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This microhistory traces the discovery and investigation a gruesome intraracial murder and dismemberment that stemmed from an adulterous love-triangle gone wrong in late-nineteenth century Philadelphia. Shortly after a torso was discovered on the bank of a pond just outside of the city, investigators honed in on and arrested two black suspects: Mary Tabbs, a married, working class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former co-worker who Tabbs implicated after her arrest. Eventually police found that the body belonged to Wakefield Gaines, a mulatto man who was Tabbs' paramour.
The trial spanned several months, at a time when most cases concluded within a few days. The crime and its adjudication featured in the press from Pennsylvania to Illinois. It brought otherwise taboo subjects such as illicit sex, adultery, and domestic violence in the black community to public attention. At the same time, the mixed race of the victim and one of his assailants exacerbated anxieties over race in the post-Reconstruction era.
Drawing on detectives' notes, trial and prison records, local newspapers, and other documents, Kali Gross reconstructs this case and analyzes it against broader evidence of police treatment of black suspects, relationships and domestic violence within the black community, and women as suspects in the criminal justice system.