The Ridiculous Spectacle of Public Hangings in Old England

By C.W.S.

As people interested in true crime, we often get flack for our interest in such a gruesome topic. But imagine living in England in the 1600s, where criminals were hanged publicly in front of enormous crowds of tens of thousands in the largest social gatherings of the time. Parents would bring their children and a picnic out to the gallows to watch criminals die by hanging, and sweethearts would sit on the shoulders of their boyfriends, just like a rock concert. People would drink too much and end up fighting, rolling around in the mud.

In 17th and 18th century England, there were a whole lot of offenses that could get you hanged. In fact, there were about 200, including crimes that can still carry the death penalty today in some US states, such as murder, and others that we would find ridiculous today, like witchcraft and heresy. Treason, robbery, and counterfeiting money were some of the more serious offenses, but stealing food and picking pockets could also carry death penalty sentences. Toward the end of this century, though, poor folks were starting to notice that poverty had become a death sentence, angry that they could not afford food and then could be hanged for doing what was necessary to survive.

Nonetheless, the crowds would flock to these public executions, and the mood would usually be jovial. With people rushing to get a good spot close to the gallows, these public spectacles were known irreverently as the “hanging fair”, “stretching”, or “collar day.” The events held a carnival-like atmosphere.

Vendors would show up early and set up their food and wares, much like a modern outdoor festival. They would make very good money at the event, selling food, drinks, and souvenirs related to the hanging. They sometimes went as far as to sell pornographic papers as well.

Pamphlets would be distributed at a cost to the crowds which claimed to have printed inside them the dying speeches of those who were being hanged. Known then as the “Last Dying Speech,” the quotes were usually fake, but they sold well nonetheless. These publications, known as broadsides or broadsheets, often had the same woodcut print image of a hanging that was reused at each event, and also gave apparent information about the condemned individual, and sometimes even poems or songs said to have been written by the criminal and found in their cell. Or sometimes it was something else very personal, like a letter written from the condemned person to a family member. Much of what was written was sensationalized, and often entirely fictional.

One such broadside from 1724 read:

This John Sheppard, a youth both in age and person, though an old man in sin…received an education sufficient to qualify him for the trade his master designed him, viz., a carpenter…But alas, unhappy youth! Before he had completed six years of his apprenticeship he commenced a fatal acquaintance with one Elizabeth Lyon, otherwise known as Edgworth Bess [a prostitute]…Now was laid the foundation of his ruin!

A typical broadside

A typical broadside

Stands were often set up to hold more people and make sure they could see the “stage.” These stands were much like the stands of a high school football field, or those that fold out in a school gym. Sometimes homes near the execution sites would rent out their balconies. Seats in the stands and the balconies were very expensive, and the prices were raised based on the infamy of the criminal and of the crime. Sometimes these stands would collapse from the weight causing injuries and deaths, but it never deterred the crowds.

Those who were to be hanged had their hands tied in front of them at the local jail (so that they would be able to pray), and then they were driven in horse drawn carts through town toward the gallows, sitting on the coffins they would soon be buried in. Crowds would line the street to watch the procession. The condemned were allowed a stop at the local church, as well local pubs where the criminals were given drinks before taking their place at the gallows.

Sometimes the crowds would jeer and yell at the hangman, and be empathetic toward those who were about to be hanged, especially for crimes considered too minor for a death sentence. If a criminal was well-known, folks could be seen throwing flowers onto the stage. Other times though, crowds would throw rocks and rotten vegetables. They favored toward those who took their deaths with dignity, and seemed to despise those who showed fear or weakness, those who begged for mercy.

Folks who were about to be hanged were allowed to give a final address to the crowd. This act was supposed to afford the dying a last plea for forgiveness, but often that is not what happened. Sometimes angry at the rampant, institutional abuse of the time, the condemned person would use the opportunity to publicly shame the hangmen, clergymen, and the reigning monarchy. This often whipped the crowds up into riots, with authorities losing control. Other times, the victim did ask for forgiveness, giving long religious monologues (sometimes trying to buy time and pardons). Sometimes the person about to hang had gotten drunk on the way to gallows and addressed the crowds in swaying nonsense.

When it was time for the hanging to take place, it wasn’t a quick process. Since it was a short fall, their necks would often not break, and they would have to strangle to death, which took several minutes. Sometimes the families of the dying would be asked to pull down on the legs of their loved one to help speed the process along.

After they were dead, the crowds would rush the stage to try to get a souvenir from the body. Hangmen were known to flog the body in order to cut off pieces of clothing to hand out. The rope could also be cut up and sold, the cost based on the crime and fame of the hanged. These souvenirs would sometimes be found hanging above the fireplaces of those who were able to grab them.

So, sound like a good time?

Well, I'm very glad we no longer pack picnics to go watch people strangle to death for our own amusement. Nonetheless, there certainly is no harm in striving to be more moralistic when looking toward true crime as a form of entertainment. It’s important. Obviously.

A Brief History of (True) Crime

By C.W.S.

It seems like the true crime genre has shot up out of nowhere, with so many people finally admitting their interest and diving headlong into the obsession with these murders, kidnappings, and unsolved disappearances. To those who don’t understand, true crime is an offensive, low-brow genre for depraved people. After all, why would anyone want to study something so awful? Why would anyone let themselves be interested in something like serial killers? But some of the kindest, gentlest, and smartest folks I know are secretly intrigued, even obsessed with these crimes and their investigation. Mothers and daughters watching Investigation Discovery together, grandmothers even. In my family the interest was passed down. We have three generations going strong, and we all love true crime.

Just like in my own family, this genre has roots. History says that we have been fascinated by murder for a long, long time.  

Rewind to 1550s England. The literacy rate was improving, and so common people were starting to view reading as a form of entertainment. Between 1550 and 1700, British authors began reporting on death-penalty crimes in the form of small, unbound books. These little books told of the most horrible crimes of the time and of their trials. Sometimes they did so in the form of poems or lyrics. 

Pamela Burger, in an essay called The Bloody History of the True Crime Genre, had this to say about these leaflets in the 17th century: “Like the contemporary docudrama, the crime pamphlet was not a uniform genre: The tone of these narratives could range from sensationalist to spiritual to didactic, often within a single pamphlet. Some served as state propaganda. Others were moralizing tales, portraying the criminal as a deviant who ultimately faces divine justice. Still, others offered more sympathetic explorations of criminal lives—particularly those of “fallen women”—though the sympathy was often tempered by moral condemnation.”

