Over ten thousand Westchester County District Attorney case files from the first three decades of the twentieth century have been processed so far by the Westchester County Archives’ staff and volunteers. With so many case records available for research (over 250 cubic feet and growing monthly), it would be impossible to make them all available in an online format. This digital collection, therefore, includes just a small portion of the whole, but is representative of what is to be found in the collection at large. Its primary focus is the division of the cases presented into one of three categories: Obscure, Noteworthy or Notorious, in addition to categorizing them by type of material (photograph, document, etc.), type of crime, location of crime, and defendant name, among other categories. See the user's guide for additional background on the District Attorney case file collection as a whole, an elaboration on how cases were selected for this online collection, sample search suggestions, and information on how to access full case files in paper format.
Although focused on the prosecution of crimes, the District Attorney Case Files reach far beyond the deeds of individual defendants. They offer perspective on the criminal justice system of the early twentieth century, insights into societal conditions of the time and the impact of historical events on Westchester County. Thus, the goal of this online collection is to examine a wide variety of cases that demonstrate the changes to life in Westchester during this period; examining the nature of the offense in the context of a changing society and how the material evidence left behind (objects, letters, paraphernalia and both personal and official photographs) offer potential insights into Westchester’s growth and development.
This material evidence can be complex indeed. It can at once be personal, emotionally charged and historically significant. In many of the cases there are not only unique judicial documents but personal letters and correspondence that were never intended to be viewed by the public. The value of these personal artifacts becomes greater over time, allowing historians and casual researches alike to experience the past in the words, images and material culture of a segment of society that is rarely documented. The official documentation of criminal identity through Bertillon cards, photographs, mug shots and fingerprinting also reveal the socio-economic and physical attributes of these average citizens of the period. In hindsight and in the context of contemporary jurisprudence, many of the criminal acts, prosecutions and convictions reveal cultural and social bias as well as the evolutionary path of social justice and criminal law. As a result, much of the history is obscure, forgotten over the past hundred years but noteworthy in the context of collective memory and the development of identity in Westchester County while the notorious aspects of these case files offer insights into social issues and political climates of the time.