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 »
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 »
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 »
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).
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 »
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.
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.
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 »
We’re happy to announce that Making History: Transcribe is now live! This site will enable users to transcribe documents in the Library of Virginia collections in a collaborative online work space that will host 5-10 projects at a time. The goal is to generate transcriptions to allow full-text searchability in Digitool or other future delivery platforms and increase ease of use. We hope to engage the public in deciphering some of the most interesting items in the Library of Virginia Collections and, with everyone’s help, build a more searchable and useful way to access Virginia history.
The need for transcription vastly outstrips library staff time, both here at the LVA and globally. What better way to solve this dilemma than to engage the public around areas of interest? Developments in open source transcription tools, such as the Scripto for Omeka, are making it possible for users to assist cultural institutions in improving access to and understanding of our resources. Our transcription site is closely modeled after the University of Iowa’s DIY History site, in which they further developed the Omeka Scripto plugin used for crowdsourcing the transcription of documents. UI-Libraries also provided the Scribe theme which dictates the look and experience of the project. The Library of Virginia made only minor changes to UI-Libraries solution, all of which can be found within one of … read more »
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.
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.
Roberts was not incarcerated very long. On the night of 3 July 1928, Roberts made a dummy out of blankets, stuffing a … read more »
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 »
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.
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 »