Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Victimology: May A. Burnham

Victimology is becoming a much more important area of study in the larger field of criminology. Most often a criminal is caught by tracking down points in time and locations at which the victim may have contacted the perpetrator. What were the victim’s habits or actions that might have led to this contact? Often times a victim who seems to be a low risk for violent crime is discovered to have engaged in high risk behaviors such as drug use or prostitution. Victimology is not without controversy. Victim’s advocates have argued this is a way of assigning partial responsibility for the criminal’s actions to the victim themselves (the old “[he, she] was asking for it” fallacy. In fact there is a term in sociology, penal couple, which assigns near equal blame to the victims of violent crimes. As an anthropologist I think this, along with a lot of sociology, is utter crap. But that’s for another day. For now let’s look at May Burnham.

Twenty-five year old May Alice Burnham was the oldest daughter of John and Emma Hill. John met Emma while working for the railroad making railroad ties and they were married about 1882. John’s job would require him to move his family on down the line as the rails were built. May and her younger sister Nettie would be born in Kansas before John picked up and moved the family on into Colorado Springs. Around 1890 Emma had had enough and it was time her daughters went to school. John purchased a house and took a job as a wagon maker, giving his family some geographic stability for a change. May and her sister were extremely close growing up, likely owing to their constant relocation, and this closeness remained strong even after both of them had married. John, it seems, took up with the railroad shortly after Nettie had married. This time his work as a carpenter for the railroad took him south into Mexico. This is where he was at the time of his oldest daughter’s murder. Shortly before this, Emma, now making pastries at a local hotel, petitioned for a divorce.

May would marry Arthur, then a recovering “lunger” around 1904. Arthur worked as a store clerk in various locations throughout Colorado Springs, including a candy store near the neighborhood they would later live in. When Arthur’s tuberculosis became worse and he moved into the sanitarium almost full time, May became essentially a single mother. She and the children moved into her childhood home to live with her mother for a while. Sometime in the middle of 1910, Arthur was deemed well enough to leave the sanitarium occasionally and he moved his family out of Emma’s house and into the upstairs rooms of Anna Merritt. It was during this time that Anna and May would become good friends. Some time in early 1911, Arthur would discover the little cottage on the edge of town, near the railroad tracks. It was a quiet little neighborhood and very near the road out to the sanitarium.

One thing to examine when putting together a victimology is the kind of behaviors a victim has that put them into contact with strangers. In order to make ends meet, May would take in “overflow” from Anna Merritt’s house when someone needed a bed for the night. This often involved renting the bed in one of the two rooms of the house. The door between these rooms had a lock on it and could be secured from one side although I admit I do not know which side it was. May also allowed borders to rent the hammock on the front porch of the house. This would have brought her into contact with strangers regularly and in the few weeks the Waynes lived in their home, would have brought them into contact with these strangers as well. Because of the proximity to the D&RG railroad tracks and with the prevalence of “stowaway” passengers on (yes I know, hobos) they would have seen more then their fair share of itinerant strangers as well. For a general timeline of the Burnham’s movements on the day of the murders, go here.

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