Of Things Evil,
borrow the bombastic phrasing of the time, I was "numbed by the horror
of this fearful story." Nothing I can recall reading has affected
me as deeply as the newspaper accounts of Whites murder and the
ensuing trials. Most disturbing, as I sank ever deeper into the case,
the energizing image of Whiteseen perhaps too nobly by me in retrospectgradually
faded, to be replaced by a welling of outrage over a new monstrosity,
every bit as brutal as Whites murder, but more systematic. What
lay ahead for Ivory and Stirling revealed a rank indifference to the very
concept of justice.
there is the quality and reliability of the local reporting (probably
about average during the reign of yellow journalism). To put it simply:
Its quite possible that nothing I have written so far is true
because no single, unequivocal "fact" can be uncovered
in this story beyond Whites death. The most complete initial coverage
of the murder appeared in the Philadelphia North American, without
byline, as was the universal custom. Though replete with hyperbole, it
was basically a careful report taken from first-hand interviews and
descriptions. Soon, however, the other dailies had shuffled both the facts
and the chronology into a porridge of misinformation and speculation.
In the various accounts over time, elements
merge, separate and reform like images in a kaleidoscope. The anonymous
"reporters" traded phrases and whole paragraphs like baseball
cards. I suspect that freelancers sold hastily written accounts to several
papers which, in order to appear independent, stirred the original version
into an alphabet soup of internal contradictions. Even the few apparently
careful accounts are marred by purple prose and racist diatribe.
questions cried out for answers, but few reporters even thought to ask:
Why were the police so consistent in claiming that Ward Knight had nothing
to do with the killing, though his initial statements seem as contradictory
as those of Ivory? Why did early reports (Telegraph, May 21) state
that Knight and Ivory lived a few blocks apart in Wilmington, and were
well-known troublemakers there, while later accounts, without explanation,
called Knight a respected servant from Marietta, Pa.? How was it that
Hartman, who said he had spoken only to Ivory and that the other man had
stayed in the shadows, could later identify Stirling without hesitation?
How was it that several witnesses could identify Stirling, a knock-kneed,
bandy-legged man, by his "distinctive, shambling gait" when
initial reports made no mention of anything peculiar about the second
mans walk? What caused John Exley, a rower who had himself been
held up months earlier and who had tentatively identified the photos of
Ivory and Knight as his assailants, to switch later to Ivory and Stirling?
clouding the reporting was an unquestioning reliance on police handouts
and statements by Superintendent Quirk, a minor master of propaganda.
The initial burst of police efficiency apparently sprang from a desire
to offset the low esteem in which the department was held at the time.
An editorial in the Press noted that the murder "coming, as
it does, when the public has lost all confidence in the Director of Public
Safety, throws a peculiar light on the demoralization of the police force,
inevitable under the conditions that have prevailed for the past twelve
The Police Department is on trial, and it should recognize
comments, however, were few. Police-beat reporters most likely feared
losing insider access with negative stories, and Quirk made every effort
to control the flow of information from the top. As an example, in the
several accounts of Stirlings capture, whole paragraphs are repeated
from one report to another. Yet each reporter attempts to give the impression
that he was direct witness to a remarkableand frankly unbelievablescene
in which both Hartman and Leary spontaneously shout "There he is!"
and place their hands together on Stirlings shoulder. The scene
smacks of having originated in a police handout that served as raw material
for embellishments. Worse yet is Quirks "wanted" telegraph,
supposedly sent to Trenton before the Philadelphia contingent arrived,
which describes the as-yet-unseen Stirling so perfectly as to seem clairvoyantand
which includes a nickname or alias for Stirling, "Burrell,"
that was not known until after his capture. Yet the rail detective who
had picked up Stirling had said that he ignored Stirling as a suspect
initially because the descriptions sent by Philadelphia police did not
police campaign of misinformation reached its height during the later
trials, when Quirk assumedall too rightlythat both the public
and the newspapers would have forgotten salient evidence.
to the Inquirer, following Stirlings return to Philadelphia
(where a crowd of some 300 waiting passengers cheered his unannounced
arrival, in shackles between two detectives, at Broad Street Station),
Ivory fingered Stirling as the killer in a dramatic hallway encounter:
"The keen sense of the colored race was forcibly in evidence. Stirling,
shifty, rambling in his step, rolling his eyes from Quirk to Miller and
then to Ivory, fixed his gaze upon the latter. It was the look of defiance;
of composure; of stolid indifference." The following day, the Record
took a more sympathetic tone: "Amos Stirling
has been subjected
to the moral torture of the sweat box once every two hours
since he was brought to this city from Trenton
It is doubtful if
any alleged murderer in this State has ever been put through such an ordeal."
repeated visits to the sweat box, however, Stirling steadfastly denied
his guilt, ultimately outlasting his inquisitors.
department claimed to have more than enough evidence to wrap up the case:
Ivorys confession, three positive identifications of Stirling (by
Ivory, Hartman and Leary) and the bloody clothes. Suddenly, however, a
complication appeared, and with it a new inclination on the part of the
press to question the infallibility of Quirk, Miller and their methods:
A man named Charles Smith attempted to pawn Roy Whites missing watchfor
which the police had circulated identifying numbersat a shop in
West Philadelphia. Collared by police, Smith claimed he had been given
the watch by his roommate, Charles Perry.
the papers reported that Perry gave conflicting accounts of how he acquired
the watch, without explaining what these accounts might be. A day later
they more or less agreed that he claimed to have bought it a few blocks
from the murder scene from a man who might have been Ivory, shadowed by
a second figure whom he could not identify. The press shouted that this
development threw a monkey wrench into the clean Ivory-Stirling scenario.
