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"It is his first offense. We might as well let him go": homicide and criminal justice in Chicago, 1875-1920.

Chicago's Pleasant Place erupted in violence on April 23, 1907, when John Nesczuk began work on a fence along the property line behind his house. Nesczuk's neighbor, John Wijas, complained that the fence intruded into his garden. "What are you doing that for? You are spoiling my garden," Wijas roared from his window. "Come down here and we'll show you," Nesczuk answered. (1) Rather than accepting the challenge, Wijas--or perhaps another inhabitant of his home--hurled a brick out the window, hitting Nesczuk, breaking the fence builder's arm, and temporarily halting construction on the "spite fence." (2) Five days later Nesczuk's sons and two friends resumed work on the fence, and the violence flared anew. When Wijas, a forty-eight-year-old factory foreman, ventured near the disputed turf, the elder Nesczuk screeched "now we've got him. Kill him." (3) Nesczuk's son, Joseph, attacked Wijas with a hammer, striking him on the head and "crushing in his skull." (4) As soon as Wijas crumbled to the ground, Nesczuk's other son, Lawrence, and their friends pounced on the factory foremen, bludgeoning him with the boards they had gathered for the fence. John Wijas remained hospitalized for two months before his condition improved enough for him to return home. During this period he engaged an attorney, who sought a warrant for the arrest of the Nesczuks. A local judge, however, refused to issue the warrant. On July 21 Wijas succumbed to his injuries, and the police arrested the Nesczuk brothers, charging them with homicide. (5) A grand jury indicted only one of the brothers, the hammer-wielding Joseph. In the fall of 1907, a criminal court jury found the killer "not guilty" and released him, concluding that Joseph Nesczuk had been provoked into smashing Wijas's skull. (6) According to the Cook County criminal justice system, the Nesczuk brothers had acted lawfully when they beat to death John Wijas in his Pleasant Place garden.

The acquittal of Joseph Nesczuk generated scant attention, for this was not an unusual homicide case. Seemingly trivial disputes often fueled lethal violence in the city, and Cook County juries routinely exonerated and acquitted killers. Between 1875 and 1920 fewer than one Chicago killer in four was convicted. (7) True to its reputation, Chicago was a tough town.

The low conviction rate notwithstanding, this was an era of rapid criminal justice reform and legal modernization in the city. Chicago officials created the nation's first juvenile justice system during the final decade of the nineteenth century, and early in the twentieth century they forged specialized courts to adjudicate domestic disputes and morals cases. (8) Similar innovation and specialization transformed local policing during this era, as municipal officials formed a homicide squad, an "Italian [crime] squad," and other units designed to focus the investigative expertise of law enforcers. (9) Reflecting the "sociological jurisprudence" of the period, Chicago judges and prosecutors were also quick to invite social scientists and other experts into their courtrooms, and psychologists, "alienists," and physicians often testified in homicide cases. Likewise, the police and state's attorneys embraced the latest investigative techniques. Chicago law enforcers pioneered the use of the Bertillon criminal identification system in 1888 and finger printing in 1904. (10) A decade later Chicagoans established a "Psychopathic Laboratory," where defendants were observed, evaluated, poked, and prodded. (11) Legal reformers also demanded more professional training and operating procedures for local law enforcers. (12)

Yet, for all of these innovations and improvements, Chicago killers were rarely punished. Furthermore, despite the increasing momentum and the achievements of Progressive legal and institutional reform, the conviction rate in local homicide cases fell between the 1890s and 1920. A Chicago killer was nearly four times more likely to be convicted in 1895 than his counterpart a quarter century later. Lamenting the trend, a state's attorney in 1903 speculated that lethal violence had become so commonplace in the city that "murders are coming to be regarded with little more importance than fist fights. The jury," Charles S. Deneen added, "is inclined to say when a man is tried for murder: 'It is his first offense. We might as well let him go.'" (13) Even as twentieth-century practices and institutions blossomed, Chicagoans seemed to cling to nineteenth-century notions of justice.

Chicago's criminal justice system was swift and sure. Cases moved through the legal system at breakneck speed, often progressing from the coroner's inquest, which typically occurred the day after the homicide, to completed trial in a matter of weeks or, at most, months. (14) Between July 25 and November 23, 1907, for example, Joseph Nesczuk was arrested, appeared before a coroner's inquest jury, a grand jury, and a criminal court jury, and was acquitted. The local criminal justice system was as sure as it was swift, seldom convicting killers. Between 1875 and 1920, 7 percent of murderers immediately committed suicide, and almost one-third of killers evaded arrest. Municipal law enforcers made arrests in 61 percent of Chicago homicide cases. Among those arrested for homicide during this period, 42 percent were exonerated by coroner's juries or by grand juries, and the remaining 58 percent went to trial in the Cook County Criminal Court. Thirty-six percent of arrested killers were convicted. Thus, of the total pool of Chicago killers between 1875 and 1920, including those who escaped arrest, 37 percent faced a criminal trial, and 24 percent were convicted. Six percent of convicted killers--and 1.2 percent of all killers in Chicago between 1875 and 1920--were executed. Local law enforcers enjoyed their greatest success in 1885, convicting 48 percent of Chicago killers, and in 1876, 1877, 1879, and 1920, the police and the state's attorneys suffered through particularly bad years, securing convictions in fewer than 13 percent of the city's homicide cases. (15)

Chicagoans were acutely aware of the shortcomings in their criminal justice system. As a nationally recognized "laboratory" for social reform and the home of the University of Chicago (and its teams of sociologists, economists, social workers, and policy analysts), the city endured repeated investigations of its legal institutions. The findings were consistent, well publicized, and embarrassing: "Murderers Go Free," the Chicago Inter Ocean concluded after one such assessment. (16) Police Chief Leroy Steward reported to municipal officials in September of 1910 that law enforcers had secured convictions for 19 percent of the city's homicides during the previous four years. (17) Three years later, the Chicago Tribune, drawing on another four-year slice of crime statistics, echoed this view. "Murders Spread as Police Fail," the newspaper's headline announced. "The chances of a person charged with murder escaping punishment in Chicago are better than four to one in his favor, after the information has been presented to the grand jury." (18) Casting the net more broadly, the Report of the City Council Committee on Crime, chaired by the University of Chicago political scientist and reformer Charles E. Merriam, calculated in 1915 that "on felony charges, there is only one chance in five of a man ever getting to the Criminal Court for trial, and only one chance in thirty of going to the penitentiary or reformatory." (19)

