Homicides in Philadelphia, 1839-1932

Roger Lane
October 2009 version

Roger Lane is the author of a series of important studies of violent crime and violent death in Philadelphia. He used indictments to study homicide from 1839-1901 and arrest reports filed by the police to study homicide every sixth year from 1902 to 1932. He has donated his handwritten worksheets to the Historical Violence Database. Most of the worksheets on homicide indictments, 1839-1901, have survived, but more than sixty have gone missing over the years as scholars borrowed them. The missing sheets have been partially reconstructed by the HVD from Lane’s indictment log book and from the Court of Quarter Sessions docket books for Philadelphia County, but further research in Philadelphia’s newspapers and court records will be necessary before the reconstructed sheets are ready for posting. Only the surviving worksheets appear below. The 1839-1901 data are discussed and analyzed in Lane (1979).

All of Lane’s worksheets have survived, however, for his study of homicide reports, 1902-1932; and John Callery has been able to reconstruct Lane’s spreadsheet for that data from a printout that has survived. The 1902-1932 data are discussed and analyzed in Lane (1997).

Lane found that homicide rates in Philadelphia declined in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for most Philadelphians, but they increased for African Americans and were also high for the first generation of Italian immigrants. He attributes the decline in homicide among most Philadelphians to “the lessons of school and workplace,” which taught people the value of restraint. “The consciousness of bell, clock, and deadline, the self-discipline required to sit still, take turns, and mind the teacher, were well designed to prepare students for life in office or factory.” (Lane 1979: 123) According to Lane, that consciousness and self-discipline lowered homicide rates, especially among unrelated men. Homicide rates remained higher among African Americans and first-generation Italians, because they did not have the same access to education or factory jobs that other Philadelphians did.

Data Set 1

Philadelphia, 1839-1901

Lane, Roger (1979) Violent Death in the City: Suicide, Accident, and Murder in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. The data are from the docket books for the Court of Quarter Sessions for Philadelphia County, which recorded homicide indictments, and from articles in the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

Lane’s surviving worksheets on individual homicides, 1839-1901, are available in Adobe ACROBAT files (pdf). The run of worksheets from #1 to #1558 is incomplete. Sixty-seven of the original worksheets have been lost. Ten worksheets were never made because their numbers were skipped. Ten cases were missed in reading the dockets of 1870-1871. And another 93 worksheets are duplicates: continued cases or multiple indictments for individual cases. See the Index to the Philadelphia Homicide Indictment Worksheets.

Please note as well that two kinds of markings were added to Lane’s worksheets by Randolph Roth as he works to recreate Lane’s lost spreadsheet (which coded the data on the worksheets for statistical analysis). Roth’s imputations from surnames of the ethnicity of victims and suspects appear in brackets. Roth’s preliminary efforts to characterize the homicides as nondomestic, marital, etc., appear in the upper right hand corner of the worksheets. These imputations and characterizations will be subject to change as more is learned about each case.


Data Set 2

Philadelphia, 1902-1932

Lane, Roger (1997) Murder in America: A History. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. The data are coded from arrest reports by the Philadelphia police in 1902, 1908, 1914, 1920, 1926, and 1932.

The codebook is currently available in WORD. The data are described in the codebooks and in the studies from which the data are drawn. Lane’s worksheets on individual homicides are available in Adobe ACROBAT files (pdf). The data are currently available in a spreadsheet file for EXCEL (.xls) and in a comma-separated file (.csv). The data are in the form that Roger Lane gathered and entered them.