From the 17th century on, broadsides became very popular. They were of a similar style to crime pamphlets, but were usually only a single page. They often included woodcut prints that served as artist renderings of the more gruesome parts of the story, as well as descriptions of the crime. They were sold in the streets, and people shared them in pubs and talked about the crimes of their day, sharing their opinions and gossip.

Anyone with the means could create broadsides, and so they were prevalent among the lower classes and represent a very early form of citizen journalism. They were often written anonymously, and in some ways resemble the sensationalism of modern tabloids.

Natalie Zarrelli, writing for Atlas Obscura, described one such broadside:

“A 1624 pamphlet titled The Crying Murder reports of a group of four men and women who disemboweled, murdered, and decapitated a man named ‘Mr. Trat.’ The defendants maintained their innocence, and Mr. Trat was reportedly seen alive. While it’s impossible to know whether the four were innocent or not, the murder inspired creative images for the broadside: the artist illustrated strewn body parts to accompany the sensationalist text.”

Other creative forms also touched the true crime genre. Songwriters created murder ballads, and these were also printed on broadsides and in crime pamphlets. Sometimes taking the perspective of the criminal, these particular songs asked the audience to sympathize with the murderer, and could be considered an early exploration into forensic psychology—trying to understand why people commit brutal crimes. Very similar to what the true crime genre attempts to do today with more sophisticated means.

These broadsides and ballads sometimes held opinions that differed from court verdicts. Like true crime documentaries of today, it offered an artist's response (and the response of the people) to an event rather than just the response of the authorities. Anyone could put their opinions out there, and these broadsides and pamphlets have been compared to the Facebook posts, tweets, and blog posts of the today.

One such ballad was called Frankie and Johnny, and was written about a murder that took place in 1899, in which a woman found her husband having an affair and shot him to death:

Frankie and Johnny were lovers
Oh lordy, how they could love
Swore to be true to each other
Just as true as the stars above
He was her man, but he done her wrong

And then later in the song..

Then Frankie pulled back her kimono
And she pulled out a small .44
And root-e-toot-toot three times she shot
Right through that hardwood door
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Because of the invention of the printing press, crime publications started to circulate more widely. Around this time, authors of high standing also started to contribute to the genre, often critiquing the justice system and means of punishment. Even Charles Dickens wrote an article called A Visit to Newgate. It was written in 1836 and detailed his revulsion at the conditions and experiences of the inmates at the Newgate prison.

First edition of Studies in Murder

First edition of Studies in Murder

In 1829, the same year that London achieved its first organized police department, a French man named Francois Vidocq, a reformed criminal turned criminal investigator, published a book called Memoirs. This text influenced techniques of criminal investigations and popularized this new way of thinking about crime. As people became more comfortable with these scientific advances, ideas of justice changed from divinely ordained to something that used scientific evidence to decide who was guilty and who was innocent.  

In 1924, author Edmund Pearson published a book series with titles such as Studies in Murder and More Studies in Murder. The first book in the series detailed five high-profile American crimes, and did so with more literary flare, making them read like detective novels rather than news stories. One of the stories included was that of Lizzie Borden, considered the “Trial of the Century,” before the OJ Simpson trial took the title. Lizzie Borden allegedly murdered her parents with an ax, but was found innocent during trial, much to the horror of the masses. Her crimes would go on to become a children's schoolyard rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks;
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.


...demonstrating that it's not just adults that have a historical fascination with these sinister figures. 

Though they do not represent the true crime genre necessarily, public hangings were an incredible popular event stretching into the mid 1900s. The last public hangings occurred in England until 1955. The crowds of people who came to watch the executions could number 30,000 at places like Newgate, London. Lancaster Castle (a sight of hangings for over 1,000 years) museum manager Colin Penny stated that the hangings later in the era were “very solemn occasions. Newspapers reported men removing their hats when the person to be hanged was led out to the gallows, and visible shudders passing through the crowd when the trapdoor opened." He also noted that not long before, maybe 80 years prior, these events looked quite different, saying they were “almost like a fair. There would be hawkers of various kinds, people selling pies, jugglers."

And it wasn’t just England either. Not so long ago, people were still hanged publicly in United States. The last public hanging was Rainey Bethea in Kentucky in 1936, and it was estimated that 20,000 people came to watch.

Luckily, I believe that most people’s fascination with true crime has evolved beyond a desire to “see people hang.” We see a huge variety of true crime projects in modern times: 30-minute TV shows that tend toward the sensational and the gruesome, documentaries ranging from bad, exaggerated reenactments to careful and serious pursuits in the name of justice. We have investigative podcasts, books, etc, all very different but all united in an attempt (however crude or serious) at understanding why and how these types of crimes occur.

To understand why this genre has always been so popular is an entirely different exploration. If history tells us anything it’s that people have always been fascinated by the darkest parts of the human conditions, and who can blame us? True crime can be an important genre, if it is handled correctly. After all, the only way to stop something from happening is to attempt to understand it.  

 

The Hatred of Casey Anthony

By C.W.S.

Last night I was watching the season finale of Black Mirror (a little late, I know), titled “Hated in the Nation.” Sorry for the spoilers, but it's important to the point. In this episode, which takes place in a theoretic future, an anonymous online presence has invented the hashtag #DeathTo, and encourages people to tweet about the person they’d most like to see dead. The same man also gained access to millions of ADIs (automatic drone insects), or mechanical honeybees that were created to take over the process of pollination since the serious decline of the natural honeybee (colony collapse disorder, a very real problem). He was able to control them and program them to burrow into the brain of a specific person and kill them. First a famous writer was killed after writing a controversial article. Then a famous hip hop artist who made fun of one of his fans. And then a girl who took a disrespectful selfie in front of a war monument.

But the endgame wasn’t what you might expect. The anonymous killer had a lesson in mind. His real target had not been the people who were tagged with #DeathTo, but the people using the hashtag. He commanded the bees to kill them all.

Caylee Anthony

Caylee Anthony

With Casey Anthony back in the news this week, speaking publicly for the first time since her trial, I have seen an onslaught of hatred being posted toward her online of the most vicious quality. This is certainly understandable, and I am writing this in no way to protect Anthony, or to say she doesn’t deserve it. That’s not for me to decide. A jury found her innocent and public found her guilty, and her brazen attitude toward the death of her child launched her into her position as “The most hated woman in America.” Had that Black Mirror episode been real, you’d better believe that last Tuesday the hashtag would have read #DeathTo Casey Anthony. I have already seen hundreds of online comments calling for her death.

