As details surrounding the shocking case emerged, both the crime and ensuing trial-which spanned several months-were featured in the national press. The trial 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 the purity of whiteness in the post-Reconstruction era.
In Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso, historian Kali Nicole Gross uses detectives' notes, trial and prison records, local newspapers, and other archival documents to reconstruct this ghastly whodunit crime in all its scandalous detail. In doing so, she gives the crime context by analyzing it against broader evidence of police treatment of black suspects and violence within the black community.
A fascinating work of historical recreation, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso is sure to captivate anyone interested in true crime, adulterous love triangles gone wrong, and the racially volatile world of post-Reconstruction Philadelphia.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-01-18
- Reviewer: Staff
Gross (Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love) examines the intersections of race and gender in 19th-century Philadelphia in this dynamic and powerfully rendered account of the 1887 trial of Hannah Mary Tabbs. Tabbs, a black woman known by various aliases who was in an adulterous relationship, was accused of murdering her lover, chopping him up, and bundling the pieces into a package. Gross builds suspense through descriptions of gruesome crime scene and details of witness testimonies, all the while filling the reader in on the intricate racial politics surrounding the case. The dismembered and racially ambiguous torso of the African-American victim and the light-skinned complexion of a second suspect galvanized the police and generated much of the initial news coverage, during an era when many black murder victims were forgotten. Gross's in-depth accounts of the police brutality, forced confessions, and science-based forensics involved in the case feel surprisingly modern. (Feb.)