Murder Versus Murder

In 1891, the people of New Orleans won a degree of admiration from the English newspapers when they took the law into their own hands and meted out rough justice to a group of prisoners from the Mafia.

This was scene as a justified operation of lynch law.

The London Evening News provided a synopsis of what had happened in its edition of  Monday the 16th of March 1891:-


The people of New Orleans have shown in a forcible way their determination to have order and good government in their city, to support the law and its responsible officers, and to ensure the sanctity of human life.

This laudable purpose has been made apparent, it is true, by a somewhat unconventional process, viz., by collecting a riotous crowd in the streets, stirring them up to attack the city gaol, and finally murdering a dozen prisoners.

It reads paradoxical, of course, to say that this terrible combination of riot and bloodshed was designed in the best interests of peace and justice, but it is quite true, for the slaughter of these eleven prisoners was only meeting murder with murder.


The answer of outraged society to a systematic organization of assassins may have been technically too sweeping, since the eleven men slain could scarcely have all taken an active part in the murder of the late New Orleans Chief of Police, David C. Hennessy, whose death was the first move in the tragedy which culminated on Saturday in wholesale bloodshed.

Hennessy was admittedly killed by order of an Italian secret society known as the “Mafia,” the operation of which he had interfered with to his active performance of his duties.


Nineteen of the moving spirits of this murder bureau were arrested, and nine of them, against whom the evidence was most damning, were put on trial.

The jury, bribed or frightened, acquitted six of the nine, and disagreed about the remaining three.

Then the blood of the peaceable citizens of New Orleans was up and corrected the errors of the jury most effectually and abundantly.


Against the excesses and abuses of “Lynch law” it is easy for us to protest here, where the murderous operations of such a gang as the “Mafia” are made impossible by a well-organized police force.

But it is difficult to blame the self-appointed judges who dealt such a sanguinary blow to the murder society of New Orleans, when we remember all the facts of the case, and note that the slaying of these Italian miscreants was not the work of street rowdies, but was organized and carried out by respectable and prominent citizens who could not have undertaken such a dreadful task without ample reasons.