hits counter Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America - Ebook PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America

Availability: Ready to download

Shortly after a dismembered torso was discovered by a pond outside Philadelphia in 1887, investigators homed in on two suspects: Hannah Mary Tabbs, a married, working class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former neighbor that Tabbs implicated after her arrest. As details surrounding the shocking case emerged, both the crime and ensuing trial -- which spanned several mont Shortly after a dismembered torso was discovered by a pond outside Philadelphia in 1887, investigators homed in on two suspects: Hannah Mary Tabbs, a married, working class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former neighbor that Tabbs implicated after her arrest. As details surrounding the shocking case emerged, both the crime and ensuing trial -- which spanned several months -- were featured in the national press. The trial brought otherwise taboo subjects such as illicit sex, adultery, and domestic violence in the black community to public attention. At the same time, the mixed race of the victim and one of his assailants exacerbated anxieties over the purity of whiteness in the post-Reconstruction era. In Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso, historian Kali Nicole Gross uses detectives' notes, trial and prison records, local newspapers, and other archival documents to reconstruct this ghastly who-done-it true crime in all its scandalous detail. In doing so, she gives the crime context by analyzing it against broader evidence of police treatment of black suspects and violence within the black community. A fascinating work of historical recreation, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso is sure to captivate anyone interested in true crime, adulterous love-triangles gone wrong, and the racially volatile world of post-Reconstruction Philadelphia.


Compare

Shortly after a dismembered torso was discovered by a pond outside Philadelphia in 1887, investigators homed in on two suspects: Hannah Mary Tabbs, a married, working class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former neighbor that Tabbs implicated after her arrest. As details surrounding the shocking case emerged, both the crime and ensuing trial -- which spanned several mont Shortly after a dismembered torso was discovered by a pond outside Philadelphia in 1887, investigators homed in on two suspects: Hannah Mary Tabbs, a married, working class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former neighbor that Tabbs implicated after her arrest. As details surrounding the shocking case emerged, both the crime and ensuing trial -- which spanned several months -- were featured in the national press. The trial brought otherwise taboo subjects such as illicit sex, adultery, and domestic violence in the black community to public attention. At the same time, the mixed race of the victim and one of his assailants exacerbated anxieties over the purity of whiteness in the post-Reconstruction era. In Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso, historian Kali Nicole Gross uses detectives' notes, trial and prison records, local newspapers, and other archival documents to reconstruct this ghastly who-done-it true crime in all its scandalous detail. In doing so, she gives the crime context by analyzing it against broader evidence of police treatment of black suspects and violence within the black community. A fascinating work of historical recreation, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso is sure to captivate anyone interested in true crime, adulterous love-triangles gone wrong, and the racially volatile world of post-Reconstruction Philadelphia.

