In 1931, Thalia Massie stumbled from the brush into a car when she accused six Hawaiian men of gang raping her. When the accused went to trial and walked away due to a hung jury; Thalia’s mother and husband kidnapped and killed one of the subjects launching a highly contested trial. If aristocratic white folk exacting a revenge killing in a racially charged environment wasn’t enough to attract the attention of the world, Clarence Darrow for the defense in what would be in last case, was certainly a draw.
This retelling of the Massie case paints the picture of a flighty and somewhat spoiled woman whose marriage to a Navy officer stationed in Hawaii was on the rocks. The author broaches slightly the idea that Mrs. Maisse wasn’t raped but rightly doesn’t dwell on the matter because that’s not the point. The point is that there was serious grounds for doubt that the five accused were guilty of the crime. In fact, witnesses saw the accused Hawaiian men far away from where Mrs. Maisse was found on the night of the alleged rape. It certainly seemed to be a case of suggestion when they were identified. Suddenly the woman who claimed not to have been able to see her attackers clearly, identified them without a shadow of the doubt. It bears mentioning that men who have been locked up for years for crimes for which they were convicted by eyewitness testimony have been found to be innocent because people simply cannot be relied upon to remember things in detail.
The plan that Grace Fortescue, Thalia Massie’s mother and Thomas Massie, developed was that they would kidnap the newly freed accused men and torture them until they admitted their crime. The kidnapped Horace Ida and beat him badly but that didn’t satisfy Mrs. Fortescue’s thirst for vengeance. They next kidnapped Joseph Kahahawai, a prizefighter; and in the course of questioning, someone shot him. They were caught pretty much immediately and that’s when the oddest thing happened – people rallied behind them. They were sent flowers and gifts and had it not been for one brave Judge; they would not have been tried for the crime at all. Stories started to travel to mainland of the lawless of Hawaii and the “Hawaiian problem.” There were tales of Native Hawiians roaming the streets and terrorizing innocent women. Filmmakers who had worked in Hawaii rose to the defense of her people. Grace Fortescue had suffered some financial bad luck but was able to use her newfound fame and sympathy to raise money to hire the best lawyer she could find – Clarence Darrow – champion of the underdog. So why would he take this case, you wonder? The author goes into the motivations and also the damage Darrow’s reputation took in certain circles for what could be seen as selling out.
Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i is an engrossing work on non-fiction. It starts slowly going over Thalia Massie’s life and some what damaged relationship with her husband. He behavior when she stumbling out of the brush was confounding. She said to the driver of a car she flagged down; “Are you white people” before climbing into the car on to the lap of the couple’ teen son and demanding to be driven to her home. When the revenge killing happens, the story picks up pace and the jaw dropping nature of it’s place in time engrosses the reader. I think many of us have probably said; “If anyone hurts my daughter, I’ll be the one to wind up in jail” but would we carry through? Would we be as proud of our actions as Fortescue certainly was. I don’t think there’s any question that she believed she had the right man but certainly the benefit of looking back at a full picture leads the modern reader to know that this poor Hawaiian man very likely died without purpose.
Stannard presents the readers of Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i with a painstaking researched work that is one of the stories that is stranger than fiction. That a crime that impacted Hawaii in the way it did is not more widely known is confunding to this reader. If you enjoy true crime or legal history, pick this one up today.
Buy Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i by David E. Stannard on
In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham, it’s 1954 and Juliet Hulme and her friend, Pauline Parker, killed Pauline’s mother. The crime, committed by two teenage girls who lived rich fantasy lives and simply did not want to be separated when Juliet would be sent to South Africa, rocked Auckland, New Zealand. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century chronicles the crime, trial and Peter Jackson film that led to the hunting down of the two long released convicts.
It seems a widely known fact that English author, Anne Perry, was born as Juliet Hulme and spent five years in prison after she and Pauline Parker were convicted of killing Pauline’s mother. Given the first name when released from prison and returning to England, she took her stepfather’s last name. A secret for many years, the release of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures brought the crime back to the public eye and interest in tracking down the now elderly teen killers. Continue reading Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham
In Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter, Belle Gunness was a serial killer who operated between 1884 and 1908. She killed at least 14 people (including her own adopted daughter) but possibly as many as 40. Detected in 1908, she apparently died in a house fire with her remaining three adopted children, and though a man went to trial for the arson and murder, not everyone was convinced.
Let me say right from the start, Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. Not a generally well-known serial killer today, Belle Gunness was a Norwegian-American who operated out of La Porte, Indiana. Her victims appear to have been exclusively her fellow Norwegian immigrants. She’d advertised in the Norwegian papers located in Chicago for a handyman and then would operate a love scam quite a lot like we see today online. Continue reading Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter
In Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family by Karen Tintori, the author writes about hints of matters that no one in the family would talk about. When the sister became the “one they got rid of” as a result of her aunt’s slip of the tongue, Tintori felt compelled to pursue the secret that her family had kept for many years. The author takes the reader on the process from innocent genealogy research to a deep secret uncovered.
On March 9, 1963, two men on a burglary spree were stopped as a result of a routine traffic offense by two plainclothes LAPD officers in an unmarked car. The men took the officers, both former Marines, to a field and executed one of them. The Onion Field is an in-depth analysis of the case by Joseph Wambaugh, an LAPD officer himself at the time.
Death in the Queen City: Clara Ford on Trail, 1895 by Patrick Brode is the story of Frank Westwood who was gunned down in front of his home that he shares with his parents in Parkdale, Ontario, on October 6, 1894. The 18-year-old lingers three days before dying and the police have few leads. A single tip leads the police to Clara Ford, a 33-year-old seamstress of mixed race. Clara claims that she killed Frank, but did so because he had attempted to sexually assault her. In a highly sensational case that stands as a intimate look into Victorian Toronto, would Clara be convicted or would an admitted killer go free?
In A Killing in Iowa: A Daughter’s Story of Love and Murder by Rachel Corbett, the author tells the story of growing up and knowing that her mother’s ex-boyfriend had killed himself, but not knowing the full details of his death. When she finds out that his death was the suicide part of a murder/suicide, she launches a quest to find out more about the crime and why this man she considered a father would have done such a thing.