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Murder By Death

A group of five renowned detectives, each accompanied by a relative or associate, is invited to "dinner and a murder" by the mysterious Lionel Twain. Having lured his guests to his mansion managed by a blind butler named Jamessir Bensonmum, who is later joined by a deaf, mute, and illiterate cook named Yetta, Twain joins his guests at dinner. He presses a button which seals off the house. Twain announces that he is the greatest criminologist in the world. To prove his claim, he challenges the guests to solve a murder that will occur at midnight; a reward of $1 million will be presented to the winner.

Murder by Death

Before midnight, the butler is found dead. Twain disappears, only to re-appear immediately after midnight, stabbed twelve times in the back with a butcher knife. The cook is also discovered to have been an animated mannequin, now packed in a storage crate. The party spends the rest of the night investigating and bickering. They are manipulated by a mysterious behind-the-scenes force, confused by red herrings, and baffled by the "mechanical marvel" that is Twain's house. They ultimately find their own lives threatened. Each sleuth presents his or her theory on the case, pointing out the others' past connections to Twain and their possible motives for murdering him.

Lionel Twain invites the world's five greatest detectives to a 'dinner and murder'. Included are a blind butler, a deaf-mute maid, screams, spinning rooms, secret passages, false identities and more plot turns and twists than are decently allowed.

In an essay upon the effects of public punishments uponcriminals and upon society, published in the second volumeof the American Museum, I hinted, in a short paragraph,at the injustice of punishing murder by death. Ishall attempt in the following essay, to support that opinion,and to answer all the objections that have been urgedagainst it.

2. It produces murder, by its influence upon peoplewho are tired of life, and who, from a supposition, thatmurder is a less crime than suicide, destroy a life (and oftenthat of a near connexion) and afterwards deliver themselvesup to justice, that they may escape from their miseryby means of a halter.

3. The punishment of murder by death, multipliesmurders, from the difficulty it creates of convicting personswho are guilty of it. Humanity, revolting at the ideaof the severity and certainty of a capital punishment, oftensteps in, and collects such evidence in favour of a murderer,as screens him from justice altogether, or palliateshis crime into manslaughter. If the punishment of murderconsisted in long confinement, and hard labor, it would beproportioned by the measure of our feelings of justice,and every member of society would be a watchman or amagistrate, to apprehend a destroyer of human life, andto bring him to punishment.

4. The punishment of murder by death, checks the operationsof universal justice, by preventing the punishmentof every species of murder. Quack doctors--frauds of variouskinds--and a licentious press, often destroy life, andsometimes with malice of the most propense nature. Ifmurder were punished by confinement and hard labour,the authors of the numerous murders that have beenmentioned, would be dragged forth, and punished accordingto their deserts. How much order and happinesswould arise to society from such a change in human affairs!But who will attempt to define these species of murder,or to prosecute offenders of this stamp, if death is tobe the punishment of the crime after it is admitted, andproved to be wilful murder?--only alter the punishmentof murder, and these crimes will soon assume their propernames, and probably soon become as rare as murder fromcommon acts of violence.

5. The punishment of murder by death, has beenproved to be contrary to the order and happiness of societyby the experiments of some of the wisest legislators inEurope. The Empress of Russia, the King of Sweden, andthe Duke of Tuscany, have nearly extirpated murder fromtheir dominions, by converting its punishment into themeans of benefiting society, and reforming the criminalswho perpetrate it.

III. The punishment of murder by death, is contraryto divine revelation. A religion which commands us to forgiveand even to do good to our enemies, can never authorisethe punishment of murder by death. "Vengeanceis mine," said the Lord; "I will repay." It is to no purposeto say here, that this vengeance is taken out of the handsof an individual, and directed against the criminal by thehand of government. It is equally an usurpation of theprerogative of heaven, whether it be inflicted by a singleperson, or by a whole community.

I cannot take leave of this subject without remarkingthat capital punishments are the natural offspring of monarchicalgovernments. Kings believe that they possesstheir crowns by a divine right: no wonder, therefore, theyassume the divine power of taking away human life. Kingsconsider their subjects as their property: no wonder,therefore, they shed their blood with as little emotion asmen shed the blood of their sheep or cattle. But the principlesof republican governments speak a very differentlanguage. They teach us the absurdity of the divine originof kingly power. They approximate the extreme ranks ofmen to each other. They restore man to his God--to society--andto himself. They revive and establish the relationsof fellow-citizen, friend, and brother. They appreciatehuman life, and increase public and private obligationsto preserve it. They consider human sacrifices as no lessoffensive to the sovereignty of the people, than they are tothe majesty of heaven. They view the attributes of government,like the attributes of the Deity, as infinitely morehonoured by destroying evil by means of merciful than byexterminating punishments. The United States haveadopted these peaceful and benevolent forms of government.It becomes them therefore to adopt their mild andbenevolent principles. An execution in a republic is like ahuman sacrifice in religion. It is an offering to monarchy,and to that malignant being, who has been styled a murdererfrom the beginning, and who delights equally inmurder, whether it be perpetrated by the cold, but vindictivearm of the law, or by the angry hand of privaterevenge.

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