Category Archives: State Records Blog Posts

- The Asylum Poisonings: Death, Politics, and “Low Cussedness” in Staunton


Western State Hospital, ca. 1838.  https://wayback.archive-it.org/335/20090115144155/http://www.wsh.dmhmrsas.virginia.gov/history.htm

In 1883, the year when Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solved the case of the Speckled Band, an equally baffling real-life killing drew another noted team of detectives to the Western Lunatic Asylum (later renamed the Western State Hospital) in Staunton, Virginia.

On the morning of 24 February 1883, just after receiving their regular liquid medications, seven male patients lost consciousness.  Four died almost immediately, two died in the next three days, and one recovered.  An eighth patient vomited and experienced other ill effects, but recovered in a few days.  A coroner’s inquest concluded that the victims’ cups of medicine must have been poisoned while sitting in an unlocked hall cabinet the previous evening.  Other patients, taking the same medicine which had not been left in the cabinet, had no problems.  Dr. W.W.S. Butler, head pharmacist at the asylum, testified that no poisons were missing from the dispensary.  Autopsies were performed, and University of Virginia chemistry professor John W. Mallet used the latest forensic techniques to analyze three of the victims’ stomachs and their contents.  Mallet concluded that the poison used was aconitia (also known as aconitine), an extremely toxic extract of the aconite or monkshood plant, and the coroner’s jury agreed.  The asylum pharmacy had a bottle of highly diluted “tincture of aconite,” but Mallet thought it was not strong enough to … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald, No. 38685


Photograph of Robert S. Fitzgerald, No. 38685, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 32, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald, the subject of this week’s post, was tried for performing abortions on three women between 1927 and 1937.  All three died as a result of Fitzgerald’s “illegal operation.”

Melva Victoria Royal was in trouble.  The unmarried 18-year-old North Carolinian King’s College student learned in the fall of 1927 that she was pregnant.  Melva wanted to terminate her pregnancy but didn’t know how.  A North Carolina physician provided James Royal, Melva’s father, with a name of someone who could perform the operation:  Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald of Richmond, Virginia.  On 10 October, Melva and her father arrived in Richmond and made an appointment to see Dr. Fitzgerald.  After examining Melva, Dr. Fitzgerald, according to James Royal’s later court testimony, said he would not take the case for less than $200.  Royal obtained the money from a local bank, returned to Fitzgerald’s office at 6 p.m., and paid him.  Fitzgerald told James Royal take a walk for about half an hour.  When he returned, Melva was asleep.  At 8:30 p.m. the Royals  took a cab to their place of lodging.  Melva complained that she did not feel well.  At 9 a.m. on 11 October, Royal entered his … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Benjamin Liverman, No. 18759


Photograph of Benjamin Liverman, #18759, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B.  Photographs, Box 43, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Benjamin Liverman, the “Boy Bandit,” the subject of this week’s post, was first arrested at the age of ten.  By the age of 17, he had a lengthy criminal record.  His life of crime and the beginning of his reformation began in Norfolk in 1923 when he was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 53 years in the penitentiary.

Benjamin Liverman was born Donatto Siravo on 28 February 1905 in Fall River, Massachusetts.  The son of Italian immigrants, Siravo did not have a good home life.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, Alfred Siravo, Donatto’s father, worked as a weaver in Fall River.  He was “quick tempered and very emotional and is blamed for much of the [couple's] marital troubles.”  In September 1915, Siravo, only ten years old, began his life of crime when he was arrested in Fall River for trespassing.  Over the next six years, Siravo, still a minor, was arrested nine times and served time in the Lyman School for Boys and the Shirley Industrial School.  He escaped the Shirley Industrial School on 9 January 1922 and made his way to Norfolk, Virginia, by November 1922.  Over the next two months, Siravo, using the alias … read more »

- Kaine Email Project @ LVA – Technology Edition

This is the seventh in a series of posts spotlighting recently released email from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration.  These posts are not meant to be comprehensive but to encourage further exploration in the Kaine administration records (electronic and paper).


Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra (2006-2009)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the release of an additional 15,381 emails from the administration of Governor Timothy M. Kaine (2006-2010).  This batch comprises email from individuals in Kaine’s Office of the Secretary of Technology.  Since January 2014, the Library has made 130,644  emails from the Kaine administration freely available online.

