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Release: Immediate

UI professor to use NEH grant to research police execution

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Professor of History Allen Steinberg has received a $30,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to research a book about the only police officer ever executed in American history.

Steinberg will use the money as a salary replacement to research the book full-time next year. The project is tentatively titled, "Murder and the Struggle for Law Enforcement in Progressive New York."

The book will recount the story of New York City vice squad head Charles Becker, who was executed in 1915 for the murder of a gambler three years earlier. At the time few realized Becker had been framed by some of the most powerful politicians and opinion-makers of the day.

The Becker case was the O.J. Simpson case of its time, riveting the attention of New Yorkers and the nation, says Steinberg.

"It was the culminating episode in a more than 20-year crusade of urban and police reform that had been sweeping American cities and involved many of the most colorful characters and fundamental features of life in Progressive era America," he says. "It remains one of the most infamous and is certainly the most ironic instance of police abuse of authority in American history."

Steinberg will conduct most of his research in New York City. The book will focus on three important figures in the case, attorney Frank Moss, New York Mayor William J. Gaynor and Becker, who Steinberg says was a brutal, grafting and politically connected cop, representative of what reformers on all sides were against.