Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Author: Criminal Historian (page 1 of 17)

Top 5: Online resources for finding your criminal ancestor

Every so often, I put on here some resources that others researching criminal history or ancestry might find useful. As The National Archives is holding a webinar relating to crime in early April, I thought it was a good opportunity to both highlight this, and some blogs and online guides that might help you with your own research.

1.Finding Female Ancestors in Crime Records

This blog post from Findmypast focuses on helping you to find your female forebears in the crime records.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Criminal ancestors webinar

The National Archives is holding a webinar on the subject of finding criminal ancestors. It’s on Wednesday 5 April 2017, between 1 and 2pm. To book, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Society of Genealogists’ Guide to Criminal Records

The Society of Genealogists (SoG) has produced several helpful research guides, and this one is number seven. You can read it online or even download a PDF to print off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. How To Trace Your Criminal Ancestors

If you can’t make the TNA webinar (see above), or you’re reading this too late, TNA also has a useful blog post here about the records they have that can help you trace your criminal ancestor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Scottish crime and criminals

For criminal ancestors north of the border, your first stop should be the NRS, which has this good introductory guide to Scottish crime and criminal justice records.

The (court) performance of Captain Permane and his Siberian Bears

An advert in the Greenock Telegraph, from 18 December 1906

The Victorian newspapers are full of fascinating – and intriguing – crime stories, but the following short article from the Yorkshire Evening Post of 22 April 1892 particularly caught my eye.

On Thursday 21 April, Gabriel Dinell, originally from Jerusalem, appeared before Judge Meynell at the Sunderland County Court, to sue one Mr W V Permane. Mr Dinell sought £2 in damages from the defendant.

William Vincente Permane (1864-1939) was a circus performer of Spanish origin, but born in the less glamorous Birmingham (see here for a more detailed biography of him). By the 1890s, he was training, and appearing with, a troupe of animals – namely, 12 Siberian bears, who were regarded as rather ‘educated’.  On Tuesday 11 April, he had taken out his six pairs of bears to exercise them.

Unfortunately, Mr Dinell was passing by, minding his own business (as much as a man could mind his own business, whilst walking past 12 bears in Sunderland one spring day in 1892), when one of the bears took an interest in him.

Rising up on his hind legs, the bear grabbed Dinell in a hug, managing to tear his clothes and bruise various parts of his body – and, most upsettingly, apparently, crushing Dinnell’s hat.

A bear getting ready to hug…

Luckily, Dinell had been walking with a ‘companion’, who had the presence of mind to attack the bear with an umbrella. This saw the bear safely off, although Dinell later tried to assuage his masculine pride by stating that the bear was, obviously, the ‘most savage’ of the twelve being exercised that day.

He had a sympathetic judge, and the bear-exerciser was duly ordered to pay Dinell the £2 he had asked for.

But Permane was not put off his career through this appearance in court, and continued performing with his bears. Some seven years later, he was performing at the Tivoli Theatre of Varieties with his siberian bears, in a performance that was described in the press as ‘clumsy, but  shows that these cumbrous animals are capable of some degree of education’ (Manchester Courier, 28 March 1899), and his career continued well into the 20th century.

In 1900, he gave a interview to Strand Magazine, where he stated that:

“Bears are herbivorous, not carnivorous. They will attack either animal or man only after a somewhat protracted fast. There is, therefore, no necessity for giving bears any meat whatever.”

Mr Dinell might have disagreed with this statement, and might have been even more upset when, in 1910, Permane was advertising himself as Captain Permane, appearing with his ‘real live troupe of teddy bears’ (The Era, 2 April 1910).

Whether Mr Dinell would have agreed with this rather cuddly description of his attacker, who got him in a bear-hug and crushed his hat, is up for debate.

 

Review: making music from murder – Lizzie, The Musical

Much has been written about the rise in dark tourism, where we visit historic sites that were once associated with crime and punishment.

From former prisons to the homes of past murderers, it seems we can’t get enough of imagining ourselves in the lives of past convicts and criminals, murderers and monsters.

