Does Murder Make Law?

Delhi_protests-students,_Raisina_HillOutrage against recent atrocities in Connecticut and New Delhi could change legislation.

by Robin D. Laws

In 1811 a pair of brutal mass killings spurred residents of Regency London to demand institutional change. If history repeats itself, the result of the public outcry at that time may predict the legislative outcome of current political movements spawned by the horrifying crimes of 2012 in Connecticut and New Delhi.

The London slayings, remembered as the Ratcliffe Highway Murders, consisted of two closely-spaced incidents of what we would now call home invasion slayings. Two shop/residences in an East End neighborhood catering to the shipping trade were attacked eleven days apart. In each case a pair of assailants broke in, slaughtered the inhabitants, and fled mid-robbery.

In the first instance, they killed the proprietor, his wife, a young male employee, and the couple’s 14-week-old infant. In the second, they killed a tavern-keeper, his wife, and a middle-aged woman employee. As recounted in the seminal true crime book The Maul and the Pear Tree by mystery writer P. D. James and historian T. A. Critchley (first published in 1971), the stunning ferocity of the slayings and the utter unpreparedness of law enforcement to grapple with them spawned a wave of outrage against an antiquated system and the political leadership responsible for it. Yet in the end, the joint forces of …

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