30 review for Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Carly

    "We do not have many stories of individual women who lived for themselves and did not put the race or their children or families first. And we certainly do not have tales about African American women who were very good at being very bad. Enter Hannah Mary Tabbs." Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso uses a once-notorious but now-forgotten scandal as the framework for a deep exploration into racism, sexism, and police procedure of the time. The case of the disembodied torso itself is so ou "We do not have many stories of individual women who lived for themselves and did not put the race or their children or families first. And we certainly do not have tales about African American women who were very good at being very bad. Enter Hannah Mary Tabbs." Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso uses a once-notorious but now-forgotten scandal as the framework for a deep exploration into racism, sexism, and police procedure of the time. The case of the disembodied torso itself is so outrageous that it neatly captivates the reader's attention into a story no less suspenseful than informative. The story opens in 1887 when a disembodied torso is found wrapped in a package. Racial identity is immediately critical: if the torso had not initially been believed to belong to a white man, it would not have gained so much notoriety or police attention. The torso is eventually identified as that of Wakefield Gaines, a light-complexioned African American, supposedly due to the presence of "pigments that are found only in the skin of an African"-- an utterly false statement which demonstrates the prejudices of the time. Gross deftly delves into the backdrop for the case: post-Civil-War turmoil led to increased migration of blacks from South to North, which in turn increased tensions within the African American community. I found the book very thoroughly researched; the footnotes and references comprise about a third of the text and are well worth the read. Even though the north had fought for abolition, most had no sense that blacks were in any way equal to whites. Deep fears of "miscegenation" led to even greater racism against light-skinned blacks. As Gross notes, "The term mulatto, rooted in the Spanish word for mule (the sterile progeny of a horse and a donkey), reinforces those racist ideas and helped spawn scientific discourses that marked mulattoes as particularly degenerate." As interactions between blacks and whites increased, so did racial hysteria in the north. An 1880 Philadelphia Times piece captured the mood of the era, describing blackness in terms that made it sound like "a potentially contagious disease." As Gross discusses, the police system in Philadelphia was at that time undergoing systemic change that caused further racial stratification. The judicial system had been recently changed from a "fee-based, citizen-initiated arrests and prosecutions--which had granted black people a measure of power in judicial proceedings--to the process where police made the arrests and prosecutors determined which charges, if any, would be tried." In fact, Gross introduces evidence that this transition itself occurred in part because it would remove the ability of "blacks and other social outcasts" to "clog" the courts. The recently-instituted "professional criminals act" attempted crime prevention by disregarding civil liberties: it allowed the imprisonment of anyone suspicious or anyone considered part of the "crime class" without trial or evidence. Officers who failed to arrest a criminal when a crime occurred on their beat were to be suspended. Officers therefore tended to arrest arbitrary black men who were seen in "strange neighborhoods," contributing to distrust between the police and the African American community. Into this uneasy atmosphere enters Hannah Mary Tabbs. While she outwardly assumed a mantle of respectability, she flouted the mores of her era, carrying on an affair with a much younger man. At a time when 72% of black women tried by the courts of Philadelphia were found guilty, Tabbs would have known that wit and wiles would be required to extricate herself from the consequences. Her first act was to cast herself as frail and modest to try to escape the typical characterization of black women as "savage, sexually lascivious 'colored amazons'--hulking, jet-black figures that jeopardized white urban life." Her second was to implicate her apparent accomplice. George Wilson himself was a rather simple young man with a fondness for notoriety. His light skin and features, which gave him the ability to "pass," quickly damned him in public opinion. News stories portrayed him as duplicitous and "aloof"--coding for "uppity." His photograph--and the fact that his story involved him standing and talking with"some white fellows"-- stirred "fears of infiltration". The police treated him with hostility and violence, and repeatedly "perp-walked" him to and from court. Wilson's past didn't help either, as he had spent his childhood in Philadelphia's House of Refuge for Colored Youth. Incarcerated by his family for supposed "incorrigibility," as Gross points out, this was probably simply "coded language for [...] abject poverty." Throughout, Tabbs harnessed the expectations and prejudices of those around her. As Gross puts it, "It is as if somewhere along the way, she embraced the nihilism of the era; she accepted that the rules were fixed and that if she really wanted to live, in any remote sense of that word, as a working-class black woman in that time, she would have to adopt a duplicitous relationship with the tenets of morality--particularly the moral rhetoric dictated by those who had arguably benefitted the most from violence, avarice, and individual pursuits."Gross argues that Tabbs embraced the violence she would have observed and experienced during her early life in the South. Many of Tabbs' neighbors later accused her of brutality, but while Gross takes this as gospel truth, given the context, I'm unconvinced. From the outset, Gross herself is adamant that Tabbs committed the murder. I think Gross wants Tabbs to be the murderer and the supposed accomplice to be an innocent victim. While it's obviously possible, there isn't really proof either way, and I'd rather the narrative treat the case more evenly. In the end, I think the most fascinating part of the story, and the aspect that Gross focuses on, is how Wilson and Gaines demonstrate "how whiteness could shape black men's access to justice." The strange social construction of whiteness and blackness is absolutely crucial to the case, as are the suspects' abilities to play the roles society has assigned them. Yet even so, as Gross notes: "Much of Tabb's behavior contests her 'rightlessness' as a black woman and exists as a searing marker of it. Against the shadow of enslavement and the protracted denial of black citizenship by virtue of white racial violence, Tabbs somehow managed to see her own desires as worth fighting for [...] yet that she had to go to such lengths to have a measure of agency also underscores her powerlessness."When violence was "usually the only reason for the existence of a historical record of a black woman's life," Tabbs' story provides a fascinating glimpse into a tense period of complex and rapidly changing institutionalized racism. ~~I received an advanced reader copy of this book through Netgalley from the publisher, Oxford University Press, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final published version, I believe they reflect the spirit of the book as a whole. Typos are mine.