Murder, Inc. | Bleader

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Murder, Inc.

Posted By on 12.17.09 at 09:30 AM

Courtesy of cartoonist John McCutcheon, here's a lighthearted look at homicide as practiced in Progressive-era Chicago.

murder.jpg
Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1919.

"Black Hand" was the contemporary term for mafia, though it didn't have the modern connotation of a national criminal conspiracy. All that came about later as a consequence of Prohibition, which was just getting under way at the time (and which a lot of people mistakenly hoped would lower the homicide rate). Those floppy hats on the Black Handers were standard cartoonist shorthand for fresh-off-the-boat Italian immigrants (aka "Mustache Petes"), so we're talking about intra-ethnic feuding here. The right-hand panel refers to the fact that white women were at the time virtually immune to prosecution for killing their husbands and/or lovers. (We'll come back to that point later.)

murder2.jpg
Not much interpretive gloss required here I think. Our smiling flatfoot tour guide is fairly representative of the Chicago Police Department's rock-bottom public image at this time.
murder3.jpg
As near as I can tell, there are no factual grounds for McCutcheon's conviction that male juries were prone to acquit only the babes while convicting old ladies. He may have just been exercising a little comedic license.

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