Monday, May 9, 2016

Gross, "Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso"

New from Oxford University Press: Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America, by Kali Nicole Gross (University of Texas at Austin). A description from the Press:
Shortly after a dismembered torso was discovered by a pond outside Philadelphia in 1887, investigators honed in on two black suspects: Mary Tabbs, a married, working class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former co-worker who Tabbs implicated after her arrest. Eventually police identified the victim as Wakefield Gaines, a biracial man who was Tabbs's paramour. The crime and ensuing trial--which spanned several months--featured in the national press. It 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 race in the post-Reconstruction era.

Drawing on detectives' notes, trial and prison records, local newspapers, and archival documents historian Kali Nicole Gross reconstructs this ghastly case and analyzes it against broader evidence of police treatment of black suspects and domestic violence within the black community. Gross highlights how one woman was implicated in and beat the criminal justice system in this adulterous love-triangle gone wrong.
A few blurbs:
"Kali Gross has written a riveting narrative of the crimes of an ordinary but notorious woman in late nineteenth-century urban America. She does not flinch from the harsh truths her subject forces her to face. She sketches a portrait with the complexity and sensitivity it deserves. The book bristles with lessons for understanding vulnerable communities and their engagement with the criminal justice system today." --Tera Hunter

"This is a disturbing book, not only because the story swirls around a most gruesome murder, or because Hannah Mary Tabbs executed her crime with cold-blooded resolve and cinematic flair, or because its spellbinding narrative will leave you breathless at times. Rather, this is a disturbing book because Kali N. Gross disturbs all of our inherited categories, proving once again that woman, man, black, white, agency, evidence, truth, even justice, are too small for the historical subjects whose lives we wish to know. This is why Kali N. Gross is one of the most original and imaginative historians of her generation." --Robin D. G. Kelley
More information is available here.