True Crime in Old Stereographs

written for the stereosite by Martin Schub, USA

At a recent meet­ing of the VSC, some­one asked if there are stereo views of true crime. I’m not a big true crime fan or a stereo schol­ar, but this seemed like a fun pan­dem­ic online research project. What is meant by true crime? It’s a non­fic­tion genre hav­ing to do with actu­al crimes, usu­al­ly mur­der. It’s pop­u­lar now, but it was pop­u­lar in the 19th cen­tu­ry too‒just think of the pen­ny press and the Nation­al Police Gazette. As the joke says, “Crime may not pay, but it sells!”. I was curi­ous to see if it made its way into stereo cards, too.

Almost all the mate­r­i­al I found was for Amer­i­cans. The images you’ll see come only from online sources, most­ly the Library of Con­gress and the New York Pub­lic Library. I had nev­er heard of any of these mur­der­ers, but amaz­ing­ly, two of them have their own Wikipedia arti­cles and I was eas­i­ly able to find some mate­r­i­al on the rest also. Con­verse­ly, I was unable to find mate­r­i­al con­nect­ed to some mur­der­ers who are still house­hold names in the U.S., like Lizzie Bor­den or Alferd G. Packer.

In what fol­lows, I’ve tried to pro­vide a thumb­nail sketch of each crime. Accounts from the time often vary, so I’ve tried to present a com­pos­ite set of the facts which I think are the most likely.

Please note: Most of these stere­os are G‑rated, but there are a few which may be dis­turb­ing to some peo­ple. Specif­i­cal­ly, there are two hang­ings (both shown before the trap­door opened) and one dead body. Also some of the descrip­tions of the crimes may be dis­turb­ing. These are images of mur­der and cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, and they’re not pretty.


The Mar­tyred Pres­i­dents-Lin­coln, Garfield and McKin­ley; R.Y. Young (Amer­i­can, active New York, New York and Cuba 1890s — 1900s); 1902; Gelatin sil­ver print; 84.XC.702.264; No Copy­right — Unit­ed States (

The first thing that comes to mind for true crime in stereo was Ead­weard Muy­bridge, but more about him lat­er. The sec­ond thing was the assas­si­na­tions of three US pres­i­dents: Abra­ham Lin­coln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, and William McKin­ley in 1901. This stereo memo­ri­al­izes all 3, in true maudlin turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry style, but with great stereo­scop­ic depth!

Lincoln Assassination

“John Wilkes Booth”. Charles Fred­er­icks & Co., pho­tog­ra­ph­er, 1862. John J. Richter Collection.

This is the only stereo I could find of John Wilkes Booth, who shot Lin­coln. It’s an acci­den­tal stereo, assem­bled by John J. Richter from two carte-de-vis­ite images where Booth moved a lit­tle between expo­sures. As a result, the depth is a bit exaggerated.

“Sgt. Boston Cor­bett, USA”. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er unknown, c. 1865. Source: Civ­il war pho­tographs, 1861–1865, Library of Con­gress, Prints and Pho­tographs Division.

On April 26, 1865, Boston Corbett’s reg­i­ment had sur­round­ed Booth and one of his accom­plices in a tobac­co shed in Vir­ginia. They were under orders to take Booth alive, but some­body shot him any­way. There are doubts about whether it was Cor­bett, but he took the cred­it (or blame). He was to have been court-mar­shalled, but the Sec­re­tary of War intervened.

“Exe­cu­tion of the Con­spir­a­tors. The Arrival on the Scaf­fold. July 7, 1865”. Alexan­der Gard­ner, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, 1865. Library of Con­gress, Prints and Pho­tographs Division.

The assas­si­na­tion of Lin­coln was part of a broad­er con­spir­a­cy. Booth isn’t in this pho­to, hav­ing already been killed. The hanged were: David Herold, who helped Booth escape, Lewis Pow­ell, who tried to kill Sec­re­tary of War Seward, George Azterodt, who was sup­posed to kill Vice Pres­i­dent Andrew John­son but lost his nerve, and Mary Sur­ratt, who owned the board­ing house where the con­spir­a­tors met, and who was the first woman to be exe­cut­ed by the U.S. government.

