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CWatts
01-17-2017, 09:35 PM
I have a wealthy American first-class passenger killing a German steerage immigrant aboard a British steamer in the middle of the Atlantic, 1871. This is witnessed by two women steerage passengers (French and Irish) and a black American sailor. So yeah, he's going to get away with it....

I'm looking for how this might be investigated on board, and then what legal avenues are possible once they land in New York. Right now I have the man strangled, and possibly thrown overboard. Victim was known as a drunkard and so they could play this off as an accident. This is part of a larger conspiracy though, so he could just disappear from the records and the authorities deny he even existed.

stephenf
01-17-2017, 10:08 PM
hi
I'm not an expert , but as I understand it . The captain has the responsibility and authority over everybody on his ship . The captain can order passenger to locked in their cabins , some ships had cells that the captain could use if needed . If the ship is British registered, the Jurisdiction would be British when at sea . Because the ship will dock in New York , the captain would report the crime to the American police . The ship would become a crime scene and would come under American jurisdiction when the ship docked .

dpaterso
01-17-2017, 10:18 PM
Oooh interesting thoughts.

I'm thinking the witnesses would convey their concerns to whatever member of the crew they communicate with -- the purser or third officer or similar rank, who has the list of all passengers aboard, including steerage? -- with the hope he will pass this up the command chain.

However I can't help but expect that once the murderer's identity is revealed, that the ship's captain might make a fateful decision to keep shut about this incident, with appropriate warnings issued to the witnesses who must have been mistaken. Or if the captain isn't that kind of guy -- just how powerful/wealthy is the murderer, will this bring embarrassment to the company? Especially if it can't be proven, without a corpse.

-Derek

ironmikezero
01-17-2017, 11:13 PM
A capital crime on the high seas? Oh, boy . . . You're potentially opening a Pandora's box of legal issues--don't get bogged down in the details (and there are plenty) and try to keep it simple. Primary (criminal) jurisdiction may arguably be Great Britain, but US Admiralty (tort) law may overlap (concurrent jurisdictions are not unusual). Pragmatically speaking, upon making port in New York, a mutual/cooperative investigation would likely ensue (think US Marshals, NYPD, and Scotland Yard). The results of the investigation would be presented to prosecutorial authorities (US Attorney, NYC District Attorney, and Crown Prosecutor) for determination of criminal and/or civil responsibilities. Proceedings could commence once these logistics were ironed out. It is possible to have consecutive proceedings in multiple jurisdictions (one following the other, in which evidence presented in the first would be almost always deemed admissible in the next). I suspect you still have some research in your immediate future. Best of luck!

http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3de82ac9-ce28-4220-80ec-e992b35a3baf

http://www.fjc.gov/history/home.nsf/page/jurisdiction_admiralty.html

King Neptune
01-18-2017, 12:41 AM
I agree with Mike on opening Pandora's Box, but it largely depends on who you want to prosecute, if anyone. I believe thatt the trial court would be British, because it happened on a British ship on the high seas.

"For crimes committed on the high seas, areas that are not controlled by any one state, the citizenship of those involved usually dictates which country has jurisdiction." http://www.armchairsleuth.com/vol-1-spellbound/read-vol/ch-2-chocolate-pie/jurisdicational-issues-in-international-waters

An opinion
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2250/in-international-waters-are-you-beyond-the-reach-of-the-law
A more thorough treatment
https://thenewinternationallaw.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/jurisdiction-and-diplomacy-on-the-high-seas-india-vs-italy/

from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS):
"In the event of a collision or any other incident of navigation concerning a ship on the high seas, involving the penal or disciplinary responsibility of the master or of any other person in the service of the ship, no penal or disciplinary proceedings may be instituted against such person except before the judicial or administrative authorities either of the flag State or of the State of which such person is a national.[9]"

[URL="https://thenewinternationallaw.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/jurisdiction-and-diplomacy-on-the-high-seas-india-vs-italy/#_ftn9"] (https://thenewinternationallaw.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/jurisdiction-and-diplomacy-on-the-high-seas-india-vs-italy/#_ftn9)“This seems to indicate that under present day law the flag country would have jurisdiction and that prior to this treaty “the national State of the ship where the deaths occurred could exercise jurisdiction because the crime took place in part on the “territory” of that State.[6] (https://thenewinternationallaw.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/jurisdiction-and-diplomacy-on-the-high-seas-india-vs-italy/#_ftn6)”

I think Britain had jurisdiction.

jclarkdawe
01-18-2017, 01:53 AM
Okay, this is going to require massive amounts of research to figure out. Admiralty law was in a state of flux in this period. We were going from ships that were at seas for months, and maybe years, to ships crossing the Atlantic in a few weeks. This really changed the complexion of the situation.

Originally, jurisdiction was vested almost entirely with the captain, who could hold a court and determine punishment. This could involve confinement, banishment, flogging, or hanging. But as the speed of transport increased, the need for the captain to resolve a matter declined. This resulted in jurisdiction being transferred to shore.