Anthony was charged with the murder of her daughter, Caylee Anthony, who was reported missing by Casey’s mother Cindy Anthony, on July 15, 2008. Caylee’s grandmother told police she had not seen her for 31 days. Cindy and her husband George said they had attempted to see Caylee many times throughout the month, but that their daughter kept giving excuses, including that Caylee was with a nanny named Zenaida "Zanny" Fernandez-Gonzalez. When George and Cindy found a letter affixed to their front door saying that Casey Anthony’s car was in a tow yard, they went to pick it up and noticed that it smelled like a dead body had been inside it, causing them to report Caylee missing to authorities.

Casey Anthony admitted that she had not seen Caylee for weeks. First, she told investigators that Caylee had been kidnapped by Zanny Fernandez-Gonzalez, but Zanny did not in fact know or have any contact with Casey Anthony or the family. Then she lied about working at Universal Studios, going as far as leading police in circles around an office building, until finally admitting that she had been fired several years before.

Caylee’s remains were found wrapped in a garbage bag in December of 2008, in the forest near Casey Anthony’s home. Anthony was indicted by a grand jury in October. The trial began in May 2011, with the prosecution alleging that Anthony used chloroform and duct tape to suffocate Caylee because she was seeking the freedom to continue a party lifestyle without the burden of a child. The defense argued that George Anthony had found Caylee drowned in his pool and then covered it up. Then they claimed that the reason that Casey had not reported her daughter missing was that George told her she would go to prison for child neglect. Then they claimed that Casey Anthony had been sexually abused by George since she was a child, so she was used to hiding her pain and acting like nothing was wrong.

In the biggest public trial since OJ Simpson’s, America looked on daily while the circus-like trial blared on. Ultimately, Casey Anthony would only be found guilty of lying to police. But the innocent verdict did not change the minds of the American public, who believed the evidence was clear. The public said if nothing else, how does a mother not know where her child is for over a month?

Cindy and George Anthony

Cindy and George Anthony

The media painted Anthony as a party girl that murdered her child in order to free herself of the responsibility of parenthood. They also painted her as a liar, which she certainly was.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman had this to say about the public’s intense reaction: “The main reason that people are reacting so strongly is that the media convicted Casey before the jury decided on the verdict. The public has been whipped up into this frenzy wanting revenge for this poor little adorable child. And because of the desire for revenge, they've been whipped up into a lynch mob. Nobody likes a liar, and Anthony was a habitual liar. And nobody liked the fact that she was partying after Caylee's death.”

I think it’s safe to say that America, in general, hates Casey Anthony. And America hates her with a venom that goes beyond almost everyone else in the public eye. Psychologists believe that one reason that humans feel hatred has to do with the fear of “the other,” of people that are different from us, and thereby unrecognizable, and a threat.

America believes that Casey Anthony did what America hates the most. She harmed a child. She was a mother, and we hold mothers up as tender, loving, caring, dedicated to the well-being of their child above all else. And I believe that most mothers, and hopefully most fathers, do feel this way toward children. So when we see people that want to harm the most innocence, the most vulnerable, we respond with hatred. We simply cannot understand that type of person. We fear them. We fear that fact that they could even exist. And so we say that we will not let this stand, this behavior that is so foreign to us, and if all we can do about it is attack Casey Anthony’s reputation online, we will.

Writer, activist, and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel said in 1986, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”

We often hear about the damages of hatred on our society, but indifference is dangerous too. Hatred may have been the catalyst, but it was mass indifference that allowed the Nazis to rise to power. Indifference would allow mothers to kill their children without consequence. So the hatred toward Casey Anthony is a sign that we will not accept the fearful behavior of those who kill their children. But we also have to understand that our celebrities, and yes, this includes celebrity criminals, become symbols to aim our general hatred at, since we feel powerless to stop the things we find unbearable. Casey Anthony is no longer just Casey Anthony. She is the face of the negligent death of an innocent child.

Casey and Caylee Anthony

Casey and Caylee Anthony

Something to remember: hatred has an affect on our own bodies. Just like the episode of Black Mirror, the experience of hatred turns the tables on the person feeling the hatred. Bouts of severe anger caused by hatred can contribute to heart disease in a serious way. Even the stress of a five-minute fit of rage can harm your immune system, taking it up to six hours to repair the damage. It can also contribute to heart attacks and strokes. This is something to keep in mind; hatred harms the hater, which means that the encouragement to hate harms the public at large.

I am a passionate person, and I’m known to get scrappy, especially when I see injustices. I can hate with the best of them. A great injustice was done to Caylee Anthony. I want us only to be mindful of our hatred, so that that hatred doesn’t come back around and start to harm us. So that our hatred is aimed at those that pose a true threat to us, rather than the imagined threat of something like the Jewish people (and all others that didn’t fit Hitler’s ideal human) in the 1940s. Hatred can be positively mobilizing, think of the hatred of the Nazis that led to American intervention in WWII. It can be mobilizing for good, when we rally against injustices together, or it can be bad, as Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel had to experience firsthand.

So how will our hatred mobilize us this time? Throwing hate and death threats into the void of the internet can only do so much, and may in fact cause more harm to the person typing than to Casey Anthony herself. She made it clear on Tuesday that she doesn't care what we say: “I don't give a s--- about what anyone thinks about me, I never will. I'm OK with myself, I sleep pretty good at night.”

Acts of love toward our children provide much more hope for them than the hatred of Casey Anthony. If we can pair our hatred with positive change and we might just have something here, and we might be able to preserve our own health and well-being enough to contribute to the changes we wish to see.

The Curse of The American Bogeyman

11.jpg

By C.W.S.

Warning: This content contains descriptions of sexual abuse and violence toward children

With the long-awaited discovery of Jacob Wetterling’s remains in rural Minnesota, I can’t help but think of the other kids who disappeared or made headlines in the 1970s and 80s. Vanished or allegedly abused while doing what kids do—delivering the paper, riding a bike, playing video games at the mall, walking home from a bus stop, spending the day at a preschool. Headlines about these children changed the United States in a myriad of ways, both legally and in a very real sense, emotionally. These were the kids on the milk carton, the kids on the news, the faces that represented the growing fear of the randomness of this new and particular cruelty, a fear that would grow out of control, not necessary because the threat was statistically probable, but because fear has a way of multiplying inside of us, of taking us over completely.

