Item #4920 [Letter By The Notorious Murderer Robert Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz.”]. Robert Stroud.
[Letter By The Notorious Murderer Robert Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz.”]

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[Letter By The Notorious Murderer Robert Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz.”]

Alcatraz Prison, California, 24 May 1949. 8vo (26 x 20.2 cm). 2 pp. of manuscript. ALS.

A captivating letter by Robert Stroud—known as “the Birdman of Alcatraz”—to his friend Fred Daw, concerning Stroud’s research on canaries, his violent childhood, the forthcoming biopic on him, his projected multi-volume autobiography, his challenge to Darwin, and more.

Imprisoned at Alcatraz, Robert Stroud (1890–1963) here writes to his long-time friend and regular correspondent Fred E. Daw (1907–1982), a former President of the Chicago Bird Club who now resides in Coral Gables, Florida. Stroud became famous for his seminal work done in prison on canaries, which was published in 1933 as Diseases of Canaries and a expanded second edition in 1943 entitled, Stroud’s Digest on the Diseases of Birds. This fascinating man was also a violent murderer and the subject of several books and films. In this letter, Stroud describes effective sulfa medicine usage for birds. He also spars with Charles Darwin—challenging his theories on the limited olfactory capability of birds:

Darwin credited birds with having no sense of smell. Many biologists agree. I do not. The organs are not as well developed as in mammals, but I have examined them in microscopic sections and they are undoubtedly functional. Also blind birds can find food and water, but normally birds have such wonderful eyes and ears that they do not make much use of their sense of smell.

Though lacking a formal scientific education, Stroud became a well-respected and nationally known ornithologist, making several important contributions to avian pathology; most notably, a cure for the hemorrhagic septicemia family of diseases. His scientific accomplishments with canaries were undertaken from his Leavenworth prison cell via careful observation and experimentation with medicines. Still, he was so violent that he spent 42 of the last 54 years of his prison-life in solitary confinement. Stroud suffered from poor health for much of his adult life, and he mentions here that he has been recuperating as of late, and makes reference to his “old gallbladder.”

Stroud enthusiastically describes and provides excerpts from his projected 8-volume autobiography Bobbie, which he was forbidden by prison authorities to publish. 90 percent of the book, he explains, is intended to be written in the form of dialogue. As in a number of his surviving letters, Stroud describes here his violent youth: “I have shown the origin, growth and development of an Edipus complex and have traced step by step its development from my earliest sexual experience of the age of five…up to an attempt to kill my father a few day after my 14th birthday.” He also excitedly refers to a pending film on his life, the book for which would not come out until 6 years later in 1955, and ultimately in film as The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962): “One published report I saw said that the story had been written and would be shot in July. I am to get ten G’s with the start of production and ten percent of the net on the picture. If it is a hit that will run into real money.” Stroud was never allowed to view the film based on his life. The letter is signed “Bob,” and is accompanied by his full name and prison number, #594.

A rich letter by “The Birdman of Alcatraz,” covering a range of topics which serve to further illuminate this highly fascinating if disturbing man.

CONDITION: Very good, old folds.

Item #4920


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