Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America
The author uses this story to depict a grisly murder in post civil war Philadelphia. With a black disembodied victim, black adulteress and a mostly white accomplice, Gross uses their story to illustrate unequal treatment under the law and the continuing victimization of black people. The author also makes a case that black communities are so isolated that they are vulnerable to crime. Without convincing evidence, however, she pins the blame almost entirely on the woman. Because of Tabb’s deferential manner in court, Gross finds her cunning rather than beaten down. Perhaps in this modern era, Tabbs might have staged a domestic violence defence as she sported a black eye.
For this reader, the author did not find enough evidence to substantiate her master mind theory of the case. Except for court records, there is little history about these personages. It is also hard to believe that the man’s whiteness caused the jury to be prejudiced against him. What the author succeeds in doing, however, is showing how vulnerable black communities are under our system of criminal justice. For that reason alone, the book is timely.
Kali Nicole Gross
Oxford University Press