Exonerating Redwing: The Posthumous Investigation of a Circus Performer

Dr Franklin Wilson1

1Indiana State University, Terre Haute, United States

The time period following the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States is generally referred to as the modern era of the death penalty. Since 1976, more than 7,800 have been sentenced to death, over 1,500 have been executed, more than 165 have been exonerated, and some estimate as many as 4% have been wrongfully convicted.  Despite these numbers, and the advent of new technology such as DNA, courts remain unlikely to hear cases regarding a subject’s potential innocence after he or she is executed. Even more rare are examinations of cases that took place prior to the modern era. This research project examines the 1930 case of Chief Redwing. Redwing, a circus performer in the Cavazos Cuban Shows, was convicted of the kidnapping and death of the two-year-old daughter of the Cuban Show owners. The case would gain national and international attention, often fueled by bigotry and myths held by criminal justice officials, journalists, and the general public.  The examination of historical records reveals that many of the key issues that have resulted in exoneration in the modern era were present in the Chief Redwing case.


Dr. Wilson is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Indiana State University. His research and publication interests are all focused on increasing public knowledge of key criminal justice issues.  He approaches his research through a blending of criminological, historical, and communications research techniques.  His research and publication interests specifically include issues surrounding mass incarceration and punishment as well as the depiction of municipal police officers and police use of force in entertainment media. Dr. Wilson is currently researching and writing a book on the largest prison cemetery in the United States.  Other areas of research and publication interests include issues related to race and socioeconomic class, public and prison health, and the death penalty.

His research has been featured in numerous news outlets including the New York Times, USA Today, Pittsburg Gazette, Houston Chronicle, U.S. Catholic, and Huffington Post. He is the author of Crime and Media Studies: Diversity of Method, Medium, and Communication. Dr. Wilson was recently named one of the leading Criminology and Criminal Justice professors to follow on Twitter.  He is a featured expert for the Crime and Justice Research Alliance and a member of the Board of Directors for CRIMCAST, an online podcast, which centers on current issues in criminal justice. He also serves on the Advisory Board for the Center for Media and Celebrity Studies. Additionally, he was the Founding Chair of the International Crime, Media and Popular Culture Studies Conference (2008-2014).


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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