To the horror of municipal officials, reformers, and other citizens, Chicago's conviction rate fell during the early twentieth century, even as the city's homicide rate soared. The conviction rate in homicide cases fluctuated wildly from the mid-1870s through the mid-1890s, after which it plummeted (see Figure One). Between the late 1890s and 1920, Chicago's homicide rate rose by 104 percent, while its conviction rate in homicide cases fell by 63 percent. (20)


Such a record of sustained failure reflected the efforts of law enforcers at every level of Chicago's criminal justice system. "In the protection of its citizens through the swift, sure and severe punishment of their assailants," Dr. W. T. Belfield told a group of physicians and lawyers in 1907, "Chicago compares with London, Berlin or Vienna as does an ox team with an express train for travel." (21) Contemporary observers, however, found particular fault with Chicago's police force. A detective hired by the influential City Club to investigate the local police offered a scathing assessment. "The condition is 'rotten,'" Louis Grossman reported in 1904. "The police of Chicago are piano movers, bums, cripples, janitors, ward heelers--anything but policemen." (22) Blending ridicule with sarcasm, the muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens expressed concern for the safety of the police. Chicago's police department, he explained, was "so insufficient (and inefficient) that it cannot protect itself." (23) Another investigation of local law enforcers, this one conducted by New York policemen, warned Chicagoans that they had "practically no protection." (24) Nor was the situation improving, according to local reformers. A study of Chicago law enforcement during the 1920s concluded that "numerically, our police force may have kept pace with crime, but in matters of efficiency and intelligent methods of crime detection we seem to have learned little and done less." (25) Underfunded, understaffed, poorly trained, mired in corruption, and shackled to political institutions, Chicago policemen contributed significantly to the bumbling and toothless character of the local criminal justice system.

Yet, for all of their well-documented problems, local policemen made arrests in an increasing proportion of Chicago homicide cases (see Figure Two). During the late 1870s and the 1880s, the city's law enforcers apprehended suspects in 44 percent of homicide cases. Between 1890 and 1910, the figure jumped to 66 percent, and during the 1910s the police secured arrests in almost 70 percent of local homicide cases. Their investigative skills may not have kept pace with their arrest rates, and therefore the increasing proportion of arrests did not necessarily indicate more effective police work. Nonetheless, the trend suggests that the police alone were not responsible for Chicago's low conviction rate in homicide cases.

At least according to contemporary legal reformers, coroners and state's attorneys also contributed to the ineptitude of the city's criminal justice system. Coroners remained elected officials in Illinois during this era. They typically lacked medical or scientific training and were bound up with the rough-and-tumble world of local politics. Peter M. Hoffman, a store clerk-turned-politician, served as the Cook County coroner from 1904 until 1922. Though he faced many charges of corruption and would be convicted for contempt of court during the mid-1920s, when he served as the county sheriff, Hoffman prosecuted particular kinds of homicide cases aggressively, staking his political fortunes on crusades to protect the innocent. He also established the county's "chemical laboratory," appointed experienced chemists and pathologists to help investigate potential homicides, and spearheaded the expansion of homicide charges to include automobile accidents in which the reckless behavior of the driver caused the fatality. (26) Hoffman even stacked inquest juries with the "right" men to increase the likelihood that particular suspects would be charged with homicide, selecting ministers, high school principals, or others he believed would be unsympathetic to suspected killers. (27) But if Hoffman and his colleagues pursued many cases zealously, the inquest process remained haphazard. The jurors in coroners' inquests, for example, were often "political hanger-ons" and "Fridays"--individuals who served repeatedly in order to collect the one-dollar-per-hearing stipend paid to jurors. (28)


Also elected officials, state's attorneys remained tethered to partisan politics, pursued cases selectively, and proved, at best, inefficient. Furthermore, the assistant state's attorneys who handled homicide cases tended to be young and inexperienced. (29) According to John Healy, who had served as the Cook County State's Attorney from 1904 until 1907, "the prosecution of felony cases in preliminary hearing in the municipal court of Chicago is mainly in the hands of incompetent and indifferent assistant state's attorneys [italics in original], who know nothing about the facts in the cases and are not prepared to and do not render efficient service." (30)

Although coroners and state's attorneys played important roles in the turn-of-the-century criminal justice system, jurors determined the fate of most suspects in homicide cases--at the coroner's inquest, at the grand jury hearing, and at the criminal court trial. And Cook County jurors were quick to exonerate, "no bill" (that is, not return a bill of indictment at the grand jury proceeding), and acquit killers, even those found glowering over their victims, gun--or hammer--in hand. In 1827 the Illinois legislature added a statutory provision to state's criminal code making jurors the "judges of the law and the fact." (31) The legislature repeatedly re-affirmed the provision, and the state's Supreme Court upheld it until 1931. (32) Illinois's highest court held that jurors "are not bound by the law, as given to them by the court, but can assume the responsibility of deciding, each juror for himself, what the law is ... according to their [sic] own notions of the law." (33) In effect, the Illinois criminal code sanctioned jury nullification, permitting jurors to define for themselves complex legal terms, such as self defense, provocation, criminal intent, and culpable negligence. Armed with the authority to determine both matters of law and matters of fact in criminal cases, Cook County jurors consistently favored defendants. Even as residents clamored for greater protection from murderers, Chicago jurors exonerated and acquitted, concluding that killers had acted lawfully when they employed lethal violence to resolve petty disputes. In short, more than the "piano movers" and "bums" who patrolled local streets, more than the crassly political coroners who oversaw inquests, and more than the "incompetent and indifferent" prosecutors who presented cases to grand juries and who conducted trials, Chicago jurors freed homicide suspects.

Local jurors often concluded that killers had acted in self defense, embracing an expansive, malleable definition of the phrase and then stretching it even further to meet ideals of popular justice. If jurors judged a fight to have been "fair," regardless of the level of brutality or who initiated the conflict, they typically found in favor of the defendant. Thus, prosecutors usually failed in homicide cases arising from drunken brawls, only one-fourth of which yielded convictions, even though these killings most often occurred in full view of witnesses and the suspects were easily identified and quickly apprehended.