~~ Cross-posted on BookLikes.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    I loved everything about this!!!! This author/historian is wonderful. This isn't just about the crime, which is a bit gruesome. This covers policing or really the beginnings of policing in the US as we would be familiar with it. This covers how right from the beginning there was violence and disregard from the white police force towards the much more vulnerable and anxious Black Community. This shows the intersection between formerly enslaved, formerly chattel slave oppressing, formerly Free Black I loved everything about this!!!! This author/historian is wonderful. This isn't just about the crime, which is a bit gruesome. This covers policing or really the beginnings of policing in the US as we would be familiar with it. This covers how right from the beginning there was violence and disregard from the white police force towards the much more vulnerable and anxious Black Community. This shows the intersection between formerly enslaved, formerly chattel slave oppressing, formerly Free Black Community & the growing European immigrant Community and how this stresses race relations. Who all is white and how to identify say Irish or Portuguese? It's interesting to the history of whiteness and how it expands when white supremacy is threatened. This covers the beginnings of what we now would call race based science and how this triggered white fears. Once slavery was over biracial or lighter skinned Black folks who could pass, ' white black' I think the author labels it, really stoked white fears. It's interesting to see how important race is because the body is found in pieces. The science used and the surrounding communities reaction is fascinating. This explores the complex intersections between race & gender and how a Black Woman could manipulate that, nefariously in this instance, to her benefit both within her community and without. This is just a fascinating look at the US in this time period from a point of view we rarely consider . It's written almost like a TV show and I was hooked right from the beginning. I went ahead and bought a Black Women's History of the USA because I enjoyed this authors style so much.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    Description: Shortly after a dismembered torso was discovered by a pond outside Philadelphia in 1887, investigators homed in on two suspects: Hannah Mary Tabbs, a married, working class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former neighbor that Tabbs implicated after her arrest. As details surrounding the shocking case emerged, both the crime and ensuing trial - which spanned several months - were featured in the national press. The trial brought otherwise taboo subjects such as illicit sex, adulter Description: Shortly after a dismembered torso was discovered by a pond outside Philadelphia in 1887, investigators homed in on two suspects: Hannah Mary Tabbs, a married, working class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former neighbor that Tabbs implicated after her arrest. As details surrounding the shocking case emerged, both the crime and ensuing trial - which spanned several months - were featured in the national press. The trial brought otherwise taboo subjects such as illicit sex, adultery, and domestic violence in the black community to public attention. At the same time, the mixed race of the victim and one of his assailants exacerbated anxieties over the purity of whiteness in the post-Reconstruction era. In Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso, historian Kali Nicole Gross uses detectives' notes, trial and prison records, local newspapers, and other archival documents to reconstruct this ghastly who-done-it true crime in all its scandalous detail. In doing so, she gives the crime context by analyzing it against broader evidence of police treatment of black suspects and violence within the black community. A fascinating work of historical recreation, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso is sure to captivate anyone interested in true crime, adulterous love-triangles gone wrong, and the racially volatile world of post-Reconstruction Philadelphia. This notorious case was touched upon briefly in a forensic course so it is nice to get the goods fleshed out, so to speak. "Gaine's Ghost sat on a Post; His Feet were full of Blisters. He made three Grabs at Mary Tabbs And the Wind blew through his Whiskers."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. It shames to know that I live in Philadelphia and never heard of this case. Thankfully, Gross wrote a book about it. In a book about a murder case, Gross does far more than look at police procedure. She showcases how a woman was able to maneuver in, around, and thorough the system. Gross does this without turning a murderer into folk hero. The book also presents information about African-Americans in large cities post Civil War. Honestly, it is great read. Gro Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. It shames to know that I live in Philadelphia and never heard of this case. Thankfully, Gross wrote a book about it. In a book about a murder case, Gross does far more than look at police procedure. She showcases how a woman was able to maneuver in, around, and thorough the system. Gross does this without turning a murderer into folk hero. The book also presents information about African-Americans in large cities post Civil War. Honestly, it is great read. Gross’ writing has vigor, and she tells the story in a gripping way. The book is the best kind of a teacher - one that teaches without seeming to.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    This is not a true crime novel - far from it. This is a dissection of race during a specific time period in America - a dissertation, not a product for entertainment. That being said, it is well-written and researched, and clearly took a lot of time and effort. But as a reader for pleasure, rather than for information, I found it somewhat less than compelling. If you've a burning desire to learn about the effects of race and violence on a population in Philadelphia a long time ago, by all means, t This is not a true crime novel - far from it. This is a dissection of race during a specific time period in America - a dissertation, not a product for entertainment. That being said, it is well-written and researched, and clearly took a lot of time and effort. But as a reader for pleasure, rather than for information, I found it somewhat less than compelling. If you've a burning desire to learn about the effects of race and violence on a population in Philadelphia a long time ago, by all means, this is definitely where you should come. If you're looking for the gory story that "Disembodied Torso" seems to suggest, um...no. I received a copy of this ebook from NetGalley and Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Latiffany

