Skip to main content
Use the right side menu to identify relevant boxes and place requests.

Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp papers

 Collection 0380-MDHC

Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp were members of the Giles-Johnson Defense Committee. This volunteer group of Montgomery County citizens worked for the defense of James and John Giles and Joseph Johnson, three African-American men accused of raping a white teenaged girl in 1961. The husband and wife undertook research and publicity activities on behalf of the committee and supported the efforts of the defendants’ attorneys by uncovering new evidence about the case. This collection includes the Knapps’ working papers, legal documents, a scrapbook of clippings assembled by Barbara Knapp, and five tape recordings related to the Giles-Johnson case.


  • Majority of material found within 1960-1972
  • 1960-2018

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


6.25 Linear Feet (5 record storage boxes)

Scope and Contents

The Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp papers cover the period from 1960 to 2018; the bulk of the materials date from 1960 to 1972. The collection consists of correspondence, reports, notes, legal documents, clippings, a scrapbook, and audio recordings related to the Knapps’ involvement with the Giles-Johnson case.

Biographical / Historical

James Giles, John Giles, and Joseph Johnson were charged with raping Joyce Roberts in 1961. The Giles brothers were tried for rape in Montgomery County and were sentenced to death on December 11, 1961, by Judge James H. Pugh. After the Giles brothers received the death penalty, attorneys for Joseph Johnson requested to change the venue for Johnson’s trial to Anne Arundel County. Despite this change, Johnson was sentenced to death by Judge Matthew S. Evans on November 20, 1962. Harold Knapp, an analyst for the Institute for Defense Analyses, and his wife Barbara became interested in the case after reading a July 1962 editorial in the Montgomery County Sentinel about the formation of the Giles-Johnson Defense Committee, which was established by chair Frances (Mrs. Howard) Ross and about sixty other members. The Knapps began investigating the case and later became official members of the committee. Initially, the Knapps and other committee members did not question that the Giles brothers and Johnson were guilty of rape. They were chiefly concerned about the harshness of the sentence, which they perceived to be racially motivated. When the Knapps reviewed the Giles-Johnson court transcripts and began interviewing individuals connected with the case, they found additional evidence that convinced them that the three men were innocent. The Knapps submitted a report describing the facts of the case to Governor J. Millard Tawes before the defendants’ clemency hearing on October 15, 1963.

After Governor Tawes commuted the defendants’ sentences to life in prison on October 24, 1963, Barbara Knapp began leading the Giles-Johnson Defense Committee’s publicity efforts and Harold Knapp was appointed head of research. The Knapps continued to identify witnesses and persuaded them to sign affidavits that could be used as evidence in a potential retrial. Attorneys Joseph Forer, Hal Witt, and Richard Scupi filed a petition under the Maryland Post-Conviction Procedure Act on behalf of James and John Giles in May 1964. They argued that the state suppressed evidence and relied on perjured testimony to convict the Giles brothers. Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Walter Moorman initially granted the Giles brothers a new trial but the State of Maryland successfully appealed his decision. The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case and ruled in February 1967 that the case should be remanded to the Maryland Court of Appeals for further consideration. In March 1967, the state confessed error and requested a new trial. When Joyce Roberts refused to testify, the case was dismissed and the Giles brothers were freed in October 1967. Joseph Johnson was subsequently denied a new trial but was pardoned by Governor Spiro T. Agnew and released in February 1968. The Knapps and other Giles-Johnson Defense Committee members continued to advocate against capital punishment in the state of Maryland after the three defendants were released from prison.

Reference Works

Smith, A. Robert, and James V. Giles. An American Rape: A True Account of the Giles-Johnson Case. Washington: New Republic Book Co., 1975.

Strauss, Frances. Where Did the Justice Go? The Story of the Giles-Johnson Case. Boston: Gambit, 1970.


This collection is organized into four series:

Series 1: Working files

Series 2: Giles-Johnson legal documents

Series 3: Related legal cases

Series 4: Audio recordings

Custodial History

Gift of Barbara B. Knapp, May 14, 2018.

Related Materials

Giles-Johnson Defense Committee records, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. (

Smith, A. Robert, and James V. Giles. An American Rape: A True Account of the Giles-Johnson Case. Washington: New Republic Book Co., 1975. (Maryland Room Maryland Stacks KF224.G5 S4, McKeldin Stacks KF224.G5 S4)

Statement by Governor -- Re: Pardon of Joseph E. Johnson, Jr., February 9, 1968, Series 2.3, Box 1, Folder 101, Spiro T. Agnew papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. (

Strauss, Frances. Where Did the Justice Go? The Story of the Giles-Johnson Case. Boston: Gambit, 1970. (Maryland Room Maryland Stacks KF224.G5 S7, McKeldin Stacks KF224.G5 S7)

Separated Materials

Clippings from Montgomery County Sentinel: A History of the Giles Case

Duplicates of the following items were separated and placed at the end of the collection in Box 5:

The Giles-Johnson Case as of July 20, 1964: Excerpts from Report No. 1

The Giles-Johnson Case as of July 20, 1964: Report No. 1

Photocopies of images of John and James Giles at Maryland Penitentiary and at their mother's funeral (images used in Report No. 1)

Processing Information

The Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp papers were processed in October 2018. All metal paper clips and some staples were removed. Newspaper clippings were separated from other materials with acid-free paper. Papers were placed in acid-free folders and in acid-free boxes. Some folders were given new titles.

The materials were arranged into four series. Original textual materials that were created or received by Harold Knapp, Barbara Knapp, and other members of the Giles-Johnson Defense Committee were placed in series 1. Reference copies of legal documents from the Giles-Johnson case were placed in series 2. Copies of legal documents from related lawsuits were placed in series 3. Folders that contained a mixture of legal documents, notes, and correspondence were moved to series 1. Finally, five tape recordings were placed in series 4.

Guide to the Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp papers
Processed by Emily Flint.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742