Garfield Assassination

“Jail where Gui­teau was hung, Wash­ing­ton, D.C.”. Union View Com­pa­ny, 1882. From The New York Pub­lic Library Dig­i­tal Collections.

This is the old DC jail where Charles Gui­teau, who shot Pres­i­dent James Garfield, was held and even­tu­al­ly hanged. While he was held here, two attempts were made to shoot Gui­teau, includ­ing one by one of his guards. Peo­ple took up a col­lec­tion for the guard‒that’s how pop­u­lar Gui­teau was.

It took Garfield almost 3 months to die after being shot, so in court Gui­teau claimed, “The doc­tors killed Garfield ‒ I just shot him!”. He’s usu­al­ly described as a “dis­ap­point­ed office seek­er”, but I don’t think that ful­ly cap­tures his weird­ness. He lit­er­al­ly danced to the gal­lows, and then recit­ed a poem he had writ­ten, titled, I am going to the Lordy. Both he and Booth are char­ac­ters in the musi­cal Assas­sins by Stephen Sond­heim and John Wei­d­man, parts of which are avail­able on YouTube.

Plain Old Murders

Gaius Jenkins, Lawrence, Kansas Territory, 1858

“House & Well Where Jim Lane Shot Capt. Jenk­ins, Lawrence, Kansas, 323 Miles West of St. Louis, Mis­souri”. Alexan­der Gard­ner, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, 1867. Library of Con­gress, Prints and Pho­tographs Division.Gaius Jenk­ins, Kansas Ter­ri­to­ry, 1858

There was a plen­ty of shoot­ing in Kansas Ter­ri­to­ry in 1858 (the pho­to was tak­en some years lat­er), over whether the state-to-be would have legal slav­ery. In this case, though, both men were Free Staters. What they couldn’t agree on was the own­er­ship of a cer­tain piece of land in Lawrence, includ­ing the well you see here (the well­house is at the far left).

On June 3, 1858, Gaius Jenk­ins, car­ry­ing a revolver, came to get water from the well which both he and Jim Lane claimed. Lane met him with a shot­gun. A man with Jenk­ins shot Lane in the leg, and Lane shot and killed Jenk­ins. Lane was acquit­ted at tri­al and went on to become one of the two first U.S. Sen­a­tors from Kansas, and over­lap­ping his Sen­ate ser­vice, a Union Civ­il War gen­er­al, trad­ing atroc­i­ties with the Con­fed­er­ates on the Kanas/Missouri bor­der. In 1866 he became depressed and com­mit­ted suicide.

Thomas Brown and Wife, Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, 1868

“Pike, the Hamp­ton Falls Mur­der­er”. H.A. Kim­ball, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, 1869. Nathan Moore Col­lec­tion,

Josi­ah L. Pike mur­dered Thomas Brown and his wife, a cou­ple in their 70’s, at Hamp­ton Falls, New Hamp­shire, on May 8, 1868, with an axe. He stole $500 and an over­coat. He doesn’t look at all sor­ry in this pho­to. I haven’t found Mrs. Brown’s name men­tioned any­where, so far. A local church group seems to have been deter­mined to save Pike’s soul by show­er­ing him with love, and they held his hand, brought him flow­ers, and had a choir sing to him. Mark Twain, dis­gust­ed by this, wrote a short but very snarky essay called Lion­iz­ing Mur­der­ers.

Jonathan Lunger and Marie Lunger, Ulysses, New York, 1870

“View of Ruins Where Lunger and Wife Were Mur­dered”. E.C. Thomp­son, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, c. 1870. From The New York Pub­lic Library.

You are look­ing at the remains of a cab­in near Ulysses, New York, which was burned to the ground on March 20, 1870. Two bod­ies, almost com­plete­ly reduced to ash­es, were found inside.