    I was disappointed by this book. I read an article months ago about it. Following that article, the author was featured on the podcast Stuff You Missed in History class. I can't find the exact article to quote from, but I recall Gross describing this book as a counter- narrative to the traditional stories told about African Americans during the period that this story takes place. Tabbs wasn't your typical African American woman. According to Gross, she was a menace to her community and used mani I was disappointed by this book. I read an article months ago about it. Following that article, the author was featured on the podcast Stuff You Missed in History class. I can't find the exact article to quote from, but I recall Gross describing this book as a counter- narrative to the traditional stories told about African Americans during the period that this story takes place. Tabbs wasn't your typical African American woman. According to Gross, she was a menace to her community and used manipulation and violence to get what she wanted. I didn't find much to support Gross' claims. My complaints/observations are: I. The book is listed as 224 pages long, but it's only about 150 pages. II. It reads like a thesis statement. I understand that Gross is a scholar. I am familiar with scholarly writing/journals. This read like a long news article. There's no emotion or feeling behind it. There were a few sentences that ended chapters that mislead the reader into believing that something more provocative is forth-coming, but it never shows up. III. Tabbs is described as vicious, violent, manipulative, angry, dangerous etc. The list goes on and on and yet, with the exception of disposing the torso, which I admit is a huge exception, you don't get any examples of this behavior. Yes, there is proof that she participated in one murder as an accessory, but the rest of the descriptions seem to go way overboard. There aren't any interviews from the neighbors that she supposedly tormented or anyone who witnessed this consistently evil and violent behavior. If anything I found it weird that her neighbor testified to looking into Tabbs' house. Gross notes how Tabb used some extraordinary skill to manipulate both white and Black people. Pretending to be meek in court is not some huge manipulation tool. IV. My last point-I realize that a Black woman having an extra-marital affair with her husband's knowledge was probably taboo in the 1800's. Having a younger lover also probably not common. Getting rid of a torso-also a bit much (I jest-it is quite huge), but this book is not at all what it is portrayed to be. There's nothing juicy or jaw-dropping about this story. If you want to read it, I highly suggest checking it out of your local library.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Half a tale Gross loves unpacked assertions. Over and over again it is asserted that Tabbs controlled her life through violence and intimidation. Yet this is never backed by any evidence other than the murder. I was expecting witnesses statement s from the neighbors, trial testimony, something. All we get are assertions. The book is told in two parts, the discovery of the torso and subsequent capture of Mary and George, and George's trial. The tale is extremely dry. It reminded me more of a disser Half a tale Gross loves unpacked assertions. Over and over again it is asserted that Tabbs controlled her life through violence and intimidation. Yet this is never backed by any evidence other than the murder. I was expecting witnesses statement s from the neighbors, trial testimony, something. All we get are assertions. The book is told in two parts, the discovery of the torso and subsequent capture of Mary and George, and George's trial. The tale is extremely dry. It reminded me more of a dissertation rather then a book. I may be a bit prejudiced as I just finished Toobins OJ book, but the contrast is striking. He tells a story with color and detail. Gross reconstructs what happened, but not much else. It's a shame, as there is a good story in here waiting to be told.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kidada

