Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men

The “Crime Germs”

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In 1921, George C. Henderson, editor of the Oakland Tribune in California wrote an article entitled, Queer Kinks in Convicts’ Brains: Train Robbers Are Prison Heros;[sic] Poisoners, Murderers Spurned; “Blood Hunger” May Be a Disease

“Criminals think their criminality is a talent; psychoanalysts think it is a disease; police officers say it’s just natural meanness; prison authorities say it is a result of economic and social conditions, while the general public—doesn’t think.”

Henderson posed the question that perhaps a “crime germ” infected criminals that “twists man’s brain into queer kinks and causes him to think on the bias . . .” Many of us wonder what these “kinks” are and if they even exist. Henderson asked, “Is this strange quality of beastly perversion inherent in some individuals?” Henderson did have his theories and he also discussed how different criminals ranked on the “respect chart” at Folsom and San Quentin.

Brutal murderers: Henderson proposed there is the possibility of a rogue germ running rampant in the brain of a murderer. His other theories included:

  • Blood Hunger: Like a disease, this is much like a drug habit. The first kill is always the hardest, but it almost always yields a thirst for more. The addiction takes hold and the one-time killer now murders wantonly and even joyfully.
  • All in the Family: The apple may not fall far from the tree. This made itself apparent in the case of Lloyd Majors and his two sons. The elder Majors hanged for a brutal murder in the late 1800s, when his sons were babies. As the boys grew, they too, became murderous bandits.

These types of vicious murderers and rapists were regarded with more contempt among “respectable” highwaymen, swindlers, con men and bad check artists. In Henderson’s eyes, the poisoner was the “most despicable and disgusting of all assassins,” (aside from the degenerate murderer). This type of murderer typically attacks family members for money or revenge. Fellow prisoners hated these men because of their “sneaky” crimes.  “The more courageous “cold steel” killers look upon him with disgust while the highwaymen spit upon him in the yard. Some weird, savage, beastly strain must run in the blood of such a one.”

Lure of the Desperado: Henderson opined that train bandits and stage coach robbers suffered from the “love of adventure” kink. Many of these criminals started out as daring highwaymen for the thrill and excitement; murder, being the last thing on their minds. However, after having to shoot to save themselves from capture they gradually turn into killers. “There have been many instances where the highway robber had displayed chivalry and generosity. The same energy directed into legitimate channels would undoubtedly make the courageous thug a leading citizen,” wrote Henderson.

George Sontag, famous murdering desperado of  the 1880s who participated in Folsom’s first mass escape attempt in 1893, only to be wounded by gun fire from guards.

Gun Toters: These men were considered heroes among the prison crowd. “. . . young, fearless, hardy fellows who went out armed with revolvers and did not hesitate to shoot when the command of “hands up” was not obeyed.”

Embezzlers and Forgers were shunned. “Fine threads of gold and silver bind the “kink” in the embezzler’s brain.” Fellow prisoners shunned this type of criminal for their lack of courage to wield a gun or engage their victim in a battle.

Burglars: This type of criminal earned little respect among his prison peers, “because it requires much less courage to burglarize a place than it does to hold up a man at the point of a gun on the street.” Burglars ranged from the casual tramp to the accomplished crook or drug addict.

Henderson listed what he felt constituted “crime germs”: Laziness, Greed, Ignorance, Uncleanliness, Selfishness, Drunkenness, Depravity, Idleness, False Pride, Lust, Envy, and Drug Addiction.

“These are the “germs” whose virulent poison may send a son or daughter to prison or to the gallows. They begin as harmless little bugs. In many cases they do not produce tragic results. And then again the bite may be deadly.”

His “anti-toxins” consisted of Industry, Generosity, Knowledge, Cleanliness, Unselfishness, Sobriety, Purity, Employment, Humility, Spirituality, Fellowship, and Character.

In 1921, Folsom prison housed each of the above-described criminals. Today, you won’t find the highway men or stage coach robbers at the 130 year old prison. Much different classes make up the prison now, particularly gang factions that include the Mexican Mafia, the Nuestra Familia, and the Black Guerrilla Family. Two white gangs also contribute to the mayhem: the Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Low Riders. Oh, and did I mention the Chinese gangs?

The criminals of Henderson’s time may have changed, but his crime germs and anti-toxins could arguably still exist.

Author: April Moore

I am the author of two books: Folsom's 93, a historical nonfiction about the men executed at Folsom State Prison; and a women's fiction, Bobbing for Watermelons. I'm also an illustrator and I love collaborating with other writers and artists. Catch me at http://apriljmoore.com

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