Aneesh Chopra held the position of secretary of technology for the vast majority of the Kaine administration.  In this role, Chopra focused on a number of different areas.  The following are but a few examples of the kinds of things that Chopra worked on during his time as secretary.  For the complete picture, you will need to jump into the collection and start digging.

The Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA)-Northrup Grumman partnership was created during the administration of Governor Mark Warner (2002-2006) but it came fully into being during the administration of Governor Kaine.  As the secretary of technology, Chopra had to deal with the issues surrounding the full implementation of the plan and smooth over the concerns of state agencies and local government.

As the state’s expert in all … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Ernest Harper, No. 18903


Photograph of Ernest Harper, #18903, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 43, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Ernest Harper, the subject of this week’s post, brutally murdered an unrequited love interest and was sentenced to 20 years in the penitentiary.  Eighteen months into his sentence, Harper escaped in dramatic fashion and was never recaptured.


Photograph of Mrs. Alice Moore, Norfolk Journal and Guide, 22 November 1922, page one.

On Thursday morning, 2 November 1922, Ernest Harper, armed with a revolver, burst into the room of Mrs. Alice Moore in Norfolk.  He shot Moore seven times, emptying his weapon; she was able to run down the stairs but died in the doorway.  Harper was quickly captured.  His motive was jealousy.  Harper had fallen in love with Moore, who was estranged from her husband, Luther Moore.  Alice rejected Harper’s advances and the Moores had recently reconciled.  After learning the news, Harper shot Moore in a jealous rage.  In May 1923, Harper was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in the Virginia Penitentiary.


Photograph of Frank McGee, #16897, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 42, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Upon Harper’s arrival at the Penitentiary on 23 May 1923, he was placed in the cell of Frank McGee, who was serving a 15-year sentence for housebreaking.  The two cell mates planned one of the most sensational and well-planned escapes in penitentiary history.  “Eighteen inches of steel-re-enforced concrete, a three-quarters of an inch steel plate, … read more »

- Council of State Archivists Rising Star Award Goes to Kaine Email Project Team


Roger Christman accepts CoSA's Rising Star award on behalf of the Library's Governor Tim Kaine Email Project Team, 14 August 2014, CoSA/NAGARA/SAA joint annual meeting, Washington, DC.  Photo courtesy of Craig Huey Photography.

The Council of State Archivists (CoSA), a national organization representing the heads of the country’s 56 state and territorial archives, presented the Library of Virginia’s Governor Tim Kaine Email Project Team with its Rising Star award in recognition of being the first state government archives in the United States to make the emails of a previous administration freely available to the public online.  The award, which recognizes outstanding contributions by individual staff members or teams to their state archives and constituencies, was made at the joint meeting of the Society of American Archivists/National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators/Council of State Archivists in Washington, DC, on 14 August.


Rising Star Award certificate.

The Kaine Email Project Team put Virginia’s state archives on the forefront of open government in the modern age.  The Library received approximately 1.3 million email messages from the administration of Governor Kaine (2006-2010).  To date, the Library has reviewed nearly 562,000 emails, and placed 130,644 archival records online in an organized searchable database, Kaine Email Project @ LVA.  Users can search and view email records from the Governor’s Office and his cabinet secretaries; learn about other public records from the Kaine Administration; go behind the scenes to see how the Library of Virginia made the email records available; and read what others are saying about the collection.

The lead … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Herbert Irving Roberts, No. 22087


Photograph of Herbert Irving Roberts, #22087, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B.  Photographs, Box 44, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Herbert Irving Roberts, the subject of this week’s post, was a career criminal, escaped from the Virginia Penitentiary in 1928, and was “taken for a ride” and killed in New York City in 1930.


Photograph of Mrs. Cook's Cafeteria, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 15 February 1927, page 3.

On the evening of 13 February 1927, Herbert Irving Roberts entered Mrs. Cook’s Cafeteria at 805 East Grace Street in Richmond.  His accomplice, John E. Morgan, waited outside as the lookout.  Roberts, armed with a gun, subdued and tied up a janitor and night watchman, cracked open the basement safe, and stole about $1,000.  Roberts went to the first floor to rob another safe when the door bell rang.  Frightened, Roberts left his tools and escaped through a rear window.  Roberts and Morgan hurried to the Broad Street railroad station and took the 11:50 p.m. train to Washington, D.C.  Richmond detectives contacted Washington police to be on the lookout for the two men.  They were arrested and transported back to Richmond.  Roberts, acting as his own lawyer, was tried and convicted on 14 April 1927 and sentenced to 18 years in the penitentiary.