Jacob Wetterling

Jacob Wetterling

You wake up in the morning, you’re a child or you’re a parent, and you sit at the breakfast table, reading the cereal box, reading the milk carton. And you see a face; it’s one of the first things you see. Our mornings set the course of our days, and of course, that’s why missing children were put onto milk cartons. We see them in the morning, we think of them all day. And the next morning, their faces are there again. Before these boys, most of this country was not aware of child predators, many didn’t even know the word “pedophile.” But the fear of these child predators would grow and grow, eventually breaking into a nation-wide hysteria. Jacob’s disappearance fell neatly into this timeline.

I’ll be honest. I was one-year-old when Jacob disappeared. I was not around for the days when there wasn’t a grave fear of strangers, of sexual predators, of kidnappers. I grew up in the 90s, when this fear was certainly there, when “stranger danger” was a term you heard on TV commercials and after-school specials at an almost constant rate. But it was a fear not yet completely cemented. I still did things that most kids now would never be allowed to do—I rode my bike to the store, took the bus to the city, walked the streets at night. I cherish these memories: the sense of an expansive childhood freedom that seems to be disappearing completely from the experiences of our youth. Would I condone all the things I got away with? Not totally. The world is scary, of course it is, and we must protect our children at all costs. But don't we want to protect them in more ways than just physically? Mustn't we also care for their emotional health, so that they can grow up to be well-adjusted, so they can relate to the world realistically, rather than with unnecessary anxiety?

Though we kids were freer back in the 90s, there was still a very palpable nervousness surrounding me and all my friends. We had all the stranger danger talks. We all had a secret password with our parents, so that if a strange person tried to pick us up from school, we would know if it was okay to go with them or not. That stranger never came for me.

But that stranger did come for others. That stranger with a plan, a stranger like Danny Heinrich, the man who just confessed last September to sexually assaulting and murdering 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling on October 22, 1989. He watched Jacob, his younger brother Trevor, and his best friend Aaron bike by in the dark on their way to rent a movie from a local store. Heinrich waited for the boys to come back on the same road, and then approached them with an unloaded revolver, telling them to lie face-down in the ditch. He asked the boys their ages. He told Trevor and Aaron to run into the woods and not look back. It was the last time anyone ever saw Jacob Wetterling alive.

Etan Patz

Etan Patz

Etan Patz was one of the very first missing children to be printed on a milk carton. He disappeared on May 25, 1979, on his way to catch the school bus in Manhattan. On the fourth anniversary of his disappearance, Ronald Reagan made May 25 “National Missing Children’s Day.” It wasn’t until 2012 that police were able to charge Pedro Hernandez with murdering Etan after he confessed.

Adam Walsh

Adam Walsh

And then Adam Walsh’s murder in 1981. Adam was the son of John Walsh, who would go on to become the host of America’s Most Wanted, my very favorite show that I watched every Friday as a kid. I knew that John Walsh’s son had been murdered, taken from a Sears in Florida. I knew even about the acute brutality of the murder, only his severed head found. Every Friday John Walsh would point at me through the screen. Every week he would talk about “the bad guys,” and every week I wondered when it would be my turn to meet a man like that.  

The next boy to gain serious national attention was Johnny Gosch. Johnny left his Iowa home just before the sun rose on September 5th, 1982. He picked up the bundle of papers he was to deliver that day, and was never seen again. Many suspect that he was trafficked into a child sex ring, abducted by another trafficked boy, Paul Bonacci, who admitted many years later to helping in the abduction. Johnny is still missing to this day.

Johnny Gosch

Johnny Gosch

Soon after came the national hysteria known as the “Satanic Panic” that piggybacked on the new, widespread fear of child sexual abuse. Perhaps because the thought of abusing a child in such a way is so horrific as to be completely unimaginable to most people in the United States, it needed a clear label to define its seemingly unexplainable evil. Then came reports of Satantic ritual abuse out of one bogus memoir: Michelle Remembers.

Written with her psychiatrist, whom she would later go on to marry, Michelle Remembers was published in 1980 and alleged that Michelle Smith had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse as part of several Satanic rituals carried out by her parents and their Satanic cult. The book coined the term Satanic Ritual Abuse, and also attempted to develop the concept of repressed memory, and come 1983, a full-blown hysteria swept the US, illustrated best by McMartin preschool trial.

It was a woman by the name of Judy Johnson who initially believed her son was being abused at the Manhattan Beach, CA daycare center. Because her son was having painful bowel movements, Johnson reported to police that a teacher at the school had sodomized her son. Then, police did a strange thing. They canvased the school and told parents to ask their children if they had been abused at the daycare. What followed was an onslaught of wild accusations from parents due to the things their children had said. These events included seeing witches fly, traveling in a hot air balloon, having orgies at car washes and in airports, and even children being flushed down the toilet to secret rooms where they were abused. All of this was said to have happened in the time the children were under care at the daycare center. And it went to trial with testimony such as this.

michelle-remembers.jpg

By 1984, Children’s Institute International had interviewed hundreds of children, and claimed to have statements of ritual abuse from 360 children. The whole trial lasted from March 1984 until 1990. All of the accused were acquitted, and it was discovered that Judy Johnson suffered from acute paranoid schizophrenia, information that was not given to the jury. She died in 1986 in the middle of the trial due to severe alcoholism.

Psychologists believe that both Michelle Remembers and the accusations made during the McMartin Preschool trial were due to a psychological phenomenon called false memory syndrome, or the idea that memories can be altered and even inserted through outside suggestion and influence. Parents and other trusted adults can create horrifying false memories for children. This is the power of our projected fears.

Bogeyman: a common allusion to a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults to frighten children into good behavior. 

With 1989 Jacob’s disappearance, Jacob’s mother Patty dedicated herself to creating a better world for children. There came an onslaught of new legislation aimed at stopping child sexual abuse. Passed in 1993 and called the “Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act,” these laws are something we have all become very familiar with, but we know it as the Sex Offender Registry.

But here’s the thing. Only about 115 children are taken by strangers in the United States each year. That’s a 0.000002% chance that a child will be abducted by a stranger. Almost all cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by family members or someone the child knows very well. But, as Patty openly speaks about, sex offender registries have not led to a decrease in sex crimes, and teenagers are appearing on the registry for things like sexting another teenager. For things like public urination. 