    Great read I really appreciated Gross's willingness to illuminate the history of Hannah Mary Tabbs, a woman who lived by a different set of values and whose actions aren't part of an accepted useable past. Many historians shy away from such recovery work but Gross didn't and our understandings of the histories of black Philadelphia and black women in the Gilded Age are richer for it. Great read I really appreciated Gross's willingness to illuminate the history of Hannah Mary Tabbs, a woman who lived by a different set of values and whose actions aren't part of an accepted useable past. Many historians shy away from such recovery work but Gross didn't and our understandings of the histories of black Philadelphia and black women in the Gilded Age are richer for it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lady H

    This short book is a fascinating exploration of a murder investigation in 1887 Philadelphia. The crime itself is lurid and fascinating - a torso, just a torso, is discovered in a town just outside Philadelphia. The racial ambiguity of said torso led to a dedicated investigation determined to trace the torso's origin story, which led back to Hannah Mary Tabbs and a strange tale of adultery, extramarital sex, and passionate jealousy. Gross explores this crime through the lends of late 19th-century This short book is a fascinating exploration of a murder investigation in 1887 Philadelphia. The crime itself is lurid and fascinating - a torso, just a torso, is discovered in a town just outside Philadelphia. The racial ambiguity of said torso led to a dedicated investigation determined to trace the torso's origin story, which led back to Hannah Mary Tabbs and a strange tale of adultery, extramarital sex, and passionate jealousy. Gross explores this crime through the lends of late 19th-century America. That is, she provides context for the issues she explores. When introducing the detectives who would investigate this case, she gives a brief history of the police in Philadelphia. When introducing Hannah Mary Tabbs and explaining her upbringing, Gross delves into slavery in Maryland. She also talks about the politics of race and passing. It's also just a fascinating look at the criminal justice system in 1887 in general. It's an intriguing exploration of an intriguing crime, and Gross walks us through it with aplomb. Rather than give away the game in her introduction, she walks us through the investigation step by step, so we are following it in nearly the same way those in 1887 would have been. I can easily see this being adapted into a historical miniseries, because it's all drama and intrigue.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marcia

    Anticlimactic.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    This book might win for Most-Descriptive-Title-I've-Read-In-A-While. Indeed, there is a Hannah Mary Tabbs, and there is a Disembodied Torso. No bait-and-switch here. Instead we have an overview of a Philadelphia murder case from 1887 stemming from the discovery of a racially-ambiguous disembodied torso, that of Hannah Mary Tabbs' alleged paramour. Randomly located body parts and illicit love affairs being as salacious then as now, the investigation and trial was well-covered in the press, althou This book might win for Most-Descriptive-Title-I've-Read-In-A-While. Indeed, there is a Hannah Mary Tabbs, and there is a Disembodied Torso. No bait-and-switch here. Instead we have an overview of a Philadelphia murder case from 1887 stemming from the discovery of a racially-ambiguous disembodied torso, that of Hannah Mary Tabbs' alleged paramour. Randomly located body parts and illicit love affairs being as salacious then as now, the investigation and trial was well-covered in the press, although as Gross posits, the whole starting point was the inability to determine the race of the torso; since there was a possibility it was white, the investigators did their thing. If it had been obviously that of a black man, then, like the other body parts found later in the book determined not to be part of the torso in question, then it would have simply been discarded. (Side note: apparently there were just body parts strewn here and there in Philadelphia at the time, which is interesting in and of itself. Also creepy.) Thus, via saved press clippings and trial notes that Gross has dug out from various archives, we have a glimpse into the lives of black men and women in 1880s Philadelphia, a group generally excluded from any degree of anthropological or sociological study at the time. So that's interesting, although the crime aspect of the book is pretty cut-and-dry. It isn't like a riveting true crime story with lots of twists for an engaging plot. The authorities figure out the who-dunnit without much misdirection. There's bits of analysis here and there, but, based on some of her comments in the introduction, it seems like Gross is trying to write for general readership rather than pure academic audiences, so she likely scaled the analysis and theory back a bit. But did she need to? If the book is supposed to be a 101-style-primer, then more context about race, society, race-in-society, etc., at the time frame would be welcome, and flesh the story out a lot more (think The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or Manning Marable's Malcom X biography). If it's not meant to be 101, then all we have are the facts of a case with a smidgen of a view into black life in Philadelphia in the 1880s. While such a glimpse is rare, a presentation of such research without analysis doesn't give the reader much to chew on. The book, both in length and scope, is slight. Diversionary, but slight. Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso by Kali Nicole Gross went on sale January 28, 2016. I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Heather Tomlinson

