By Crime Historian Laura James, Esquire (c) 2005-10 WELCOME to my study of historic true crime, a literary blog where the chairs rest at the intersection of history, journalism, law, and murder, and the shelves are filled with the finest true crime literature. STEAL FROM THIS LIBRARY AND IT'S PISTOLS AT DAWN.
On ebay you can navigate to Books -- Nonfiction -- True Crime. There are 4,600+ active listings at this moment on Ebay N.A. - and our friends in Australia have 1700 offerings on Ebay Australia. I'm thus distracted by curiosities I've never heard of before, and paperbacks sold in lots of 20! ....
In the Top 100 Amazon's best books of 2009 doesn't even include a true crime category. Not that Amazon's opinion on anything is worth consideration. I hate that company. Anyway, there was one true crime book published this year that managed to crack the list (at 97) of Top 100 Amazon Sellers in 2009. The book was Columbine by Dave Cullen.
Named as Notable True crime author Mardi Link's second book, Isadore's Secret, was named a Michigan Notable Book, which is a pretty big deal around here. Details!
Controversy continues The most controversial true crime book of 2009 was hands-down In the Middle of the Night by Brian McDonald, and the dust-up isn't over.
Celebrating 900,000 hits CLEWS rolled the odometer again on Christmas Day. Hm. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch would wag a finger at us all for indulging our true crime habit on that day. Commenting on MSNBC's Christmas Day true crime marathon, a columnist said "That's just wrong." What condescension! Is Bad Santa really better than Dateline? Bah, humbug! No Christmas is complete for this true crime fan without homage to John Waters.
(Disclosure: I receive books free from publishers and authors. I only mention the ones worth reading.)
The Bike Path Killer
The Bike Path Killer [Amazon; B&N] by Maki Becker and Michael Beebe is one of the best "police procedurals" I've read in quite a while.
With care and skill, the authors, both professional journalists, distilled the long story of the capture of a serial rapist and killer. Altemio Sanchez committed his crimes for decades in and around Buffalo, New York. Police stumbles and tragic misjudgments are followed by heroic efforts to nail the true killer.
The authors are also to be commended. They out-Ruled Ann Rule in the depth of their reporting on an extremely complicated case, which turns out to be yet another terrible lesson in the fallibility of eyewitnesses and the jurors who rely on them. In the end, though, it's a triumph for law enforcement.
The author does a nice job of explaining this case and of evoking the place, though the motive for the crime ultimately proves elusive.
The confessed murderer, Jerry Scott Heidler, was obviously severely mentally ill. Tragically, he also had a mother who was downright hateful to him, and she probably had her own full-blown case of Oppositional Defiant Disorder to boot. Best to file this one under Some People Are Beyond Help.
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Let us know if you've read something worth recommending. All the more so if it's old.
The Best Traffic Stops of All Time An amazing number of serial killers and mass murderers have been caught by their own stupidity -- and the sharp eyes of patrol officers. The most stunning and famous examples were collected by Police Magazine in Killer Stops. Among those named: Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz, Joel Rifkin, Timothy McVeigh, and Wayne Williams.
Casey Anthony, the Play Steven Soderbergh is creating a dramatization for the stage of the Casey and Caylee Anthony murder case. It is to be produced in Australia. The "US legal sensation" is proving an Australian sensation as well. More
Two young women vanished from a downtown hangout in their northern Texas town of Carrollton in 1988. Though the case was never solved and decades have now passed, the missing women are remembered in a new self-published book.
The title is This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearances of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley, available on Lulu.
The author, Shawn Sutherland, has more details on his website.
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Did Jeffrey Dahmer kill Adam Walsh?
Arthur Jay Harris's theory that Jeffrey Dahmer may have killed Adam Walsh has been very controversial, not supported by the police or Adam's family.
But in a new book, Harris, a true crime author from Florida, delineates the evidence he found. Though I don't know the case as others do, the author has done much research, and the theory seems plausible, or at least worth hearing out.
It takes a certain strength of character to represent the condemned, because it takes a special crusader to fight to the last ditch.
A new book by John Temple, associate dean of the journalism school at West Virginia University, takes a look at an unusual case.
The story concerns a team of idealistic attorneys and investigators in North Carolina who took on such a challenge in the case of one Bo Jones. The book is The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates [Amazon; B&N]. The book has earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly (which called it "disturbing") and has gotten quite a lot of attention elsewhere as well. It's billed as an indictment of the system. I'm glad to see it's a hardcover, because after it's read, the book might come in handy for propping up one's faith in American criminal justice.
Glen Tinney's case Perhaps we're drawn to stories about innocence because the facts of the cases tend toward the extreme, well beyond what fictionists can craft. The latest story to boggle my legal mind is the case of Glen Tinney.
The man confessed to murder and has been in prison for ages. But the police are convinced of his innocence to the point that they went over the head of the prosecutor (to whom the confession was given) and contacted the Ohio Innocence Project.
