Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930

The history of homicide in Chicago, 1870-1930, based on over 11,0000 Chicago Police Department homicide reports.

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The years between 1870 and 1930 marked the emergence of Chicago as a dominant American city, undergoing some of the most dramatic and extensive social, political and economic changes in our national history. Against this backdrop we present a unique record – the Chicago Police Department Homicide Record Index – chronicling 11,000 homicides in the city during those years. Because these crimes became cases, these records are also the foundation for a study of courts and legal institutions. The police and their operations were inextricable from those they answered to, the mayor and alderman, ward politicians, and the citizens of Chicago. Thus the records offer an opportunity to study the rule of law, or its absence, and this theme is echoed throughout the various facets of the research conducted to date under the auspices of this Project.

Leigh Bienen, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at Northwestern University and the Director of the Chicago Historical Homicide Project, and her colleagues created both a sequential text file and a quantitative database from these handwritten records. The first academic publications from this work are published in Northwestern University School of Law’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 92, No.s 34. For our academic audience we provide this research, and both the case summaries and the coded quantitative database for your use and further research.

For the public, we invite you not only to interact with this searchable database, but also to explore some of the more fascinating aspects of the 25 cases highlighted here; and to explore the historical context – with emphasis on the rule of law – of these crimes and cases.

This research and the development of this site is made possible through the generosity and support over several years of the Northwestern University School of Law faculty research funds, the Joyce Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the McCormick Foundation.