10 Crimes That Shocked 1920s America

The 1920s was a period of wealth, hedonism, and success for many within the United States. It’s an era that has often been glamorized both in film and television for its extravagant parties, larger-than-life celebrities and of course major innovations like the birth of talking pictures.

Yet despite the wonder that we’ve come to associate with this era, there was also a dark side to the 1920’s much of which doesn’t get as much attention. Many of these crimes listed are some of the worst atrocities ever recorded…Warning that this article will be discussing some highly sensitive content that some may find disturbing.

#10. New Orleans Trunk Murders

New Orleans Trunk Murders is one of the most bloody crimes of the 1920s

Our first crime takes us to New Orleans, Louisiana in October of 1927 when the bodies of two sisters: Theresa & Leonide Moity were found brutally dismembered on the second floor of the French Quarter on 715 Ursulines Street.

Authorities discovered everything from a trail of blood to chopped-off fingers to even blood-soaked mattresses and the victims’ bodies being shoved into two small trunks. Police immediately began to suspect those closest to the sisters as potential suspects notably Joseph and Henry Moity, who were a pair of brothers who married Leonide and Theresa though it’s not clear exactly when the marriages took place.

While Joseph admitted to not being involved in the murders, his brother Henry, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen, in fact, he was planning to hop onto a ship in hopes of escaping the police, but he was unsuccessful and he was arrested mere days following the gruesome discovery.

Whilst in police custody, Henry explained his motivation for killing the sisters stemmed from his tumultuous relationship with Theresa which allegedly included claims of child neglect and having an extra-marital affair with their landlord. One day Henry (who allegedly was under the influence of alcohol) decided to kill his wife over her presumed cheating and then killed her sister as he believed that Leonide was influencing his wife somehow. This confession coupled with Henry’s history as a butcher and the manner in which the victims were killed led to his trial, conviction and later sentencing to the state penitentiary on July 6th 1928.

Despite being sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of both sisters, Henry Moity was pardoned in March of 1948 by the state’s then Governor at the time. This decision was soon a regretful one as Henry would soon get into a relationship with another woman while living in California. She would end up dying of a gunshot wound to the chest leading to him getting five years in prison but dying from a stroke in 1957 whilst serving his term.

#9. Emma Hobaugh aka The Shotgun Murderess

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On December 29th 1924, police in Logansport Indiana were called to investigate a disturbance that occurred only to soon find the bodies of four people (Henry and Kate Hassler, their son John and three-year-old Viola Hobaugh) who were shot to death in such a fashion that the victims looked like they were nearly decapitated.

The sole suspect in this case was Emma Hobaugh, a thirty-three-year-old woman with a history of depression often referred to as ‘melancholy’; When asked about the horrific murder of her family, Emma responded by saying among other things: “They were Mean to Me. God Told me to.”

According to her accounts, Emma felt she and her daughter, Viola were being neglected by her parents and her brother. When Christmas time arrived and neither she nor Viola got any presents the rather frail-looking woman who had experience in using a rifle, grabbed a shotgun and killed her entire family, before asking some locals to help tend to the family farm where the bodies were soon found.

Many in the community found it hard to believe that the Hassler family could mistreat their own daughter and even Hobaugh’s claims were put into question as she had experienced moments of instability throughout much of her life. After being captured by the authorities, she was sentenced to an insane facility where she spent the rest of her life before dying in December of 1970.

#8. The Little Rock Lynching

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It goes without saying that the past was not exactly a great time to be a minority in the United States especially if you were an African American. Living in 1920s America, racial segregation was considered ‘normal’ back then and it wasn’t too surprising to hear black people getting killed in an act of prejudice.

One such case occurred in May of 1927 when Arkansas native, John Carter was lynched and later set ablaze by an angry mob who suspected him of being the person responsible for assaulting a white woman and her daughter in the downtown area of Little Rock.

The trouble began in April of that same year when a young white girl named Floella McDonald was found dead in a church in Little Rock. After apprehending the janitor who discovered the body as well as detaining the janitor’s son, Lonnie Dixon, the police coaxed a confession out of the son only to retract the statement due to the conditions he and his father were put in by the police.

This led to civil unrest in the area and most of the residents took this frustration out by lynching Carter for his suspected assault before causing a riot so bad that some black members of the community fled the state.

In the end, Lonnie Dixon was given a less-than-stellar legal team and was ultimately sentenced to death on June 24th 1927 on Lonnie’s 17th birthday and he was killed via the electric chair.

#7. The Murder of John Bennett

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If you ever played video games or participated in sports before then you might’ve experienced the taste of defeat at one time or another. While some can hand lost well, others make excuses for why they lost or they start throwing things around out of anger. This next entry is the complete opposite of how to hand a lost.

On September 29 1929, married couple Myrtle and John Bennett continued to get at each other’s throats following a disastrous game of bridge which saw Myrtle calling her husband “a bum bridge player” only for John to respond by slapping his wife a number of times.

Things culminated when John asked his wife to fetch him his gun only for his wife to return with the gun and shoot him two in the back before eventually succumbing to his woes.

Myrtle was then put on trial for the murder of her husband but was found not guilty by the jury on March 6th 1931 before returning to a life of obscurity before dying in 1992.

#6. The Halls-Mills Murder Case

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On September 16th 1922, the maggot-infested bodies of Wheeler Hall and Eleanor Mills were discovered with bullet holes inside of them and love letters and Hall’s calling card left near the remains.

