Who Was Wyatt Earp?

From law officer to murderer to Hollywood consultant: the strange career of a man who became myth

Late in his life Henry Fonda, at dinner with a producer named Melvin Shestack, recalled meeting an old man who said he had firsthand knowledge of a memorable Fonda character, Wyatt Earp, the legendary frontier lawman of John Ford’s classic My Darling Clementine .Read more »

The Undying Problem Of The Death Penalty

Can it be fair? Humane? Deter crime? These very current questions troubled Americans just as much in the day of the Salem witch trials as in the day of Timothy McVeigh

Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court spent part of May 6, 1901, writing about the death penalty, and specifically about electrocution. Earlier that day lawyers for Luigi Storti, a twenty-seven-year-old Italian laborer without a family in America, convicted for the murder of a fellow immigrant in Boston’s North End, had argued that electrocution was punishment “cruel or unusual,” proscribed by the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, a charter nine years older than the federal Bill of Rights. Read more »

The Fate Of Leo Frank

He was a Northerner. He was an industrialist. He was a Jew. And a young girl was murdered in his factory.

ON DECEMBER 23, 1983, THE LEAD EDITORIAL IN THE ATLANTA Constitution began, “Leo Frank has been lynched a second time.” The first lynching had occurred almost seventy years earlier, when Leo Frank, convicted murderer of a thirteen-year-old girl, had been taken from prison by a band of vigilantes and hanged from a tree in the girl’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia. The lynching was perhaps unique, for Frank was not black but a Jew. Frank also is widely considered to have been innocent of his crime.Read more »

In Windsor Prison

IT BEGAN AS America’s most modern penal institution, and for generations the Vermont State Prison reflected the changing ways by which we thought we should punish our wrongdoers. Then a tormented era and a ghastly crime combined to end its old career—and give it a surprising new one.

 

The official name for the various high school teams was the Yellowjackets, and their home backers called them the Jacks. Not so fans attending away games. At any Vermont gym or field but their own the players were referred to as the Prisontowners. Read more »

Home-grown Terror

For a sense of the continuity of the of the terrorist tradition in America, consider this actual sequence of events: The FBI smashes a dead-serious plot to overthrow the federal government and reveals that for more than a year the right-wing militias involved were undergoing army-style training, fired up by inflammatory talk radio. They Planned to use their bombs, rifles, and machine guns to wage guerrilla warfare on American cities, and they claimed friends and allies in government and the military.Read more »

The Jury On Trial

Is trial by jury the essential underpinning of our system of justice or—as more and more critics charge—a relic so flawed it should perhaps even be abolished? An experienced trial judge examines the historical evidence in the case.

The distinguished lawyer could not restrain himself. Even in the somber pages of the American Bar Association’s Tort & Insurance Law Journal late last year, his rage blazed and fulminated. Juries, he thundered, were more and more willing to accept scanty, insufficient evidence en route to awarding unmerited damages to undeserving plaintiffs. Read more »

Gangster City

During a single decade Chicago invented modern organized crime and saw John Dillinger, the most famous of the hit-and-run freelancers, die in front of one of its movie houses. For those who know where to look, quiet streets and sad buildings still tell the story of an incandescent era.

 

A .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol fires a half-ounce lead cylinder at a speed of 579 miles per hour. If the bullet strikes a brick, it leaves a distinctive mark, a gouge surrounded by radiating cracks. Read more »

In Love With Lawsuits

Why Litigiousness Is a National Character Trait

BACK BEFORE CLAUS VON BULOW ever heard of Jeremy Irons, a judge who found the news media’s attitude toward the case puzzling put a question to a friendly television reporter.

“Why do you people treat this as a big-deal court matter? It’s not precedent-setting. The lawyers are good, but they’re hardly headliners. You don’t even have a murder. Nothing, in fact, but sex and money.” Read more »

Should We Legalize Drugs? History Answers

How are we to win our national struggle with cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other illegal drugs? Everyone agrees that drug-related problems are a plague on our society, destroying lives, helping wreck neighborhoods, poisoning schools, feeding crime, bleeding the economy. Lately strong voices are saying that the war against them as we are now fighting it cannot be won, that the best solution is legalization, or at least decriminalization.Read more »

What Made Lizzie Borden Kill?

On the hundredth anniversary of the unsolved double murder of Andrew and Abby Borden, is it time to ask: What was going on in that family?

A century ago in Fall River, Massachusetts, a jury of twelve men deliberated about one hour before acquitting Lizzie Borden of killing her father and stepmother. Lizzie’s innocence has not been so easily accepted by other people—either in 1892, when the murders were committed, or today. Since the trial people have continued to question evidence, police procedures, alibis, and strange behavior by members of the Borden household. Amateur prosecutors have put forward other suspects.Read more »