Friday, July 30, 2010

Josephine Pollari Terranova

Josephine Pollari Terranova (April 21 1889 - July 16, 1981)was born in San Stefano, Sicily but immigrated to New York City with her widowed mother.  After years of sexual abuse at the hands of her aunt and uncle, she stabbed them to death and was brought to trial on double murder chargesl. 

But the trial itself took an absurd turn when she was put through a battery of tests to see if she was sane enough to stand trial for murder.  The experts shot electricity through her body, jabbed needles into her cheeks, hit her ankles with steel and dropped rocks on her toes.  She pleaded with them to let her return to the Tombs.  She was steadfast in declaring she was neither crazy nor afraid.  Many New Yorkers were horrified at what the young teenage girl was made to endure.

The jury acquitted her in what was widely regarded as an act of jury nullification. She later moved west and finally settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, allegedly with the financial assistance of William Randolph Hearst.

The case was a major and sensational news story at the time, leading to a widespread public debate on the proper role of psychiatric expertise in judicial proceedings.  It was largely forgotten until the appearance of a 2004 article in the Western New England Law Review by Brown University Professor Jacob M. Appel.

Here is what the original article in The New York Times on February 24th, 1096 reported right after the crime took place:

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Loney Hearts Killers

Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez

Raymond Fernandez was born on December 17, 1914 in Hawaii to Spanish parents. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Connecticut. As an adult, he moved to Spain, married, and had four children, all of whom he abandoned later on in life.

After serving in British Intelligence during World War II, Fernandez decided to seek work.  Shortly after boarding a ship bound for America, a steel hatch fell on top of him, fracturing his skull, and injuring his frontal lobe.  The damage left by this injury may well have affected his social and sexual behavior.

Upon his release from a hospital, Fernandez stole some clothing, and was imprisoned for a year, during which time his cellmate taught him voodoo and black magic. He later claimed black magic gave him irresistible power and charm over women.

After having served his sentence, Fernandez moved to New York City and began answering personal ads by lonely women. He would wine and dine them, then steal their money and possessions. Most were too embarrassed to report the crimes. In one case, he traveled with a woman to Spain, where he visited his wife and introduced the two women. His female traveling companion then died under suspicious circumstances. He then took possession of her property with a forged will.

In 1947, he answered a personal ad placed by Martha Beck.

Martha Beck was born Martha Jule Seabrook on May 6, 1920 in Milton, Florida.  Due to a glandular problem, she was overweight and went through puberty prematurely. At her trial, she claimed to have been sexually assaulted by her brother. When she told her mother about what happened, her mother beat her saying she was responsible.
After she finished school, she studied nursing, but had trouble finding a job due to her weight.  She initially became an undertaker's assistant and prepared female bodies for burial. She quit her job and moved to California where she worked in an Army hospital as a nurse.  She engaged in sexually promiscuous behaviour, and eventually became pregnant. She tried to convince the father to marry her but he refused. Single and pregnant, she returned to Florida.

She carried out an elaborate charade in which she claimed that the father was a serviceman she married, later claiming that he had been killed in the Pacific Campaign.  The town mourned her loss and the story was published in the local newspaper.  Shortly after her daughter was born, she became pregnant again by a Pensacola bus driver named Alfred Beck. They married quickly and divorced six months thereafter, and she gave birth to a son.

Unemployed and the single mother of two young children, Beck escaped into a fantasy world, buying romance magazines and novels, and seeing romantic movies.  In 1946, she found employment at the Pensacola Hospital for Children. She placed a Lonely Hearts ad in 1947, which Raymond Fernandez then answered.

Fernandez visited Beck and stayed for a short time, and she told everyone that they were to be married.  He returned to New York while she made preparations in Milton, Florida, where she lived. Abruptly, she was fired from her job, likely because of rumors about her and Fernandez.  She then packed up and arrived on his doorstep in New York.  Fernandez enjoyed the way she catered to his every whim, and he confessed his criminal enterprises.  Beck quickly became a willing participant, and sent her children to the Salvation Army. She posed as Fernandez' sister, giving him an air of respectability.  Their victims often stayed with them, or with her. She was extremely jealous and would go to great lengths to make sure he and his "intended" never consummated their relationship. When he did have sex with a woman, both were subjected to Beck's violent temper.

