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Detroit News, April 11, 1931. Case closed. But this is rank sexism and ageism. Had Mrs. Thomsen and Mrs. Dilley been men fighting over a woman, Frances Thomsen might have been able to stand trial and win acquittal courtesy of the “unwritten law,” whose simple precept was “The libertine must die!” In the 19th century, American juries took it as a given that husbands, fathers and brothers were justified in killing a man who had been sexually intimate with their wives, daughters or sisters, and would nullify charges accordingly. The unwritten law was becoming a bit of a back number after the turn of the century, but there were still instances of its application in the 1920s and ’30s. I’m sure an example will pop up on this blog sooner or later.
Women could also benefit from the unwritten law when facing trial for killing their seducers, but as far as I know no woman ever successfully used it to get away with killing their husband’s mistress. Turns out I was wrong on that last count. The unwritten law goes through all kindsa wacky changes toward the end of its tenure. More on that later.

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