HMSO.
Edward Higgs, Identifying the English: A History of Personal Identification 1500 to the Present (London: Continuum, 2011).
Holly Tucker, City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First POlice Chief of Paris (New York: W.W. Norton, 2017).
William Wills, An Essay on the Rationale of Circumstantial Evidence (London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans; 1838).Read More