In 1949, the pair committed the three murders of which they would later be convicted. Janet Fay, 66, became engaged to Fernandez and went to stay at his Long Island apartment. When Beck saw her and Fernandez in bed together, she smashed Fay's head in with a hammer in a murderous rage, and then Fernandez strangled her. Fay's family became suspicious, and the couple moved on to a new victim.

They traveled to Byron Center Road in Wyoming Township, Michigan, a suburb of Grand Rapids, to meet Delphine Downing, a young widow with a two-year-old daughter. While they stayed with Downing, she became agitated, and Fernandez gave her sleeping pills. Enraged by Downing's crying daughter, Beck strangled her, though not killing her. Fernandez thought Downing would become suspicious if she saw her bruised daughter, so he shot the unconscious woman. The couple then stayed for several days in Downing's house. Again enraged by the daughter's crying, Beck drowned her in a basin of water. They buried the bodies in the basement, but suspicious neighbors reported their disappearance, and police arrived at their door on February 28, 1949.

Fernandez quickly confessed, with the understanding that they would not be extradited to New York; Michigan had no death penalty, but New York did. They were extradited, however. They vehemently denied 17 murders that were attributed to them, and Fernandez tried to retract his confession, saying he only did it to protect Beck.

Their trial was sensationalized, with lurid tales of sexual perversity. Beck was so upset about the media's comments about her appearance that she wrote letters to the editor protesting.

Fernandez and Beck were convicted of the three murders and sentenced to death. On March 8, 1951, both were executed by electric chair.

Despite their tumultuous arguments and relationship problems, they often professed their love to each other, as demonstrated by their official last words:

"I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?"Raymond Fernandez

"My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean [...] Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feeling for Raymond...."
Martha Beck

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Murder of Helen Jewett

Helen Jewett
(October 18, 1813 – April 10, 1836)
Murder Victim

Helen Jewett's real name was Dorcas Doyen and she was born in Temple, Maine to a working class family.  Her father was an alcoholic and her mother died when Jewett was young.

When she was 12 years old, Helen found work as a maidservant in the home of Chief Justice Nathan Weston of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

As the years passed, Helen grew into a true beauty.  AT 17, she was ruthlessly seduced by an unscrupulous bank cashier.  

At 18, she changed her name to Helen Jewett and moved to New York City.  It was not long before her great beauty attracted notice.  She found work in a bordello and earned a very comfortable living as high class courtesan .  One day, while she was accosted by a ruffian outside a theatre, a man by the name of Richard Robinson, also known as Frank Rivers, came to her rescue.  A bond developed and Robinson soon became a regular patron.


Richard P. Robinson
A profile made in 1848 by the National Police Gazette.
Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.

But it was a rocky relationship and the couple broke up.  Some said that it was because Helen learned that Robinson was planning to marry another woman, and she threatened him.  Others said it was caused by the fact that Robinson had been embezzling money to lavish on Jewett, and he became worried that Jewett would expose him. 

On an April night in 1836, another woman in the brothel heard a loud noise followed by a moan.  She peered out into the hallway and saw a tall man hurrying away.  When the Madame of the brothel looked into Helen Jewett's room, she discovered a small fire and Helen who lay dead in a pool of blood from a arge wound in her head.  She was struck three times in the head.

Her killer fled from the house by a back door and climbed over a whitewashed fence to escape.  The women of the brothel named Robinson as their primary suspect. 

Police found him in his rented room, in bed with whitewash stains on his pants and they charged him with Helen's murder. 

Robinson was charged with the murder of Helen Jewett.  

The Coroner's Report revealed the murder happened sometime after midnight.  Helen was struck on the head three times with a hatchet.  Because there were no signs of struggle, the blows were unexected.  After killing her, the murderer hen set fire to Jewett's bed.  When her body was discovered, the room was full of smoke and Helen's body was charred on one side.  

Robinson denied killing Jewett and didn't display any emotion.  Based on witness testimony and the recovery of a cloak that resembled Robinson's, Robinson was indicted. 