Some commentators speculated that class and ethnic biases fueled exonerations and acquittals, with jurors caring little about the sorts of residents involved in most deadly affrays. In many instances, the stodgy Chicago Tribune speculated, jurors believed "the victim to have deserved his fate." (34) According to a local crime-beat reporter, jurors often concluded that "both parties belong to the lowest of the low and the loss of life would not have been any detriment to other people." (35) Legal reformers more frequently focused on the "weak sentimentality" of jurors. "Our hereditary sympathies are for the under-dog, for the man who is down and out, and the criminal is too frequently pictured as being only the victim of hard luck or a bad environment, fighting for his life or freedom against the powerfully organized, impersonal forces of the commonwealth." (36)

More visceral, more basic, and more gendered notions of fairness and justice, however, produced predictable jury decisions in barroom fights, street brawls, and other scuffles in which both the killer and his victim were active, willing participants. Men, jurors reasoned, must be permitted to stand their ground; Chicagoans typically rejected the view that they should back down from conflict or retreat from an aggressor, the niceties of the law and the instructions of judges notwithstanding. (37) If all Chicago men, because they were men, were entitled to resist challenges, yield no ground, brook no disrespect, and stand up to threats, virtually any violent behavior in a rough-hewn saloon or working-class neighborhood could be viewed as an act of self defense.

Cook County jurors also freed men who killed in defense of manly honor. Chicagoans, like other Americans during this era, frequently invoked a plastic concept known as the "unwritten law." In its purest form, the unwritten law permitted--indeed required--a man to kill the scoundrel who "attacked" or "dishonored" his wife, daughter, or sister. (38) On October 16, 1913, for example, William Keith learned that his wife had been "intimate" with Walter Paul. Keith tracked Paul to a local saloon and shot the home wrecker in the chest. A butcher by trade, Keith immediately summoned the police and explained that he was "justified in killing Paul ... and under the 'unwritten law' his [Paul's] life should be forfeit." (39) Although Mrs. Keith, who had also been "intimate" with at least eight other men during her marriage, had made her husband promise not to kill Paul, she conceded to the police that she knew that he could not keep his pledge. "He wouldn't have been a man if he had [refrained from killing Paul]," she told local law enforcers. A Cook County jury concurred and acquitted William Keith. (40)

Likewise, Greek immigrant Achilles Pantarakas, upon discovering that his friend George Barbaresos had "made love to my wife," determined that killing him "was a justifiable execution of the unwritten law." (41) Pantarakas explained that "I took my ax in my hand and with the ax split his skull. He deserved death. In my country death alone answers for his crime." (42) Not content with killing the thirty-year-old Barbaresos, Pantarakas hacked off his friend's head, arms, and legs. "If they hang me the American law is queer," Pantarakas told the police. "In Greece we protect our women and no one shall have my wife." (43) Chicago jurors found the argument compelling and acquitted Pantarakas. In many similar homicides, defendants also invoked the unwritten law and were exonerated or acquitted. (44)

Other Chicagoans insisted that the unwritten law "justified" the killing of anyone who disrupted their homes. On August 17, 1918, Italian immigrants Joseph Tamprullo and Earlerogo Piro declared "it is not wrong to kill a man who speaks ill of one's wife," and they shot and stabbed Piro's cousin, Pasquale, for "traducing" their wives. Although the killers proclaimed "we do not repent," a Cook County jury acquitted them. (45) While not specifically invoking the unwritten law, Joseph Manne relied on a similar explanation and justification for his violence. On April 7, 1920, a coroner's inquest jury exonerated Manne for the beating death of Travers Walsh, a twenty-nine-year-old soda clerk. Walsh and two friends, all of whom were "intoxicated on Jamaica ginger," loitered on a downtown street corner, flirting with women and occasionally insulting those who rebuffed or ignored them. Enraged that his wife had been subjected to such behavior, Joseph Manne attacked Walsh and beat him to death. Accurately gauging public opinion and then pandering to it, Coroner Peter M. Hoffman decried the "menace" posed by "habitual flirts" and announced that the case determined that "a killing is justified for an alleged flirtation or insult to another man's wife." (46)

Again and again, local judges and prosecutors instructed jurors "not to consider the 'unwritten law' and to rely only upon the facts." (47) During one trial, the Cook County state's attorney issued a public statement on the topic, warning that his office "does not recognize the unwritten law" and reminding the defendant that "his lawyers would have to present some facts." (48) Jurors disagreed and consistently endorsed, and in some cases applauded, the use of aggressive self help to resolve affairs of honor. (49)

Chicago women embraced their own version of the unwritten law during the early twentieth century. According to defendants and their attorneys, a "'new' unwritten law" gave a woman the "right" to kill any man who betrayed or abused her, even if she used the violence in a pre-emptive way. (50) Grace Doyle termed her use of deadly force against her abusive husband, Timothy, "self defense in advance" and explained that the shooting was a "morally justifiable killing." (51) Relying on such arguments, more 90 percent of white husband killers were exonerated or acquitted, prompting the assistant state's attorney in one trial to warn that "if this jury sets the precedent that any woman who is attacked or is beaten by her husband can shoot him, there won't be many husbands left in Chicago six months from now." (52) Even while exasperated judges and other legal observers dismissed the new unwritten law as "a mock sense of chivalry" or "mere sentimentality," Cook County jurors freed the killers. (53)

Simply put, Chicagoans believed that some behavior was so despicable that lethal violence represented a reasonable or at a least justifiable response. Pauline Plotka's killing of her former lover, on February 15, 1918, focused public scrutiny on this notion--and commanded national attention. A twenty-five-year-old dress designer, Plotka had been sexually involved with Anton Jindra, a twenty-five-year-old physician. Plotka charged that the young doctor had "wronged" her and then had reneged on his promise to marry her. (54) "He brought me to shame and then spurned me." (55) At the coroner's inquest, she revealed that "three different times he performed operations [i.e., abortions] on me." (56) When Jindra jilted Plotka, she secured a gun, proceeded to the Cook County Hospital where he worked, sneaked into the interns' quarters, and fired three bullet's into the doctor's body. On his deathbed, Jindra denied that he had dishonored Plotka. "She shot me [because] she wanted me to marry her," he stated moments before dying. (57) Plotka immediately announced that she would defend herself "on the ground of [sic] unwritten law," and, after deliberating for ten minutes, the jury at the coroner's inquest exonerated her, returning a verdict of "justifiable homicide." (58) "The evidence showed that Anton Jindra's treatment of her [Plotka] was most tantalizing, annoying, and brutal," the jury wrote, "and because of this we believe the said Pauline Plotka should be given the benefit of the doubt." (59) National observers lampooned the verdict and, with it, Chicago's criminal justice system. The New York Times averred that "the law, as so interpreted, is that it is a capital crime to be 'tantalizing, annoying and brutal' toward a woman, and that the penalty of death may legally be inflicted on the spot by the person aggrieved." (60) In an unusual legal maneuver, State's Attorney Maclay Hoyne rejected the inquest jury's verdict and brought the case to a grand jury and to a criminal court jury. On June 27, 1918, the criminal court jury accepted Plotka's explanation, affirmed the authority of the unwritten law, and freed the young dress designer. (61) Like William Keith and Achilles Pantarakas, Pauline Plotka had every right to seek personal vengeance, while the state of Illinois had no right to prevent a resident from defending his or her honor, according to local jurors.