Almost all sex crimes against children occur not from strangers, but from family members and people close to them, and yet, do we teach our children to fear their own family, to fear those closest to them? Statistically, these are the bogeymen, and yet we continue to prefer a belief in a random stranger, because, in a sense, it is less painful to believe. 

I remember the fear around poisoned Halloween candy, a fear that was reported on the local news year after year, with examples of properly sealed candy, and examples of candy that could have been tampered with by a local villain, so impossibly evil as to poison kids at random for his own entertainment. This has never happened and yet every year, to this day, this viral urban legend persists. And because of this type of fear, Trick or Treating, one of the best experiences of my childhood, seems to be disappearing completely. 

Danny Heinrich

Danny Heinrich

When I was in elementary school, two girls the grade above me made the local news when they reported a strange man had chased them at the middle school park. The two girls gave descriptions of this man, old and haggard, with a scar down this face. There were police sketches shown on the news, and I was no longer allowed to walk anywhere alone. An almost-instantaneous curfew materialized, not due to police demand, but due to parental reaction.

Is there anything wrong with that reaction? Of course not. But, if you haven’t already guessed, those two girls made up the whole thing so that they wouldn’t get in trouble for coming home late. It was my town’s own miniature hysteria in the mid-90s, and everyone bought it hook, line, and sinker. This is not a bad thing. We should always take accusations from anyone seriously, especially from the children we are supposed to protect. Because “the bad guys” do exist, and too often police and families ignore allegations of abuse. The problem is that “the bad guys” are almost never the people we expect, not devil worshippers that have taken over a preschool to use our children in evil rituals, not maniacs killing kids with poison candy, not these random monsters stalking for child prey,

But Danny Heinrich is real. He is a real man who harmed real children at random. So is the man who took Etan, the man who took Adam. Most likely, the man who took Johnny. This reality, though a harrowing one for a nation to hold, has been overblown into something not only illogical, but potentially harmful. Illustrated perfectly by the McMartin Preschool Trial, our children are incredibly suggestible, absorbing everything around them, most especially, adult fear. 

And what are the long-term consequences of something like the McMartin preschool trial on the psychology of our youth? Can our fears lead us to do the exact thing we hope to stop: the harming of children, not a physical or sexual harm, but an emotional, spiritual harm?

When we let our children be defined by our adult fears, what freedoms do they lose, what chance at believing in a better world? What unnecessary anxiety will they carry? Maybe the bogeyman is just fear itself, fear grown so out of proportion that it manifests itself anyway—in false memories, in bad dreams, in the restrictions we place on our children and on ourselves. Maybe the bogeyman got us in the end anyway, because maybe he was in us all along: our own fear made manifest in the world around us.

Patty Wetterling

Patty Wetterling

Even Patty Wetterling, who experienced the very tragedy that American families dread the most, had this to say: “It’s all the fear. I think fear is really hard for me in this topic because you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than to be kidnapped, you know? But the fear of sexual abuse, especially with parents, is huge. And they think that making their kids scared is going to keep them safer which is absolutely not true. It’s probably the opposite.”

For further information about the Jacob Wetterling case, as well as more information around many of topics written about here, may I recommend the incredible podcast that inspired this piece: In the Dark by APM Reports. 

 

The Tara Grinstead Investigation: A Lesson in Humility

By C.W.S.

Tara Grinstead disappeared more than 11 years ago in the small town of Ocilla, Georgia, and her case became the most famous missing persons case in the state’s history. Beloved in the small farming community of 3,300, Grinstead was a high school history teacher who grew up doing pageants and continued to aid young girls in their pursuit of pageant titles. In fact, that’s what she did on her last day alive. Tara spent the day doing the hair and make-up of some contestants of the Sweet Potato Pageant, then headed over to a evening barbecue hosted by her principal. She watched a Georgia football game, and then left to drive the few blocks to her house. Tara would not be seen again.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation held a press conference on February 23rd and announced that they had finally arrested and charged a suspect, 33-year-old Ryan Alexander Duke, who had been a student at Irwin County High School, where Tara taught. Duke graduated three years before Tara went missing, and was 21 at the time of Tara's murder.

Warrants presented at Duke's first court appearance on the 23rd indicate that Duke burglarized Tara’s house and then used his hands to cause serious bodily harm. He is then accused of “removing the body of Tara Grinstead from her home and concealing her death.” The GBI has not announced if they have located Tara’s remains. They did imply that others could have been involved and did not expand on Tara’s possible relationship to Duke.

Ryan Duke Alexander 

Ryan Duke Alexander 

I had become very invested in this case over the the years, especially lately. Payne Lindsay, a Georgia filmmaker, set out to contribute to the solving of Tara’s disappearance, and created the podcast Up and Vanished, while subsequently filming a documentary. Up and Vanished has grown in popularity, thus renewing public interest and media attention in the case, and possibly contributing to the case's closure in that way. As someone who was listening to the podcast intently and had followed the case prior, I felt I knew who was responsible for Tara’s death. But of course, I was not sure. Tara’s body had never even been found. Nonetheless, I believed that I had at least some grip on who it could have been. I thought that that person was at least within the subjects presented.

So when the announcement came with several episodes of Up and Vanished left to air, I rushed to watch the press conference about some big news on the Grinstead case. I was shocked when I heard an arrest was made, and even more shocked when I heard a name Ryan Duke. I’d never heard of him in the podcast, in the media reports, web forums, anywhere.

"This gentleman never came up in our radar," the GBI of said of Duke. The police had interviewed many people and had hundreds of leads. It wasn’t just me; this person never came up on anyone’s radar. So what did the GBI, the local police, the media, private investigators, a podcaster, and a community of websleuths all miss? As the weeks progress, we will most likely be receiving more details about the case and the investigation, and how, exactly, Duke was finally interviewed. All we know now is that someone gave the police a walk-in tip which led to Duke’s questioning.

"When I heard, I just broke down in tears of relief, of anger, of sadness and frustration," said Wendy McFarland, a friend of Tara’s who worked with her at the high school. "Everything that had been carried for the last 11 years and four months just bubbled to the surface...Who, what, where, when, why?" That's what we all want to know. I hope this whole process can be moved forward quickly because we need answers. The why is the biggest question. Why did this have to happen?"

