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Robbery, Jealousy, Vengeance Are Causes Of Most Murders

Magrath Traces Reasons For Crimes and Tells of Some Knotty Ones


Robbery, jealousy, and vengeance are the three motives responsible for nearly all murders, according to Dr. George Burgeas Magrath '94, professor of Legal Medicine, and medical examiner of Suffolk County. Gang killings may be loosely classified in the last category, although they are really an abnormal manifestation.

Despite the fact that most of Boston's suspected murderers at present are members of Irish, Italian, and Jewish bootleg gangs, their actions are far from typical of their race, Magrath declared. He described the Cero-Gallo murder case as an example of a murderer escaping through a technicality in the law. Gallo, who was acquitted on the perjured testimony of Philomena Romano, his sweetheart, cannot be tried for his life again under the United States law although there is now little doubt of his implication in the crime. Cero Gangi, apparently Gallo's tool in the murder of Fantasia, is now awaiting his second trial, the prosecution failing to obtain a conviction despite the testimony of an eye witness who swore that he never took his eye off the accused man from the moment of the crime until the police came in answer to his telephone call. This crime was committed because of Gallo's jealousy over Fantasia's affair with the Romano woman whom police have never been able to trace since her disappearance after the former's acquittal and prompt departure to Italy. With the long period of time that has elapsed since the commission of the crime, prosecution of the accused is accordingly more difficult.

A piece of detective work, carried along the deductive methods used by the great fiction hero Sherlock Holmes, that perhaps saved the life of an innocent woman, were described by Dr. Magrath. During a drinking party in the town of Mansfield, a man by the name of Cobb was found mortally wounded from the discharge of a shot-gun in his cellar. Cobb did not die at once, but lived to write in a legible hand "Emily did it," on the back of an envelop which he had taken from his pocket. His wife, Emily Cobb, was found unconscious in the kitchen with blood-stains on her dress. Reconstructing the crime, however, Dr. Magrath found that in order to inflict such a wound, the gun must have been jammed against the man's jaw, the gun butt resting on the cellar floor. The whole affair must have taken place in the dark, the murderer probably kneeling on the floor. Such a situation was obviously absurd and when bits of shot were found in the ceiling of the cellar in a place indicating that the gun was fired at an angle of only ten degrees away from the vertical. Mrs. Cobb was at once absolved of all suspicion.

Queried as to how murder victims were able to put up such strenuous resistance to their attackers on some occasions, Dr. Magrath revealed that it is difficult to kill a person instantly by a blow on the head unless administered with a weapon capable of actually damaging the brain. A carpenters hammer, he pointed out, could not be classed as a "dangerous weapon" although a stonecutter's maul is "a different matter."

An important item in the decisions brought in by jurors which theoreticians can never reenact is the "atmosphere of the court-room" that seems to impregnate all the proceedings with its peculiar influence. This atmosphere is created by the attitude of the defendant and the prosecuting attorney's method of attacks. In Massachusetts under existing usage, electrocution is not imposed for murders of passion or deaths occuring during the commission of a crime not a felony in itself.

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