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- Courts and Criminals - 10/40 -


killed simply for the distinction it gave him among his countrymen and the satisfaction he felt at being known as a "bad" man--a "capo maestra." There was Joseph Ferrone--pure jealousy again. Hendry--animal hate intensified by drink. Yoscow--a deliberate murder, planned in advance by several of a gang, to get rid of a young bully who had made himself generally unpleasant. There was Childs, who had killed, as he claimed, in self-defence because he was set upon and assaulted by rival runners from another seaman's boarding house. Really it began to look as if men killed for a lot of reasons.

One consideration at once suggested itself. How about the killings where the murderer is never caught? The prisoners tried for murder are only a mere fraction of those who commit murder. True, and the more deliberate the murder, the greater, unfortunately, the chance of the villain getting away. Still, in cases merely of suspected murder, or in cases where no evidence is taken, it would be manifestly unfair arbitrarily to assign motives for the deed, if deed it was. No, one must start with the assumption, sufficiently accurate under all the circumstances, that the killings in which the killer is caught are fairly representative of killings as a whole.

All crimes naturally tend to divide themselves into two classes--crimes against property and crimes against the person, each class having an entirely different assortment of reasons for their commission.

There can be practically but one motive for theft, burglary, or robbery. It is, of course, conceivable that such crimes might be perpetrated for revenge--to deprive the victim of some highly prized possession. But in the main there is only one object--unlawful gain. So, too, blackmail, extortion, and kidnapping are all the products of the desire for "easy money." But, unquestionably, this is the reason for murder in comparatively few cases.

The usual motive for crimes against the person--assault, manslaughter, mayhem, murder, etc.--is the desire to punish, or be avenged upon another by inflicting personal pain upon him or by depriving him of his most valuable asset--life. And this desire for retaliation or revenge generally grows out of a recent humiliation received at the hands of the other person, a real or fancied wrong to oneself, a member of one's family, or one's property. But this was too easy an answer to my friend's question. He wanted and deserved more than that, and I set out to give it to him.

My first inquiry was in the direction of original sources. I sought out the man in the district attorney's office who had had the widest general experience and put the question to him. This was Mr. Charles C. Nott, Jr., (now judge of the General Sessions) who had been trying murder cases for nearly ten years. It so happened that he had kept a complete record of all of them and this he courteously placed at my disposal. The list contains sixty-two cases, and the defendants were of divers races. These homicides included seventeen committed in cold blood (about twenty-five per cent, an extraordinary percentage) from varying motives, as follows: One defendant (white) murdered his colored mistress simply to get rid of her; another killed out of revenge because the deceased had "licked" him several times before; another, having quarrelled with his friend over a glass of soda water, later on returned and precipitated a quarrel by striking him, in the course of which he killed him; another because the deceased had induced his wife to desert him; another lay in wait for his victim and killed him without the motive ever being ascertained; one man killed his brother to get a sum of money, and another because his brother would not give him money; another because he believed the deceased had betrayed the Armenian cause to the Turks; another because he wished to get the deceased out of the way in order to marry his wife; and another because deceased had knocked him down the day before. One man had killed a girl who had ridiculed him; and one a girl who had refused to marry him; another had killed his daughter because she could no longer live in the house with him; one, an informer, had been the victim of a Black Hand vendetta; and the last had poisoned his wife for the insurance money in order to go off with another woman. There were two cases of infanticide, one in which a woman threw her baby into the lake in Central Park, and another in which she gave her baby poison. Besides these murders, five homicides had been committed in the course of perpetrating other crimes, including burglary and robbery.