England would have jurisdiction, but the US was asserting that it had rights if a US citizen was involved. If no US citizen was involved, the captain could keep the passenger confined until his return to England. There might be no investigation by US authorities.

You say "first class passenger" but this doesn't say a lot. Now the very rich and powerful fly frequently in their own planes, but back then, they traveled with the rest of us. Imagine how this would be treated if the first class passenger was John Jacob Astor IV compared to someone who barely scraped together the money for a first class ticket. The captains in this period were definitely becoming aware of who was who.

Jim

CWatts
01-18-2017, 06:29 AM
Wow, thanks everyone! Yes I have concocted a mess haven't I?

How I'm setting this up is that no one will get prosecuted for this particular crime, because there's not enough solid evidence - the witnesses don't make a clear i.d., and the method of death is somewhat ambiguous. I think I will have the corpse remain on the ship. If he was strangled, the ship's doctor would be able to tell, though if he is heavily bearded it may be less obvious. A more believable "accident" would be for the killer to break his neck, then dump the body at the bottom of a stairwell or ladder so it looks like he fell.

I'm seeing the killer as an upper-middle-class social climber, politically connected but not all that powerful himself. He will probably get away with this murder, but commit other crimes in NYC in an attempt to cover it up. It'll all part of a larger corruption scandal (this is Tammany Hall era, after all), and the investigation should at least stop the scheme and make the powers behind it dispose of the killer.

If the British are investigating, they may take the black sailor's word more seriously than his own country does - especially ironic as he's a Union veteran. The Irish witness has relatives in the NYPD who might dig around to the extent they can. Meanwhile the Frenchwoman is being deliberately evasive and would be the top suspect if the killer hadn't relied on strength. Then we've got the law student who's looking to make a name for himself sorting out this tangle. (Dang, this is getting kind of blurby. I need to get offline and write!)

jclarkdawe
01-18-2017, 07:29 AM
Remember that this is before radio.

The captain and the ship's "doctor" would examine the body. You could have a first-class passenger who is actually a doctor, or the officer who deals with medical problems, probably the third officer. Understand that you're not going to get anything approaching a real autopsy. After the body is examined, it would be consigned to the deep. Unless it is deep winter, there's really no place in this period to store body. I don't believe the ships in 1870 carried much in the way of refrigerated areas. What refrigeration there was would have been ice. So bodies would not have been kept on the ship, but sent to Davey Jone's locker.

In that day, a black sailor would most likely be a member of the engine crew, engaged to shovel coal. Although sailors were all races and colors, there was some level of rank. An able seaman would have more likely to be white, especially on a boat with first-class passengers.

Sailors sign up for a trip. In other words, your sailor would be sailing New York to England and back again, and then being resigned. It was beginning to change to longer term contracts, but one trip sailors were very common.

I'd have the captain and first officer investigate. The sailor is leaving in New York as his contract is up. So the captain, when the ship arrives in New York, goes to the British consulate to discuss the situation. The consulate determines that it's a German steerage passenger, passes that information on to the German consulate, and says it's not a British problem, as they're not even sure a murder occurred. German consulate isn't going to get too excited if no one is complaining. Papers are sent between Germany and England, months pass, and who cares? The case disappears.

Jim Clark-Dawe

King Neptune
01-18-2017, 06:55 PM
Wow, thanks everyone! Yes I have concocted a mess haven't I?

How I'm setting this up is that no one will get prosecuted for this particular crime, because there's not enough solid evidence - the witnesses don't make a clear i.d., and the method of death is somewhat ambiguous. I think I will have the corpse remain on the ship. If he was strangled, the ship's doctor would be able to tell, though if he is heavily bearded it may be less obvious. A more believable "accident" would be for the killer to break his neck, then dump the body at the bottom of a stairwell or ladder so it looks like he fell.

I'm seeing the killer as an upper-middle-class social climber, politically connected but not all that powerful himself. He will probably get away with this murder, but commit other crimes in NYC in an attempt to cover it up. It'll all part of a larger corruption scandal (this is Tammany Hall era, after all), and the investigation should at least stop the scheme and make the powers behind it dispose of the killer.

If the British are investigating, they may take the black sailor's word more seriously than his own country does - especially ironic as he's a Union veteran. The Irish witness has relatives in the NYPD who might dig around to the extent they can. Meanwhile the Frenchwoman is being deliberately evasive and would be the top suspect if the killer hadn't relied on strength. Then we've got the law student who's looking to make a name for himself sorting out this tangle. (Dang, this is getting kind of blurby. I need to get offline and write!)

If you don't want anyone prosecuted, then the body at the bottom of a ladder with a broken neck would do that, and the captain and medical officer would make that declaration before all sorts of people have to be interrogated, unless you want to do the interrogation part.