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Worse than the Devil

Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror

Dean A. Strang

Publication Year: 2013

In 1917 a bomb exploded in a Milwaukee police station, killing nine officers and a civilian. Those responsible never were apprehended, but police, press, and public all assumed that the perpetrators were Italian. Days later, eleven alleged Italian anarchists went to trial on unrelated charges involving a fracas that had occurred two months before. Against the backdrop of World War I, and amidst a prevailing hatred and fear of radical immigrants, the Italians had an unfair trial. The specter of the larger, uncharged crime of the bombing haunted the proceedings and assured convictions of all eleven. Although Clarence Darrow led an appeal that gained freedom for most of the convicted, the celebrated lawyer's methods themselves were deeply suspect. The entire case left a dark, if hidden, stain on American justice.
    Largely overlooked for almost a century, the compelling story of this case emerges vividly in this meticulously researched book by Dean A. Strang. In its focus on a moment when patriotism, nativism, and terror swept the nation, Worse than the Devil exposes broad concerns that persist even today as the United States continues to struggle with administering criminal justice to newcomers and outsiders.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

Usually, Chicago’s Haymarket Square comes to mind first when the topic of radicals on trial arises or when we ask how justice fares in the heated atmosphere of political struggle, fear of foreign-born agitators, and grief over lives lost. Just maybe, though, events that took place ninety miles north of Chicago and thirty years after the Haymarket tragedy offer an even better moment for considering...

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pp. xvii-2

A humbling number of people contributed to this book in many ways over the years that I worked on it. The staff at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s archives reading room I relied upon most frequently. Likewise, the staff at the Milwaukee County Historical Society was unfailingly helpful. Candace Falk and Alice Hall, scholars and keepers of the Emma Goldman Papers at the University of...

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1. What the Scrubwoman Found

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pp. 3-14

Detective Fred W. Kaiser’s watch stopped at 7:43 on Saturday evening, November 24, 1917.1 The bomb, loaded with screws, bolts, and other metal odds and ends intended specifically to kill, cost him his life in the same tick of the second hand. Nine other lives stopped just about that abruptly, too.
With a blinding flash, every window in Milwaukee’s central police station...

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2. Eleven

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pp. 15-22

That week came the funerals. Seven took place on Tuesday, three on Wednesday. Fred Kaiser and Edward Spindler had a double funeral the first day. O’Brien was alone. Stephen Stecker’s family laid him to rest then, too, with police officers as pallbearers. Later that afternoon, Paul Weiler and the sundered shreds of Henry Deckert went. Albert Templin was buried Tuesday...

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3. American Anarchists

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pp. 23-42

The eleven Italian immigrants arrested in the aftermath of the Bay View riot each faced up to thirty years in prison. Formally accused of assault with intent to murder, the ten men and one woman also faced a less formal accusation that would affect their treatment at every step of their journey through the American legal system. In part because of the literature discovered in...

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4. Doffed Hats and Honored Flags; Buttoned Coats, Pigs, and Rags

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pp. 43-62

America’s most prominent historian of anarchism, Paul Avrich, has argued that the disturbance in Bay View on September 9, 1917, was the “opening battle” in a war “in which anarchists with bombs stood on one side and the authorities on the other.”1 He linked the events in Milwaukee that autumn, especially the bomb blast, to Mario Buda and Carlo Valdinoci, followers of...

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5. Chaos

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pp. 63-70

From the start, the mainstream newspapers labeled the eleven Italian defendants “anarchists,” mostly as if there were no question about it.1 The local judiciary probably viewed them the same way. When these eleven made their initial appearances in district court, which handled preliminary matters in felony cases before shifting defendants to municipal court for trial, the judge set...

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6. Of Counsel

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pp. 71-90

The most flamboyant and possibly the most self- important of the lawyers in the trial of the eleven accused Milwaukee anarchists was pressed for time and distracted. William Benjamin Rubin still was in Buffalo, New York, on Wednesday, November 28.1 The judge was impatient and insistent that the trial move forward. Indeed, Bill Rubin in a sense was AWOL: he was...


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pp. 91-106

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7. “The Public Mind Has Become Violently Inflamed against All Italians”

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pp. 107-136

Come Friday morning, the last day of November, Rubin was in court and on time. Zabel was too, dressed nattily and preening. Frederick F. Groelle, assisting Zabel in his first and only case of note, busied himself near Zabel’s side. Arthur H. Bartelt, another assistant district attorney, also was at the prosecution table that day. He would assist Zabel with the trial too, but mostly...

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8. Darrow

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pp. 137-156

Late the day of sentencing, after he had returned to the office from court, Bill Rubin dictated a short note to a friend in New York City. “As you know, I lost the Italian Case,” he admitted. “With no chance on earth to get justice, we did not get it. The bomb explosion excited so much hatred and prejudice, and to be compelled to go to trial a couple of days after the burial of...

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9. May It Please the Court

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pp. 157-172

Superficially, appeals in 1918 were not much different than they are now. If he wishes to appeal, the losing party was and is responsible for two main tasks: seeing that the history of the case in the trial court—the written pleadings, testimony, and exhibits that together are the “record”—is assembled for transfer to the appellate court and writing a paper for the appellate court—the...

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10. Infernal Machine

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pp. 173-192

Although the decision on appeal seemed to most observers the end of the story—the last event that newspapers would bother to cover, for example—that decision was not the end for the eleven Italians or for the lawyers and trial judge. The events leading to the trial, the trial itself, and the appeal all would continue to shape and define their lives and reputations. The appeal is...


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pp. 193-206


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pp. 207-256


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pp. 257-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780299293932
E-ISBN-10: 0299293939
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299293949
Print-ISBN-10: 0299293947

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 20 b/w photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 846792530
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Worse than the Devil

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Trials (Riots) -- Wisconsin -- Milwaukee -- History -- 20th century.
  • Judicial corruption -- Wisconsin -- Milwaukee -- History -- 20th century.
  • Darrow, Clarence, 1857-1938.
  • Anarchists -- Wisconsin -- Milwaukee -- History -- 20th century.
  • Italian Americans -- Wisconsin -- Milwaukee -- History -- 20th century.
  • Bay View (Milwaukee, Wis.) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Milwaukee (Wis.) -- History -- 20th century.
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