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  • Why is throat-cutting out of fashion?

    I was just watching on the YouTube “Brief Case” channel an account of the tragic Tennessee murder in 1892 of Freda Ward, just seventeen years old, by her one-time lesbian lover Alice Mitchell, who herself was only nineteen when she cut Freda’s throat in the street with her father’s razor. It was an infamous case at the time for obvious reasons.

    It caught the attention of people back then because it was different, involving as it did two women in a same-sex relationship. This naturally raised a great many eyebrows in those days. However, what caught my attention was not that it was “different,” but quite the opposite: that it was the same as a number of murders back then.

    Specifically, in Britain at least I recall looking through accounts of murders for which the perpetrators were hanged around the turn of the 20th century, and more than once the same type of murder seemed to crop up. A man was jilted by a woman (or possibly by a wife) and he cut her throat, sometimes in the street. The only thing different about Freda’s murder was that her obsessively jealous lover happened to be female.

    I don’t know whether “cut-throat” murders of this kind were equally common in the United States back then. Anyway it does raise the matter of cultural differences in murder methods, which are a matter of place as well as of time. There do seem to be “fashions” in murder. For instance, we all know that guns have been more popular in the U.S. than in Britain, and gun murders have never been very common in Britain even in the days when there was no gun “control,” That’s a matter of “place.” As to matters of “time” and “fashion,” we don’t need reminding about the psycho nutjobs who have been increasingly responsible for mass shootings recently, a trend starting less than forty years ago and gathering speed since. (I exclude Charles Whitman in 1966, Howard Unruh in 1949 and so forth.) It’s a “fashion” we sure don’t need, and besides the loss of life, these wretched psychos are a threat to all of our rights to own and use guns responsibly.

    However, the point I really want to make is about “trends” in murder. I’m only using gun murders as an example because there never used to be so many crazy mass shootings even when guns were more widespread and freely available. I recall for instance the shotgun rampage of Derrick Bird back in 2010--which interested me not least because I’ve driven that lovely road through Cumbria myself a couple of times, once with my wife, with one of the steepest hills in England on it--though Bird didn’t get that far before he stopped. Now any maniac with a shotgun could have done the same thing Bird did at any time in the last century or more. They just didn’t, that’s all. This deplorable “fashion” in mass murder seems to be a modern trend--with a certain amount of copycatting going on, and some nutjobs even seeking to outdo one another in body count.

    Moving elsewhere, a friend of mine with a sister living in Trinidad told me that cutlasses were a popular weapon there! That takes us back to the age of “Pirates of the Caribbean”! Cultural differences again--whether or “place” or “time” is another question--but undoubtedly a cutlass is a deadly weapon.

    However, going back to where I started, while “cut-throat” murders seemed to be commonplace a century and more ago, I just don’t seem to hear of any today. It’s as if throat-cutting went clean out of fashion. Are the days of Jack the Ripper really done? Not, I’m afraid, with those horrendous mutilations. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more of those inflicted by future sickos. But as for throat-cutting as a method of murder, it seems to me to hve disappeared compared with a century and more ago.

    It seems strange in a way, because throat-cutting has been such a standard method of murder down the ages, recalled in memories of brigands described as “cut-throats” and enshrined in phrases like “cut-throat competition.” But who cuts throats today? We hear of strangling, battering, shooting and stabbing, but seldom of cut throats.

    A seemingly obvious reason might be the absence of the weapon to do the job with. Alice Mitchell borrowed her father’s razor to put a sad end to her girlfriend’s life, and I dare say what was called a “cut-throat razor” was an indispensable instrument in every male household a century and more ago. You can’t stab anyone with such a tool. You can only slice with it. Today by contrast, I don’t have such a thing in my house. It’s hard to kill anyone with a safety razor, no matter how many “Five-Trac” blades it has. As for an electric shaver, the worst we can do is beat someone over the head with it, which won’t do much more than leave them with a bad headache.