Headline, Richmond News Leader, 4 July 1928, page one.

Roberts was not incarcerated very long.  On the night of 3 July 1928, Roberts made a dummy out of blankets, stuffing a … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: John Henry Ellis, No. 28276, 33714, and 43346


Photograph of John Henry Ellis, #43346, Prisoner Negative, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Negatives, Box 234, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  John Henry Ellis, the subject of this week’s post, was convicted three times for housebreaking and grand larceny.  His temper got him in trouble several times while incarcerated.

John Henry Ellis was convicted in March 1932 in Richmond Hustings Court for housebreaking and sentenced to three years in the Penitentiary.  Ellis was sent to work on State Convict Road Force Camp 19 in Wythe County where he immediately clashed with the guards.  “Ellis has been saucy and impudent with the guard and foreman here,” reported Camp Sgt. M.C. Russell to Penitentiary Superintendent Rice M. Youell on 19 October 1932.  His work was unsatisfactory as well.  “The [State Highway Department] foreman called him out without any results,” Russell wrote.  “Finally he threatened to stand him on the bank and Ellis told him he didn’t give a damn what he did with him.”  Russell punished him on 5 October 1932 by making him “stand in cuffs from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. taking him down only for meals and to use the bucket.”

Ellis turned violent on 17 October 1932.  While a group of prisoners worked in a quarry, one of them broke wind.  Another prisoner, Robert Coleman, said to … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Clinton Kirby, No. 25830, 42236, and 49236


Photograph of Clinton Kirby, #42236, Inmate Photographs, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 38, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Clinton Kirby, the subject of this week’s post, was convicted three times for housebreaking, shot while trying to escape from the Medical College of Virginia, and diagnosed as psychotic.


Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1932 August 20, page one.

On 19 August 1932, Clinton Kirby, a convicted felon serving a ten-year sentence for robbery, was brought from the State Farm in Goochland County to the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) in Richmond.  Kirby was at MCV to have his arm x-rayed.  He broke it in 1931 and it had caused him discomfort ever since.  Within minutes of arriving at the Dispensary Building, Kirby rushed out the front door and ran north on 11th Street trying to escape.  H.H. Bowles, the guard who accompanied Kirby to MCV, raced after him firing two warning shots in the air.  “But after wasting two good bullets that way,” reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bowles fired two shots directly at Kirby.  The first shot missed.  The second shot hit Kirby in his left arm just after he crossed Leigh Street in front of the city dump.  Bowles apprehended him within seconds.   Kirby returned to the hospital by ambulance and surgeons removed the slug from his arm.

Kirby was convicted in July 1930 … read more »

- Kaine Email Project @ LVA – Tysons Tunnel Edition


Photograph of Governor Tim Kaine, announcing the signing of the MOU between the Commonwealth and Metropolitian Washington Airports Authority, 27 March 2006.  [no title], 2006-03-27 08:58, Inbox.pst (Winchell, Robin), Email Records from the Office of the Governor (Kaine: 2006-2010), Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

This is the sixth in a series of posts spotlighting recently released email from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration.  These posts are not meant to be comprehensive but to encourage further exploration in the Kaine administration records (electronic and paper).

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced on 23 June 2014 that the first phase of Metro’s Silver Line11.4 miles of track beginning in East Falls Church station, through Tysons Corner, and ending at Wiehle Avenue in Reston – will begin service on 26 July 2014.  When finished the 23-mile Dulles Corridor Metro Project will provide service to Dulles International Airport.   The Tysons Corner portion of the project – to build a tunnel or an elevated track – was an ongoing issue for the Kaine administration in 2006.


Photograph of United States Senator John Warner with Governor Tim Kaine, announcing the signing of the MOU between the Commonwealth and Metropolitian Washington Airports Authority, 27 March 2006.  [no title], 2006-03-27 08:58, Inbox.pst (Winchell, Robin), Email Records from the Office of the Governor (Kaine: 2006-2010), Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

On 24 March 2006, the Commonwealth and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) signed a memorandum of understanding to transfer the Dulles Toll Road and control of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project to the MWAA.  The agreement, announced by Governor Kaine three days later, guaranteed the completion of the entire Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport, enabled the project to be completed sooner than otherwise possible, and guaranteed all toll revenue would be dedicated to transportation improvements in the corridor.

The day before the signing of the Virginia/MWAA agreement, Dulles Transit Partners, the design-build … read more »