The book is The Slasher Killings: A Canadian Sex-Crime Panic, 1945-1946 [Amazon; B&N]. This is a fascinating legal case history. Both the victims and the knife-wielding killer were homosexuals. Though it certainly looks like the correct man was identified and convicted, the case led to complicated legal proceedings and an amazing backlash against gay men in Windsor.
The killer’s murder spree lasted two summers. What resulted is today dubbed a “moral panic.” In responding to the crime, the Windsor press, police, prosecutors, and public all blamed gay men for spawning a maniac. In fact, one man who survived a knife attack by the Slasher was sentenced to prison. Homosexuals got no sympathy, even when they were the victims.
The book contained excellent legal analysis (the author is a lawyer who has actually penned several case studies). One appellate decision in the book is crisply criticized as “a clean, clinical decision that neatly avoided the real issues.” I recognized the sentiment. The author also delves into the psychology of the killer and the men he hunted, which is always interesting.
But it is the newspapers of Windsor, especially their columnists, who are skewered here for their roles in fomenting hatred in response to the murders. As the author reports, “The creation of a moral panic relies upon exaggeration and distortion. Much of the misinformation in Windsor was fed by the hysteria itself, and the rest was supplied by the press, who reported numerous nonexistent Slasher attacks.”
He concludes, “To a certain extent, the press purposely exaggerates events to stimulate public interest and boost circulation.” And some things never change.