Sex, Murder, and the Unwritten Law: Courting Judicial Mayhem, Texas Style

Written by Bill Neal
Review by Lucille Cormier

Wild West doesn’t begin to describe the antics Bill Neal recounts in this well-researched volume. From the late 19th century and well into the 20th, it was not unusual in certain Texas murder cases to have a killer – whose guilt had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt – found not guilty.

The reason behind this stunning phenomenon was the South’s adherence to the lex non scripta, the code of honor that obliged a man to act against those who defiled his womenfolk or uttered public threats against him. The six cases described in this book are telling examples of juries setting aside statutory law in favor of their own brand of folk justice.

Aside from providing a carefully documented summary of the cases, the author paints a detailed and colorful picture of Texas society in the oil boom years. His thought provoking analyses are an added bonus. This is not a novel but certainly reads like one. A definite thumbs up!