People are fascinated by criminals and the crimes they commit, judging by movies, television shows and books. Personally, I love a good police procedural. But don’t be fooled into believing that this fascination is new, or that it is just one more sign that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

To demonstrate, I found an interesting blog called Murder By Gaslight that bills itself as “a compendium of information, resources and discussion on notable nineteenth century American murders.” One of the things I like about this blog is that the author is telling stories, allowing the reader to gain a cultural understanding of the time and place of the crime. He gives a complete picture with details about the victims, the criminals, the crime, the investigation, the trial and the aftermath. And it has some incredible artwork, I’m assuming from the original newspaper articles.

One thing you learn when you spend any time studying history is that people, and motives, don’t really change throughout history. It’s a little disturbing to read some of the stories and realize that a particular crime could have happened a thousand years ago, or today. There have been, are now, and will always be compassionate people, evil people, selfish people, depressed people, altruistic people, etc. As I read through some of the stories, there were a lot of victims killed for money or love, the classic time-tested motives.

  • “Insurance and Arsenic” shows that taking out an insurance policy on someone and then killing them is nothing new. Frankie got away with murdering her mother in 1884, but she didn’t get the insurance money.
  • “The Medford Mystery” is about the unsolved murder of twenty-one year old Walter Debbins in 1897. There were two persons of interest, and I was amused to see that the press called them the “Lone Cyclist” and the “Slick Stranger”. Enough said.
  • I’m linking to “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe…Or Did She?” because many people can’t resist just one more look at this famous. Since the bodies were first discovered in 1892 until today, it seems everyone has an opinion about Lizzie.
  • The author also bundles some of the stories into categories, such as “19th Century Serial Killers”. In these bundled posts the authors give brief recaps about each subject with links to where he has written more detailed posts about each. Other bundled topics include female murderers, criminal clergy and unsolved murders.
  • I’m including “Remarkable Murder Trial in Florida” because I find it interesting that the author sometimes includes complete contemporary newspaper articles. This particular article was published in 1875, and reading the original often gives a true flavor of the times.

If you want to get a feel for nineteenth-century life, or if you like to read about murder and mystery, check out this blog. For any writers out there, you might find the seeds of your next great story.