Crime on Display

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Ambrose Bierce “Crime News from California”


Background: Ambrose Bierce

  • Born in Meigs County, Ohio on June 24, 1842
  • At 15 he became a "printer's devil" at an Ohio newspaper
  • Enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the civil war
  • Became the editor of The San Francisco News Letter where he had a column called the "Town Crier"
  • Stayed in England for 3 years starting in 1872 and got the nickname "Bitter Bierce"
  • Wrote for the San Francisco Examiner with his column called "Prattler"
  • Disappeared in October 1913 apparently joining Pancho Villa's army but there is a lack of evidence for anything to be concrete
  • Video on Ambrose's disappearance:

Background: Library of America

  • Founded in 1979 and has over 200 volumes with 254 authors
  • Some notable authors include Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, and George Washington
  • Each volume has 700-1600 pages


  • Charles O'Neil pushed his wife off a balcony-News Letter, 1868
  • Summary of how crime is doing-News Letter, 1869
  • A body of a China-man was found with a paving-stone embedded in his head, a crow bar in his abdomen, and one arm missing. Death ruled to be heart disease-News Letter, 1870
  • Mr. John Beever took a hatchet to his ex-wife's head-News Letter, 1872
  • Felipe Carillo poisoned his mother with a pumpkin pie- Argonaut, 1877
  • Mr. Lunch killed his wife for not drinking a glass of beer-Argonaut, 1878
  • James Johnson stabs his pregnant wife 16 times before killing himself- Argonaut, 1878
  • Some soldiers were hung for killing someone without orders. One soldier said he was "going home to Jesus" as a railway engine "uttered as loud..Hoot-hoot!" They were the only people Bierce knew "in the other world who enjoyed the ghastly distinction of living this to the sound of...merriment"- Argonaut, 1878

Discussion Questions

  • I found Ambrose Bierce's writing to be filled with dark humor and very sarcastic. How did you view it?
  • The legal definition of manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another person without premeditation.It is distinguished from murder by lack of any prior intention to kill anyone. From these stories and any previous murders we have read, (Nat Turner, Thomas Powers, Esther Rodgers, and Patience Boston) which are murders and which are cases of manslaughter?

From the Blogs

  • Katie talks about the details in Ambrose's writing
  • Morghan mention's Ambrose's dark humor and his nickname "Bitter Bierce"

Nathaniel Hawthorne


  • Born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts and died May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire
  • His great great great grandfather was a Puritan who emigrated to New England from England and was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials
  • Favorite book was "The Triumphe of God's Revenge Against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Murther"
  • Book was written by John Reynolds in 1621 and it was a series of crime publications
  • Hawthorne's style of writing was dark romanticism which emphasized human proneness to sin and self destruction
  • Always had a fascination with true crime
  • The most well known crime that Hawthorne wrote about was the Helen Jewett murder. Jewett was a prostitute who was found beaten to death and then the body was burnt in bed. The suspect was 19 year old Richard P. Robinson who was a regular customer of Jewett. There was no real evidence against him, so the jury acquitted him thirty minutes after discussing.
  • Why do you think the murder of the prostitute, Helen Jewett, lingered around people's minds much longer than the crimes of the pirate Charles Gibbs?
  • Did anybody find it interesting that those accused of killing the prostitute or mistress were acquitted unlike the horrific Charles Gibbs?

Abraham Lincoln


Background of Abe and "Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder"

  • Born on February 12, 1809 in Kentucky, but grew up in Springfield, Illinois
  • Known as lawyer, orator, politician, and 16th president - also wrote fiction (mostly true crime) during pasttime
  • "Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder" was actually written as a fictionalized version of a crime Lincoln was looking over during his time as a lawyer in the 1800s
  • Fascinated with Edgar A. Poe (Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" was published around the same time of "Remarkable Case"
  • "Remarkable Case" was commonly titled "The Trailor Murder Mystery" (1952)
  • "History records that the Trailors never paid Lincoln for his defense" The Library

Summary & Discussion

  • One brother gets two brothers arrested for murder after providing witness against them
  • There ends up being enough evidence against them to put them away
  • And then the "murdered" is proven to still be alive
  • So really there was no murder at all
  • Lincoln pointed out at every plot twist how exciting things were getting inside and outside the courtroom
  • Lincoln doesn't even end the story after explaining this, he even notes that the anticlimactic nature of the story could be disappointing if you don't think about the strangeness of the events
  • Ending - different from everything else we've read this semester

--Lincoln notes that it isn't the writer's job to explain everything about the text, but he must reflect upon what could have been --There was no actual crime happening...

  • Follows theme of innocent being put behind bars - happens in those crime TV shows daily - had Gilmore not showed up and told what he knew, Henry and William would have been thrown in jail with no questions


  • After all of the searching, how did they not find Fisher? Did Fisher even know any of this was going on?
  • They just believed Dr. Gilmore's word with no evidence...?
  • What was Archibald's motive to throw this brothers under the bus? Or did he actually believe it happened?
  • Why would Henry testify that he saw Fisher's dead body?

From the Blogs

  • Paul's map brought up a cool point about different viewpoints comparing the three pieces. A lawyer, a journalist, and a novelist are obviously going to write with different styles, tones, and give different information out depending on the audience the piece is directed towards