In the colonial period, married Virginians had very few legal grounds for divorce. Over the years, though, standards loosened up a bit, and eventually the old justifications of adultery and impotency were joined by reasons such as abandonment, cruelty, or being a fugitive from justice. In 1873, a new justification was added to the list: if either party was sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary. One of least common reasons for divorce, this kind of suit does pop up in chancery from time to time when the spouses of criminal Virginians took advantage of the law to get rid of the old ball-and-chain.
W. H. Bonaparte and Emma G. Lee were married in Hampton in 1888. In January 1889, W. H. was convicted of a felony for transporting a woman named Ruth Tennelle into Hampton for the purpose of concubinage and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. Emma filed for divorce in February 1891 and her petition was granted one month later. (Elizabeth City County chancery cause 1891-007 Emma Bonaparte by etc vs. W. H. Bonaparte)
In 1898, Rosalie Mayo and Daniel N. Huffer were united in matrimony. In 1901 Rosalie filed for divorce while pregnant with her second child, stating that her husband had recently been sentenced to one year in the penitentiary for a terrible assault on their little … 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. The genesis of this post came from reading Paul Lombardo’s 2009 book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell. My curiosity about Virginia’s eugenics program (1924-1979) was sparked by legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to compensate victims of this policy, and the Library of Virginia’s collections of archival records from Central Virginia Training Center and Western State Hospital, both including sterilization records.
While reading Lombardo’s book, I was surprised to learn that Dr. Charles Carrington, surgeon to the Virginia State Penitentiary from 1900 to 1911, involuntarily sterilized 12 inmates between 1902 and 1910. Carrington revealed his “work” in a series of articles in the Virginia Medical Semi-Monthly in 1908, 1909, and 1910. Carrington’s actions occurred over a decade prior to the passage of the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924. While Carrington’s articles did not include the names of the prisoners he sterilized, I was able to identify 10 of the 12 using the penitentiary medical records. Nine of the 10 were black; seven of 10 were admitted to mental hospital while incarcerated. In 1910 Dr. Carrington asserted that ten of the twelve were “insane, consistent … read more »
Posted in Mug Shot Monday, State Records Blog Posts
Also tagged in: Chris Hayes, Dr. Charles Carrington, eugenics, Frank Baylor, Hiram Steele, Inmate photographs, Joe White, Marshall Robinson, Morris Scott, Moscow Savage, Richard Mills, sterilization, William Bonner, William Carter
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 »
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 »
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 »
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. Kenneth Frederick Thomas, the subject of this week’s post, was either a bigamist or a decorated World War I hero. Thomas’ version of his military service and his The Hangover-like courtship and wedding, stand in stark contrast to the evidence gathered by two Virginia governors.
Kenneth Thomas arrived in Norfolk in early March 1918. On Saturday, 9 March, Thomas, dressed in the uniform of an aviator of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), attended a dance at the Fairfax Hotel where he met 20-year-old Rose Eugene Swindell. Thomas wooed Swindell with tales of air battles with the Germans on the Western Front as a Canadian pilot. Thomas’ stories, reported the Virginian-Pilot, “blinded the young girl and she married her romantic suitor” on 12 March. The newlyweds lived at the Lorraine Hotel until the bridegroom was arrested 16 March by agents of the United States Department of Justice at the request of Canadian authorities. Thomas was wanted for desertion and bigamy.
Upon his arrest, Thomas told a very different story than the one he told his bride. He claimed he was an American citizen, had never served in the Royal Flying Corps, and was a victim of mistaken … read more »
Posted in Mug Shot Monday, State Records Blog Posts
Also tagged in: bigamy, Dr. S.W. Melton, Governor E. Lee Trinkle, Governor Westmoreland Davis, Inmate photographs, Kenneth Frederick Thomas, Rose E. Swindell, state records, Virginia Dept. of Corrections, World War I
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. Ed Carr, the subject of this week’s post, escaped from a convict road camp in 1913. Jealousy led to his recapture in 1932.
Ed Carr was arrested in April 1913 and charged with grand larceny of a diamond ring. Hoping to get a shorter sentence, Carr lied about his age. “At this time,” Carr wrote Governor John Pollard in 1932, “I was 15 years old. When I was arrested on the charge the people who were in jail with me, told me that if I told my correct age they would send me to a reform school until I was 20 or 21 years old, but that if I ran my age up, and in case of conviction, I would get a year in the Penitentiary. I listened to this, and gave my age as 25 when I came up for trial.” It did not work. Carr was convicted on 3 May 1913 in the Corporation Court of Norfolk City and sentenced to 10 years in the Virginia Penitentiary. Carr was assigned to State Convict Road Force Camp No. 5 in Russell County. He didn’t stay long. Carr escaped on 7 August 1913 having served less than 90 … read more »