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The Body in the Reservoir

The Body in the Reservoir: Murder and Sensationalism in the South

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  • Book Info
    The Body in the Reservoir
    Book Description:

    Centered on a series of dramatic murders in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Richmond, Virginia,The Body in the Reservoiruses these gripping stories of crime to explore the evolution of sensationalism in southern culture.In Richmond, as across the nation, the embrace of modernity was accompanied by the prodigious growth of mass culture and its accelerating interest in lurid stories of crime and bloodshed. But while others have emphasized the importance of the penny press and yellow journalism on the shifting nature of the media and cultural responses to violence, Michael Trotti reveals a more gradual and nuanced story of change. In addition, Richmond's racial makeup (one-third to one-half of the population was African American) allows Trotti to challenge assumptions about how black and white media reported the sensational; the surprising discrepancies offer insight into just how differently these two communities experienced American justice.An engaging look at the connections between culture and violence, this book gets to the heart--or perhaps the shadowy underbelly--of the sensational as the South became modern.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0437-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. 1-12)

    From his nearby office, the keeper of the old reservoir walked briskly to its southeastern stairs, mounting the twenty-foot embankment that stood like a fort at the western edge of Richmond, Virginia. As on every other morning, Lysander Rose made a circuit of the reservoir from the top of the levee surrounding this artificial lake. He looked about as the gravel crunched beneath his feet, noting the height of the water, the dampness from last night’s snow flurries, the clouds low over the city, and the disrepair of the forty-inch fence surrounding the large pool. He had worked here for...

    (pp. 13-42)

    On 18 July 1766, “Dikephilos” (lover of justice) wrote a “candid narration” to theVirginia Gazette, which he hoped would “open the eyes of some well meaning men” to the murder of Robert Routlidge by John Chiswell in a Prince Edward County tavern the month before. The letter described how the two erstwhile friends exchanged insults while their acquaintances tried to separate them. Chiswell ordered his servant to retrieve his sword, but Routlidge, failing to back down, responded to Chiswell’s taunts by dousing him with a glass of wine. Before friends could stop him, Chiswell ran Routlidge through, killing him...

  6. 2 SENSATIONAL CRIME COMES OF AGE: The Cluverius Case of 1885
    (pp. 43-78)

    Awakening this “feverish, abnormal feeling” in Richmond in the spring of 1885 was the discovery of Lillian Madison’s body in the reservoir. Days later, Thomas Cluverius sat in jail, facing a capital charge for her murder. But the case against Cluverius rested upon circumstantial evidence, and many questioned whether he would be convicted. The indeterminacy of this evidence transfixed Richmond. Reverend William E. Hatcher, a local minister who spoke regularly with the accused, wrote that the murder was “the one absorbing topic in Richmond and many persons say that they cannot think or dream of anything else.” This may be...

    (pp. 79-110)

    It was a very hot evening on 18 July 1911, when Henry Clay Beattie Jr., his wife Louise, and their infant son visited Louise’s aunt and uncle just to the south of Richmond. After dinner, the couple left their five-week-old baby in the care of their relatives and went for a cooling drive west on Midlothian Turnpike into the country. About an hour later, their car screamed into the driveway and skidded to a halt, Henry yelling for help. Henry’s face was cut and bleeding, and Louise lay in a pool of blood in the front seat, her face blown...

  8. 4 AFRICAN AMERICAN SENSATIONS: Jim Crow Justice and the Richmond Planet
    (pp. 111-144)

    On 14 June 1895, an aging white farmer, Edward Pollard, returned from his fields to find the body of his wife, Lucy, outside their home in Lunenburg County, Virginia, southwest of Richmond. She had been hewn repeatedly with an ax, and more than eight hundred dollars was missing from the Pollard home. Found with two twenty-dollar bills, a black man from North Carolina, Solomon Marable, was charged with the crime, and he confessed to his involvement as an accessory. He implicated three local black women, Mary Abernathy and Pokey and Mary Barnes, as the actual murderers. “Feelings were high” in...

  9. 5 IMAGES OF MURDER: The Visual Revolution of the Halftone
    (pp. 145-180)

    The murder of Lillian Madison in 1885 spawned dozens of engravings in the regional press and drew crowds to the courtrooms, jail, and police station. Everyone was interested in discovering what a criminal like Thomas Cluverius looked like. This included police officers:

    Q: What business carried you to the Third Police Station?

    A: I heard the prisoner had arrived and of course I wanted to see him. I think every officer should see all prisoners charged with so grave an offense.

    Q: Did you go there to see him for the purpose of examining him?

    A: No, sir, I did...

    (pp. 181-206)

    Well before the 1886 Christmas holidays, theRichmond Dispatchand other papers again carried daily front-page articles about Thomas Cluverius. In June of 1885, the local hustings court had convicted the prisoner of Lillian Madison’s murder, and in recent months, the Virginia Supreme Court rendered a four-to-one decision against his appeal. Would the governor commute his sentence of death, these papers now asked? Doubtful. Would Cluverius confess? Hard to say. What did the jurors now feel about his impending execution? Nine thought he should hang, and three were not so sure, wrote theDispatch.

    The papers reviewed the trial, witnesses,...

    (pp. 207-216)

    After the discovery of Lillian Madison’s body in the Richmond reservoir in March of 1885, thousands came to look at the yet-unidentified corpse as it lay in the nearby almshouse. A few days later, she was laid to rest in Oakwood cemetery, her unmarked grave strewn with flowers and an occasional poem, which local newspapers obligingly reprinted. After his execution, the body of Thomas Cluverius was returned to his family, who sent it by train to King and Queen County to be buried in a family plot. Again, the site was unmarked, in this case because the family did not...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 217-294)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 295-301)