Talk about an unusual request. One can't help but be impressed by the police action in this case. I say Bravo to them for not writing off their concerns and instead following the dictates of their consciences. The case has received widespread coverage, most notably in the Columbus Dispatch: Police Go to Innocence Project For Help and the Mansfield News Journal.
The coverage led me to a site called Injustive Everywhere, which is fascinating and may have you too repeating the mantra that there are millions and millions of police officers in the world.... Detroit is abuzz lately with a story of a local prosecutor's latest difficulties. New mantra: millions of prosecutors....
Ted P. Yeatman will long be remembered as one of the foremost scholars of the James Gang ever. After a long battle with illness Ted passed away recently. The Baltimore Sun ran a nice obituary.
The author was lauded for his truly groundbreaking biography of the James Gang, which was published in 2001. He was featured in a spot on C-SPAN's Booknotes program, archived online here.
His book was soon overshadowed by a nicely written and spectacularly successful biography of Jesse James by T.J. Stiles, which Random House published the following year. Yeatman was bitter about the comparative success of that later book, both privately and publicly, perhaps understandably. The tension between the authors erupted online. (For details, see T.J. Stiles, Ted Yeatman, and the Jesse James Journalism Extravaganza.)
Yeatman lamented difficulties with his now defunct publisher. He did not make as much from the book as he thought it warranted. He complained that heavy-handed editing had introduced errors in one middle chapter and also cited a lack of publicity for the title (a virtually universal authorial lament).
But I think his book was much more successful than he gave himself credit for. When I was in my local Barnes and Noble a couple weeks ago, it was still featured prominently on the American history shelf, full cover facing out. I don't think his noteworthy contribution to the James Gang history will ever go out of print.
When true crime author Mel Ayton told me that he'd come across a true crime enclcyopedia that was thorough, accurate, and useful, I had to hear more. Unfortunately most encyclopedic approaches to our favorite genre are miserable, factually challenged failures. Mel agreed to tell us why he especially liked 501 Most Notorious Crimes by Paul Donnelley (Bounty Books, London, 2009; ) in this review.
By Mel Ayton
(Mel Ayton is the author of The Forgotten Terrorist – Sirhan Sirhan and the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. His book about racist killer Joseph Paul Franklin will be published by Potomac Books in the Spring of 2010. His book about the 1973 conspiracy to assassinate the Governor of Bermuda will be also be published next year by McFarland Books.)
Paul Donnelley’s book, a compilation of true crime narratives, abbreviated accounts of famous cases, is a welcome addition to true crime literature. It details 501 of the most intriguing famous crimes of all time told in crisp and clear prose.
In fact, Donnelley’s book is not only well-written but also well-researched. The result is a fascinating read by an experienced journalist who knows the essence of a good story.
Crime has become a subject of perennial fascination in our culture, but we rarely have the opportunity to survey the facts, history, and aftermath of each reported crime without researching numerous accounts to learn the true facts.
501 Most Notorious Crimes, a book that is as compelling to read as it is useful as a reference guide, allows readers to survey the entire spectrum of the crimes that have fascinated us for years in one volume. It is divided into 10 chapters containing the stories of outlaws, gangsters, serial killers, kidnappers, robbers and unfortunate individuals who suffered miscarriages of justice.
Despite the brevity of each account the actual crimes and the entire criminal process is covered - from investigation and arrest to trial and verdict. The author’s method is clearly set out in an easy to follow structure of main headings which delineate the crime followed by the wheres, hows and, most importantly, the aftermaths of the crimes.
Donnelley has analyzing the tangle of motives behind murder and examined the astonishing variety of homicidal methods and ingenious ways of separating individuals from their wealth over the past two or three centuries. He has not only profiled infamous historical figures like Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Jesse James and Billy The Kid but also studied particular categories of homicide and such phenomena as the US Mafia killings of the 20th century. Donnelley's chronicle includes, too, the serial killings, random shooting sprees, and cult murders that have troubled more recent times.
Some of the more interesting chapters focus on mass murder and kidnappings as well as those with a major social impact like the political assassinations of the 1960s.
What may come as a relief to those who are tired of writers who speculate about these murders without providing hard evidence to support their theses, Donnelley remains true to the established facts. However, he does not shirk from presenting true crime controversies and includes chapters on major cases such as Jimmy Hoffa, O.J. Simpson, Tupac Shakur, Sam Sheppard, Jack the Ripper, Patricia Hearst and the Boston Strangler together with penetrating studies of monstrous killers including Bundy, Dahmer, and Berkowitz.
Despite a wealth of books on the market Donnelley has managed to produce a mammoth true crime book that exceeds anything previously written in quality of writing and depth of research. The comprehensive history and illuminating analysis of how humans kill, and why, make his book one that no true-crime fan or student of criminology will want to miss.
NewspaperArchive My most very favorite site on the internet. Millions of digitized, text-searchable newspapers from across the U.S. and the world. If my computer somehow froze up and I had access to only one website, this would be it.
Paper of Record Another pay-to-play website that features searchable historic newspapers. Canada is particularly well represented in its collection.