The Devil in the White City

by Erik Larson

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According to Eric Larson in The Devil in the White City, why were disappearances common during that historical period?

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According to Larson, disappearances were fairly common in Chicago at this time in America's history because of the large number of people flooding into the city coupled with a lack of police capacity to search for those who were missing.

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Larson focuses on Chicago, the second largest city in the United States at that time. He notes that Chicago was a transportation hub, with more than a 1,000 trains entering and leaving the city every day. People from all over were flooding in, and nobody was paying much attention to...

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any one person. Women also could travel around the streets freely by themselves, unchaperoned. All of this great mass of people everywhere made it easier for any one person to disappear.

Further, when people did disappear, the police lacked the manpower to search for them. So many disappeared from all parts of the city that the police force was overwhelmed. Not only did they lack personnel, some of the police hires were the result of political favors being repaid, so a part of the police force was incompetent. Properly trained detectives were few and far between.

This meant that when lower class people, such as immigrants and black people, went missing, they were likely to stay missing, because the police lacked the resources to try to find them. However, even when upper-class people disappeared, there was little the police could do. The police department sent telegrams and visited the morgue to check for missing people but lacked resources for other forms of investigation.

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