Scoundrels in Law: The Trials of Howe & Hummel Lawyers to the Gangsters, Cops, Starlets and Rakes Who Made the Gilded Age by Cait Murphy
From 1869 to 1902, William Howe and Abraham Hummel were New York’s most famous lawyers displaying panache and a legal flair that made them favored advocates for villains of all kinds.”
Sneaky, creative, and lacking any sort of ethics, Howe and Hummel were men ahead of their time and yet, were creations of their time. The gilded age was a lawless time, crimes were being perpetrated that while not exactly legal, actual laws prohibiting such acts hadn’t been enacted yet. Even becoming a lawyer was a simple affair of hanging a shingle out and saying that you were a lawyer. There was no bar exam or association.
Howe and Hummel quickly rose to the top by demanding cash up front, playing up the press, and not turning down cases, no matter how seemingly un-defendable. They were opposed to bribes to jailers and judges or even to paying people to become witnesses or stand in as “wholesome” family members.
Whether murder, divorce, animal cruelty, or other skullduggery when you got in a jam in New York City, you didn’t call the Ghostbusters, you called Howe and Hummel. The pair even defended one of the members of the Midnight Band of Mercy, a group that reportedly disposed of 8,000 cats over a period of four years. (They would chlorophorm the cats because they felt that it was wrong to let them wander the streets hungry)
Cait Murphy has brought the Gilded Age to light, but missed the mark on shedding light on William Howe and Abraham Hummel as individuals. The anecdotal evidence is jaw dropping and hilarious, but we don’t ever get to learn what makes the men tick. This wasn’t really her fault, Howe and Hummel kept their lips sealed when it came to their own lives and there was little left to work with. These men were the first lawyers to make national headlines and somehow they managed to keep their private lives hidden in the dark.
Entertaining, shocking, and informative, Scoundrels in Law is ultimately readable just lacks the depth that I have come to expect from Murphy with her last book, Crazy ’08.
Scoundrels in Law by Cait Murphy
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Smithsonian; 1 edition (June 15, 2010)
- ISBN-10: 0061714283
- ISBN-13: 978-0061714283