I’m one of these people; I’m fascinated by these sites, and studying how people in the past lived and were punished by visiting those places where they resided.

And it’s undeniable that we are fascinated with murder not only as it is presented in these tourism sites, but in other forms too. Jack The Ripper, of course, has lent itself to tours and recreations; but what about a musical about a real-life murderer? Would we feel less comfortable about a singalong featuring a real case?

if you’re quick, you can find out. Lizzie, a musical about a notorious American double murder, is currently showing at the intimate Greenwich Theatre in London. Originating in Denmark, but having also played in the US, it is on a limited season in the capital, and is well worth a trip.

Lizzie Borden, photographed around two years prior to the murders

It is set in a scorchingly hot August in 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts, where 32-year-old Lizzie Borden and her older sister Emma live with their frugal father, Andrew, and his second wife (their stepmother), Abby.

The tale itself is well-known; one morning, someone attacks Andrew and Abby with an axe, murdering them both. Lizzie is the prime suspect, but acquitted at trial, returning to live in the locality until her death in 1927.

The case was such a horrific one, and captured the attention of the public and press, to the extent that the famous rhyme is still repeated today:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

So how does a musical attempt to show the murders, and cover Lizzie’s motives and guilt? Not in a conventional way, it has to be said. This is basically a punk rock musical, starring four women, who play Lizzie, Emma, their maid, Irish Bridget, and Lizzie’s friend Alice (presented here as her lesbian lover – various theories have been presented over the years to suggest that Lizzie and Alice were more than just friends). So it’s loud and furious; irreverent and aimed clearly at a modern audience.

But it is also rooted in historical fact. Lizzie and Emma are concerned that their stepmother only married their father for his money; Andrew Borden kills the pigeons in his barn with an axe, ignoring the fact that Lizzie has befriended them, thereby greatly upsetting her. The claustrophobia of late 19th century life for single women is portrayed well; one senses Lizzie’s  frustration with her life and the limited options open to her.

It is also significant, perhaps, that the four characters are all female, representing Lizzie’s small circle of confidantes, and that the murder victims are largely absent from the story (and even when they do appear, it is not in the form that you might expect). This is very much about putting Lizzie and her life at centre-stage; but it creates a picture of four strong women trying to make their way in a patriarchal society.

Lizzie Borden’s house in Fall River, where her father and stepmother were killed

There are two acts; in the first, the women are all in fairly conventional 1890s dress, thus representing the outward conventionality of their lives, until the moment that closes the act – the sudden violence of the two deaths.

After the interval, there is freedom, of sorts, from convention, and thus the girls are now in gaudy burlesque fashions, their hair a riot of colour and styles, singing profanities, screaming. Lizzie’s trial is presented as a trial of four people, as the women line up behind their microphones to give evidence – before the “Not guilty” verdict is shouted out (appearing in large scrawled letters behind them at the same time).

The choreography, lighting and design of the show are great here, and Bjørg Gamst (Lizzie), Eden Espinosa (Emma), Bleu Woodward (Alice) and Jodie Jacobs (Bridget) put their all into their roles, singing with gusto and panache.

Obviously, a musical has to simplify events and characters. Lizzie turns the maid into a stock Irish comedy character, and the main character loses the complexity she looked like having in the first half once her father and stepmother are dead.

But overall, it’s an imaginative approach to depicting not only a famous crime, but also the life of the woman who is still widely believed – despite the verdict of her jury – to have killed two in that hot little house in Massachusetts over a century ago.

Lizzie continues at Greenwich Theatre until 12 March – buy tickets here. The musical’s UK website is here.

Plagium: how stealing a child in Victorian Scotland was punished

from the Morning Chronicle, 3 August 1855

In 1855, the Morning Chronicle in London published a list of capital punishments in Scotland (see above). The English media often covered Scottish affairs in a similar way to how it would publish stories about mainland Europe – highlighting its difference and ‘foreignness’ rather than claiming common ground with it.

So here, the list of Scottish capital crimes included several ones specific to Scottish law, with the speechmarks round them emphasising their ‘un-English’ nature. So we have hamesucken – a felony relating to a premediated assault, whereby a person was attacked in his own home – for example, and notour adultery.

