The Lady Swindler

Gazing up, in her little veiled hat with its ridiculous feather, Marion L. Dow looks tiny, cute and entirely harmless. But a con artist should look harmless—isn’t that the point? She was born Marion Gratz in New Brunswick, Canada in 1846. The 19th century was an era when crime was the domain of men. In … Continue reading The Lady Swindler

Photographing the Rogues: The Police and 19th Century Photography

Before there were mugshots there were rogues' gallery photos. If you're interested in the history of police and prison photography during the 19th century, you're in luck! I'm giving a Zoom talk on the subject this coming Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 1:30 PM EST. The talk will be recorded, so if you have plans … Continue reading Photographing the Rogues: The Police and 19th Century Photography

Scotch Mag

Imagine: It’s a chilly Thursday evening in early November 1859. You’re a middle-aged man, a joiner by trade. You live in Brooklyn and don’t come to the city often because it means a nail-biting ferry ride, but tonight, with cash in your pocket ($8 to be exact), you feel optimistic. As you stroll up Broadway … Continue reading Scotch Mag

Murder by Moonlight

It was the tail end of the summer in 1937 when these men were arrested in St. Louis, Missouri. They were suspects in a murder that had taken place a few days earlier in Chicago. The photo was taken with a flash, which adds to the film noir flavor of the image. Note that the … Continue reading Murder by Moonlight

The Allotment

Pink Bruner was serving a life sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary for a murder he didn’t commit. It happened on a Saturday night in early May 1900. The city marshal, Hugh Myers, had ridden on horseback to the western edge of Davis, a small town in Indian Territory, to investigate gunshots. There he found three Black … Continue reading The Allotment

The San Quentin Follies

The follies were a high point in the dreary lives of the prisoners at San Quentin. An annual tradition held near the end of December, the prisoners wrote, directed and starred in each and every act. During the early years, when there were few female prisoners, the men produced and acted in the show, dressing … Continue reading The San Quentin Follies

Sherlock Holmes in a Skirt

After watching The Alienist: Angel of Darkness I wondered about Sara Howard, the protagonist in season two of the show. Did a woman like Howard, who works as a detective, actually exist in New York of the 1890s? Author Caleb Carr said he based the character of Howard on a flesh and blood woman named … Continue reading Sherlock Holmes in a Skirt

The Real Inspector Byrnes

No one who follows this blog will be surprised to find that I’m a fan of The Alienist, currently in its second season on TNT. The show, based on the novels by Caleb Carr, vividly brings to life crime in gritty lower Manhattan in the late nineteenth century, complete with dimly lit saloons, dogfights in … Continue reading The Real Inspector Byrnes

The Chauffeur in the Bedroom with the Lead Pipe

Bess was the wife of Harry A. Nelson, the Deputy Assessor of Alameda County, California. It was the Great Depression, and many people were suffering financial hardship, but the Nelsons were not among them. They lived in a comfortable home at 5314 Boyd Avenue in Oakland with their daughter Jessie and Bess’s mother, Mae Hulett. … Continue reading The Chauffeur in the Bedroom with the Lead Pipe