Archive for August 10th, 2011

1888: Hugh Mottram Brooks, for the Trunk Murder

2 comments August 10th, 2011 Headsman

Entomb your mate in a trunk and the Show-Me State will hoist your neck on a rope: Hugh Mottram Brooks found that out on this date in 1888.

This story had made worldwide headlines within hours of the time an employee at St. Louis’s Southern Hotel had opened the door to a guest bedroom emitting a horrible stench and discovered a corpse stuffed in a trunk.


Headline of the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, April 15, 1885. The story occupied the entire front page.

The remains, in life, had belonged to Charles Arthur Preller, an English traveling salesman who had been hanging about the hotel with his impecunious countryman, Brooks.

Those two had been understood on the premises to have been involved, in the Oscar Wilde sense. But the spark for homicide was mere avarice.

The dramatic note left pinned to the late Preller — “so perish all traitors to the great cause” — was almost immediately deemed a red herring, and suspicion descended on Preller’s recent companion, who had absconded with our dead salesman’s money.

A global manhunt pursued the fugitive, who was found to have fled to San Francisco and thence overseas; he was soon arrested in Auckland and extradited back to face a sensational trial — which, by the by, entailed disinterring the corpse to search it for evidence that it had been catheterized. (It hadn’t, and this rubbished the defendant’s alibi that he’d accidentally killed the guy while consensually chloroforming him in the course of a bit of home medicine.)

The wonderful 19th century crime site Murder by Gaslight covers this case and Brooks’s futile defense in meticulous detail. Aptly enough, the Trunk Murderer didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Brooks hanged along with another murderer, Henry Landgraff. The British government did make diplomatic representations on its citizen’s behalf, but they were ignored — prosecutors retorting that London had recently given short shrift to American citizen Patrick O’Donnell.

Part of the Themed Set: Branded.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Homosexuals,Missouri,Murder,Pelf,USA

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Themed Set: Branded

3 comments August 10th, 2011 Headsman

Then there are those atrocities so striking that newsmen send them abroad under their own specially minted brand.

The Black Dahlia murder.

The Son of Sam.

The Babes in the Wood killings.

These will rarely be the trials we are drawn to because of celebrities who were famous before their brush with the law: the O.J. Simpson case needs no further qualifier; neither, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

No, these will generally be cases where the public meets the crime before it meets the criminal. As experts at evading detection, it’s no wonder so many serial killers — the Green River Killer; the Boston Strangler; Jack the Ripper — are far better known by their media alias than their Christian name.

But the queer phenomenon of this or that obscurity capturing by dint of some superlative malefaction a purchase on the public conscience — initiating a feedback cycle between performer, onlookers, and the hype men who hawk broadsides in the shadow of the gallows — is a venerable one. Our need to fix certain crimes as reference points in the firmament perhaps says a great deal more about we slack-jawed gawkers than than it does about the most atrocious manslayer.

One of the roles of brands is that they represent the world to us. They quite literally ‘label’ for us what might otherwise be an incredibly chaotic array of messages. Each brand does this job in basically the same way that a picture (a painting or a photograph) represents a particular part of the world to us.

-Thom Braun, Philosophy of Branding

For the remainder of this week, Executed Today remembers common crimes and criminals for whom such a brand stuck.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Themed Sets


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