Jonathan Lunger and his daugh­ter had been awak­ened by a sharp noise. Lunger found his arm cov­ered in his wife Marie’s blood, and stand­ing over her, hold­ing an axe, was Mike Fer­gu­son, a man who hung around near his cab­in and whom he some­times hired. After a short con­ver­sa­tion, Fer­gu­son stove in Lunger’s skull with the axe. Fer­gu­son took Lunger’s watch and rifle and their lit­tle mon­ey and burned the cab­in to the ground. He forced 14-year-old Anna to come with him.

Fer­gu­son was caught and Anna was freed and tes­ti­fied at the tri­al. Fer­gu­son was hanged at Itha­ca in 1871. His motive for the crime was nev­er clear.

Georgiana Lovering, Northwood, New Hampshire, 1872

“Evans, the North­wood Mur­der­er, on Dis­sect­ing Table of the Med­ical Col­lege”. H.O. Bly, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, 1874. From the New York Pub­lic Library.

Franklin B. Evans had set some snares for the birds in the woods out­side North­wood, New Hamp­shire. On Sep­tem­ber 25 of 1872, he asked his 14-year-old niece, Geor­giana Lover­ing, to check his snares, claim­ing that he had to work. He hid, then fol­lowed her into the for­est, then raped her, stran­gled her, and exten­sive­ly muti­lat­ed her body with a knife.

Evans came up with a cou­ple of sto­ries about a mys­te­ri­ous stranger who had run off with the girl, but Sher­iff Hen­ry Drew spent a day with Evans dri­ving from town to town to check the sto­ry as it changed. Final­ly, after they had returned to the sheriff’s house, Sher­iff Drew locked eyes with Evans and asked him if Georgie were alive or dead. After some sec­onds, Evans broke and admit­ted that she was dead. At mid­night, he led the sher­iff through a swamp to the body. On view­ing the body, the sher­iff demand­ed to know where cer­tain body parts had gone to, and Evans led him to a spot where he had buried them under a rock.

Before his exe­cu­tion on Feb­ru­ary 18, 1874, Evans con­fessed to anoth­er mur­der and muti­la­tion of a child which he had com­mit­ted in 1850. He was sus­pect­ed of com­mit­ting sev­er­al oth­ers, but denied his guilt in those. He request­ed that his body be sold to the Dart­mouth Col­lege med­ical school for dis­sec­tion, with the mon­ey to go to his son. And that is where we see him here.

Karen and Anethe Christensen, Smuttynose Island, Maine, 1873

“Louis Wag­n­er, the Isle of Shoals Mur­der­er, with Sher­iff A. J. Cru­ton, of Farm­ing­ton”. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er unknown, 1873. From the New York Pub­lic Library.

Louis H. F. Wag­n­er is the fel­low on the left. The posi­tion of his hands sug­gests that he’s try­ing to hide shack­les. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this “stereo” view is real­ly two copies of the same pho­to, so it has no depth.

On March 5, 1873, Nor­we­gian immi­grants Maren Hontvet and her sis­ter Karen and sis­ter-in-law Anethe Chris­tensen were asleep in a house on Smut­tynose Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coasts of New Hamp­shire and Maine. Wag­n­er had found out that Maren’s hus­band John was stay­ing on the main­land that night, and he thought that John had saved up $600 for a new fish­ing boat. He also knew the house well, hav­ing lived there at one time. Break­ing into the house, he blun­dered into Karen, who was sleep­ing in the kitchen. He beat her with a chair, but Maren man­aged to drag her into a bed­room and shut the door. Maren screamed to Anethe, in the next room, to run, and Anethe left by her win­dow, but Wag­n­er grabbed an axe and fol­lowed, and cut her down. When he came back into the house, Maren tried to get Karen to flee with her, but the bad­ly-beat­en Karen didn’t have the strength. Maren went out the win­dow and ran, hear­ing Karen’s last cries behind her. Wag­n­er searched the house and found $16, then made him­self a meal, before row­ing back to the mainland.

