Criminal Newspaper Headlines

Headlines as art in the fin-de-siècle

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The Creative Titles of Historic Crime Journalism

So much of good crime writing, and good journalism generally, begins at the beginning: the headline. Each day, newspapers have the chance to showcase succinct, smart, even witty summations of the day’s news, with the American Society for Editing (ACES) among other organizations offering awards for the best newspaper headlines of the year. 

Nowadays, it seems that headlines have become much more prosaic, with flat sentences and a just-the-facts-ma’am style. Yet this was not always the case. Perhaps the golden age of headlines was the late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century, during which newspaper editors felt free to publish either punchy, one-word staccatos full of fire and fury, or full sentences and even entire paragraphs for their busy readers. 

Our friend and author/historian Ben Welter, who has a passion for true stories of a bygone age, put together a cornucopia of memorable headlines in his book Minnesota Mayhem. In celebration of an art form’s meatier age, Crime Capsule proudly presents to you a handful of some of Welter’s choicest cuts:

In Ashes

“The State Capitol in St. Paul Burned Last Evening. The Structure Totally Destroyed, with Many Valuable Records. Over Eleven Thousand Books of the State Library Burned. The Valuable Collection of the Academy of Sciences Lost. The Building Valued at $80,000—Other Losses Beyond Estimation. Narrow Escape from a Far More Terrible Disaster. Both Bodies in Session When the Fire Broke Out. Scenes of Great Excitement—Members Escaping by Windows. Cause of the Fire Unknown—Hints at Incendarism. An Extra Session Made Necessary—Scenes and Incidents. Arrangements for the Meeting of the Two Houses To-Day.”


Broke Up Their Game

“An Afternoon Card Party Interrupted by the Police. Blue-Coats Raid an Apartment in Rear of a Cigar Store at 211 Washington Avenue South, and Catch 11 Men Intently Watching the Fate of a Jack-Pot—A Player Who Held an Ace Full at the Time Is Sorely Disappointed at His Ill-Luck—Names Given by the Prisoners.”


Her Story Pathetic

“Lillian Knott, Once a Prominent and Talented Singer, Now at a Wash Tub in the Minneapolis Workhouse. She Recites the Sorrowful Causes and Conditions Which Led to Her Disgrace and Downfall.


This Is Murder; I Am Innocent

“—William Williams Slayer of Johnny Keller Makes Statement Before Being Strangled to Death.


Baby and His Cart Puts Traffic in Maze

“Three-Year-Old Boy in Middle of Street at Seventh and Hennepin. Everybody but the Policeman Sees Him, and There’s a Reason for That. Waif So Small the Traffic Man Almost Stepped on Him Unawares.”


Some stories only unfold over multiple parts:  

Stripper Struts From City Bar to City Jail. “

City Stripper Gets to Wear the Evidence: Morals Chief Left Holding the Et Cetera. “

“Peeler” to Appeal Fine: “Pivots, Twirls” Fail to Sway Judge”

And lastly, in praise of the poetic,

Man Who Swims without Suit Faces One

For more on these stories, and more of these amazing headlines, you’ll just have to read Welter’s book!

Newspaper headlines and stories from the Minneapolis Tribune in Minnesota Mayhem