Nightmare On Austin Street

It was a story so disturbing that we all still remember it. But what if it wasn’t true?

In the paper’s morning edition for March 27, 1964, The New York Times ran one of the most indelible leads in its 155-year history. “For more than half an hour,” began a front-page article by the reporter Martin Gansberg, “thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.” 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 »

Ordeal By Touch

Up until the last century in some parts of the country, a murderer’s guilt could legally be determined by what happened when he or she touched the victim’s corpse

In 1646 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Mary Martin was pregnant and unmarried. Her paramour was a married man, but it was her status as a single woman that determined the nature of her crime. She faced punishment, if her misdeed was discovered, only for fornication; had she been married, her crime would have been adultery, punishable by death. Read more »

She Had To Die!

One of Ruth Snyder’s Crimes Was Murder

In 1925 a woman named Ruth Snyder too up with a salesman—a corset and brassiere salesman to be exact—and together on March 20, 1927, they murdered her husband in his bed. Months later, they were both electrocuted. To the public Judd Gray was just another murderer, but the crime of Ruth Snyder was as subversive to American domesticity as the anarchism of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti was to the American political and economic order. Like Sacco and Vanzetti, Ruth Snyder died in the electric chair while the whole country watched the clock.Read more »

Terror in New York—1741

Was there really a conspiracy to burn the town?

In January, 1708, a Mr. William Hallett, Jr., of Newton, Long Island, was murdered in his sleep with his pregnant wife and his five children. Two of Hallett’s slaves, an Indian man and a Negro woman, were tried for the crime and found guilty. They and two alleged accomplices, both blacks, were executed, being “put to all the torment possible for a terror to others,” according to a contemporary newspaper account. The Negro woman was burned alive at the stake.Read more »

Vendetta In New Orleans

The city panicked with fear of the Mafia when the police chief was murdered

The lamplight filtering through the haze and drizzle gave the streets of New Orleans an eerie pallor that October night in 1890. It was nearing midnight when Dave Hennessy, the city’s thirty-two-year-old police chief, left his office and headed home, escorted by an old friend, Captain William O’Connor. There had been threats on Hennessy’s life, but the popular and respected chief took them lightly. When the two men reached Girod Street, where Hennessy lived, the chief told O’Connor it was not necessary to accompany him any farther.Read more »

Sacco-Vanzetti: The Unfinished Debate

Today, thirty-two years after Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed for the murder of a paymaster and his guard in South Braintree, Massachusetts, the ghosts of the cobbler and the fish-peddler are not at rest. As recently as last year a joint senate-house committee of the Massachusetts legislature was asked to recommend that the governor issue posthumous pardons, thus correcting “an historical injustice which had besmirched the reputation and standing of Massachusetts in the eyes of the entire world.” No pardons were forthcoming. Read more »