Review: The Rossi Murder and the Unwritten Law in 1916’s Wallace, Idaho

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Katherine Aiken, a professor emerita of history at the University of Idaho with an emphasis in social and cultural history, women, and labor. She is the author of Idaho’s Bunker Hill: The Rise and Fall of a Great Mining Company, 1885-1981

The combination of a salacious adultery story; a murder in front of eyewitnesses; and a circus-like trial is a recipe for an exciting tale. This is indeed true of the 1916 Rossi murder that is the subject of Ron Roizen’s book, The Rossi Murder: And the Unwritten Law in 1916’s Wallace, Idaho (2021). Herman J. Rossi was a Wallace, Idaho, community leader, serving at various times as the mayor of Wallace and as a member of the Idaho legislature.

In 1906, he married Mabel Rice, fifteen years his junior. Rossi soon discovered that, instead of the ingenue he expected, Mabel, in fact, struggled with an alcohol addiction. Although Rossi apparently doted on his young wife, prominent Wallace women declined to associate with Mabel due to her alleged drinking. Rossi believed that alcoholism was a disease, and he sought treatment for his wife on several occasions—but never found a permanent cure.

In late June 1916, Rossi returned from a political trip to the state capitol to find his wife had spent three days—much of it in bed—with a local musician and alleged bootlegger, Clarence Dahlquist. Rossi pulled his wife from her bed; slapped her; tore off her nightgown and threatened to throw her naked into the street. Next, he went to the kitchen and drank two cups of black coffee and then walked down the street to the Samuels Hotel lobby where he confronted Dahlquist and shot him. Dahlquist died the next morning.

Aiken Review Rossi Murder Title Card

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From the Archives Back to the Clinic: How Historians of Psychedelics are Protecting the Public Domain

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Chris Elcock, an award-wining independent scholar working on the history of LSD and psychedelics

There was a time when LSD and other vision-inducing psychedelic drugs were associated with the American counter-culture and for conservative observers with license and dissent. Amid the psychedelic hues of light-shows, magic buses, and tie-dye shirts, the medical history of these substances was relegated to a footnote of the 1960s, a decade that symbolized cultural change rather than experimental psychiatry. For better or worse, LSD had spilled out of the clinics and what seemed to have mattered most was that it had landed in the hands of Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead. 

While these stories have been told endlessly in popular books and documentaries, historians of psychedelic psychiatry have meticulously examined the way medical doctors initially looked to gain new knowledge into mental illness by inducing a temporary and controlled form of psychosis with mescaline and LSD, and how they subsequently used these substances to treat alcoholism and to help terminal cancer patients to serenely come to terms with death. In 1962, however, fundamental changes in the implementation of clinical trials, which laid critical emphasis on objective measurements and scientific reproducibility, greatly frustrated the research teams working in the field, to a point where psychedelic science had come to a near standstill by the early 1970s.

Despite these early setbacks, research in psychedelics has particularly boomed in the last decade as national and international laws regarding the therapeutic use of psilocybin and other psychedelics have begun to change. In this new regulatory environment, drug companies and investors have rushed to file patents for new psychedelic drug uses and technologies in hopes of monopolizing—and monetizing—the next blockbuster treatment.

In response to this knowledge grab, a recent collaboration between historians and legal experts sponsored by the Usona Institute, a non-profit psilocybin research organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, relies on historical and archival research to protect the public domain. Usona has established a new open-access online repository called Porta Sophia—the doorway to wisdom—that documents extant therapeutic techniques that have used psychedelics as adjuncts. This easily accessible project seeks to ensure that new patent filings are truly innovative.

Porta Sophia Glowing Orb
Graphic from the web page of Usona Institute’s Porta Sophia, Psychedelic
Prior Art Library. Image Courtesy of Porta Sophia.

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Points Interview: Nancy Maveety

Today’s Points Interview features Nancy Maveety, Professor of Political Science at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and author of the new book Glass and Gavel: The U.S. Supreme Court and Alcohol (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019). At Tulane, she teaches courses in constitutional law, judicial decision-making, and her latest special topics class “Booze, Drugs and the Courts.” …

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The Strange and Complicated Future of the E-Cigarette Industry

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Camille Wilson, a patent attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, with extensive experience researching e-cigarettes. Enjoy!

Last January, in 2015, I[1] wrote about the patent evolution of e-cigarettes up until that point. I also made some general predictions about the e-cigarette industry, mostly favoring Big Tobacco. Only a short twenty months later, the entire landscape is about to change…and it will most likely favor Big Tobacco, in one way or another.

But why the shift?

In May 2016, the FDA finalized a rule (a very dense 134 page rule, to be exact) extending their regulatory power established by the Tobacco Control Act in 2007 to cover all tobacco products, which now includes e-cigarettes. That rule officially went into effect on August 8, 2016, starting the clock for the entire industry to disprove that their products are “not appropriate for the protection of public health.” (“Deeming Tobacco Products To Be Subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act”, as Amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act; Restrictions on the Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products and Required Warning Statements for Tobacco Products, 81 Fed. Reg. 28975, May 10, 2016) (Amending 21 C.F.R. §§ 1100, 1140, and 1143). I use the term “disprove” because the entire rule seems to presume that all e-cigarette products do not protect public health; so, the onus is placed on the manufacturers to prove otherwise.

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Drug War Dissents: Robinson v. California

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Dr. David Herzberg, as associate professor of history at SUNY Buffalo and the author of Happy Pills in America (2010) and his forthcoming project The Other Drug War: A History of Prescription Drug AbuseEnjoy! 

Most American drug policy historians are familiar with the 1962 Supreme Court decision Robinson v. California, which held that addiction was an illness and not a crime. The case involved a California man sentenced to jail not for buying, possessing, or using narcotics, but for the condition of being a narcotic addict. In striking down the law, the Court declared that addiction was an illness, and that—in Justice Potter Stewart’s memorable words—“Even one day in prison would be a cruel and unusual punishment for the ‘crime’ of having a common cold.” (Stewart would probably be glad to know that at least one group of people, however small, remembers him for this quotation rather than his “I-know- it-when- I-see- it” definition of “hard-core pornography,” which he later feared would adorn his tombstone.) For historians the decision serves as a convenient marker of the broader shift away from the punitive policies of the “classic era” of narcotics control and towards more medicalized approaches to addiction.

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Of late, drug policy historians have been placing this shift under increasing scrutiny. Complementing the vast and growing literature on medicine as a form of social control, historians like Eric Schneider and Points’ own Claire Clark have begun to focus more on how medical approaches harmonized with, rather than diverged from, punitive ones. Methadone maintenance, for example, was implemented primarily as a crime control measure and was evaluated on that basis, and thus ultimately complemented rather than upended prison-based approaches. Meanwhile, therapeutic communities’ tough-love philosophies could lead to “scared straight” type tactics that, in many cases, were much harsher and farther-reaching than simple imprisonment. Historians’ increased focus on the disciplinary dimensions of medical treatment may be due, in part, to the increasing visibility and intellectual availability of “harm reduction,” which also draws parallels between medical and criminal control of drug use.

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