Still Recoiling from the Charlie Lawson Tragedy When Charlie Lawson slaughtered his family and took his own life on Christmas, 1929, it affected an entire community. Generations later, the effects of that devastating mass murder are still heartfelt.
CLEWS includes a couple of posts devoted to the case, both inspired by the documentary A Christmas Family Tragedy, a new film that explores the case in depth. The comments left by folks on one post have gotten very heated. Perhaps feelings were stirred by the recent passing of one woman who was interviewed for the film, Dorothy Montgomery. Perhaps those feelings have been there for decades.
I debated what on earth to do about it (it still surprises me when people leave sharp comments for one another on this site; picture me startled, looking up from a dusty old book at the sound of raised voices coming from the back of the library). I was inclined to edit or delete some of them. But at some point the depth of emotion generated by a thing like this becomes part of the tragedy. After thinking hard about it I decided to let the comments stand for that reason.
Another Annihilator Professor Mitchel Roth at Sam Houston State University, an historian of crime and justice who has authored several books, is now writing a book about notorious multiple murderer George Hassell, per a note the professor left on the Clews summary of the Hassell story. That is one case that ought to be more widely known because its lessons in the nature of human misbehavior would surprise a lot of people. Professor Roth's report will be the first book on the case.
A Blog for Chester Gillette & Grace Brown Lizzie has several, the Villisca case has one, and now there is a blog devoted to the case of Chester Gillette. It is found at http://bloggillette.blogspot.com.
Gillette was the most beautiful man the United States ever executed. New York was actually the one that ordered him dead; the Empire State was more strict back in Chester's day when it came to punishing the premeditated murder of the inconveniently pregnant.
His story was also the inspiration for the classic Theodore Dreiser novel An American Tragedy (yep, long before Truman Capote, our best novelists penned fictionalized accounts of our worst cases).
Photo: Auburn Prison, where Chester Gillette was executed in 1908. Via
Thumbs Up for Scoundrels Your county courthouse has born witness to your town's greatest dramas, to tales of murder, assault, adultery, madness, and other sins small and large.
But after a dollop of that gritty business, who wouldn't want to retire to the closest lounge for more lighthearted fare in the theme?
If you're interested in true crime tales told by insiders, alas, few books by criminal lawyers show the inside workings of that human gristmill known as a court of law. Occasionally a prosecutor (or very occasionally a defense attorney) will write a memoir. They usually carry titles that bespeak dour themes. Recent books include Bronx D.A.: True Stories from the Sex Crimes and Domestic Violence Unit by Sarena Straus and "Ready for the People": My Most Chilling Cases as a Prosecutor by Marissa N. Batt and Johnnie Cochran.
Now a prosecutor has shared his own best tavern stories in a delightful new book from the University of Missouri Press. It's Scoundrels to the Hoosegow: Perry Mason Moments and Entertaining Cases from the Files of a Prosecuting Attorney by an experienced, elected prosecutor from Missouri, Morley Swingle. I was taken with the title and theme and put several questions to the author, who was kind enough to grant an interview to CLEWS (which you can find here).
Now I've read and enjoyed the book. With more than a quarter century of experience, the author had plenty of gems to share. Each chapter begins with quips on prosecutors from the smartest lawyers and thinkers of recent times. The author includes not only his own most eye-popping courtroom moments (and there are some doozies here) but the best stories of his closest colleagues as well. My favorite is the Case of the Millionaire Murderer.
Some of my favorite bits:
"Had Oprah Winfrey chosen to be a courtroom lawyer, she could have been the Clarence Darrow of our generation."
On a man representing himself in a criminal case: "Then it was Bixby's turn [to give a closing argument]. Ethical rules prohibiting prosecutors from lying to the jury did not apply to him; he could tell a few whoppers without worrying about a perjury charge. Bixby was off and running. It was his chance to testify without being cross-examined about his prior convictions. Truth be damned! He soared like an eagle."
On introducing a new character in a murder drama: "The fact that this biker was someone a murderer would call when he needed help disposing of a corpse told you basically all you needed to know about the man."
On meth: "Methamphetamine, for those law-abiding, non-news-watching readers who may be unfamiliar with the substance, is a highly addictive drug made by cooking the ephedrine contained in routine cold medication with such appetizing edibles as Liquid Drano, anhydrous ammonia, and lithium batteries."
I learned and laughed so much I almost wish I had entered criminal law instead of insurance defense. (Almost....) And I appreciated the reminder, applying to everything important, that preparation is a virtue. Congratulations go out to an author who not only found but shared the sort of precious anecdotes usually only heard over a round.