On June 2, 1836, Robinson's trial for murder began. The media sensationalized it.  Because most of the witnesses were prostitutes, the judge ordered the jury to disregard their testimony.  The rest of the evidence was all circumstantial.  As a result, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. 

Jewett's murder excited the press and the public, with strong supporters for Jewett as well as Robinson. 

Long after the trial, some of Robinson's personal letters surface.  They disputed some of the claims he made in court and showed that he was more than capable of sexual, deviant behavior.  

Public opinion turned on him as his guilt became clear.  To escape the notariety, he fled to Texas where lived quietly until he died of a fever, murmurring Helen's name.   


Friday, July 2, 2010

The Love Story of Antony and Cleopatra

The Legend of the love story between Marc Antony and Cleopatra was immortalized by William Shakespeare.  It has endured and fascinates to this day. 

When Marc Antony's duties took him to Egypt, me met Queen Cleopatra and was immediately beguiled.  The spell she weaved over him was intense, and Marc Antony soon began to neglect his duties in order to be with her.  While he dallied with the Egyptian queen, Rome was in turmoil and his wife in Rome died.
He is called back to rome from Alexandria to battle Sextus Pompey, Menecrates, and Menas, three notorious pirates of the Mediterranean.  But Cleopatra is heartbroken and she repeatedly begs him not to go.  All Marc Antony can do is reaffirm his love for her, but he is firm - he must go.

In Rome, Agrippa pushes for Antony to marry Octavius Caesar's sister, Octavia, in order to cement the bond between the two men.  Reluctantly Atony weds Octavia but Antony's lieutenant knows that Octavia can never satisfy him after Cleopatra.  
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies.

A soothsayer warns Antony that he is sure to lose if he fights Octavius.

In Egypt, when Cleopatra learns of Antony's marriage to Octavia, she takes furious revenge upon the messenger that brings her the news.  But her courtiers assure her that Octavia us ugly, short, low-browed, round-faced and has bad hair.  This soothes Cleopatra's temper.  

Antony clashes with Octavius and Antony returns to Alexandria, he crowns Cleopatra and himself as rulers of Egypt and the eastern third of the Roman Empire.  He accuses Octavius of not giving him his fair share of Pompeii's lands.  
Antony prepares to battle Octavius, and although warned not to battle at sea, Antony refuses.  Cleopatra pledges her fleet to aid Antony, however, during the battle, Cleopatra flees with her sixty ships, and Antony follows her, leaving his army to ruin.  Ashamed of what he has done for the love of Cleopatra, Antony reproaches her for making him a coward, but also sets this love above all else, saying "Give me a kiss; even this repays me."
Octavius sends a messenger to ask Cleopatra asking her to give up Antony and come over to his side.  While Cleopatra flirts with the messenger, Antony discovers them.  He orders the messenger to be seized and whippped.  The lover's spat cools and later, he forgives Cleopatra and pledges to fight another battle for her, this time on land.
Antony is winning the battle until Octavius shifts it to a sea-fight.  Once again, Cleopatra's ships desert him.  He is forced to surrender and publically denounces Cleopatra who has betrayed him once again.  He is determined to kill her.  
But Cleopatra wants to win back Antony's love, so she sends him word that she has killed herself, dying with his name on her lips. She locks herself in her monument, and waits for Antony to come to her.  
Unfortunately for Cleopatra, her plan backfires.  Saddened by the news of her death, Antony decides that his own life is no longer worth living.  He succeeds only in seriously wounding himself, prolonging his death.  When he learns that Cleopatra is alive, he goes to her monument, but dies in her arms.
Octavius attempts to convince Cleopatra to surrender.  She refuses.  But Cleopatra is betrayed and the Romans seize her.  Cleopatra resolves to kill herself, using the poison of an asp.
She dies thinking of Antony who she hopes to meet in the afterlife.  Her serving maids also kill themselves. When Octavius discovers the dead women, he experiences great emotion.  Antony's and Cleopatra's deaths cleared the path for him to become the first Roman Emperor.  He ordered a public military funeral for them both and buried them together.   

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