Historical Murder and Mayhem

I love digging through old newspaper archives for tidbits of information. I find the past very interesting. But, it seems that the bad stuff makes the papers more often then the good stuff. And it's the bad stuff I was looking for today.

One of my WIPs (works in progress) is a collaboration on a murder anthology with another author here in Northwest Missouri. I've been doing some limited research on my caseload for the last year, after he proposed the idea of doing such a book, and it's been great fun to dig through the old newspapers. Today, I've been working in 1872 on a murder case that lasted four days, from crime to execution. Wow, four days! Now, that's quick work.

Okay, it helps that the murderer was driving around with his victims in the back of the wagon, thus making it easier to find them. And, it helps that he parked the wagon next to a guy's house -- a guy who had enough curiosity to wonder what the rancid odor was coming from the wagon and take the initiative to peek inside. And it helps that the murderer dawdled around in the nearby town for several hours after leaving the wagon behind, taking time to buy a new suit and then get drunk. And, it helped that the murderer chose to causally ride away from the town on a horse rather than take the train, thus making himself easier to catch. And, it helps that the guy confessed to the brutal murders within twenty-four hours, saving the community the stress and expense of trying him.

Most investigators don't catch breaks like that today in cases. Neither do county prosecutors. It takes months, sometimes years to bring a case to closure, and sometimes longer to get a conviction and for all the appeals to run their course. Wow, four days, in 1872, with a group of relatively untrained citizen investigators. Wow. History is interesting.

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