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Blackford, Charles Minor (17 October 1833–10 March 1903), lawyer and author, was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, the son of William Matthews Blackford, an editor, and Mary Berkeley Minor. He shaped his life by both emulating and rejecting his parents’ lives and wishes. Although trained in law, Blackford’s father pursued a career in politics and in 1846 moved the family to Lynchburg to take a job as a newspaper editor. Thus his father subjected the family to a precarious living based on party patronage but encouraged his five sons’ interest in political and literary lives. His mother held strong antislavery beliefs and pressured her sons to seek their fortunes away from the taint of the South. Charles was educated at home and at boarding schools; he completed his education at the University of Virginia, earning an L.L.B. in 1855....

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Chessman, Caryl Whittier (27 May 1921–02 May 1960), criminal and writer, was born in St. Joseph, Michigan, the son of Serl Whittier Chessman, whose occupations were varied and who spent some time on welfare, and Hallie Cottle. Because of his mother’s precarious health, Chessman and his parents moved to southern California a few months after his birth. Chessman was a sickly child, suffering from attacks of pneumonia, asthma, and encephalitis. (Psychiatrists suggest that his bout with encephalitis may have precipitated his psychopathic tendencies.) A serious car accident in Los Angeles in 1929 left his aunt dead, his mother paralyzed from the waist down, and Chessman with a broken nose and jaw. Overwhelming medical bills forced the family onto welfare, and he obtained a paper route to help out....

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Pauli Murray Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109644).

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Murray, Pauli (20 November 1910–01 July 1985), lawyer, writer, and minister, was born Anna Pauline Murray in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of William Henry Murray, a public school teacher, and Agnes Fitzgerald, a nurse. Triracial, she had African, European, and Native American ancestry. Her parents both died when she was a child (her mother had a cerebral hemorrhage in March 1914; her father was murdered in a state hospital in June 1923), and she grew up from age three in North Carolina with her maternal grandparents and her mother’s oldest sister, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, a public school teacher who adopted her....

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Ness, Eliot (19 April 1903–16 May 1957), law enforcement agent, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Norwegian immigrants Peter Ness, a baker, and Emma Ness (maiden name unknown). His hardworking parents having instilled in him a solid work ethic, Ness graduated from high school with excellent grades. After briefly working at an automobile plant and a real estate office, he enrolled in the University of Chicago, taking courses in business and political science. In 1925 he received his bachelor's degree in business administration....

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Siringo, Charles Angelo (07 February 1855–18 October 1928), cowboy, detective, and author, was born on Matagorda Peninsula, in Texas, the son of an Italian immigrant (first name unavailable) and Irish-born Bridgit White, farmers. His mother was widowed in 1856, married a drunkard named Carrier in 1868, lived with and then without him in Lebanon, Illinois, and next moved to St. Louis. Siringo had no schooling during the Civil War years in Texas, became a cowboy at age eleven, ran cattle for an employer named Faldien, worked at odd jobs in Lebanon (1868–1869), and was a bellhop for a year in a St. Louis hotel. After a fight with another employee he made his way to New Orleans, where he was befriended by a childless couple who sent him to school until a near-fatal knife fight, which he won, caused him to decamp for Texas in 1871....

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Wyman, Seth (04 March 1784–02 April 1843), thief and author, was born in Goffstown, New Hampshire, the son of Seth Wyman and Sarah Atwood, farmers. Wyman documented his life and career in his posthumously published autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Seth Wyman, Embodying the Principal Events of a Life Spent in Robbery, Theft, Gambling, Passing Counterfeit Money …...