Authorities began looking for suspects in the crime with Hall’s wife, Frances Noel Stevens as well as Henry and William Stevens and Henry Carpender (fellow family members) being seen as the most likely suspects. Many believed that Halls was having an extramarital affair with Mills which could have been the motive for the murders.

A trial took place in 1926 with Frances and her brothers William and Henry being put on trial whilst Henry Carpender wasn’t brought to trial as his connections to the case weren’t as strong as the others. After 30 days, the jury came back with a not guilty verdict essentially acquitting all three from the crimes.

While the motive for wanting Halls and his mistress murdered was there, the jury simply felt it wasn’t enough to convict them with the case remaining unsolved today.

#5. Rosewood Massacre 

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Here we have another example of racial violence against African Americans with a horrific incident that occurred between January 1st through the 5th of 1923 in the Rosewood area of Florida.

It all started when a white woman named Fannie Taylor claimed that she was assaulted by a black man who was part of a chain gang named Jesse Hunter. This led to a group of 200 angry white men going to the predominately black neighbourhood of Rosewood to find and kill Hunter.

What followed was one of the worst bits of racial violence of the 1920s. Which is freaking saying something. Estimates claim that around 30-150 people (mainly African American men, women and children) were killed and this whole incident led to much of the black population fleeing the area with many never to return.

What makes this whole thing even worse is that many believe that Taylor was never assaulted at all and in fact made up the story to hide the fact that she was having an extramarital affair.

#4. The Ruby Murders

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On February 27th 1920, the small mine town in Ruby Arizona experienced a tragedy when two brothers: John and Alexander Frazer were shot and killed in the Ruby Mercantile which was the town’s resident general convenience store that they previously purchased.

Two Mexican bandits named Ezequiel Lara and Manuel Garcia reportedly entered the show where they not only killed the brothers but they also robbed the store and cut the telephone wires to the only phone the town had.

Fast forward to August 26th 1921, a married couple named Myrtle and Frank Pearson were the new owners of the store and they too would end up having the same fate. They were killed by bandits before having the place robbed and the wires cut once again leading to a manhunt to find the people responsible but the search went cold.

It wasn’t until 1922 that two outlaws named Manuel Martinez and Placidio Silvas were believed to be connected to the crime. They were arrested and sentenced to be hanged and serve life in prison for Martinez and Silvas respectively.

Both men would escape before a search re-captured them again with the bandits being found guilty of murdering the police officers in their escape plan. Martinez was executed by hanging on August 10th 1923 while Sliva served time in prison before escaping jail in 1928 never to be seen again.

#3. The Wolf Family Murders

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On April 22 1920 the bodies of German-Russian immigrant, Jacob Wolf and most of his family were found dead on their farm in Turtle Lake, North Dakota with the victims killed by either a hatchet, a shotgun or both.

Upon entering the house near the farm, the family’s eight-month-old daughter Emma was found hungry and crying. Emma was the only surviving person in the family massacre with some wondering as to why the little one was spared.

During the funeral of the deceased family, one of their neighbours Henry Layer was put under suspicion after helping the police in the investigation which included knowledge about the crime that no regular person would’ve known.

Eventually, Layer admitted to the murders claiming that he had an issue with Jacob after his dog bit one of his cows and attempted to confront him…apparently that confrontation ended very badly for the Wolf Family.

Despite many questioning Layer’s involvement in the murders, Henry Layer would die just a few years after being sentenced to life in prison, meanwhile, Emma Wolf would go on to live a long and happy life before passing away in 2003.

#2. The 1920 Wall St. Bombing

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Nine years before the stock market collapsed and helped plunge the U.S. economy into the Great Depression, Wall Street was under attack quite literally in an infamous moment of terrorism.

On a Tuesday afternoon on September 16th 1920, a huge explosion took place in front of the famous bank of J.P Morgan & Co. after a horse-drawn carrier filled with 500 pounds of dynamite was parked in front of the building leading to the deaths of 40 people and over a hundred people injured.

When investigations went underway, the Bureau of Investigation believed the bombing was caused by radical anarchist groups who felt dissatisfied with the growing corruption and excessive wealth gained by the elite class over the years.

While a number of groups were suspected and a number of anarchists (both confirmed and alleged) were deported or eventually sentenced to death, the actual culprit or culprits of this infamous bombing were never caught.

#1. The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

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The inspiration behind the 2008 Clint Eastwood film ‘The Changeling’, the crimes committed by Gordan Stewart Northcott and his mother Sarah Louise Northcott are some of the most appalling of the decade.

Taking place in Wineville California between 1926-1928, twenty-something-year-old chicken rancher Gordan Stewart Northcott physically assaulted up to 20 young boys including his own nephew, Standford Clark who was forced to help his uncle in these sinister acts he ended up dead like all of Northcott’s victims.

Northcott would use his nephew to lure in young, unsuspecting victims before eventually having his way with them and then killing them with Gordan’s mother, Sarah helping in disposing of parts of the victims near the ranch or other locations.

After immigration services came to the ranch (as the Canadian-born Clark was technically in the country illegally) Northcott and his mother hit the road to evade police, but Stanford confessed everything to the authorities and it would ultimately lead to his arrest on September 19th 1928.

Both Gordan and Louise were convicted for their crimes with Stewart found guilty on all counts of murder and sentenced to death via hanging on October 2nd 1930 while his mother pleaded guilty and sentenced to life in prison before being paroled in 1940 and then dying just four years later.

So I won’t ask if you enjoyed this article, but I hope you found it “Interesting”l Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and for more content like this be sure to follow Lace ‘Em Up on Twitter @laceemupoffice and you can follow me also on X @hakeemfullerton.

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