    However, no-one needs a razor to cut anyone’s throat, when there are plenty of nasty sharp kitchen knives around to the job. So I’m reluctant to attribute the decline in cut-throat murders to changing trends in shaving equipment. My guess is something different. If we want a nice piece of steak or a pork pie today, most of us get it from the grocery store. We don’t do what many of our ancestors did back when a majority of us were occupied in agrarian activities: that is, slaughtering hogs and other animals in the farmyard. Most people no longer have the training in throat-cutting activities, any more than most of us know how to hitch a horse to a buggy. As a culture, we’ve “forgotten how to kill,” so to speak--by traditional methods at any rate.

    If anyone has a better idea, I’ll be interested to hear it.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Gordon View Post
    I was just watching on the YouTube “Brief Case” channel an account of the tragic Tennessee murder in 1892 of Freda Ward, just seventeen years old, by her one-time lesbian lover Alice Mitchell, who herself was only nineteen when she cut Freda’s throat in the street with her father’s razor. It was an infamous case at the time for obvious reasons.

    It caught the attention of people back then because it was different, involving as it did two women in a same-sex relationship. This naturally raised a great many eyebrows in those days. However, what caught my attention was not that it was “different,” but quite the opposite: that it was the same as a number of murders back then.

    Specifically, in Britain at least I recall looking through accounts of murders for which the perpetrators were hanged around the turn of the 20th century, and more than once the same type of murder seemed to crop up. A man was jilted by a woman (or possibly by a wife) and he cut her throat, sometimes in the street. The only thing different about Freda’s murder was that her obsessively jealous lover happened to be female.

    I don’t know whether “cut-throat” murders of this kind were equally common in the United States back then. Anyway it does raise the matter of cultural differences in murder methods, which are a matter of place as well as of time. There do seem to be “fashions” in murder. For instance, we all know that guns have been more popular in the U.S. than in Britain, and gun murders have never been very common in Britain even in the days when there was no gun “control,” That’s a matter of “place.” As to matters of “time” and “fashion,” we don’t need reminding about the psycho nutjobs who have been increasingly responsible for mass shootings recently, a trend starting less than forty years ago and gathering speed since. (I exclude Charles Whitman in 1966, Howard Unruh in 1949 and so forth.) It’s a “fashion” we sure don’t need, and besides the loss of life, these wretched psychos are a threat to all of our rights to own and use guns responsibly.

    However, the point I really want to make is about “trends” in murder. I’m only using gun murders as an example because there never used to be so many crazy mass shootings even when guns were more widespread and freely available. I recall for instance the shotgun rampage of Derrick Bird back in 2010--which interested me not least because I’ve driven that lovely road through Cumbria myself a couple of times, once with my wife, with one of the steepest hills in England on it--though Bird didn’t get that far before he stopped. Now any maniac with a shotgun could have done the same thing Bird did at any time in the last century or more. They just didn’t, that’s all. This deplorable “fashion” in mass murder seems to be a modern trend--with a certain amount of copycatting going on, and some nutjobs even seeking to outdo one another in body count.

    Moving elsewhere, a friend of mine with a sister living in Trinidad told me that cutlasses were a popular weapon there! That takes us back to the age of “Pirates of the Caribbean”! Cultural differences again--whether or “place” or “time” is another question--but undoubtedly a cutlass is a deadly weapon.

    However, going back to where I started, while “cut-throat” murders seemed to be commonplace a century and more ago, I just don’t seem to hear of any today. It’s as if throat-cutting went clean out of fashion. Are the days of Jack the Ripper really done? Not, I’m afraid, with those horrendous mutilations. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more of those inflicted by future sickos. But as for throat-cutting as a method of murder, it seems to me to hve disappeared compared with a century and more ago.

