Sex, Murder, and the Unwritten Law

Sex, Murder, and the Unwritten Law

Courting Judicial Mayhem, Texas Style

Bill Neal

  • 9/15/2016
  • 9780896729810
  • 978-0-896-72981-0
  • Paperback
  • 6 X 9
  • 1 lbs.0 oz.
$ 18.95


Wild West doesn't begin to describe the antics Bill Neal recounts in this well-researched volume. From the late 19th century and well into the 20th, it was not unusual in certain Texas murder cases to have a killer--whose guilt had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt--found not guilty. The reason behind this stunning phenomenon was the South's adherence to the lex non scripta, the code of honor that obliged a man to act against those who defiled his womenfolk or uttered public threats against him. The six cases described in this book are telling examples of juries setting aside statutory law in favor of their own brand of folk justice. Aside from providing a carefully documented summary of the cases, the author paints a detailed and colorful picture of Texas society in the oil boom years. His thought provoking analyses are an added bonus. This is not a novel but certainly reads like one. A definite thumbs up! --Historical Novel Society

From the 1880s until after World War I, Texas prosecutions for adultery, fornication, rape, seduction, and sodomy were many, but formal penal codes seemed much too merciful to suit most southerners, who believed in direct and personal redress of such wrongs. Unwritten law seemed to justify the killing--or at least maiming--of almost anyone who by actual physical contact or inappropriate comment offended southern notions of female virtue, male honor, or the sanctity of marriage. Illicit sex is the catalyst in all the Texas murder trials recounted in Sex, Murder, and the Unwritten Law. Bill Neal explores the imaginative machinations of defense lawyers who extricated obviously guilty clients when there appeared no legal basis upon which to peg a defense. The courtroom triumphs and underlying strategies detailed in this book are remarkable and entertaining for lawyers, historians, and laypersons alike.

As a practicing criminal lawyer, Bill Neal spent more than four decades frequenting county courthouses in West Texas and hearing tales of sensational crimes and celebrated trials of bygone years. A two-time winner of the Rupert N. Richardson Award, Neal has garnered honors from the National Association for Outlaw and Lawmen History, the West Texas Historical Association, the Writers' League of Texas, and the Western Writers of America. He and his wife, Gayla, live in Abilene, Texas.

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