Unjust and Unequal: Death Investigations into Homicides in St. Louis, Missouri, 1875 to 1885

Wednesday, December 31, 1969, 7:00 PM - 7:00 PM

Type: Single Paper

Tags: Crime and Violence; Science, Medicine, and Public Health; Social and Cultural


The justice system has often been unjust to women, African Americans, the poor, and other marginalized groups. This was just as true in late-nineteenth-century St. Louis as it is today. Race, class, gender, and character shaped investigations into and prosecutions of alleged homicides in that midwestern city. Drawing on coroner’s records, newspaper accounts, and court records, this paper will examine how inequalities affected coroner’s inquests and verdicts as well as prosecutions, convictions, and sentences. Unsurprisingly, black men and women often faced harsher sentences and were tried more quickly than their white counterparts, especially in cases of domestic violence. The press celebrated these convictions, often using racist language and stereotypes. Domestic violence cases also reveal gender inequalities, as some women (particularly those with questionable reputations) were blamed for their own murders, at least by the St. Louis press.

Session Participants

Presenter: Sarah Lirley, Columbia College
Dr. Lirley McCune is an Assistant Professor of History at Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri. Dr. Lirley McCune specializes in the history of women and gender as well as the history of death and death investigations. She has published several articles on those topics and is currently working on a manuscript, tentatively titled "An Arc of Death: Suicide, Alcoholism, Murder, Accidents, and Other Early Deaths in St. Louis, Missouri, 1875 to 1885." She has also published two articles.