Passing over three cases of culpable negligence resulting in death, we come to thirty-seven homicides during quarrels, some of which might have been technically classified as murders, but which being committed "in the heat of passion," in practically every instance resulted in a verdict of manslaughter. The quarrels often arose over the most trifling matters. One was a dispute over a broom, another over a horse blanket, another over food, another over a twenty-five cent bet in a pool game, another over a loan of fifty cents, another over ten cents in a crap game, and still another over one dollar and thirty cents in a crap game. Five men were killed in drunken rows which had no immediate cause except the desire to "start something." One man killed another because he had not prevented the theft of some lumber, one (a policeman) because the deceased would not "move on" when ordered, one because a bartender refused to serve him with any more drinks, and one (a bartender) because the deceased insisted that he should serve more drinks. One man was killed in a quarrel over politics, one in a fuss over some beer, one in a card game, one trying to rob a fruit-stand, one in a dispute with a ship's officer, one in a dance hall row. One man killed another whom he found with his wife, and one wife killed her husband for a similar cause; another wife killed her husband simply because she "could not stand him," and one because he was fighting with their son. One man was killed by another who was trying to collect from him a debt of six hundred dollars. One quarrel resulting in homicide arose because the defendant had pointed out deceased to the police, another because the participants called each other names, and another arose out of an alleged seduction. Three homicides grew out of street rows originating in various ways. One man killed another who was fighting with a friend of the first, a janitor was killed in a "continuous row" which had been going on for a long time, and one homicide was committed for "nothing in particular."

This astonishing olla podrida of reasons for depriving men of their lives leaves one stunned and confused. Is it possible to deduce any order out of such homicidal chaos? Still, an attempt to classify such diverse causes enables one to reach certain general conclusions. Out of the sixty-two homicides there were seventeen cold-blooded murders, with deliberation and premeditation (in such cases the reasons for the killing are by comparison unimportant); three homicides due to negligence, five committed while perpetrating a felony; thirty-seven manslaughters, due in sixteen cases to quarrels (simply), thirteen to drink, four to disputes over money, three to women, one to race antagonism.

Reclassifying the seventeen murders according to causes, we have: Six due to women, four to quarrels, five to other causes, and two infanticides. Added to the manslaughters previously classified, we have a total of sixty-two killings, due in twenty cases to quarrels, thirteen to drink, nine to women, four to disputes over money, one to race antagonism, five to general causes, three to negligence, two infanticides, five during the commission of other crimes.

The significant features of this analysis are that about seventy-five per cent of the killings were due to quarrels over small sums or other matters, drink and women; over fifty per cent to drink and petty quarrels; and about thirty per cent to quarrels simply. The trifling character of the causes of the quarrels themselves is shown by the fact that in three of these particular cases, tried in a single week, the total amount involved in the disputes was only eighty-five cents. That is about twenty-eight and one-half cents a life. Many a murder in a barroom grows out of an argument over whether a glass of beer has, or has not, been paid for, or whose turn it is to treat; and more than one man has been killed in New York City because he was too clumsy to avoid stepping on somebody's feet or bumping into another man on the sidewalk.

The writer sincerely regrets that his own lack of initiative prevented his keeping a diary during his seven years's service as a prosecutor. It is now impossible for him to refresh his memory as to the causes of all the various homicides which he prosecuted, but where he can do so the evidence points to a conclusion similar to that deduced from Mr. Nott's record. The proximate causes were trifling--the underlying cause was the lack of civilization of the defendant--his brutality and absence of self-control.

With a view to ascertaining conditions in general throughout the United States, I asked a clipping agency to send me the first one hundred notices of actual homicides which should come under its scissors. The immediate result of this experiment was that I received forty-five notices supposedly relating to murders and homicides, which on closer examination proved to be anything but what I wanted for the purpose in view. With only one or two exceptions they related not to deaths from violence reported as having occurred on any particular day, but to notices of convictions, acquittals, indictments, pleas of guilty and not guilty, rewards offered, sentences, executions, "suspicions" of the police, "mysteries revived," and even editorials on capital punishment.

A letter of protest brought in due course, but much more slowly, one hundred and seven clippings, which yielded the following reasons why men killed: There were four suicides, three lynchings, one infanticide, three murders while resisting arrest, three criminals killed while resisting arrest, two men killed in riots, eight murders in the course of committing burglaries and robberies, seven persons killed in vendettas, three grace murders, and twenty-four killed in quarrels over petty causes; there were twelve murders from jealousy, followed in four instances by suicide on the part of the murderer; six killings justifiable on the "higher law" theory only, but involving great provocation, and thirty deliberate slaughters. The last clipping recounted how an irate husband pounded a "masher" so hard that he died. Leaving out the suicides and those killed while resisting arrest, there remain one hundred persons murdered, not only by persons insane or wild from the effects of liquor, but by


Courts and Criminals - 10/40

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