Award-winning author Richard H. Underwood is the Edward T. Breathitt Professor of Law, University of Kentucky College of Law. He is the author of Gaslight Lawyers: Criminal Trials & Exploits in Gilded Age New York (2017) and CrimeSong: True Crime Stories from Southern Murder Ballads. He is also the co-author of several books on evidence, trial technique, and legal ethics, and he has published numerous articles on the law, legal history, perjury, famous trials and true crime. Richard, a native of Columbus, Ohio, has lectured on diverse subjects at conferences across the United States and in London and Amsterdam.
Gaslight Lawyers: Criminal Trials & Exploits in Gilded Age New York
2018 Silver Medal, Independent Publishers Book Award, True Crime
2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards Finalist, True Crime
“…An exhilarating, informative read.” —*****Clarion 5 Star Review
“An accessible, marvelously rigorous account of a bygone legal era. …Underwood is a
masterful researcher.” Kirkus Reviews
“A worthy addition to the history of crime and punishment.” —BRUCE GREEN,
Professor, Fordham Law School
A FASCINATING HISTORY OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT,
Gaslight Lawyers paints a serious but entertaining portrait of colorful
characters, courtroom drama, and the emerging importance of forensic science
and medical-legal jurisprudence in Gilded Age New York City.
From the 1870s to the early 1900s, post-Civil War New York City was becoming
a wonder city of commerce and invention, art and architecture, and emerging
global prominence. It was also a city of crime, corruption, poverty, slums, and
tenements teeming with newcomers and standing in sharp contrast to the city
mansions and the extravagant lifestyle of the rising American aristocracy. The
New York City of those days is not just the venue of the intriguing true stories
told in this book—it is also a supporting actor in them. The city and its innocent
inhabitants needed to be protected. Order had to be maintained. Then, as now,
malefactors had to be brought to justice. But not every victim was quite so
innocent, and not every defendant was as guilty as he (or she) looked.
The Gaslight Era has been called the Second Golden Age of the New York Bar.
Gaslight Lawyers sheds new light on a gallery of notables of the day, including
the exploits of famous William “Big Bill” Howe and his archrival, prosecutor
Francis Wellman (author of The Art of Cross-Examination), along with trial tactics
and ethics of the day—skullduggery on both sides. It tells of the passing of the
old guard, exemplified by Howe, and the rise of a new generation of criminal
defense lawyers and the aggressive and sometimes ruthless prosecutors William
Travers Jerome, William Rand, and James W. Osborne. The book also chronicles
judges and politicians, police bungling and corruption, and famous physicians
and “alienists,” like Dr. Allan McLane Hamilton, the grandson of Alexander
Hamilton. Other characters illuminate the social conditions in nineteenth- and
early twentieth-century New York City.
Drawing from the experience of a legal scholar and from a wealth of meticulous
research gleaned from trial transcripts, other court records, contemporary
newspaper stories, and memoirs, Richard H. Underwood also reconstructs and
recounts the absorbing legal drama of a number of spectacular criminal cases.
Gaslight Lawyers is a compelling, witty, and insightful account of an important
era in American legal history, individual human experiences and tragedies, and
society at large. It reminds us to acknowledge and deal with biases that continue
to manifest themselves in our criminal justice systems today and to be mindful
that we “are the guardians of the law.”