The Crime

Cleveland's Webster Ave. Neighborhood

Immigration and Urbanization

Confession and Conclusions


by Sherry Maruna



Confession and Conclusions

Unquestionably, the murder of Sadie Santee was a murder of passion. Classified as an intimate murder, Santee was not alone as a victim of this type. During the week of October 1-8, 1909 in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, sixteen intimate murders were reported and of these, two involved African Americans. Homicide was composed of the same familiar elements: domestic argument, drink, flaring anger, and the challenge to honor across class, ethnic and racial lines. A male perpetrated this murder, which was the case in over 90% of all violent deaths. Additionally, the murder was accomplished with a gun, a weapon that accounted for over 40% of all deaths in the early 20th century. The gun that killed Santee was her own. Lyons, who shared a room with Santee, claimed that he retrieved the gun from Santee's trunk.

The presence of alcohol is reported in Parrot's testimony. Lizzie Parrot stated that she bought beer the night of the murder for Ed Phillips and Sadie Santee. Ed Phillips was also on the premises the night of the murder but it is not clear when or where he went. No subpoena for Ed Phillips' testimony was found and one can speculate whether one was issued or not. The victim consumed alcohol the night of the murder but it was not clear if the defendant was drinking.

The elements exposed were indicative of violence; however, the domestic elements of this particular case were unusual. Within the testimony, particularly that of Parrot and Lyons, it was found that the parties involved were married, yet no one was currently living with their spouse or divorced. This reflected the lack of coherent family ties among those involved in this case. Lyons stated that Santee was married but did not get along with her husband. Although the Coroner's Verdict recorded that Santee was a "widow," this was in conflict with Parrot's statement that Santee's husband was present the morning after the murder. Lyons was also married but claimed to have been "living with her (Santee) as her husband," sharing a room and a bed since March of 1909. Lizzie Parrot was currently living with one man who was absent for two weeks prior to the murder, and was also married to a man believed to be in Kansas. Santee's daughter, who was 27 years old and lived across the street from the 1248 Webster boarding house, had a child from a live-in partner who was no longer around. In this case, legitimate spouses were disregarded and intimate relations beyond monogamy were the norm.

Roy Lyons admitted killing Sadie Santee on October 2, 1909. He claimed it was self-defense, and that on another occasion, Santee had threatened him with a razor and said, "I've got a gun in my trunk that I can tame you with." Lyons also claimed that on the night of the murder, Santee had his "bayonet." Lizzie Parrot stated that she heard both an "ax" as well as a gun fall to the floor after the final shot was fired. The truth of what actually happened that night has to be filtered through witnesses' perceptions.

The piecing together of details and context can only generate assumptions, speculations and generalizations. One can speculate on Lyons' fate. In the early 1900's, blacks were convicted 80% of the time, a rate much higher than that of white convictions. Lyons was not considered a threat to society; he just violated the "general sense that men should not kill women." However, jurors and boards of pardons were not particularly sympathetic towards African-American criminals. Beginning in the late 19th century, criminals were no longer "lost souls" due to deprivation, lack of decent family life, bad education or desperation; increasingly, they were thought to be truly different, both mentally and physically. An "electric chair" rather than a hangman's rope performed executions. Whether or not Lyons was convicted and executed remain speculation, but based on the context of early 20th century life for African-American males, his odds of acquittal were slim.

The homicide and conviction rate for African Americans was 12.9 per 100,000 in 1901. In comparison, the Italian homicide rate at the same time was 26.5 per 100,000. Italian immigrants mostly arrived as single men and therefore fell into the bachelor subculture that maintained a high rate of violence. Italy also maintained the highest homicide rate in Europe. However, by 1908, Italian immigrants' homicide rate fell to 15 per 100,000 and steadily decreased after, while the African-American homicide rate steadily rose. This was partially explained by the admittance of Italians into the economic mainstream and the exclusion of African Americans.

Roy Lyons was a victim of circumstance, as was Sadie Santee. Although the connection between social, economic and cultural factors to murder was established in this case, "why" a person takes the life of another person cannot be answered. Societies throughout time have punished murderers differently but they were consistently punished. The people involved in this case had little opportunities and even fewer pleasures. Anger, desperation and hopelessness were and are indicators of violence.