Someone savagely beat Thalia Massie on a dark Hawaiian night in 1931, there was no question of that, but the question of whether a gang of native Hawaiians kidnapped and raped the troubled young wife of a Navy officer – as she claimed – or she was injured in some other way, would inflame the already tenuous relations between natives and whites in this volatile American territory. Before the shameful affair ended reputations would be ruined, prejudices exposed, and Thalia’s mama would lethally prove that nobody messed with her baby.
Into the whole sordid episode stepped the hero of the Leopold-Loeb and Scopes trials, the renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow. Even legendary lawyers need to pay their bills, and Darrow had no scruples over pocketing a hefty fee and defending the four whites, including Thalia’s husband and mother, accused of lynching one of Thalia’s supposed attackers. It was an unfortunate blot on his storied career.
The intriguing Massie Affair has been told before, notably in David Stannard’s Honor Killing, but Mike Farris takes a fresh look both at the trials and Clarence Darrow’s role in A Death in the Islands. A lawyer himself, Farris brings his expertise to the courtroom and vividly brings to life this notorious episode of racism and injustice.