More about the Villisca Mystery The terrific documentary created by filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle (right) about the 1912 axe murders in Iowa (see the Clews review) has renewed interest in the old mystery.
Beth Klingensmith already knows the case well -- her great-great-great grandmother was the victim of matricide by Henry Moore, which makes Beth a cousin of the alleged serial killer who may have been responsible for the eight murders in Villisca. After years of study, Beth believes that the Villisca murders may be connected to five similar cases across the Midwest. She has written a 33-page academic paper for a master's level class at Emporia State in Kansas that looks at connections between the cases and is an excellent exploration of the theory. Beth is versed in criminology and the depth of research is obvious. She has mapped the crimes and charted the similarities between the murders in Villisca, Iowa and Colorado Springs, Colorado; Monmouth, Illinois; Ellsworth, Kansas; Paola, Kansas; and Columbia, Missouri as well as four similar crimes from the era.
Of all the reviews... I thought it interesting that famous film critic Roger Ebert has announced a "best of" book, and of all the reviews he could have pulled from his drawer as examples of his best, it is the fictional telling of the story of serial killer Aileen Wournos that he points to as an example of one of his best reviews ever:
We are told to hate the sin but not the sinner, and as I watched "Monster" I began to see it as an exercise in the theological virtue of charity. It refuses to objectify Wuornos and her crimes and refuses to exploit her story in the cynical manner of true crime sensationalism -- insisting instead on seeing her as one of God's creatures worthy of our attention.
Which is an interesting remark to make... as long as he never intends to run for public office.
The Interpretation of Murder Now here's a new fictional historic crime title that's right up our dark alleys. The Interpretation of Murder is a thriller written by Jed Rubenfeld, professor of law at Yale. It's set in 1909 during Sigmund Freud's visit to New York City and is billed as "a spellbinding thriller featuring Sigmund Freud and the search for a diabolical killer in turn of the century New York." From the website for the book:
In 1909, Sigmund Freud arrived in New York for what would be his only U.S. visit. Upon his return to Vienna, he rarely spoke of the trip, but referred to Americans as "savages" for the rest of his life. What befell the great genius during his journey to these shores?
And another that has people citing Caleb Carr....
The Beautiful Cigar Girl The Mary Rogers mystery has made it into fiction again. This one is by well-known mystery author Daniel Stashower. From the recent New York Times book review:
Murder in the city casts a peculiar spell, a mixture of horror, fascination and relief. One more member of the herd has been picked off, but it was somebody else who attracted the invisible, anonymous hand that could strike anyone at any time. When the victim is a beautiful woman, sex enters the equation, and you have front-page news.
That was certainly the case in the summer of 1841, when Mary Rogers, a young saleswoman at John Anderson's Tobacco Emporium on Lower Broadway in Manhattan, disappeared and turned up a few days later floating in the Hudson River. Her baffling murder, a sensation at the time, attracted the attention not only of the city's fire-breathing newspaper editors, but also of Edgar Allan Poe, who assigned his fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin, to solve the crime.
Their converging stories are the twin strands that Daniel Stashower neatly ties together in "The Beautiful Cigar Girl," his atmospheric, suspenseful re-creation of a crime, a city and a writer as doomed as the victim he wrote about...
Mr. Stashower, deftly interweaving contemporary press accounts of the murder and the investigation into his narrative, vividly recreates the atmosphere of the period in a moody, sepia-toned style that recalls "The Alienist" by Caleb Carr and "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. Cutting back and forth between the Rogers investigation and Poe's life, he gradually brings his two subjects to the point of convergence, creating a compelling portrait of Poe along the way.
Anyone who can blend Caleb Carr and Erik Larson has earned a spot on my wish list while I wait for someone to publish a Carr-esque title that is not set in New York.
Murder in Room 103 More than one person has brought to my attention the terrific article appearing on CourtTV.com by Harriet Ryan -- it's an article called Murder in Room 103 about a case in Seoul, South Korea. "A beautiful exchange student is murdered. Another American confesses. Why is the crime unsolved?" (The rendering requires broadband connection and Media Player to fully appreciate.) "This is a good, thorough job of reporting a bizarre crime and even more bizarre investigation," says one of my correspondents. "Normally, I'm not much on Court TV stuff, but this story is exceptional."
If you can't get enough Clews well, Todd Matthews was kind enough to ask me some questions about blogging and true crime in general for a text version of his Missing Pieces radio program, and the Q&A is linked here. I really do need to update that stale old picture. I'm much better looking these days. Though it doesn't stop me from saying things that maybe I wouldn't on reflection. Like that. Okay, I'm done for the day....