Duke's high school photo

Duke's high school photo

The community of Ocilla can finally feel a sense of relief, and yet closure may be far off yet. There were many possible suspects in this case, many wrong turns and false flags, more red herrings than anyone could have imagined. Tara allegedly had several relationships with men that all, when looked at in the light, seemed strange and intense, even forbidden at times. Perhaps it played to our sense of drama, the thought that this crime was deeply personal, when evidence now is saying the opposite—a break in gone wrong? It’s hard to believe, and truth be told, it certainly may not be the end of the story. But it’s what we know now, and it’s not in any way what we expected.

It is important to realize that in these cases, especially those with national attention, we can never be sure of anything until we are sure of everything. There will always be strong emotionality associated with cases of violence, of murder, of loved people going missing. And that is a good thing—we never want to lose sight of the fact that real victims exist and their suffering is what we are seeking to alleviate. We never want to lose the empathy that can power investigations. But we don't want our strong emotions to cause suffering, which we can do by demonizing suspects before they are convicted, by creating witch hunts of people of interest, not accused formally, but informally. 

It starts with the individual. individuals in law enforcement must realize their own limits, their own level of human error, as must private investigators, documentarians, the media, and finally the public at large. We must be careful with the things we say, and perhaps just as importantly, in the ways we react. Behind a computer, we feel emboldened to say whatever we want, make accusations, spin wild tales. But those words still have an impact—they still may reach families, friends, and the individuals themselves who have been falsely accused, they may build on each other and grow. And those accusations can follow people for a long time. Does this mean that we should not investigate crimes to the fullest? Of course not. It means that we need to try to keep the mantra alive, “Innocent until proven guilty,” which I hope we can all admit is not generally how we handle people in the court of public opinion. I think it starts with choosing carefully what we want to put out into the world, and remembering that talking about a person, even if we are convinced they are guilty, affects them and their relationships. And we could be wrong. They could be innocent.

RIP Tara Grinstead

RIP Tara Grinstead

It's one thing to gossip with friends and family about cases you are interested in, guessing at suspects, etc. It is another to take that information and make it public. Up and Vanished had no idea what the conclusion to the case would be, or even if there would be one, and treated each person of interest fairly, trying to present all the possibilities. Investigations will always have false leads, and will often have false suspects and people of interest. It is an unfortunate side effect that, if we can reserve our reactions, could be made less painful. We don’t know until we know, and we need to treat people as such. There is nothing wrong with offering ideas, but we have to treat them like they are ideas, not hidden absolute truths.

We need to make sure that our efforts and interests in researching and contributing to cases is not actually causing more harm than good. I believe in our ability, as people outside law enforcement, to contribute to investigations in meaningful ways, but we’ve all seen the power of suggestion, of drama ignited into stories that people want to believe. We are looking for truth here, for justice. Something I have learned from the Tara Grinstead case is that investigations are as flawed as the humans involved in them, and the humans that follow the case and try to make sense of it themselves. I want us all to remember that the most important thing we can be in an investigation is open to all possibilities, open to changing our minds at any moment. If we don’t do this we will continue to point fingers in the wrong directions, taking ourselves too seriously, thus hurting someone far away that we may never meet, but nonetheless exists and doesn’t deserve to become a pariah because of a rumor gone viral. I hope to be responsible with what I write. I know that I am flawed, as I was certainly wrong in Tara Grinstead case. Everyone was. I’ve chosen the wrong person and believed it. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. 

Kim Jong-Nam: The Game Show Assassination

Written by C.W.S.

When two young women approached the half-brother of the North Korean dictator at the shopping concourse at Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia, one distracted him while the other sprayed something into his face. Kim Jong-Nam felt dizzy after and went to an information desk for help. He died on the way to the hospital on February 13th.

Kim Jong-Nam

Kim Jong-Nam

Police official Fadzil Ahmat initially told Reuters that “The deceased ... felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind. We don’t know if there was a cloth or needles. The receptionist said someone grabbed his face, he felt dizzy.”

Reports are now coming out that the woman sprayed Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother in the face with a fast-acting toxin. So how did a 25-year-old woman find herself at the center of a high-profile assassination? Police are now stating that Siti Aisyah believed that she was taking part in a game show called “Just For Laughs.

The photo of the other yet unnamed woman that is being shown in news reports was captured on CCTV during the assassination. It is pixilated and bright, showing the woman in a white sweater with the letters LOL printed in large black letters. Apparently, the women had been taking part in a game where they convinced men to close their eyes and then sprayed them with water.

"Such an action was done three or four times and they were given a few dollars for it, and with the last target, Kim Jong-Nam, allegedly there were dangerous materials in the sprayer," Indonesia's national police chief, Tito Karnavian said. "She was not aware that it was an assassination attempt by alleged foreign agents."

Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un

Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un

Relatives of Aisyah also came out to say that she believed that she was traveling to China to appear in a comedy film. Aisyah’s mother, Benah, stated that it was “impossible” that her daughter was an assassin: “My daughter is not like that, she is just a country girl.”

The assassination has launched a great deal of speculation into who, exactly, is responsible. Many believe that the North Korean government organized the hit, due to the reigning family’s complicated relationship to Jong-Nam. Jong-Nam was a public critic of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as it is known internally.

Although Jong-Nam was the eldest son of previous dictator Kim Jong-Il, it was clear early on to the family that Jong-Nam lacked the particular leadership skills they felt were necessary. Born in 1971 to Jong-Il and actress Song Hye-rim, it is speculated that the dictator at the time and Jong-Il’s father, Kim Il-sung, disapproved of his son’s relationship with Song, who was still married and had children when they began their relationship. Because of this, Jong-Nam was kept out of school and essentially hidden away. Nonetheless, his father doted on Jong-Nam, even sleeping in a bed with him. In 1979, Jong-Nam left North Korea to study outside the country, and apparently his father was so upset that he got drunk and wept.

In 2001, Jong-Nam was caught using a fake passport to enter Japan, claiming he wanted to visit Disneyland in Tokyo. It is thought that this embarrassed Jong-Il, costing Jong-Nam succession to his father’s position. Jong-Il died in 2011, allowing Jong-Nam’s younger brother access to his position as Dear Leader. Then, in 2012, Jong-Nam wrote a book in which he criticized his family’s control of North Korea, and stated his belief that his younger brother lacked leadership skills, further pushing him out of favor.