Notour adultery, as opposed to the other offence of simple adultery, was, according to Henry Tebbs’ Essay on the Scripture Doctrines of Adultery and Divorce and on the Criminal Character and Punishment of Adultery (1821) , ‘the conduct of open and incorrigible adulterers, unreformed by the censures of the church, where they keep company publicly together, and procreate issue’ – in other words, adultery that resulted in the birth of children.

Stouthrief, also mentioned in the article, was a form of theft committed by force – so where a person was threatened with violence, or had violence committed against him, during a housebreaking.

Whereas hamesucken was where assault was the primary motive for a housebreaking, stouthrief suggested that the assault was incidental, or a secondary motivation, to the actual theft.

Furtum grave was an aggravated theft, deriving from the Latin ‘furtum’ (theft), where the amount of goods stolen might be particularly high.

The lack of understanding about Scots law was clear in the inclusion of ‘flagium’ as an offence; this was actually plagium, which was again a form of theft, but this time the theft of a person!

Detail from ‘French peasants finding their stolen child’ by P Calderon (Illustrated London News, 15 October 1859)

Akin to modern-day abduction, it commonly involved children, such as a case in 1844, when Helen Wade was charged with plagium at Glasgow when she ‘did, wickedly and feloniously, steal and theftuously carry away’ three-year-old Catherine Hamilton.

Catherine, an illegitimate child, had been living with her mother (although possibly another relative), hand-loom weaver Betty Hamilton, renting rooms with Helen Fleming on the Main Street of Camlachie; she was snatched from that road on 5 April 1844.

The next day, Helen Wade inquired for a ticket to board a ship to Liverpool. Viewed with suspicion by the ticket agent, she was asked about the child with her, and ‘declared that the child was her own, and told a false story about its father’.

They were still given a ticket, though, and it was only in Liverpool that Catherine Hamilton was retrieved and returned to her mother in Scotland.

Helen Wade was found guilty of plagium, but it was noted that in several previous cases of its type, the death sentence had been commuted to transportation for life.

Helen’s case was considered not as serious as others, and this, plus the rarity of convictions for plagium by the 1840s, meant that this defendant was ‘lucky’ enough to receive seven years’ transportation instead (case reported in Archibald Broun, Reports of Cases before the High Court and Circuit Courts of Justiciary in Scotland during the years 1844 and 1845, vol 2 (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1846)).

The types of capital offence listed by the Morning Chronicle show the continuing importance placed on property by the law. Although this article tried to make Scots criminal law sound alien, it actually reflected concerns both in Scotland and the rest of Britain, about looking after one’s goods, one’s livelihoods – and one’s relatives, too.

 

NB: Sir George Mackenzie’s 1699 book, The Laws and Customs of Scotland in Matters Criminal, is a fascinating read if you’re interested in criminal offences in Scotland, and available for free on Google Books.

Corset Crime Week, Final Day: Electrocution by Corset

It’s the final day of my Corset Crime Week (every blog – in fact, every newspaper, and every nation – should have one). To mark this momentous occasion, I’ve not written a post about a crime, but am offering you a product that I am surprised didn’t cause something awful to happen, and its inventor to be charged with a crime.

I give you Mr Harness’s Electric Corset for Delicate Women – the Very Thing for Ladies from 1893.

Although designed as a ‘cure’ for sleeplessness, rheumatism, bad backs and depression, it’s hard to believe that the contraption would also cure a ‘lack of appetite’ – I suspect not wearing a corset at all would help with that.

In addition, the idea of wearing an electric corset does conjure up nasty images of being electrocuted by one’s underwear. Ouch.

Corset Crime Week, Day 4: How Mrs Dove is alive, thanks to a corset

In the second of this week’s stories involving a corset proving itself to be the superhero of the early 20th century, by preventing crime, a story from 1900 involved the undergarment’s key role in preventing a case of a work grievance becoming a murder case.

