“Laughing Eel” Article Published in Nursing Clio

Many of my readers know I have studied the history of Pennsylvania’s Farview State Hospital for some time now. As Pennsylvania’s only institution built specifically to house the “criminal insane,” it is a unique place and its stories can help us learn about the close connections between criminal justice and mental health that have always been around.

I’m excited to share a new article I just had published with Nursing Clio, an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog project that ties historical scholarship to present-day issues related to gender and medicine.

My article is about Louis Henry Ross, a Pittsburgh-area burglar police called the “Laughing Eel” because of his skill at slipping away from the authorities and his penchant for laughing hysterically at his victims. Ross’s luck finally caught up with him in 1921 when he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in state prison. A few years later, Ross suffered a mental breakdown and was transferred to Farview State Hospital, where his sentence was changed to “until the state declares him not insane.” Decades passed and Ross was still imprisoned at Farview, long after his original sentence expired. Ross examined one time by Farview doctors, and was never given any sort of treatment. If he was never going to improve, how would he ever be released? In 1954 Ross escaped from Farview and hired a lawyer to sue for his freedom. The ensuing court case was both thrilling and memorable. So then what happened to Ross, the Laughing Eel? You’ll just have to read to find out!

Louis Henry Ross
Louis Henry Ross, aka “the Laughing Eel.” Pennsylvania State Archives.

Nursing Clio has included my article in their summer series on true crime stories related to health. Check it out:

Louis “The Laughing Eel” Ross and the Road of No Return: Incarcerating the “Criminally Insane”

If you like this and can’t get enough of Farview history, check out my other two articles in this blog: “More Than an Institution” and “Criminal. Insane.” Happy reading!


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