The Hennessy Murder

Album: Murder Ballads (1890)


  • The genesis of this song is discussed by Olive Woolley Burt in her 1958 Oxford University Press book American Murder Ballads And Their Stories. Written in 2/4 time, "The Hennessy Murder" was collected by Burt's husband.

    On October 15, 1890, New Orleans police chief David Hennessy was gunned down in what was if not the first then the first widely publicized Mafia murder in the United States. Hennessy's dying words were "The Dagos did it!" According to Burt, eight Italians were arrested and held for trial, "but the frenzied citizens stormed the jail, extracted the prisoners, and hanged them all [from] convenient trees."

    In fact, the aftermath of Hennessy's murder was a little more complicated than that; the assassination resulted in mass arrests of Italians, and a Grand Jury indicted no less than 19 men of Italian origin (including alleged members of two gangs); nine men eventually stood trial. The proceedings were both tainted and farcical; all nine walked free, but the good people of New Orleans decided to take matters into their own hands.

    None of the lynchers was ever indicted for the crime, and for a time there was even talk of war between the United States and Italy.

    Surprisingly, Hennessy had himself been tried for murder, in 1882, but was found not guilty on the grounds of self-defense. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England


Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

Jimmy JamSongwriter Interviews

The powerhouse producer behind Janet Jackson's hits talks about his Boyz II Men ballads and regrouping The Time.

PrinceFact or Fiction

Prince is shrouded in mystery, making him an excellent candidate for Fact or Fiction. Is he really a Scientologist? Does he own an exotic animal?

Gilby ClarkeSongwriter Interviews

The Guns N' Roses rhythm guitarist in the early '90s, Gilby talks about the band's implosion and the side projects it spawned.

"Stairway To Heaven" Lawsuit: A TimelineSong Writing

Untangling the events that led to the "Stairway To Heaven" lawsuit.

Five Rockers Who Rolled With The DevilSong Writing

Just how much did these monsters of rock dabble in the occult?

Shaun Morgan of SeetherSongwriter Interviews

Shaun breaks down the Seether songs, including the one about his brother, the one about Ozzy, and the one that may or may not be about his ex-girlfriend Amy Lee.