Salvatore Maranzano: ‘Boss of All Bosses’ in the Early American Mafia

He briefly became the Mafia’s capo di tutti capi (“boss of all bosses”) and formed the Five Families in New York City. Introduction Salvatore Maranzano July 31, 1886 – September 10, 1931 was an organized crime figure from the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, and an early Cosa Nostra boss who led what later[…]

A History of the American Mafia

The first published account of what became the Mafia in the United States dates to the spring of 1869. Introduction The American Mafia, commonly referred to in North America as “the Mafia” or sometimes “the Mob”, or the Italian-American Mafia,[3][4][5] is a highly organized Italian-American criminal society and criminal organization. The organization is often referred[…]

How Reliable Are Eye-Witness Testimonies?

Eye-witness testimonies are an essential component of many trials. They are a fundamental piece of evidence that in many cases are often necessary for the police to secure a conviction, and some cases cannot proceed without them. The reliability of eye-witness testimonies is always a concern. There have been cases when eye-witness testimonies have been[…]

San Francisco Vigilantes in the Mid-19th Century

These so-called militias hanged eight people and forced several elected officials to resign. Introduction The San Francisco Committee of Vigilance was a vigilante group formed in 1851. The catalyst for its formation was the criminality of the Sydney Ducks gang.[1] It was revived in 1856 in response to rampant crime and corruption in the municipal[…]

History Of The Death Penalty For Law Students

During the colonial era, laws related to the death penalty were primarily influenced by the European system. The practice of capital punishment was brought in by the European settlers who came to the American continent. However, the entire sentiments towards capital punishment have undergone a series of changes throughout history. Law students are often required[…]

The Slicker Wars of Missouri: 19th-Century Vigilante Justice on the Frontier

Vigilance committees formed throughout the Missouri Ozarks, and spread to several areas within the state. Introduction During the mid-1800s, conflicts between outlaws and local vigilante groups spread across the Missouri Ozarks and became known as the Slicker Wars. The Missouri Ozarks is known for its bluffs, rivers, mountains, forests, and caves. During the 1840s, this[…]

The Bald Knobbers: 19th-Century Vigilantism in the Ozarks

The Bald Knobbers, who mostly sided with the Union in the Civil War, were opposed by the Anti-Bald Knobbers, mostly Confederates. Introduction and Background The Bald Knobbers were a group of vigilantes in the Ozark region of southwest Missouri from 1883 to 1889. They are commonly depicted wearing black horned hoods with white outlines of[…]

The Code of Hammurabi: Crime and Punishment in Ancient Egypt

Although a social hierarchy placed some in privileged positions, the code proscribed punishments applicable to all classes. Introduction The Code of Hammurabi (also known as the Codex Hammurabi and Hammurabi’s Code), created ca. 1780 B.C.E., is one of the earliest sets of laws found and one of the best preserved examples of this type of[…]

Crime in England, 1780-1925

Many acts we would describe as crimes today were largely unprosecuted before the mid-nineteenth century. Introduction As with all periods in history, there were many illegal acts which could, if detected (and the perpetrator was prosecuted) appear as “crimes”. However, the vast majority of crimes were never prosecuted. Modern historians can sometimes study unprosecuted acts[…]

Sanctuary Spaces for Criminals in Medieval English Law

In medieval England, churches had a moral duty – and even a legal obligation – to protect the vulnerable. In medieval England, from at least the 12th to the 16th centuries, sanctuary was defined as a legal procedure within both canon law (the law of the church) and secular common law. It was a last[…]

Algorithms Associating Criminality and Appearance Have a Dark Past

In some cases, the explicit goal of these technologies is to deny opportunities to those deemed unfit. ‘Phrenology’ has an old-fashioned ring to it. It sounds like it belongs in a history book, filed somewhere between bloodletting and velocipedes. We’d like to think that judging people’s worth based on the size and shape of their[…]

Harnessing the Power of the Criminal Corpse in Early Modern England

A new theology that came to dominate British religion after the Reformation altering the relationship between the living and the dead. Introduction During the age of spectacular punishment, the bodies of those who threatened the State or social order were subject to highly visible symbolic justice. The executions and dead bodies of traitors in particular[…]