Jong-Nam gained a reputation as a playboy and jet-setter, but was living with his wife and two children in Macau on the south of China at the time of his death.

The Malaysian government has not agreed to release the body or autopsy reports to North Korea until a DNA sample is provided from one of Jong-Nam’s relatives. “So far no family member or next of kin has come to identify or claim the body,” Abdul Samah Mat said. “We need a DNA sample of a family member to match the profile of the dead person. North Korea has submitted a request to claim the body but before we release the body we have to identify who the body belongs to.”

North Korean boarder 

North Korean boarder 

Any form of media not sanctioned by the North Korean government is strictly forbidden in the state, including the internet in general. The 25 million citizens of North Korea are kept almost completely in the dark about affairs outside, and the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam is no exception. As of February 17th, the country is still unaware of the events that happened on the 13th.

Now South Korea has announced that it will try to get this information in by loudspeaker, a tactic used in the past to counter propaganda. "We are considering providing information about the killing of Kim Jong Nam into North Korea via loudspeaker broadcast," a South Korean military officer told NBC News. The loudspeakers are so powerful that they can be heard for six miles.

So far, five people have been arrested in connection with the assassination. "We believe the North Korean regime is behind this incident, considering five suspects are North Koreans," Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman at South Korea's Unification Ministry, said on Sunday. At this time, officials cannot be certain who is to blame for the attack.

Predicting a Killer: Do Three Childhood Traits Really Point to Future Violence?

Written by C.W.S.

Wouldn’t it be useful if we could identify violent criminals before they harm their first victim? Wouldn’t be incredible if we could observe certain behaviors as serious red-flags and figure out a way to treat children who seem to be at the highest risk for future violent behavior? It’s almost as if we could answer the most terrifying problem we have as human beings: how do we stop those who seek to harm us in the most brutal ways? 

Most of those interested in true crime are familiar with a certain three childhood behaviors that immediately spark concern in amateur forensic psychologists. These three behaviors when happening together are known as the MacDonald Triad. What the MacDonald Triad attempts to do is to predict future sadistic behaviors by identifying certain traits that show in childhood and adolescence. There are three that forensic psychiatrist J. M. Macdonald wrote about in his 1963 paper, "The Threat to Kill:" arson, and bed-wetting, and animal cruelty. In his paper, he wrote about his study of 100 patients who had threatened to kill someone. He found that his patients that exhibited signs of aggression and psychosis were more likely to have a history of the three aforementioned behaviors. In 1966, Daniel Hellman and Nathan Blackman published a study that supported the MacDonald Triad. Of the 84 prisoners they worked with, they found that three-quarters of the 31 most violent offenders all possessed a history of the behaviors.

This triad has blended into the canon of true crime, and many of us have taken it as a psychological fact. So what are we talking about when we talk about the MacDonald Triad?

Arson

According to a 2004 paper by Singer and Hensley, fire starting is an early attempt at releasing anger and aggression. Because some studied serial killers experienced prolonged episodes of humiliation and shaming in childhood, it is proposed that they sought a way to release the negative emotions and rebalance themselves. The study also concluded that arson is not a good predictor of future violence.

Cruelty to Animals

This is probably the most famous trait that people assume will predict violent behavior. The reason that psychologists believe that children and adolescents torture and kill small animals is also because of humiliation at home. Children cannot fight against their abusers, so they take their anger out on animals that are vulnerable to them. Psychologists Wright and Hensley studied five cases of serial murderers in 2003 and found that these animal kills are almost like practice for future violence—the methods employed to harm the animals are often similar to the methods that criminals use on their human victims. Another study conducted in 2003 with 45 incarcerated violent male offenders found that 56% openly admitted to past animal cruelty. It also indicated that more often than not, the children who harmed animals were also victims of parental abuse.

Bedwetting

Bedwetting, also know as enuresis is the "unintentional bed-wetting during sleep, persistent after the age of five.” Many children may wet the bed, but in the context of the MacDonald Triad, a child older than five must wet the bed while sleeping at least twice a week for a three-month period.

Forensic psychologists call the idea that bedwetting has anything to do with future violent behavior a destructive myth. Though chronic bedwetting is sometimes considered another sign of a child’s distress, researchers have not found a solid link between enuresis and abuse.

Psychological fact or urban myth?

So, how accurate is this hypothesis? MacDonald himself began to question his own theory in his 1968 book Homicidal Threats, claiming he could find no true statistical link between the triad and future violent tendencies. Researchers agree—they question whether two small studies can warrant a legitimate theory. 

More recent studies and analyses seem to show little correlation. Some go as far as to call the triad of behaviors an “urban legend.” Nonetheless, it has found its way into forensic psychology classes and even into Law and Order: SVU.

In 2009, Kori Ryan submitted a master thesis study which to date is the most extensive review and analysis of violent criminal data from the last half of a century, and she found little to prove that the MacDonald Triad has any predictive value.

It’s not that these behaviors aren’t signs for concern. They are—but less so for potential future victims and more so for the child exhibiting them. The behaviors described in the MacDonald Triad are more likely to show that a child may be experiencing severe abuse. The correlation to violent criminal behavior may be that many who do commit violent crimes have a history of childhood abuse and neglect. Forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland claims that some violent criminals may exhibit one of the traits of the triad, but rarely do they possess all three. “Together or alone, the triad behaviors can indicate a stressed child with poor coping mechanisms or a developmental disability,” Ramsland wrote for Psychology Today.

Psychologists worry that the MacDonald Triad’s popularity may cause more distress and stigmatization for children that are labeled as a future threat through behaviors that actually signal abuse of the child.

Ramsland continued to say “…Such a child needs guidance and attention. However, until we design and carry out better empirical studies than we've seen thus far, researchers and media agencies should refrain from stating that the triad identifies a future serial killer.”

 

Truth for Emmett Till

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Written by C.W.S.

Warning: Includes graphic racial language and violence

The woman whose testimony led to the acquittal of two white men in the brutal 1955 murder of a 14-year-old black teenager, Emmett Till, has admitted on record that she fabricated her story. This infamous case, which contributed to the growing Civil Rights Movement, has been detailed in a new book called The Blood of Emmett Till, which includes an interview that took place ten years ago with Carolyn Bryant, the woman who claimed that Emmett sexually harassed her.  