    This was an interesting book by Kali Nicole Gross, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. It seemed like it would be a juicy, gory depiction of a gruesome murder, but it really ended up being a dissection of race and politics at the turn of the century in Philadelphia. The author brings up interesting points about our assumptions of black womanhood and how those assumptions have been shaped by slavery, and Emancipation. Those attitudes still remain if you really think about it. That's This was an interesting book by Kali Nicole Gross, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. It seemed like it would be a juicy, gory depiction of a gruesome murder, but it really ended up being a dissection of race and politics at the turn of the century in Philadelphia. The author brings up interesting points about our assumptions of black womanhood and how those assumptions have been shaped by slavery, and Emancipation. Those attitudes still remain if you really think about it. That's not to say the author touched on this, instead, her focus was on Tabbs and her ability to manipulate the system and society she found herself in. The only thing I didn't like was that the book wasn't able to follow Tabbs and Wilson further in their lives, both before and after the trial, but that is due to the limitations of the historical records available. That limitation actually seems to prove the author's thesis, that Tabbs' place in history rests in her interactions with the white press and legal authorities, not her own agency. We are also so used to the paper trails and random information that we leave behind in our daily lives that it seems almost impossible that we wouldn't know more about someone accused of murders nowadays. In a way this makes the book even more intriguing for that fact that there are so many unknowns remaining. We are, frankly, spoiled when it comes to biographies and histories in that the subjects tend to be those with a wealth of information and resources behind them. I'm glad there are authors who try to find obscure history topics and breathe new life into them.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    In 1887, in a small town just outside of Philadelphia, a human man's torso was found dumped in a pond. It quickly became front page news as doctors and police struggled to identify the victim, or even determine what race he had been: black? white? asian? native american? Eventually the body was revealed to be that of Waite Gaines, a young mixed race (which, of course, by the one-drop rule of the time, meant he was considered black) man, and Hannah Tabbs, an older black woman with whom he was prob In 1887, in a small town just outside of Philadelphia, a human man's torso was found dumped in a pond. It quickly became front page news as doctors and police struggled to identify the victim, or even determine what race he had been: black? white? asian? native american? Eventually the body was revealed to be that of Waite Gaines, a young mixed race (which, of course, by the one-drop rule of the time, meant he was considered black) man, and Hannah Tabbs, an older black woman with whom he was probably having an affair, was accused of the murder. Gross uses the investigation to explore questions of race and gender during the last moments of Reconstruction. Gaines at least occasionally seems to have passed for white, and Tabbs frequently broke the rules to get what she wanted while skillfully manipulating those around her, particularly white authorities, into seeing a properly submissive, respectable black woman. It's an interesting case. Unfortunately it suffers from the problem that a lot of historical nonfiction has: there's simply not enough of a record to answer all of the questions. Nearly all of the main actors disappear entirely from written history after this brief moment in the spotlight, leaving us to wonder where they came from and where they went next. It's not Gross's fault, since she can only write about what exists, but it does leave the book with an oddly unfinished feeling. I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emma B

    Such an unusual story. I heard the author on the radio one Sunday morning, and she sounded so excited about the research she'd done on a case from the 1880s that it peaked my interest. And, it was a very readable and interesting story. Not everyone would like the subject matter, but I passed it on to a forensics science teacher, and... Such an unusual story. I heard the author on the radio one Sunday morning, and she sounded so excited about the research she'd done on a case from the 1880s that it peaked my interest. And, it was a very readable and interesting story. Not everyone would like the subject matter, but I passed it on to a forensics science teacher, and...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leigh