    It seems strange in a way, because throat-cutting has been such a standard method of murder down the ages, recalled in memories of brigands described as “cut-throats” and enshrined in phrases like “cut-throat competition.” But who cuts throats today? We hear of strangling, battering, shooting and stabbing, but seldom of cut throats.

    A seemingly obvious reason might be the absence of the weapon to do the job with. Alice Mitchell borrowed her father’s razor to put a sad end to her girlfriend’s life, and I dare say what was called a “cut-throat razor” was an indispensable instrument in every male household a century and more ago. You can’t stab anyone with such a tool. You can only slice with it. Today by contrast, I don’t have such a thing in my house. It’s hard to kill anyone with a safety razor, no matter how many “Five-Trac” blades it has. As for an electric shaver, the worst we can do is beat someone over the head with it, which won’t do much more than leave them with a bad headache.

    However, no-one needs a razor to cut anyone’s throat, when there are plenty of nasty sharp kitchen knives around to the job. So I’m reluctant to attribute the decline in cut-throat murders to changing trends in shaving equipment. My guess is something different. If we want a nice piece of steak or a pork pie today, most of us get it from the grocery store. We don’t do what many of our ancestors did back when a majority of us were occupied in agrarian activities: that is, slaughtering hogs and other animals in the farmyard. Most people no longer have the training in throat-cutting activities, any more than most of us know how to hitch a horse to a buggy. As a culture, we’ve “forgotten how to kill,” so to speak--by traditional methods at any rate.

    If anyone has a better idea, I’ll be interested to hear it.
    One of the main accepted methods of killing in Victorian times was by throat cutting. In todays world we see more people dying through stab wound related incidents than by thoat cutting. So the cutting of the throats by Jack the Ripper does not automatically make that a common factor in the killers MO.

    The Whitechapel killer in my opinion knew how to kill using this method and silently and swiftly.

    www.trevormarriott.co.uk

    Comment


    • #3
      Hi Gordon,

      It's worth looking at the nature of the crime. The majority of capital sentences in Britain up to WW2 were crimes of passion, or as the French call them 'Le crimes of passion'. In some cases, an attempt would be made to conceal the crime but often, the killer would just turn themselves in or be very rapidly apprehended. Blood spray being of minor importance, unless a killer has every intention of escaping. In the LVP, particularly Whitechapel, blood staining was a common sight, so again, having blood on your clothes might not shout "murderer".

      So did the prevalence of throat cutting, outside of domestics start to drop as society changed and blood stained butchers became less visible? For the majority of the 20th century, a killer would take care to conceal blood, so premeditated murderers might avoid throat cutting for that reason.

      And obviously nowadays, DNA is vital so I'd imagine a would be killer taking that into consideration.

      It would be interesting to see how many capital crimes of throat cutting were committed by someone unknown to the victim? I think that would give a better view of 'trends'. Or did throat cutting cases drop as the risks of capture increased?

      Hmm.
      Thems the Vagaries.....

      Comment


      • #4
        In a similar vein, axe and hatchet murders used to be a dime a dozen. Every home held one or the other - an axe if you cooked and heated with wood, and a hatchet if you used coal. The Late Victorian also saw a lot of poisonings, and in particular arsenic. That's linked, I'm sure, to the popularity of the product "Rough on Rats".
        - Ginger

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi Ginger,

          You don't need "Rough on Rats" when you have a cat like our Monty. He presented us with a huge, intact dead one this morning, then proceeded to tuck into his usual breakfast before going up to bed for the rest of the morning.

          Love,

          Caz
          X
          "Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious." Peter Ustinov


          Comment


          • #6
            The decline in throat cutting almost certainly has to do with the modern ready availability of better, less personally messy methods. Guns. The cost of a knife was certainly a driver, and it seems clear that knives were used to stab as much as slice in those days....see Martha Tabram. But they were cheap, easy to hide and use. I think Throat cutting likely had its beginings from the butchering of animals in early civilizations. And it was used because it failitated the draining of most the blood.
            Michael Richards

            Comment

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