When Emmett left his home in Chicago to visit some relatives the town of Money, Mississippi, he was traveling into a state that one week before saw black activist Lamar Smith shot dead for political organizing in Brookhaven. He was traveling into a state where 500 black folks had been murdered since the late 1800s, and though these acts of violence had slowed, the tone of the area was still one of intensive segregation and intimidation. Interracial relationships, and even the implication of sexual contact between black and white folks, held severe legal consequences for black men.

Emmett Till

Emmett Till

Emmett was known as a sharp dresser and was often the center of attention. After meeting his mother’s 64-year-old uncle Mose Wright and hearing about the South, Emmett decided he wanted to see the Mississippi Delta area. His mother warned him that race relations were different in the South than they were in the North, and that he needed to be careful about how he acted around white folks. He told her he understood.

On Sunday, August 24th, Emmett and some local boys skipped church and went over to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market, owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, both in their 20s. There the boys bought candy from Carolyn Bryant, who was in the store alone. Later, Carolyn Bryant would testify under oath that Emmett had sexually harassed her, first grabbing her hand while she was stocking a shelf, saying "How about a date, baby?"

In her story, Emmett then followed her toward the front of the store and grabbed her around the waist, saying "What's the matter baby, can't you take it?" He allegedly told her, "You needn't be afraid of me, baby,” and told her, "I've been with white women before.” One of Emmett’s friends then apparently grabbed him by the arm and led him outside, while Carolyn Bryant ran outside and grabbed a pistol from her car. Then she said that Emmett let out a “wolf whistle” at her while fleeing the scene.

When Carolyn’s husband Roy Bryant returned from a shrimping trip on August 27th, she allegedly let him know what had happened in the store, and he began aggressively questioning black folks in his store and around the neighborhood until he was able to discover that Emmett was staying with Mose Wright. In the early morning hours of August 28th, Roy and Carolyn Bryant, along with Roy’s half brother J. W. Milam, drove to Mose’s. Armed with a pistol and carrying a flashlight, Milam and Bryant pushed into the house, threatened Mose and his wife with the pistol, and found Emmett sleeping in a bed with his cousin. They forced him at gun point to put on his clothes, and then forced him toward the vehicle. Carolyn Bryant confirmed that this was indeed the young boy that had harassed her.

Emmett and his mother, Mamie

Emmett and his mother, Mamie

Emmett was tied up and put into the back of the pickup. After dropping off Carol, the two men picked up two black men, Henry Lee Loggins and Leroy Too Tight Collins, who worked for Bryant. They were forced to participate in the brutality that followed. Till was pistol-whipped in the truck and knocked unconscious.

In a barn in Drew, Mississippi, the four men brutalized Emmett, while several witnesses overheard. In an interview with Look magazine the next year, the men would claim that they had only wanted to beat up Emmett to scare him, but that when he claimed that he was as good as a white man, and spoke about having sexual encounters with white women, they decided he needed to be killed:

“Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I'm no bully; I never hurt a n----- in my life. I like n------ in their place—I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, n------ are gonna stay in their place."

The men shot Emmett in the back of his head and then threw his body over the Black Bayou Bridge in Glendora into the Tallahatchie River, his body weighed down with a 70lb fan from a cotton gin.

Soon after, Bryant and Milam were arrested for kidnapping after admitting to police that they had taken Emmett from Mose’s yard, but said they released him in front of Bryant's store. Three days later Emmett’s body was found by two boys who were fishing. Emmett’s head was so badly disfigured it was unrecognizable.

Mamie at Emmett's funeral

Mamie at Emmett's funeral

Newspapers began to report on the story, and op-eds began to run about Emmett’s murder: "Now is the time for every citizen who loves the state of Mississippi to 'Stand up and be counted' before hoodlum white trash brings us to destruction." Articles claimed that it was not black folks that were a danger to society, but the white men that made up organizations like White Citizens' Councils that encouraged violence against minorities.

Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till, chose to have an open casket funeral. She wanted the world to be forced to bare witness to the true horror of her son's brutal murder. When the image of Emmett's disfigured face was published on the cover of Jet Magazine, it helped rally some of the public into organizing for equal rights. It also helped lead to the indictment of Bryant and Milam for murder.

During jury selection, both black folks and women were barred from participating. It took an all-white, all-male jury less than an hour to come back with a not-guilty verdict for murderers. A jury member was quoted as saying: “We wouldn't have taken so long if we hadn't stopped to drink pop.”

In the same interview with Look Magazine quoted above, Bryant and Milam freely admitted to killing Emmett and were given $3,000 for the interview. They knew they would be protected from being tried a second time because of double jeopardy laws. The two men have since died.

Now, author Timothy B. Tyson is experiencing both praise and anger for his newly released book that revealed Carolyn Bryant’s confession. It has been ten years since he met with her and she told him the truth. She told him that Emmett made no sexual comments toward her, and did not touch her. Carolyn Bryant told him, "Nothing that boy did could justify what happened to him." 

When asked to recall what really happened the day that Emmett came into the store, Carolyn Bryant said, “Honestly, I'd like to tell you, but I can't remember. It was more than 50 years ago.” She also said she felt “tender sorrow” for Mamie Till, who worked her whole life as an activist for civil rights and died in 2003.

J. W. Milam, his wife Juanita, and Roy and Carolyn Bryant at the courthouse

J. W. Milam, his wife Juanita, and Roy and Carolyn Bryant at the courthouse

Mamie’s cousin Airickca Gordon-Taylor, who is also a spokesperson for the family, was angered by the fact that the author never bothered to tell the family of the confession. She also said of the revelation: “There are people who have died in the last 10 years whose lives were very impacted by what happened in 1955....that disturbs me.” She also stated “‘We are all upset about Timothy Tyson waiting 10 years. It was a marketing strategy and all of this is just publicity for his book. No one should buy this book.”

Emmett’s cousin Wheeler Parker, one of the boys who was present at the time of the kidnapping, had this to say about Carolyn Bryant: “My family thinks she’s trying to make money but being a preacher, I think she is trying to find a way to go heaven now.”

Whatever the motivation, the public now finally knows the truth that many suspected all along. Emmett Till was entirely innocent of even the smallest wrong-doing, and through systemic racism he was brutally murdered and his murderers died free men. Airickca Gordon-Taylor hopes to keep the memory of Mamie alive through her own activism, saying: “Mamie Till dedicated her life to working with young people. I am going to continue to keep her legacy and to do what Mamie Till would have wanted us to do….I am going to continue to educate people who don’t know the story.”