A Carnival of Crimes
For a month in early 1893, a series of crimes occurred in Atlanta that shocked citizens and confounded authorities. Dubbed a “carnival of crimes,” this crime wave included suicides, a double murder, and an embezzlement scandal. Although these tragic events took place between January 24 and February 25, 1893, the period came to be known as Atlanta’s “Black Week.”
On January 24, 1893, shots were fired in room 29 of the Metropolitan Hotel at Pryor and Alabama Streets. Police rushed to the scene and discovered 24-year-old Umberto Piantini and his lover, Selita Muegge, lying in a pool of blood on the bed, locked in each other’s arms. Police officers found two letters next to the bed. One letter read, “Please bury us in the same coffin, this is our last request. Bury us in Oakland Cemetery and plant ivy on our graves.”
Piantini, a married Italian woodcarver, had fallen in love with young Selita, his 16-year-old stepsister. According to an article in the Macon Telegraph, the couple had “become so deeply attached to each other in their affections that they decided that it would be better to die than to live apart or in unholy intimacy.” The pair agreed to a suicide pact. Piantini shot Miss Muegge and then turned the gun on himself.
When police arrived, they found Piantini and Muegge still breathing. Piantini was rushed to Grady Hospital where he died on January 28. Selita Muegge miraculously survived. News of the tragic event spread through Atlanta and beyond. The failed suicide pact and the couple’s illicit relationship shocked Atlantans and scandalized national audiences.
Records show Piantini and Muegge are not buried at Oakland Cemetery.
Breaking the Bank: Lewis Redwine Shocks Atlanta
A handsome and charming bachelor, Lewis Redwine was a fixture on the Atlanta social scene. He lived at the posh Kimball House and socialized at the Capital City Club. Contemporaries admired Redwine’s trendy clothing and angled for invitations to his lavish dinner parties. Redwine’s lifestyle was expensive and he paid the bills by working hard. Just kidding—he embezzled thousands of dollars from his job and bankrupted Atlanta’s biggest bank.
The missing money ruined the Gate City National Bank, causing the bank to close its doors. Many Atlantans lost their savings without an explanation.
Redwine worked as an assistant cashier at the Gate City National Bank, the largest and most influential bank in the South. He soon realized his annual salary of $1,500 (about $41,000 today) would not be enough to cover theatre tickets, dinner bills, and nice clothes. He began to steal.
On February 22, 1893, the bank president summoned Redwine to his office. Instead of confessing his crime, Redwine walked to a local saloon. After throwing back a stiff drink, he fled to a boarding house and hid for two days. A manhunt ensued with a $1,000 reward. While the authorities searched for Redwine, rumors swirled over his disappearance. No one could believe that Lewis Redwine, a southern gentleman from an honorable Atlanta family, could have stolen from the bank.
Authorities eventually caught Redwine at a boarding house in the Pittsburgh neighborhood where he was going by the name Mr. Lester. Redwine went to prison but was eventually pardoned by President McKinley after a few years. He was never able to account for the $100,000 that went missing (about $2.7 million dollars today). The missing money ruined the Gate City National Bank, causing the bank to close its doors. Many Atlantans lost their savings without an explanation.
Redwine left Atlanta after his release from jail and ended up in Louisiana where he died. A family member brought his body back to Atlanta and buried him in an unmarked grave in the Redwine lot across from the Austell Mausoleum.
“I Have Committed a Crime”
The double murder of two sisters in February 1893 was the final major event of the carnival of crimes. Julia Force waited until everyone in her family, except for her two sisters Florence and Minnie, had left the house for the day. She then walked into her sisters’ rooms and shot each woman at point-blank range. Julia calmly locked the doors on her way out and walked to the police headquarters to confess the murders stating, “I have committed a crime and want to get protection of the law.” In her written statement, Julia explained that years of mistreatment and insults from her family drove her to the edge. She tolerated the abuse, but then her brother cut off her credit at local stores. She considered this the final, embarrassing straw that drove her to sororicide.
Julia Force defied society’s concept of female killers, often viewed as adulterous or sexually deviant women. They usually committed gendered crimes, such as killing a child, an unfaithful lover, or a husband. Keeping female sensibilities in mind, they used poison instead of weapons. But Julia broke all conventions of the stereotypical murderess.
Despite her written murder confession, the jury found Julia to be of unsound mind during her trial. She was sent to the state insane asylum in Milledgeville. Why did the jury ignore Julia’s confession where she clearly and sanely explained her motives for murder? Perhaps it was easier to believe that Julia was just a hysterical woman who suffered a mental break, rather than a cold-hearted southern belle with a clear mind and a motive to kill.
During her time at the insane asylum, Julia befriended a matron who was also a granddaughter of Governor David Mitchell. When Julia died in 1916, the Mitchell family laid her to rest in the family lot at Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville. The rest of her family, including her victims Florence and Minnie, rest at Oakland.