A Kent tailor had a grievance against his employer, a Mr Dove, of Faversham. This was Charles Dove, a 31 year old tailor, who lived with his wife Minnie, and their young children – Frederick, Gertrude and Grace – in the centre of Faversham. [1]

One morning in late September, he took his revenge – not by shooting Mr Dove, but instead, his wife, firing his revolver at her as she walked from the yard of her house into its hall. The bullet would have hit her heart (the tailor obviously being a good shot), if it had not been for the steel of her corset, which stopped the bullet still.

The tailor was arrested shortly after, and charged with attempted murder. He appeared at the Kent Assizes under his full name of Thomas Downs Collins, and he was described as a 20-year-old ‘working tailor, in the employ of Mr Dove, with prisoner at 14 East Street, Faversham.’

The court heard that he had gone to Sheerness on 23 September, where he bought the gun from gunsmith Joseph Barber. He showed it to Dove, saying he had ‘brought it to show Johnson [another of Dove’s employees], and intended to take it home.’ He and Charles then had breakfast together on the 24th.

The men had then started work; during the morning, Charles Dove had come into the tailors’ workshop and given out the day’s instructions, but did not see Collins. Others reported that Collins had later become a bit anxious; Johnson started to get concerned, thinking Collins had gone ‘queer’; Collins muttered something that could either have been “the pistol’s driving me mad” or “Dove’s driving me mad.”

When Johnson asked Collins if he was alright, his colleague retorted: “If you move I’ll shoot you,” and took the revolver from his pocket. Johnson, thinking he was just being silly, said, “Now, then, Tom.”

Collins then went to grab Johnson, who pushed him and ran through the door, bumping into Mr Dove. He told him what had happened, but then, they heard a pistol fire, and a scream. Minnie Dove had been shot, but had luckily been fully dressed, and armoured with her sturdy corset.

The two men had known each other for years; Collins had been apprenticed to Dove for five years, the apprenticeship having finished some five months before. The week before, it seems that Dove had given him ten day’s notice to leave, because he had interfered in Johnson’s work. This dismissal was presumably all the motive Collins needed to try and kill his employer’s wife.

Actually, he thought he HAD killed Minnie. He had even gone home at 10am, and when his sister Helen had spied him with pistol still in hand, he turned to her and shouted:

“Keep quiet, Nell. I won’t hurt you. I have shot Mrs Dove stone dead: thank God. I am going to swing for it. It was Mr Dove I wanted.”

He wasn’t at home for long, for the police soon found him. Although he tried to point his pistol at a hapless police constable, he was disarmed, and again stated that it was Charles Dove he had wanted to kill, not his wife.

Despite these clear admissions that he intended to murder someone, he had not actually done so. The jury at his trial found him guilty of intent to grievous bodily harm, but not to murder. He received just three years in prison.

Sources: South Wales Echo, 24 September 1900; Kent & Sussex Courier, 7 December 1900

  1. The 1901 census records the Doves as living at 14 East Street, Faversham. The 1911 census for Faversham shows the Doves still living in the town, but now at 2 Queen’s Parade. Gertrude was now 17 and helping her father, a master tailor; her sister Grace, 16, was a dressmaker’s apprentice.

 

 

Corset Crime Week, Day 3: Stealing corsets from the Berlei factory

Edward Devanny was a 50-year-old tailor from Burnham in Buckinghamshire, who came a cropper in 1938 when he broke into a bra factory and stole some ladies’ underwear.

The tailor was a serial offender in terms of theft, at least. He had been living a life of crime since he was around 10 year old, it was said, and had served a number of prison sentences. There had been sentences of three and seven years’ penal servitude before this latest offence.

It was the night of the 2 June 1938 when Duvanny had broken into the Berlei factory in Slough, stealing 121 pairs of corsets and 18 bras, valued at a total of £106. He had only been out of prison since April, and had, for those previous few months, been living ‘on the proceeds of crime’.

When he was tried, the chairman of the jury was incredulous at the offence, saying, “What would this man expect to do with 150 [sic] corsets?”

Detective-Inspector Rawlins, who was giving evidence, commented that he had “got rid” of some them – in other words, Duvanny didn’t have a fetish for women’s underwear; he simply stole in bulk in order to sell on his wares later.

