Gruesome Murder Pamphlets From Pre-Civil War America

cannon2People had a thirst for blood-drenched, depraved news long before there was a New York Post or British Mirror or Sun to provide it each morning. The National Library of Medicine has published online a collection of murder pamphlets from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. The brochures were sold on street corners and detailed the latest gristly crimes. Today they shed a light on villains from the dark underbelly U.S. history, such as Lucretia Cannon, circa 1841:

Cannon’s first name was Patty, but the press nicknamed her Lucretia after the Renaissance aristocrat who murdered her victims with poison. At 16, “Lucretia” married Alonzo Cannon, who died suspiciously of “failing health.” Widowed, she set up a tavern in Maryland, and headed up a gang which captured free blacks and fugitive slaves and sold them into slavery. She was alleged to have beaten a crying infant and then burned it alive; murdered tavern patrons for their money (one man was stabbed and stuffed into a trunk which her accomplices disposed of); killed a slaver by crushing his head in order to steal his two slaves. Cannon’s career came to an end when neighbors used a search warrant to enter her house and discovered twenty-one black captives and many skeletons in the backyard. At trial, Cannon was sentenced to death. To avoid hanging, she took poison which killed her, but first led her to break down and confess to killing eleven people, acting as an accessory to twelve other deaths, poisoning her husband, and killing her three-day-old child.