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.
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.
Crime historian and author E.J. Wagner was kind enough to read The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son, and she asked me to answer a few questions she had about the book and its subject, Dr. Zeo Wilkins. The interview is posted on E.J.'s new-ish blog, E.J's Dissecting Room.
Photo: Zeo Wilkins on her 5th honeymoon, from the Ogden City, Utah Standard-Examiner.
On the same note, the book was recently featured on the Missouri literary website Winding River. I've been invited to speak at my local library next week and at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City next year.
Meanwhile J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet called the book one of the best non-fiction titles he's read this year. Though this he said back in July.
And on another note, a documentary film crew is going to be in the Midwest soon, pursuing the legend of Belle Gunness. I might poke my head in on that production.
Ah, well, what's a Detroiter to do when the snow flies but read... and there are so many fascinating places on the internet to explore. An index to hundreds of literary blogs (hmm, CLEWS isn't on there, but some of my favorites are), Andrew Sullivan musing on blogging, and this fellow, designer Michael Doret, explaining why he's always "loved, loved, LOVED the covers that graced all the various pulp magazines from the ’20s through the ’40s." But it's the headlines I adore. Who, who, WHO could resist "WILD DAUGHTERS OF SATAN"? This must rank as the wildest true crime cover of all time, which is why it even made the cover of a collection of covers.
Under the category of "Odd & Interesting," CLEWS appears (along with Executed Today, one of my favorite crime history blogs, very well researched). Odd? I suppose. Interesting? I hope so.
On top of being named one of the 100 best legal blogs on the internet (by the American Bar Association Journal), CLEWS is tickled with this latest honor. I started this website solely to humor myself (and to put my notes somewhere they won't be misplaced), and if others are entertained along the way, it's frosting on the cake.
Thanks to compiler Jessica Merritt for the nice mention and the 99 other links worth exploring.
My first book, I'm pleased to say (since I thought for many years that I'd never be able to say such a thing), comes out in spring 2009. The title, thus far, is The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son: Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James.
Now that it's finished -- an eight-year effort -- my thoughts turn to another remarkably wicked woman I would like to explain to the world. The subject of my next book, if the stars align, will be Countess Marie Tarnowska.
My research so far has been thoroughly enjoyable. I'm studying Italian every day and plan a trip to Venice. Closer to home, I've spent days at the University of Michigan libraries hunting through vaults for books so rare you can only read them if you have a state bar membership card, a special pass, and a flashlight.
I hope to hire researchers in Kiev, Ukraine, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Santa Fe, Argentina, who are willing to conduct library research and translations. Finding them has proven a lot tougher than I thought, and the dead ends are accumulating. While I studied Russian in college, the only thing I can remember beyond "Privyet! Kag dela?" (hello, how are you?) is that it was a beautiful, subtle, and extremely difficult language to learn, and anyway I can only keep two languages in my aging head at one time. If you know anyone who might fit the bill, I would be so grateful to hear from you.
Starkweather 50 Years Later The Lincoln Journal Star has produced an outstanding special report that revisits the murder spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate. The excellent production made possible by the internet, Starkweather: 50 Years Later, includes the original newspaper coverage; detailed stories on all who lost their lives; an interview with Del Harding, the reporter who covered the case from the beginning; photos, videos, and much more.
One post I wrote here at CLEWS, What Ever Happened to Caril Fugate?, has received many comments from those close to the tragedy, because after fifty years people are still arguing about her degree of culpability. Commented Del Harding himself: "Based on my extensive personal knowledge of the case, I have NO doubt at all that she was guilty."
CLEWS Index Many have told me that CLEWS is hard to navigate, so I'm working on an index, which will probably take me a while to finish, so CLEWS is on hiatus for a few days while I make those pages.
Gotham Murders True crime author Paul LaRosa (Nightmare in Napa, Tacoma Confidential, Death of a Dream) who is also a producer for 48 Hours Mysteries, has taken on the ambition of chronicling each and every murder in New York City this year. The blog is The Murder Book 2008 and after only a couple of weeks I now suspect it will be available in more permanent form at the conclusion of his fascinating project. These are the sorts of cases that our crime networks do not cover, and LaRosa has an eye for the most interesting details of a story and I'll look to him for additional insights on the death of one of my favorite actors (sniff), Heath Ledger.
Southern Stories One of my favorite correspondents and an author with impeccable taste in true crime stories, Robert Waters, author of several books and most notably the bestseller Outgunned!, has begun a blog where he will post short true crime essays, a favorite of mine and confessed favorite of many of you as well. It's Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem, so there's no mistaking the theme.
The Best True Crime Blogs As the true crime genre increases its presence on the internet in positive ways, CLEWS and all sorts of other true crime blogs were nominated for an In Cold Blog Capote Award for Best True Crime Blogger of 2007 and also for Best True Crime Blog of 2007. I've already cast several votes (not all for myself, of course). You can weigh in at In Cold Blog.
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.