Don’t you just love when the internet gives you a gift of a website to help you wile away the hours of the day? That’s what happened to me yesterday when I stumbled upon a site that chronicles some of the most scandalous Victorian murders in American history. My cup runneth over! And as a steamfunk and steampunk enthusiast, I was even more intrigued.
I stumbled across Murder by Gaslight after listening to the Pearl Bryan episode of the Criminal podcast. I was really interested in learning more about Bryan’s tragic story and the Google gawds had mercy on me and blessed me with a treasure trove of Victorian debauchery and true crime. Each crime features photos and the occasional corresponding news article from the time period. Here are some excerpts of some of the ones I found most interesting, and some of the most scandalous stories of Victorian murder featured on the site:
A case of “voudooism” and murder is reported from the very heart of New England. On Sunday last, Freddy, the two-and-a-half-years-old son of J. W. Smith of Springfield, Mass., died of arsenical poisoning. The person who committed the murder and who has been arrested or the crime is a mulatto woman of 25 years of age, named Julia or Lizzie Shepard. She claims to have come to Springfield from Madison, Connecticut and she has for some weeks been employed as a domestic in Springfield. The facts in the case regarding the alleged poisoning are as follows: The Shepard woman, coming to this city three weeks ago in search of a friend named Smith, went to J. W. Smith’s and, though finding it the wrong family, was permitted to remain, being of respectable address. The child Freddy was much thrown in with her, as Mrs. Smith was sick and he seemed to be constantly “ailing,” vomiting much accompanied with violent contraction of the leg and arm muscles. These attacks were especially noticeable after the child had taken milk, which the woman often gave him. Miss Shepard would express great solicitation for the child, but after a time the boy conceived such a dislike for her as to scream whenever she approached him. She also said that he was too handsome to live, and would die at a certain time. The family were naturally alarmed, and secured prescriptions from two physicians, and the boy appeared to mend. But on Sunday afternoon the child suddenly died after violent spasms, and the Shepard woman left…
I can’t imagine stabbing anyone and being this freaking prim about it:
On Wednesday evening, October 1, 1888, Brundage H. Welton, a well-known insurance man, was standing in Wilcox Brother’s cigar store in Bainbridge, New York, when a young man came into the store, walked up to Welton and punched him in the side.
“Don’t punch a fellow that way; you hurt,” Welton said to him.
“But you’re stabbed, don’t you know,” the other man said, grinning. He punched him again and said “Look and see.”
“Frankie and Johnny were lovers” – true, they were lovers, but his name was Allen, not Johnny. “He was her man, but he done her wrong.”— more accurately, Frankie Baker was Allen Britt’s woman, but yes, he done her wrong. He was her pimp and he abused her. Frankie caught Allen cheating with Alice Pryar and on October 16, 1899 she shot him – not in a public saloon, but in the bedroom of her St. Louis apartment. They quarreled about Alice Pryar and when he attacked her with a knife, she pulled a pistol from under her pillow. By that evening a local songwriter had composed a ballad that would immortalize the story of Frankie and Al Britt, and provide the framework for a century of misinformation…
All this time I only associated the film He Done Her Wrong with the indomitable Mae West, when it was a black teen living in an already difficult Victorian era who’d had enough of the abuse. Definitely adds another layer of intrigue to the whole thing. These are just a few, and I’ve got a ton of reading to do. Check out the site and tell me what you think.