In homicide cases that did not revolve around issues of honor, local jurors typically focused on the intent of the killer. According to Illinois law, questions of intent distinguished manslaughter from murder. But local jurors, as "judges of the law," often interpreted the state's law of homicide more loosely and determined that killers who lacked the intent to kill should be exonerated or acquitted.

Though hundreds of killers between 1875 and 1920 were freed as a consequence of this interpretation of the law of homicide, few cases illustrated jurors' "notions of the law" as clearly as William E. Doherty's trial. After a long evening of Christmas revelry in a Thirty-Fifth Street saloon in 1904, Doherty and his friends began "arguing over the respective marksmanship of the soldiers in the Russian-Japanese war." Happily besotted, Doherty asked his drinking buddies "you fellows ever hear of William Tell? Well, I'll show you how he did the trick. I'm the greatest shot ever." (62) Just then, Elmer Hunt, the saloon's nineteen-year-old African-American porter, began his shift. "Here, Elmer, stand back there and hold a spittoon on your head," the brash marksman commanded. "Without much persuasion," according to a crime-beat reporter, "Hunt was induced to stand with the cuspidor on his head." (63) Doherty lifted his revolver, but paused, and instructed Hunt to move backward. "Why, I can drive nails at this distance," Doherty crowed. (64) When Hunt had reached the far wall of the saloon, Doherty aimed, fired, and missed, causing his friends to erupt in laughter. Anxious and embarrassed, Doherty quickly raised his weapon and squeezed off another round. The bullet hit Elmer Hunt "squarely between the eyes." (65)

The coroner's jury ruled Hunt's death an unfortunate accident and exonerated Doherty. No doubt, both the race of the victim and the intent of the shooter influenced the verdict. But this decision was more than even Peter M. Hoffman could abide, and the Coroner set aside the verdict, re-arrested the would-be William Tell, and sent the case forward to the state's attorney's office. A criminal court jury, however, concurred with the coroner's jury and acquitted William E. Doherty. (66)

Similarly, a Cook County jury acquitted Thomas Chat, a bartender, for the 1911 shooting death of Michael Heinen. A seventeen-year-old teamster, Heinen "scratched matches on top of the bar," even after Chat had asked him to stop. When Heinen kicked Chat's dog, the bartender had had enough. He grabbed his revolver and shot the "boisterous" patron in the head, killing him. "Heinen wouldn't behave," Chat explained, "and I fired several shots at the ceiling to frighten him. It was an accident." (67) Sympathizing with the bartender, understanding his frustration, and accepting the argument that a bullet fired into the ceiling had struck Heinen in the head, the jury ordered Chat to be released.

When local law enforcers attempted to expand the scope of the law and criminalize reckless behavior that caused deaths, jurors would have none of it, rejecting the effort and relying on their own interpretations of state law. Hoffman championed the use of homicide law to punish drunken and negligent drivers who killed pedestrians, though local jurors eschewed Hoffman's legal theory and exonerated 80 percent of the defendants during the coroner's inquest. Of the remaining 20 percent, who were tried in criminal courts, nearly 70 percent were acquitted, even when vehicle operators were intoxicated or drove on sidewalks. Law enforcers secured convictions on 6 percent of the automobile drivers charged with homicide between 1905 and 1920. Likewise, the early twentieth-century crusade by coroners and prosecutors to treat botched abortions resulting in deaths as homicides passed legal muster but failed to persuade Cook County jurors, who exonerated or acquitted 89 percent of the defendants brought before them. (68) Despite the campaigns of Progressive legal and social reformers, Chicago jurors believed that citizens assumed certain risks when they worked in saloons, walked on sidewalks, or visited midwives, and killers should not be held legally responsible for accidental or unintentional deaths. (69)

If jurors exonerated or acquitted killers such as Joseph Nesczuk, Joseph Manne, and William E. Doherty, who was convicted of homicide in turn-of-the-century Chicago? What elements or behaviors made Chicagoans, in the eyes their peers, culpable for killing? Nearly one killer in four, after all, was convicted between 1875 and 1920.

In most respects, convicted killers differed little from those who were exonerated and acquitted. The backgrounds of Chicagoans who were punished for committing homicide, for example, were virtually identical to those who were arrested and charged but not convicted. Eighty-three percent of those convicted, 81 percent of those exonerated, and 80 percent of those acquitted held unskilled or semiskilled positions. Similarly, the mean age of those convicted was thirty one, while the mean age of those acquitted in homicide cases was thirty. The crucial difference between the groups was typically bound up in the nature of the crime. Residents charged with particular kinds of homicides tended to be convicted.

Chicago jurors reserved guilty verdicts for cowardly killers or for cold-blooded killers. Four kinds of homicide cases fell into these categories and disproportionately produced convictions. Local jurors convicted wife killers at the highest rate of any group of homicide defendants. Between 1875 and 1920, nearly 40 percent of Chicago wife killers immediately committed suicide. An additional 12 percent of these men evaded arrest. Thus, slightly more than half of wife killers, one way or another, were not brought before local juries. But Chicago jurors convicted 73 percent of the murderous husbands who were arrested. Especially during the late nineteenth century, wife killers often defended their violence, insisting either that the murders had been accidental or that their drunken or disrespectful wives had needed to be "disciplined." For example, Thomas Walsh, upon finding his wife drunk on February 18, 1883, took a strap to her. "I did not mean to kill her," Walsh explained, "but thought when she got sober in the morning the beating would have a good effect." (70) Local jurors, however, convicted the twenty-eight-year-old teamster, and a judge sentenced him to thirty-five years at Joliet Penitentiary. (71)

Jurors typically rejected honor-based justifications for uxoricide, for not even evidence of their wives' infidelity protected Chicago men from conviction. "Wayward" Ella Kurtz, for instance, died at the hands of her husband on March 24, 1894. (72) Ella had left her spouse and moved to a hotel, where she had "entertained other men," according to Frank Kurtz. When confronted, she told her husband that this was "none of [his] business," and the angry, cuckold shot his wife four times. (73) Despite Ella's purported infidelity, a Cook County jury convicted Frank Kurtz, and a judge sentenced him to a life term at Joliet Penitentiary. (74) In short, murderous husbands unsuccessfully employed defense strategies than nearly always succeeded in other contexts. Between 1890 and 1910, Chicago's uxoricide rate surged, and local jurors, all of whom were men, proved unforgiving toward wife killers and convicted 80 percent of the husbands who were arrested.

