The Alienist’s second season, titled The Angel Of Darkness, doesn’t waste any time throwing viewers into the murderous horror of the TNT period piece's “Gilded Age” New York City. Within the first 15 minutes of the season premiere “Ex Ore Infantium,” which translates in English to “Out of the Mouth of Babes,” a woman named Martha Napp (Hebe Beardsall) finds her baby daughter stolen out of her crib, is incorrectly accused of the crime, and executed by electric chair in front of dozens of unfeeling male onlookers. The only people who object to the unjust killing are The Alienist’s trio of protagonists: detective Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), journalist John Moore (Luke Evans), and the series’ actual alienist, Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl).
Over the next 32 minutes of “Infantium” — which sets up Angel of Darkness’ entire core season-long mystery — Martha Napp’s daughter is found. But the Napp child is now a gruesome corpse turned into a macabre baby doll facsimile. As a final blow, the baby daughter of a Spanish dignitary is also kidnapped. It seems obvious that whoever stole baby Anna Linares (Penelope Recupero) intends to inflict upon her the same fate as Martha Napp’s mutilated baby.
The details of The Alienist season 2 — inspired by novelist Caleb Carr’s 1997 book of the same name and set in 1897 — are so specific that it’s impossible not to wonder if these disturbing crimes really happened in turn of the century New York City. The answer is that Angel of Darkness may not be a perfect re-creation of events at this time, but it does often borrow from the era’s most disturbing headlines.
The Angel of Darkness
In the most technical sense, no, The Alienist's Angel of Darkness isn't real. In The Alienist season 2, the “Angel of Darkness” killer appears to be someone who is kidnapping babies to hold captive until they poison them and turn the children into permanent dolls. The Angel of Darkness has drawn eyes on at least one of their infant victims to mimic the style of “posthumous portraiture” that actually was popular at the time.
No criminal with such a name or M.O. was roaming the streets of New York at this time, at least according to modern day reports of serial killers in the late 19th century. Around this time, America’s most infamous serial killer was H. H. Holmes, a con man who lured at least nine people to his Chicago “Murder Castle” in the early 1890s and killed them (some say he murdered 200 people). It is believed Holmes killed three young children among his many victims, although he did not disfigure their corpses or leave them in toy stores to be found. Nor is Holmes accused of kidnapping a Spanish dignitary’s child.
A 1991 biography about Randy Kraft, a spree killer from the 1970s and 1980s, is also titled Angel of Darkness, however it is in no way connected to The Alienist.
However, the anti-Spanish sentiment portrayed in Angel of Darkness is real. Starting in 1895, Cuba began rebelling against their Spanish colonizers. American journalists rallied around the Cuban cause and turned American citizens against Spain. By 1898 — a year after the events of The Alienist season 2 — both Spain and America had declared war on the other. Still, The Alienist's political Linares family, whose baby daughter is kidnapped by the Angel of Darkness, appears to be fictional.
“Ex Ore Infantium” begins with the loss of Martha Napp’s baby daughter and the woman’s subsequent execution by electric chair for the child’s alleged death (a body is not recovered at this time). The fact that Martha is one of the first people to die by electric chair in New York’s Sing Sing Prison is heavily publicized by law enforcement. Some parts of this story are directly lifted from history.
In March 1899 — two years after the events of The Alienist season 2 — a woman named Martha Place was executed in Sing Sing via electric chair, according to archival clips from the San Francisco Call and The New York Times. Place was the first woman to die by electric chair in New York state. Like The Alienist’s Martha Napp, Place's electrocution was painfully prolonged. In the series, Martha Napp is electrocuted for nearly a minute, with the voltage doubled halfway through the execution. The San Francisco Call reports Marth Place was electrocuted twice for a full minute each time (however the voltage decreased over both periods).
While the fictional Martha Napp did not kill anyone, her real-life counterpart did. Place threw acid in her step-daughter’s eyes and then smothered her to death, according to the Call. A day later Place attacked her husband with an axe, “fracturing his skull and otherwise seriously injuring him.” Miraculously, Martha Place’s husband recovered.