    Given the lurid description, I expected a more interesting read. Or a deeper critical, racial, historical or feminist analysis.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso is a historical true crime story about the discovery of torso in a pond near Philadelphia in 1887 and the way that race and sex were peculiarly visible around it. The torso was of indistinguishable race, which caused the case to hit headlines in a way it wouldn't have, if the victim had been visibly black from the start. Hannah Mary Tabbs, the main suspect, accused her lover, the light skinned and white-passing George Wilson of the murder.  Kali Nicole Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso is a historical true crime story about the discovery of torso in a pond near Philadelphia in 1887 and the way that race and sex were peculiarly visible around it. The torso was of indistinguishable race, which caused the case to hit headlines in a way it wouldn't have, if the victim had been visibly black from the start. Hannah Mary Tabbs, the main suspect, accused her lover, the light skinned and white-passing George Wilson of the murder.  Kali Nicole Gross did a wonderful job of walking the reader through the crime, deliberately presenting evidence in the order that it was discovered. She occasionally widened her scope to the way that the crime and prosecution reflected the interactions of race and sex in 1887 Philadelphia. The most interesting of those wider looks was the response of the police to finding visibly black body parts during the trial period. There were multiple! Including a head! And none of them got the response that the torso garnered, with no follow up whatsoever on the part of the police. That really made Gross's point very strongly. It was a little dry and very well footnoted -- more than 60 citations in most chapters! be still my beating heart! -- and not at all as tawdry or tabloid-y as one might expect from the title. The one thing I found a little perplexing was that Gross talked regularly about Hannah Mary Tabbs using violence to control people in a wide way, but all of her examples were of family/lovers, which is obviously still bad, but was also less wide ranging than Gross led me to expect? The trial was by far the most interesting part of the book to me, and I think it was the most interesting part to Gross, as well. During the trial, George Wilson was viewed with great suspicion because of his ability to pass for white. He had much less evidence against him than Tabbs did, and yet he was the main target of the prosecution, and ended up sentenced to 14 years, as opposed to Tabbs' one. Tabbs managed to act in ways that Gross points out as generally reserved for white women.  I would have enjoyed it if it was longer, and had yet more cultural stuff in there -- it was a fairly narrowly focused book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amber Martin

    It’s the late 1800’s, a time of racism, violence and unjust law when the discovery of a torso on the banks of a frozen pond rips open a scandal for the ages.  Already in two sentences I’ve grabbed your attention. However that’s not how this book is written in the slightest. It’s like reading a thesis paper and 68 pages of it are just a bibliography. I’ll give the author credit for sourcing so much material and obviously doing her research but this was such a dry read. So dry in fact that I wish It’s the late 1800’s, a time of racism, violence and unjust law when the discovery of a torso on the banks of a frozen pond rips open a scandal for the ages.  Already in two sentences I’ve grabbed your attention. However that’s not how this book is written in the slightest. It’s like reading a thesis paper and 68 pages of it are just a bibliography. I’ll give the author credit for sourcing so much material and obviously doing her research but this was such a dry read. So dry in fact that I wish Tabbs had murdered me about ¼ of the way into it. I won this from a Good Reads giveaway around the time it first came out and it sat on the shelf since then. The title always intrigued me but I kept putting it off, however after having taken the time to read it I wish the author had written it in a different way. Maybe it would have been easier to read, I don’t know. I pushed through and finished it but can honestly say I don’t know anyone else who would enjoy how it was written. I’m only giving it two stars as opposed to one because the author took her time in doing the research.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Myers

    A short book that’s packed with observations about the criminal justice system, race and class in America in the 1880s, and a fascinating “whodunnit” murder. Actually the whodunnit isn’t a mystery as the supposed killers confessed (not a spoiler) but questions abound as to whether they were coerced and why their stories kept changing. Keep in mind this is a century before DNA, surveillance cameras and lie detector tests. This book dovetailed nicely with lectures I’ve been listening to about the A short book that’s packed with observations about the criminal justice system, race and class in America in the 1880s, and a fascinating “whodunnit” murder. Actually the whodunnit isn’t a mystery as the supposed killers confessed (not a spoiler) but questions abound as to whether they were coerced and why their stories kept changing. Keep in mind this is a century before DNA, surveillance cameras and lie detector tests. This book dovetailed nicely with lectures I’ve been listening to about the African American experience in the US throughout history. The author does extensive work to fact check and cite sources to keep the relevancy and the social commentary of this book on point. It also made me reflect on the lives of Black people in history and how their unique stories weren’t captured and shared publicly like white stories are shared due to so many barriers including education and the social value of their history. This helped to shine a light on a missing part of history, even if it’s a story potentially written to show the unseen side of someone.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Keli Gagen