A cluster of overlapping factors contributed to this high conviction rate, transforming otherwise incompetent cops, indifferent prosecutors, and inattentive, gullible jurors, into hard-edged, unyielding defenders of social order and moral propriety. First, the identity of the killers was seldom in doubt. Wife killers typically planned their violence. They often announced their intentions to friends and frequently contemplated or even attempted suicide and composed letters to relatives explaining their acts. (75) Similarly, they rarely tried to escape. Those who did not attempt suicide usually waited for law enforcers to arrive, either because they were despondent or because they were certain that their spouses had needed to be beaten and hence believed the violence was entirely appropriate. Likewise, while wife killing occurred in private, the violence unfolded in ways well known to relatives and neighbors. In many instances, a history of domestic violence preceded the final, fatal act of patriarchal authority. More often, particularly after the 1890s, the murders took place as the women tried to dissolve marriages, usually by separating from their husbands. The killer frequently begged his wife to return, and relatives, neighbors, and other witnesses often heard the husband scream, as William Arf did on October 7, 1908, "you won't [return home], won't you? Then I'll kill you" an instant before the lethal shot was fired. (76) But this explanation fails to account for the high rate of conviction, since most Chicago killers during this period remained at the scene of the crime until the police arrived. In other kinds of cases, juries typically freed killers on the grounds of justifiable homicide or self defense--rather than because of questions regarding the identity of the assailant.

More important, wife killing violated popular notions of fairness. Uxoricides were not honorable, fair fights between equals. Instead, bigger, stronger men, most often using firearms, slaughtered smaller, weaker women. Nor were the victims perceived to have been willing participants in the one-sided battles. In contrast to using a hammer to crush the skull of an unharmed man or shooting a porter with a spittoon of his head during a drinking binge, wife killing was, in the eyes of turn-of-the-century Chicagoans, "cowardly" and unfair. (77) While respectable men could ignore barroom brawls, deadly neighborhood affrays, or even a bit of wife beating, wife killing was another matter altogether.

Class identity infused this perspective. Despite the use of "Fridays," jurors in homicide cases tended to belong to the city's middle class. According to a 1920s study, "tradesmen" comprised the largest single occupational category of jurors in Cook County felony trials, though white-collar workers dominated the jury pools, with salesmen, clerks, superintendents/managers, accountants, and retailers comprising the next largest categories. For every laborer or "railroad man" serving on a jury, there were ten salesmen, eight clerks, and four accountants. (78) These jurors celebrated the rugged masculinity that spawned loose definitions of self defense (even as their own lives became more regimented and sedentary), and they were relatively unbothered when local toughs mauled one another. But middle-class jurors stridently embraced older notions of chivalry and masculine respectability. (79) Since wife killers tended to be clustered in the upper tier of the city's working class, convicting and punishing murderous husbands fortified the boundary between rough and respectable, tamping down the ill-behaved ruffians who tried to rise above their station. (80) At the same time, punishing these wife killers re-established men, especially respectable men, as the protectors of women, even if the protection proved to be posthumous. In short, in the eyes of turn-of-the-century Chicago jurors, wife killing was an unmanly, cowardly act, and wife killers deserved to be punished. Although murderous husbands made up 7 percent of all Chicago killers, they comprised more than 14 percent of those executed between 1875 and 1920.

Cook County jurors also convicted murderous robbers at a very high rate. Prosecutors won convictions in 64 percent of the robbery-homicide cases for which the police made an arrest. No group of Chicago killers elicited greater fear and anxiety. If a sense of justice and chivalry undergirded convictions in uxoricide trials, feelings of terror and vulnerability fueled convictions in robbery-homicide cases. Chicago experienced a surge in robbery and robbery-homicide during the early twentieth century, and respectable Chicagoans panicked. (81) Although the identity of robber-murderers was often in doubt, jurors not only convicted nearly two-thirds of those arrested, but law enforcers executed these killers at an extraordinarily high rate. More than one-eighth of the men arrested for robbery-homicide were executed, seven times the overall rate. Put differently, robber-murderers made up 7.5 percent of Chicago killers from 1875 to 1920 and comprised 43.5 percent of those executed for murder.

During trials and again during pardon and commutation hearings, prosecutors described robber-murderers as "cold-blooded" killers.82 They were predators who preyed on the respectable and the innocent. Crime-beat writers, as well as prosecutors, focused on the social distance that separated robbers from their victims. "Fish-blooded" criminals targeted residents with money or goods--successful, hard-working Chicagoans, like the jurors themselves. (83) In one trial, which ended with a conviction and an execution, an assistant state's attorney asked the jurors "if you think society should be allowed to protect itself against these birds of prey who slink out into the night with guns in their pockets and potential murder in their hearts." (84)

Like wife killers, murderous robbers were considered unmanly. They skulked in the night and ambushed citizens of means and substance, transforming strong, solid men into helpless, terrified, feminized victims. If Chicagoans could abide honor-based violence, if they maintained a curious reverence for fair fights, and if they even believed that residents assumed certain risks when they ventured in public, local jurors expressed only loathing for killers who struck without giving their victims a fighting chance, particularly when the attackers belonged to the working class and the victims belonged to the middle class. Robbery-homicide, according to one prosecutor, was "cowardly, deliberate, wanton murder." (85)

African Americans comprised the third group of Chicagoans disproportionately convicted in homicide cases. In the age of lynching and Jim Crow, the city's African-American population skyrocketed, rising from 4,784 in 1875 to 109,458 in 1920. During the late 1910s alone, Chicago received more than fifty thousand African-American migrants, most of whom were from the Deep South and were young. (86) As white Chicagoans, natives as well as immigrants, competed with the newcomers for work and for housing, racial conflict exploded, sparking many violent exchanges and culminating in the Race Riot of 1919, which resulted in thirty-eight deaths and more than five hundred injuries. Again and again, gangs of whites, often masquerading as "athletic clubs," attacked African-American Chicagoans during the early twentieth century. Local law enforcers often watched passively as the violence erupted and then arrested every African American in the vicinity of the battle. As a consequence, the arrest rate in homicide cases with African-American suspects was nearly 40 percent higher than the corresponding figures for white suspects. (87) Despite the policy of indiscriminately arresting and charging African-American residents (or, perhaps, as a result of the beliefs that motivated such a law enforcement strategy), African Americans were convicted at more than double the rate of white Chicagoans; 45 percent of cases with African-American suspects produced a conviction, compared with 21 percent of cases with white suspects. In homicides in which the police made an arrest, 60 percent of African-American defendants were convicted, nearly double proportion of convictions in cases with white defendants.