The Evening Bulletin even mused, "Was Ivorys alleged
confession made under promise of immunity?"
its difficult to see how Perry, simply by possessing the watch,
materially clouded the picture, the police-departments reaction
to media pressure pushed the case in a new direction. After stating that
Perry was an innocent party who had bought, bartered or otherwise received
the watch from Ivory, Quirk switched tactics and placed him in the notorious
sweat box. It claimed another victory when Perry confessed that he too
was a party to Whites murder, a second bystander while Stirling
did the dirty work.
confession was secured without the man knowing anything of Ivorys
admission," the Philadelphia Times declared. "The stories
of the two negroes were then compared, and they agreed in every particular."
This is a remarkable claim: Ivorys original confession pointed to
no one beyond himself and the killer, as Quirk emphasized at the time.
to Quirk, the fragmented case had once again been glued together. But
by now the press, particularly in the person of a stylistically recognizable
reporter for the Telegraph, openly questioned the convenience of
the departments hastily assembled scenario. No one to datenot
Ivory, not the police, not Hartman, not Learyhad mentioned a third
the formal early-June inquest into Whites murder, Stirling cleaved
to his story that he had been in Harrisburg on the day of the killing,
refusing to back down under heavy cross examination. Said the North
American, "The mans manner, his simple protest of innocence
and boldness in turning squarely toward his accusers and charging them
with falsehood, made a deep impression upon the spectators who crowded
the Court room, and even upon the police who have believed him guilty
of the actual murder."
murder involved a clash of four conflicting cultures with vastly different
needs and perceptions: (1) the white lower-middle class (the main target
audience for newspapers), which the press assumed could be made to identify
with Roy White only by turning his murder into a raw racial drama; (2)
the black lower class, whose lives remained a fearful mystery to the middle
class; (3) the police, with much to prove and little to lose from a quick
conviction of three men without advocates or public sympathy; and (4)
the press, presenting strident black-and-white simplifications, unhindered
as yet by a code of ethics or responsibility.
cultures met most dramatically during the trials of Ivory, Perry and Stirling.
At Ivorys October 1900 trial, members of the public used every variety
of subterfuge to gain entrance to the courtroom in a preview of later
widely publicized cases. The papers also noted that Ivory was being represented
for the first time by an attorney. Throughout his interrogation and incarceration,
no one had taken his part. The same was true of Perry and Stirling.
the stand, waitresses Agnes McNeil and Elizabeth Boyle stated that Ivory,
Stirling and Perry had eaten lunch at a restaurant on Market Street near
31st on the day of the murderthe only persons, at any point in the
investigation, to claim to have seen the three together. Police Superintendent
Quirk told how Ivory, sitting in his cell, was taken with a sudden urge
to confess. The same bland account appears in virtually every report of
the trial: "Superintendent Quirk said that when Ivory showed an inclination
to make a statement he advised the prisoner that it was his privilege
to keep silent and that whatever he would say might be used against him."
None of the papers carrying this rendition mention at this point the sweat-box
procedure which they had so righteously applauded in their earlier reports
of Ivorys confession. Ivorys supposed original confession,
as read in court, bears almost no resemblance to initial reports of its
October 23, despite his claims of limited complicity and a half-hearted
defense by an attorney who had not had time to assemble even the basic
facts of the case, Ivory was convicted of first-degree murder. The entire
trialjury selection, presentation of witnesses, cross examination,
closing arguments, deliberation and verdicttook less than two days.
trial began three days later. As with Ivory, a "pool" reporter
seems to have provided the main courtroom account, since several papers
stories contained virtually identical wording. Perrys attorney,
David Amramalso a part-time lecturer at the Law School, though there
is no indication that his status there had any bearing on his accepting
the caseattempted a vigorous defense, but, like Ivorys attorney,
he appeared unfamiliar with the early history of the case and its myriad
contradictions. On the second day of the trial, Amram attempted to challenge
the sweat-box system, but the judge admonished him: "What more could
have been done than these [detectives] have done in obtaining the evidence
in this case? Could there have been more prudent, discreet and careful
conduct shown than these men have exhibited?"
there could. Furthermore, the official account of Perrys confession
given at the trial was an out-and-out lie. Detectives stated that he confessed
spontaneously, never mentioning his earlier claims that he had bought
the watch from Ivory.
closing argument had little substance but trod perhaps the only rhetorical
road left to him: "No matter how repulsive the exterior, no matter
how dark the skin, Almighty God has implanted a soul in that black frame,
and you should be morally and absolutely convinced of your right to kill
him before you consign him to the gallows."
three hours of deliberation, the jury found Perry guilty of first-degree
November 17, Ivory and Perry were condemned to hang.