    I finished this audiobook about Hannah Mary Tabbs in two sittings over Thanksgiving break. It was so fascinating. I haven't read anything like it. It was so refreshing to read such a different story than we're used to hearing about black women. I appreciated how Dr. Gross framed the story and the history through the lense of the woman's agency. I recommended it to several of my friends who are as into history and racial justice as I am. This book has given me something to look for in other books. I finished this audiobook about Hannah Mary Tabbs in two sittings over Thanksgiving break. It was so fascinating. I haven't read anything like it. It was so refreshing to read such a different story than we're used to hearing about black women. I appreciated how Dr. Gross framed the story and the history through the lense of the woman's agency. I recommended it to several of my friends who are as into history and racial justice as I am. This book has given me something to look for in other books. I really enjoy BIPOC historical nonfiction narratives that provide context and commentary. If you like true crime and you liked The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, you'll like this one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I read this book after listening to the author on Things You Missed in History Class. As a statement on how race was viewed in society and the court of law in the late 1800s, this was a good book. However, I thought the book was about Hannah Mary Tabbs as the super villian. In that area, I do not feel Ms. Gross proved her point. That was a disappointment for me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    Not as good as I thought it would be. Interesting case but very little facts to really go on. Mostly just speculation about how Hannah really was. Some good tidbits about the time period and the racist society.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    I read it for a graduate class but my interest in the account of Tabbs and this torso exceeded historical analysis. Gross did a good job articulating this murder case in a way that hooks the reader by delivering twists and turns over time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chuck Knudsen

    The author spends quite a bit of time on what it was like being black in late 19th century Philadelphia, which is interesting. Despite some of the salacious details, I found the actual case at the center pretty dry.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chuck Steffey

    Amazing history through a clear new lens It is refreshing to see our present racism through the lens of in depth historical research which can also show the social biases at work at the time. Excellent.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amy Sturgis

    This is a quick but densely-packed and insightful read about a true crime that serves as something of a perfect storm for anyone interested in the history of race, gender, police detectives and criminal prosecution, and/or U.S. urban culture. It’s a fascinating and illuminating story well told.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erin Dekle

    Very quick read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    J.

    While this was a compelling read, it read as more of a textbook. Tabbs and Wilson felt like paper-cut characters rather than fully fleshed out real people.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Farabaugh

    A quick and interesting look at a crime from the 1800s. The author does a good job showing how race and gender intersect in this case and brings the people involved to light.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    3.5 star. Hannah Mary Tabbs, you sly little devil. A very interesting and strange case. Gruesome murder with a lot of strange twists. Well written and fast paced account. A little of a slow start by my tastes but once it gets into the meat(HA!) it gets hard to put down at points. And I'll say that I agree with the authors conclusion in the epilogue as to what really happened. This is one of those stories that very easily could have slipped through the cracks of time but luckily for us this autho 3.5 star. Hannah Mary Tabbs, you sly little devil. A very interesting and strange case. Gruesome murder with a lot of strange twists. Well written and fast paced account. A little of a slow start by my tastes but once it gets into the meat(HA!) it gets hard to put down at points. And I'll say that I agree with the authors conclusion in the epilogue as to what really happened. This is one of those stories that very easily could have slipped through the cracks of time but luckily for us this author wrote a good and engaging book for us readers to enjoy. If you like true crime or just interesting tales of old times, I'd say give this book a go. I enjoyed it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Benita

    I was first intrigued to read this book after listening to the podcast "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and the interview with the book's author. The hosts of the podcast described this book as a Historical True Crime novel and I can think of no better way to describe it! Its a heinous act gradually revealed through the actions and experiences of a sordid love triangle with well researched bits of the history of Philadelphia, the criminal justice system and what it means to be a black woman o I was first intrigued to read this book after listening to the podcast "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and the interview with the book's author. The hosts of the podcast described this book as a Historical True Crime novel and I can think of no better way to describe it! Its a heinous act gradually revealed through the actions and experiences of a sordid love triangle with well researched bits of the history of Philadelphia, the criminal justice system and what it means to be a black woman or "mulatto" during the 19th century. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone but if history and true crime are your thing - check it out.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.