Not surprisingly, the imbalance became still more pronounced when the violence crossed racial lines. As both African-American residents and Progressive reformers recognized, white Chicagoans could attack and kill the newcomers with virtual impunity. (88) African-American defendants charged with killing white residents, however, encountered a very different criminal justice system. "Negroes suffer gross injustice in the handling of criminal affairs," the Chicago Commission on Race Relations reported in 1922. (89) In cases in which the police made an arrest, prosecutors won convictions in 62 percent of black-on-white homicides but only 14 percent of white-on-black homicides. Likewise, while no white Chicagoan was executed for murdering an African-American resident during this era, more than 9 percent of African-American defendants charged with murdering white Chicagoans were executed. (90) When homicide suspects were African American, systemic racism outweighed middle-class indifference toward the violent tendencies of the poor, for justice proved to be relative and situational in turn-of-the-century Chicago.

Finally, local jurors did not abide or excuse cop killing. Despite their dissatisfaction with the police, and despite their inclination to exonerate and acquit, Cook County jurors stood squarely with the city's law enforcers. When policemen used deadly force, even when they shot children who were innocent bystanders, jurors supported the police, exonerating or acquitting nearly every cop who killed while on the job. (91) When local ruffians killed local law enforcers, two-thirds of arrested suspects were convicted and 14 percent were executed.

Wife killers, robbers, African Americans, and cop killers represented the proverbial exceptions that proved the rule, demonstrating that the criminal justice system could dispense punishment. Excluding homicide-suicides, Chicago law enforcers secured convictions in 43 percent of these cases--and in 62 percent of those in which they made an arrest. By comparison, between 1875 and 1920 the police and prosecutors won convictions in only 17 percent of all other homicides--and in 27 percent of all other cases in which they arrested a suspect.

Was Chicago unique? Although the explanations for patterns of exoneration and acquittal might have been different elsewhere, jurors in other settings during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were also reluctant to convict homicide defendants. (92) In nineteenth-century New York City, where homicide rates were lower than in Chicago, the lion's share of homicide cases ended without convictions. (93) Late nineteenth-century New Orleans jurors convicted homicide suspects at similarly low rates, as did jurors in the American southwest, though both areas endured much higher rates of violence than New York or Chicago and had less well developed legal institutions. (94) Likewise, in late nineteenth-century England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, where levels of violence were far lower than in the United States, juries typically convicted only a minority of homicide defendants. (95) Thus, in areas with high rates of violence, as well as in areas with low levels of violence, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century jurors consistently favored defendants in homicide cases, just as they did in places with strong, mature legal institutions and in places with weaker or younger criminal justice systems. (96) Legal institutions and pressures for civility and emotional restraint appear to have exerted only a modest influence on conviction rates. (97) Because Illinois state law forged a kind of democratic jurisprudence and gave jurors unusually free rein to reach verdicts based on their own ideals of fairness and culpability, Cook County courts were probably distinctive in degree more than in kind.

Legal and institutional reforms, in short, did not immediately alter core notions of justice, manliness, or chivalry. Rather, the machinery of Chicago's criminal justice system changed more rapidly than the sensibilities of local jurors. At least in homicide cases, older attitudes toward fairness, honor, culpability, risk, and popular justice survived well into the twentieth century, even as Progressive reformers and policy makers introduced greater efficiency and professionalism into the criminal justice system and as they extended the reach of the state in order to protect residents from the dangers around them. In fact, the combination of resilient notions of justice and institutional reform produced a falling conviction rate in Chicago homicide cases. Responding both to the city's rising homicide rate and to innovative legal and institutional impulses, law enforcers brought more cases to local juries, investigating deaths and prosecuting cases that would have been overlooked in earlier eras, such as infanticides and abortion-related deaths. But local jurors, emboldened by an anomalous provision in the state's criminal code, relied on popular definitions of self defense, provocation, and negligence to counter these efforts, and they exonerated or acquitted the defendants. Hence, the increasing caseload along with unchanging--or slowly changing--standards of culpability produced falling conviction rates.

Despite the efforts of Progressive reformers, Chicago jurors, perhaps like their counterparts elsewhere, demonstrated little inclination to permit the legal system to mediate social relations. Instead, their verdicts in homicide cases, at every level of the criminal justice system, indicated that they believed that men must be allowed to be men, that the law should not interfere in affairs of honors, and that residents assumed risks when they engaged in particular kinds of behavior. At least in Progressive-era Chicago, a blend of gender-, race-, and class-based notions of justice trumped the rule of law, generating low homicide conviction rates during a period of soaring violence. Thus, Chicagoans simultaneously railed about their feckless law enforcers, complained about local violence, and pronounced that Joseph Nesczuk had acted within his rights when he bashed in John Wijas's skull with a hammer on Pleasant Place during the spring of 1907.

Department of History

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1. Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1907.

2. Chicago Record-Herald, April 29, 1907.

3. Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1907.

4. Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1907.

5. Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1907.

6. Chicago Police Department, "Homicides and Important Events, 1870-1920," Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL.

7. This figure--and other quantitative evidence in this essay, unless otherwise noted--was calculated using the Chicago Police Department's homicide files, recorded in "Homicides and Important Events, 1870-1920." In these ledger books, the police recorded every homicide occurring in the city and updated the entries as cases worked their way through the legal system. Health Department, coroner's, and newspaper tallies of homicide were consistent with the totals in these police files. I created a data set of 5,645 cases, and, using standard record-linkage techniques, cross-checked, corroborated, and completed each entry by consulting court records, prison records, health department records, and newspaper accounts of individual homicide cases. In calculating conviction rates, I excluded cases in which the killer committed suicide prior to arrest. In addition, I tested my calculations against various newspaper and government investigations of the city's criminal justice system. My case-level data set yielded nearly identical figures to the aggregate-level, sources.

