Killing the Poormaster by Holly Metz
A Saga of Poverty, Corruption, and Murder in the Great Depression

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Reflecting on a sensational murder trial from the late 1930s, this chronicle focuses upon the death of Harry Barck, a poormaster who was granted the authority to decide who would and would not receive public aid in Hoboken, New Jersey. Unemployed mason Joe Scutellaro was said to have stabbed Barck in the heart with a paper spike after the poormaster suggested that Scutellaro’s wife prostitute herself on the streets rather than ask the city for aid. A legal team led by celebrated defender Samuel S. Leibowitz of “Scottsboro Boys” fame swooped into Hoboken from Manhattan to save Scutellaro from the electric chair, arguing that the jobless man’s struggle with the poormaster was a symbol of larger social ills. The book details Leibowitz’s transformation of the Scutellaro trial into an indictment of public relief as a tool for imposing social and political control nationwide. Grappling with issues that are still vital now—massive unemployment, endemic poverty, and the inadequacy of public assistance—this examination lends insight into the current social contract, relaying a gripping narrative that shockingly reads like today’s news.


About Holly Metz

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Holly Metz is a writer and journalist on law, culture, and social issues. She is the coauthor of How to Commit Suicide in South Africa. She has contributed to Democracy in Print: The Best of the Progressive Magazine as well as Labor History, Metropolis, the New York Times, Poets & Writers Magazine, and the American Bar Association publication, Student Lawyer. For her work as a journalist and a public historian, she has been recognized by the Dick Goldensohn Fund, the New Jersey Historical Commission, and Project Censored.
Published October 1, 2012 by Chicago Review Press. 322 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Despised as a miser, Hoboken, N.J., poormaster Harry Barck—responsible for doling out relief to the poor—died on February 25, 1938, after an altercation with Joseph Scutellaro, one of the city’s many unemployed citizens.

Jul 02 2012 | Read Full Review of Killing the Poormaster: A Sag...

Holly Metz has produced a narrative literally torn out of the headlines — from newspaper clips and transcripts of the 1930s in New Jersey.

Oct 28 2012 | Read Full Review of Killing the Poormaster: A Sag...

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