Wag­n­er escaped from prison but was caught 3 days after in New Hamp­shire. He was hanged at Thomas­ton, Maine in 1875, more than 2 years after the crime. The mur­ders were the sub­ject of A Mem­o­rable Mur­der, which appears in many true-crime antholo­gies. The recent nov­el and movie, The Weight of Water also involve these murders.

Thomas and Simeon Sturtevant, Halifax, Massachusetts, 1874

“House That Was Scene of Mur­der in Hal­i­fax”. J.H. Williams, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, 1874. From the New York Pub­lic Library.

William Sturte­vant was in debt and thought his grand-uncles had mon­ey. On Feb­ru­ary 15, 1874, he grabbed a long wood­en stake and head­ed to this, their house. Grand-Uncle Thomas was on his way to the barn to feed his cows when William blud­geoned him. He then went into the house and blud­geoned his bedrid­den Great Uncle Sime­on. He rifled the house for mon­ey, and on his way out the door he killed the house­keep­er, Mary Buckley.

The inter­est in his exe­cu­tion was so great that tick­ets had to be issued. Inter­est­ing­ly, His­toric New Eng­land says that the pho­tog­ra­ph­er worked for the coun­ty. It would be inter­est­ing to know the coun­ty asked for stereo pho­tos, or whether he took them to sell for his own business.

Russell and John Allison, Putnam County, Tennessee, 1875

Hang­ing of Joseph Bras­sel and George Andrew for Mur­ders of Rus­sel and John J. Alli­son of Put­nam Coun­ty. J. Fletch Wood­ward, pho­tog­a­rpher, 1878. From the New York Pub­lic Library.

Joseph and George Bras­sel were broth­ers who mur­dered Rus­sell Alli­son in Put­nam Coun­ty, Ten­nessee, on Novem­ber 29, 1875, in the course of an attempt­ed rob­bery. When a posse came to arrest them, they killed John Alli­son in the fight. He was Rus­sell Allison’s broth­er. While in jail, they tried to poi­son their guards with arsenic which had been smug­gled in to them. Then they broke their shack­le chains by twist­ing them back and forth for many hours. Lat­er they tried crawl­ing out under the floor­boards, but there wasn’t enough space. Near the end, they con­vert­ed to the Methodist church. They dic­tat­ed an account of their lives, which they thought they could sell. It includ­ed a list of their oth­er crimes, some quite vicious.

At their hang­ing, they were allowed to speak to the crowd, and warned them of the evils of alco­hol. A long bal­lad was writ­ten about their crimes and execution.


I know there are more true crime stere­os out there, based on list­ings in library and his­tor­i­cal-soci­ety cat­a­logs. As far as I can tell, though, they don’t form a par­tic­u­lar­ly com­mon stereo genre.

For more stereo true crime, see Richard C. Ryder’s arti­cle Mur­der, Mad­ness, Muy­bridge, and Gull in Stereo World; those issues are avail­able online (Part 1, Part 2). Ead­weard Muy­bridge was not only a pro­to-cin­e­ma pio­neer, but also a great stere­o­g­ra­ph­er, and a mur­der­er. Philip Glass wrote an opera about him, called The Pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Ryder also pro­pos­es a pos­si­ble con­nec­tion to Jack the Ripper.

Martin Schub (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

I’m a retired elec­tri­cal engi­neer and one-time physi­cist, I’ve been tak­ing stereo pho­tos since the late 1980’s and I’m a mem­ber of the Min­neso­ta Stereo Pho­tog­ra­phy Club. I used a Stereo Real­ist for many years, fol­lowed by a home­made fin­ger-sync dig­i­tal rig, fol­lowed by a home­made Stere­o­Da­ta Mak­er rig, and now I use a Fuji W1. I love stereo in all its forms. The feel­ing of look­ing through a win­dow into anoth­er time and/or place nev­er gets old.