8. See David S. Tanenhaus, Juvenile Justice in the Making (New York, 2004); Victoria Getis, The Juvenile Court and the Progressives (Urbana, 2000); Michael Willrich, City of Courts (New York, 2003).

9. For the "Italian squad," see Chicago Evening Post, March 15, 1911.

10. Richard C. Lindberg, To Serve and Collect (Carbondale, 1991), 24; Simon A. Cole, Suspect Identities (Cambridge, MA, 2001), 152, 177-81.

11. See Willrich, City of Courts, 241-77.

12. See Report of the City Council Committee on Crime of the City of Chicago (Chicago, 1915); John H. Wigmore, editor, The Illinois Crime Survey (Chicago, 1929); Mark H. Haller, "Historical Roots of Police Behavior: Chicago, 1890-1925," Law and Society Review 10 (Winter 1976): 309.

13. Chicago Record-Herald, February 21, 1903.

14. William N. Gemmill, "Crime and Its Punishment in Chicago," Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 1 (July 1910): 39.

15. These calculations exclude killers who committed homicide-suicide.

16. Chicago Inter Ocean, September 28, 1910.

17. Chicago Inter Ocean, September 28, 1910; Chicago Tribune, September 28, 1910.

18. Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1913. This figure was based entirely on murder cases. Analyzing data on murders committed in 1919, Edward W. Sims, the president of the Chicago Crime Commission, concluded that the conviction rate was even lower. See Sims, "Fighting Crime in Chicago: The Crime Commission," Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 11 (May 1920): 24.

19. Report of the City Council Committee on Crime of the City of Chicago, 192.

20. These figures are based on the crude homicide rates--that is, both the homicide rate figure and the conviction rate figure are calculated on the basis of all recorded homicides in the city, including infanticide cases, abortion-related homicides, and automobile fatalities defined as homicides. To control for annual fluctuations, the rates for the late 1890s are based on five-year averages. Also see Edith Abbott, "Recent Statistics Relating to Crime in Chicago," Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 13 (November 1922): 337-39; Arthur V. Lashly, "Homicide (in Cook County)," in The Illinois Crime Survey, 637.

21. "Race Suicide for Social Parasites," Journal of the American Medical Association 50 (January 4, 1908): 55.

22. Chicago Tribune, March 2, 1904.

23. Lincoln Steffens, "Half Free and Fighting On," McClure's Magazine 21 (October 1903): 563.

24. George Kibbe Turner, "The City of Chicago: A Study of the Great Immoralities," McClure's Magazine 28 (April 1907): 589. For a similar assessment, see Henry Barrett Chamberlin, "The Chicago Crime Commission--How the Business Men of Chicago are Fighting Crime," Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 11 (November 1920): 391.

25. John J. Healy, "The Prosecutor (in Chicago) in Felony Cases," in The Illinois Crime Survey, 289.

26. Ludvig Hektoen, "The Coroner (in Cook County)," in The Illinois Crime Survey, 377; Jeffrey S. Adler, "'Halting the Slaughter of the Innocents': The Civilizing Process and the Surge in Violence in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago," Social Science History 25 (Spring 2001): 36-38.

27. See Chicago Evening Post, August 24, 1912; Chicago Evening Post, July 17, 1914; Chicago Tribune, December 6, 1918; Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1920.

28. Lashly, "Homicide (in Cook County)," 596-98. Also see David S. Tanenhaus and Steven A. Drizin, "'Owing to the Extreme Youth of the Accused': The Changing Legal Response to Juvenile Homicide," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 92 (Spring/6Summer 2002): 651-52. Hoffman defended his use of "Fridays," arguing that he chose worthy, solid men who were honest but down on their luck. "I'm proud of helping those old fellows," he explained in 1918, and "I wish I could help more of them." See Chicago Tribune, December 6, 1918.

29. Healy, "The Prosecutor (in Chicago) in Felony Cases," 306; Gustave F Fischer, "The Juries, in Felony Cases, in Cook County," in The Illinois Crime Survey, 226.

30. Healy, "The Prosecutor (in Chicago) in Felony Cases," 329.

31. Schnier v. Illinois 23 Ill. 17, 19 (Illinois, 1859); Fisher v. Illinois 23 Ill. 218, 227, 231 (Illinois, 1859); Illinois v. Bruner 343 Ill. 146, 148, 163, 171 (Illinois, 1931); Healy, "The Prosecutor (in Chicago) in Felony Cases," 285; Fischer, "The Juries, in Felony Cases, in Cook County," 226-28.

32. Illinois v. Bruner 343 Ill. 146, 148, 163; Ossian Cameron, Illinois Criminal Law and Practice (Chicago, 1898), 394-95; R. Waite Joslyn, Criminal Law and Statutory Penalties of Illinois, 2nd edition (Chicago, 1920), 181.

33. Fisher v. Illinois 23 Ill. 218 231.

34. Chicago Tribune, July 10, 1882.

35. Chicago Times, May 19, 1880.

36. Raymond B. Fosdick, American Police Systems (New York, 1920), 43-44. Also see Chicago Tribune, February 21, 1912.

37. For discussions of this issue, see Instructions to the Jury, People v. Patrick Furling, February, 1899, term, Criminal Court of Cook County, Archives of the Criminal Court, Chicago, IL. Also see Richard Maxwell Brown, No Duty to Retreat (New York, 1991).

38. See Robert M. Ireland, "The Libertine Must Die: Sexual Dishonor and the Unwritten Law in the Nineteenth-Century United States," Journal of Social History 23 (Fall 1989): 27-44; Hendrik Hartog, Man & Wife in America (Cambridge, MA, 2000), 219-37.

39. Chicago Evening Post, October 16, 1913.

40. Chicago Evening Post, October 16, 1913; Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1913; Chicago Tribune, October 18, 1913.

41. Chicago Inter Ocean, March 30, 1911.

42. Chicago Tribune, March 29, 1911.

43. Chicago Inter Ocean, March 30, 1911.

44. For other examples, see Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1913; Chicago Daily News, July 18, 1917; Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1917.

45. Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1918.

46. Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1920. For an account of a similar case, with the same outcome, see Chicago Inter Ocean, September 6, 1912.

47. Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1917.

48. Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1913.

49. See Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1913.

50. Chicago Record-Herald, March 21, 1905; Chicago Inter Ocean, July 22, 1912; Chicago Tribune, April 26, 1919.

51. Chicago Record, July 3, 1899.

52. Chicago Inter Ocean, January 10, 1906. For a fuller discussion, see Jeffrey S. Adler, "'I Loved Joe, But I Had to Shoot Him': Homicide by Women in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 92 (Spring-Summer 2002): 882-88.