He was still sent back to prison, though. It was clear the court didn’t know quite what to do with him; he had been stealing for decades, had received both small and large prison sentences, but still kept thieving. Although it was felt that prison was doing nothing to encourage him onto the straight and narrow, he was again sent there, this time for another three year stretch.

Source: Bucks Herald, 1 July 1938

 

Corset Crime Week, Day 2: Bad women are those without corsets

In 1913, the Sheffield Evening Telegraph was frank about the importance of corsets to women. It noted that when a woman lost her waistline, she lost her self-respect; and that, therefore, if she gave up wearing a corset, she couldn’t be ‘good’.

In all fairness, the Sheffield paper was merely reporting the views of a Mrs Jones, who had just given a lecture to the Illinois Women’s Reformatory League.

The lecture had been reported in the Daily Express, courtesy of its New York correspondent, and the provincial press were – as they often did – merely copying stories from the nationals rather than trying to spark a debate amongst the good women of Yorkshire as to whether they should drop their corsets or not.

But Mrs Jones’ comments were actually part of a wider discussion about female prisoners in the US, and whether prison life and incarceration destroyed their self-respect and therefore made it more likely that they would recommit after their release.

The Illinois Women’s Reformatory League discussed how the routine of Illinois‘ prison life failed female inmates by not providing corsets or ‘fine’ clothes, leaving them in ill-fitting, loose garb. As Mrs Jones commented:

“Self-respect is the first element toward the reclaiming of a woman’s soul. No woman can maintain her self-respect unless she wears a corset. Dress our women prisoners well and they will be reformed.”

Although one might raise an eyebrow at her conclusion – “Corsets would make good women out of many who are now delinquents” – the League’s comments were more valid than they might first appear. By giving female inmates a sense of pride in their appearance, they might feel valued, worth something; take the fundamentals away, and they would sag both physically and mentally, be devalued, feel like ‘just’ a prisoner.

By commending corsets, women such as Mrs Jones were not putting trying to undo the work of the suffragists; they were, instead, recognising that women inmates were just that – not just inmates, but women too, and that to get them to value themselves might lessen the chance of them reoffending once they left prison.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 1 April 1913

 

 

Corset Crime Week, Day 1: A crime saved by a corset

The scene is Ulverston, Lancashire,* and the year is 1907.

A young miner, William Causey, is known to keep company with a servant named Tamar Annie Wilding, who works at the Hazelwood Hydro in Grange-over-Sands. Recently, however, he has sensed a coolness between them; a feeling that Tamar is not as enamoured of him anymore as he was of her.

His feelings come to a head one Wednesday evening in September. He spots Tamar, whose 23rd birthday is coming up the following week, out walking – with another man.

Fired up with jealousy, he follows them, and continues as they wander into a dark lane, just outside of Ulverston. Causey draws a revolver, and shoots his paramour twice. Struck, she falls, senseless, to the ground.

The miner is confident he has killed the young servant, and wanting to rejoin her (as she would, of course, be without the new man in heaven), he immediately puts the gun in his mouth and blows his brains out.

The 25-year-old has not reckoned on Tamar’s undergarments, however. Her boned corset is strong, and protective. The bullets had been deflected by the boning of the corset, and she is uninjured – although, when she heard the gun fire, she had merely – in the manner of all good Edwardian heroines – swooned to the ground.

Source: Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 20 September 1907

*Ulverston was historically in Lancashire, but is now part of the modern county of Cumbria.

Announcing a week of corset crimes

Yes, corset crimes.

Starting tomorrow, and running every day this week, I’m going to be blogging about corsets, and their connection to crime.

There’s literally no reason for this, apart from the fact that it gives me the excuse to use some great images of corsets that I’ve found in on the British Newspaper Archive website, and it also might get you thinking differently about an item that some women saw as a form of punishment, an inflictor of pain.

So welcome to Corset Week on Criminal Historian, and stop in each day to hear, and see, some historical corsets in action…

Older posts

© 2017 Criminal Historian

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