Murder With Southern Hospitality:
An Exhibition of Mississippi Mysteries

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True Crime

Mississippi True Crime

A thin line separates truth from fiction between the lurid covers of true crime works. Phillip Rawlings, a scholar of the genre, defines true crime as “usually concerned with a particular crime or criminal and the process of detection. It is aimed at a non-specialist market, is cheap, easily available and easy to read.” Journalistic techniques are common. In fact, many former reporters become authors of true crime, but to create a spell-binding narrative, they also utilize fiction techniques.

Although the phenomenon of true crime has taken on new life since the early 1990s, its historical roots are much earlier. By the 1500’s in England, accounts of dying speeches by condemned prisoners appeared on printed broadsides. In order to quell the inaccuracies of these publications (and to share in some of the profits) the warden of Newgate Prison in 1684 began to print coverage of trials, executions, and short biographies of prisoners in a widely popular series entitled Accounts.

These accounts developed into sensational reports and finally evolved into the novel format that captured the twentieth-century American audience by storm. Considered one step above tabloid journalism, true crime began to skim the surface of respectability with Truman Capote’s chilling 1966 work In Cold Blood.

The reader of contemporary true crime generally seeks a restoration of order amidst chaos. This desire is even more prevalent in a world filled with images of crime and violence. Legal scholar Susan Weiner comments that, “media coverage about sensational crimes as well as the symbiotic relationship between true crime paperbacks and tabloid television have accelerated the phenomenon.”

The exhibit features accounts recording the tragic tales of sensational crimes in Mississippi. The works highlighted follow a chronological development of Mississippi-related true crime publications. They begin with early trial records published by a Jackson, Mississippi newspaper and continue from Reconstruction through the civil rights era and into the seedy casino underworld of the 1990s.

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