53. Chicago Evening Post, March 16, 1914; Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1920. Also see Frederick L. Hoffman, The Homicide Problem (Newark, 1925), 38.

54. Chicago Daily News, February 16, 1918.

55. Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1918.

56. Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1918.

57. Chicago Daily News, February 16, 1918.

58. Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1918; Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1918.

59. Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1918.

60. New York Times, February 16, 1918; Fosdick, American Police Systems, 45.

61. Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1918.

62. Chicago Record-Herald, December 27, 1904.

63. Chicago Record-Herald, December 27, 1904.

64. Chicago Record-Herald, December 27, 1904.

65. Chicago Record-Herald, December 27, 1904; Chicago Inter Ocean, December 27, 1904; Chicago Tribune, December 27, 1904.

66. Chicago Police Department, "Homicides and Important Events, 1870-1920."

67. Chicago Inter Ocean, February 11, 1911; Chicago Tribune, February 11, 1911.

68. Put differently, the men who served on Cook County juries rejected Hoffman's (and leading physicians') attempts to prosecute and punish those performing abortions--even those who killed their patients. See Leslie J. Reagan, "'About to Meet Her Maker': Women, Doctors, Dying Declarations, and the State's Investigation of Abortion, Chicago, 1867-1940," Journal of American History 77 (March 1991): 1248.

69. Adler, "Halting the Slaughter of the Innocents," 29-52.

70. Chicago Times, February 20, 1883.

71. Joliet Convict Registers, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL.

72. Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1894.

73. Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1894; Chicago Record, March 26, 1894.

74. Joliet Convict Registers. For a case with a similar outcome, see Chicago Tribune, August 18, 1896.

75. See Chicago Evening Post, March 26, 1901; Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1906. Also see Jeffrey S. Adler, First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt (Cambridge, MA, 2006), 45-84.

76. Chicago Tribune, October 8, 1908. For other examples, see Benedict J. Short [Assistant State's Attorney] to the Illinois State Board of Pardons, October 2, 1908, petition for commutation of the sentence to imprisonment for life of Andrew Williams, Executive Clemency Files, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL; Chicago Times-Herald, February 5, 1899.

77. Chicago Times-Herald, May 13, 1896.

78. Fischer, "The Juries, in Felony Cases, in Cook County," 231-32.

79. See Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization (Chicago, 1995), 5-20.

80. The mean age of wife killers was thirty-eight, and, by comparison with all Chicago killers between 1875 and 1920, they were older and more clustered in skilled occupations.

81. Abbott, "Recent Statistics Relating to Crime in Chicago," 332.

82. Illinois Board of Pardons to Governor Richard Yates, April 20, 1904, in Petition File of Harvey Van Dine for Commutation of Death Sentence, Illinois Board of Pardons, Executive Clemency Files, Illinois State Archives; Chicago Daily News, October 14,1916.

83. Turner, "The City of Chicago," 590.

84. "Demands Noose for Earl Dear," Unidentified newspaper clipping contained in the Application of Earl Dear for Commutation of Sentence, Executive Clemency Files of Governor Frank O. Lowden, Illinois State Archives.

85. Testimony of James C. O'Brien, Assistant State's Attorney, to the Illinois Board of Pardons and Parole, June 19, 1919, Application of Earl Dear for Commutation of Sentence.

86. James R. Grossman, Land of Hope (Chicago, 1989).

87. Eric H. Monkkonen found a similar pattern in his study of homicide in New York City. See Monkkonen, Murder in New York City (Berkeley, 2001), 148.

88. Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (Chicago, 1922), 332, 352-53; Chicago Defender, March 18, 1911.

89. Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago, 622. Also see Elizabeth Dale, The Rule of Justice (Columbus, 2001).

90. In intra-racial homicides involving African Americans, 2 percent were executed.

91. Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1893; Abbott, "Recent Statistics Relating to Crime in Chicago," 356-57.

92. It is difficult to calculate comparable conviction rates because of differences in extant sources and research methods. Depending on whether scholars rely on police records, coroner's records, indictment reports, criminal court records, newspaper accounts, or some combination of these sources, the denominators in calculating the rates differ.

93. In his study of homicide in nineteenth-century New York City, Eric H. Monkkonen found similar conviction rates. See Monkkonen, "The State From the Bottom Up: Of Homicides and Courts," Law and Society Review 24 (April 1990): 529; Monkkonen, Murder in New York City, 167. Also see William Francis Kuntz, II, Criminal Sentencing in Three Nineteenth-Century Cities (New York, 1988), 264-65; Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History (New York, 1993), 457-58.

94. See, for example, Dennis C. Rousey, "Cops and Guns: Police Use of Deadly Force in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans," American Journal of Legal History 28 (January 1984): 64; Clare V. McKanna, Jr., Homicide, Race, and Justice in the American West, 1880-1920 (Tucson, 1997), 62, 96, 150.

95. See Carolyn A. Conley, The Unwritten Law (New York, 1991), 51; Conley, Melancholy Accidents (Lanhan, MD, 1999), 92; Conley, Certain Other Countries: Homicide, Gender and National Identity in Late Victorian England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales (forthcoming; Columbus, 2007); V. A. C. Gatrell, "The Decline of Theft and Violence in Victorian and Edwardian England," in Crime and the Law, edited by V. A. C. Gatrell, Bruce Len-man, and Geoffrey Parker (London, 1980), 287.

96. According to Roger Lane's study, Philadelphia prosecutors secured convictions at a somewhat higher rate than their counterparts in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans. See Lane, Violent Death in the City (Cambridge, MA, 1979), 68-69.

97. A number of leading historians of violence have drawn from Norbert Elias's theory of a "civilizing process" and argued that cultural and institutional pressures gradually discouraged impulsive, volatile behavior and thus reduced levels of violence. Such a process, however, does not appear to have redefined the sensibilities of jurors, for convictions rates were low in both high-violence and low-violence settings during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. See Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: The History of Manners (1939; reprint edition, New York, 1978); Elias, The Civilizing Process: Power and Civility (1939; reprint edition, New York, 1982). For thoughtful applications of Elias's theory, see Eric A. Johnson and Eric H. Monkkonen, editors, The Civilization of Crime (Urbana, 1996).

By Jeffrey S. Adler

University of Florida
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Author:Adler, Jeffrey S.
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Date:Sep 22, 2006
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