Sensational Trials

Then, as now, public interest in trials involving prominent people or sensational facts abounded. These cases were covered in newspapers throughout the country. Special pamphlets, often written by unofficial court reporters or attorneys arguing the cases, were highly popular. Collections of these pamphlets, often with lurid drawings, are available in many large law libraries. But for those interested in a more comprehensive and complete account of these sensational trials, collections such as American State Trials: A Collection of the Important and Interesting Criminal Trials which Have Taken Place in the United States, from the Beginning of Our Government to the Present Day (1919) or Parker’s Reports of Decisions in Criminal Cases Made at Term at Chambers: And in the Courts of Oyer and Terminer of the State of New York (1823-1868) are perhaps the best resources.

The New York courts heard many sensational cases in the years between 1847-1869, and some even reached the Court of Appeals. Here are the stories behind a few of them:

The People v. Emma Augusta Cunningham involved a woman seduced by a Bond Street dentist. She was accused of killing him when he did not marry her.

People v. Cole involved the trial of a Civil War General accused of murdering a leading Syracuse lawyer whom he suspected of having had an affair with his wife.

People v. Robinson (The Veiled Murderess) involved the trial of a woman from Troy, N.Y. accused of poisoning two of her neighbors.

People v. William Landon involved the owner of an Albany, N.Y. hotel who sold intoxicating liquor contrary to a New York State law prohibiting its sale. The hotel owner challenged the constitutionality of the statute and the case was decided in his favor.

La Beau v. The People involved the murder of a man who ran a boardinghouse by one of his boarders who had become involved with the boardinghouse owner’s wife.

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