The Power of the Criminal Corpse in the Medieval World

The dying and dead body was an important locus in both religious and secular discourses of power. Introduction Taking a long-term view of the history of crime and punishment problematises any straightforwardly progressive narrative of the history of punishment as one of increasingly humane attitudes. Punishment in the Middle Ages was about retribution, but also[…]

Henry McCarty: The Rise and Fall of Outlaw Billy the Kid

He made no pretense to be engaged in a social or a moral crusade. Introduction Henry McCarty (November 23, 1859[1] – July 14, 1881) was better known as Billy the Kid, but also known by the aliases Henry Antrim and William Harrison Bonney. He was a nineteenth century American frontier outlaw and gunman who was[…]

Crime and Punishment in Elizabethan England

Looking at crime in Elizabethan England and the brutal punishments offenders received. Thieves and Pickpockets The crowded nave of St Paul’s Cathedral was a favourite with pickpockets and thieves, where innocent sightseers mixed with prostitutes, and servants looking for work rubbed shoulders with prosperous merchants. A visitor up from the country might be accosted by[…]

The Prison Palimpsest: A Former Tour Guide Looks Back at Eastern State Penitentiary

More than 200 years ago, a group of Philadelphian reformers had a utopian vision of how prisons should be run. At work we notice a mummified cat. It rests in a pile of paint chips and splintered wood in the wreck of the prison warden’s quarters. The other tour guides and I venture across floorboards[…]

Were the Bald Knobbers Law-and-Order Folk Heroes or Murderous Thugs?

In the lawless post-Civil War Ozarks, the vigilante Bald Knobbers took government’s place. When I was seven years old, in 1983, my family took a road trip from Stillwater, Oklahoma, to Branson, Missouri, a family-oriented resort town deep in the Ozark Mountains. Our destination was Silver Dollar City, a Christian-owned theme park that is like[…]

Visible Proofs: A History of Forensic Medicine

Forensic medicine, also called “medical jurisprudence” or “legal medicine,” emerged in the 1600s. The Rise of Forensics Overview As European nation-states and their judicial systems developed, physicians and surgeons participated more frequently in legal proceedings. By the late 1700s, medical jurisprudence had become a standard subject in the medical curriculum. In the early 1800s, Parisian[…]

Crime and Punishment in Georgian Britain

From gruesome, public executions to Georgian Britain’s adoration of the ‘heroic’ highwayman, the author investigates attitudes to crime and punishment in Georgian Britain. Introduction Throughout this period many people viewed criminals and law breaking as heroic and courageous, and the activities of robbers and villains were often widely celebrated in popular culture. Stories of daring[…]

The Mamertine Prison: Ancient Rome’s Tullianum

The prison was constructed around 640–616 BCE, by Ancus Marcius. Introduction The Mamertine Prison (Italian: Carcere Mamertino), in antiquity the Tullianum, was a prison (carcer) located in the Comitium in ancient Rome. It was situated on the northeastern slope of the Capitoline Hill, facing the Curia and the imperial fora of Nerva, Vespasian, and Augustus. Located between it and the Tabularium (record house)[…]

Fook Shing: Colonial Victoria’s Chinese Detective

Fook Shing spent 20 years as a Melbourne gumshoe. He policed the thriving Chinese community – claiming opium as an expense – but was never promoted above his entry rank of detective third class. On July 25 1882, Inspector Frederick Secretan, the head of Victoria Police’s Detective Branch, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. In the[…]

‘Murder Map’ Reveals Medieval London’s Meanest Streets

First digital map of the murders recorded by the city’s Coroner in early 1300s shows Cheapside and Cornhill were homicide ‘hot spots’, and Sundays held the highest risk of violent death for medieval Londoners. Stabbed by a lover with a fish-gutting knife. Beaten to death for littering with eel skins. Shot with an arrow during a[…]

William of Norwich and a Jewish Woman’s Appeal of Murder in Medieval England

Periodic outbursts of hostility incited numerous massacres of the Jews in the Middle Ages. Setting the Scene The period leading up to the expulsion of the Jews from England in July of 1290 was a time of mounting uncertainty for the Anglo Jewry. That Saint Augustine’s long-endorsed “toleration theory”[1] was beginning to lose its force is[…]