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Book Reviews - True Crime

Abagnale, F.W. (1980). Catch me if you can: The true story of a real fake. NY: Random House.

Abagnale was a con man who, at an early age, victimized Pan American airlines, posing as a pilot. He was a very successful cheque forger. Later, his career included stints of posing as a sociology professor and a pediatrician. After his eventual capture in France, he was incarcerated there under deplorable conditions before being incarcerated in Sweden in lovely conditions. He escaped from an airplane while being transported to the US and later from an American prison.

Abagnale is remarkably unintrospective and either cannot or will not give us much insight into the development of his character. In all, a fast-paced and fun read but I’m not sure I believe all of it.



Ablow, K. (1994). Without mercy: The shocking true story of a doctor who murdered. NY: St. Martin’s.

This is the story of an unlikable and mentally unbalanced physician, Dr. John Kappler, who drives onto a jogging path and runs over a couple of people. It turns out he has tried to kill some patients in the past as well. The author is a physician himself who notes that knowledge of the secret handshake enables him to secure candid interviews with doctors that Kappler had worked with in the past.

The book contains long stretches of rambling and undisciplined speculation and comment about the hackneyed mad/bad issue as applied to this particular case and whether Kappler’s working class origins and resulting drive for status was the true motivation for the killings. All of this is completely bootless and very annoying.

Ablow provides some hair-raising descriptions of anesthesiologists as the lowest form of medical life. Not very reassuring for readers who may be contemplating surgical procedures. This was news to me, I had thought that jailhouse doctors and psychiatrists practicing on “special licenses” in psychiatric facilities were at the bottom of the medical hierarchy.



Anastasia, G. (1999). The summer wind: Thomas Capano and the murder of Anne Marie Fahey. N.Y.: Avon Books.

A gossipy account of a murder among the upper classes. Capano is mean-spirited above and beyond the call of self interest.




Berendt, J. (1994). Midnight in the garden of good and evil: A Savannah story. N.Y.: Random.

A fun read. Well written, with a good sense of place. It is sort of a murder mystery that is supposedly based on real events. If all this happened as described, Savannah contains more than its share of very weird folks.




Bledsoe, J. (1989). Bitter blood. Toronto: Penguin.

I really liked this true crime book. Things get really bad, and then, they get a lot worse! In fact, it is downright bizarre how bad things can get. If you read the book, make sure you don’t read the figure captions or the cover blurbs, just let the whole horrible story unfold.




Bledsoe, J. (1994). Before he wakes A true story of money, marriage, sex, and murder. N.Y.: Penquin.  

A good true crime story. The female villainess is a piece of work whose life illustrates an intertwining of appetitive strivings (sex and shopping), egocentricity, and callousness. Her   nemesis is that she is but a one trick pony.




Bourrie, M. (1997). By reason of insanity: The David Michael Krueger story. Toronto: Hounslow Press.

Warning, do not waste your money on this book. Bourrie manages to tell the story of a serial killer (who is well known to many of us) without illuminating the subject of serial killing or the development of Krueger one little bit.




Cairns, A. (1998).Nothing sacred: The many lives and betrayals of Albert Walker. Toronto: Seal Books.

Walker is a weasel from the word Astop. A very good true crime book and more interesting than most. Not to give it all away, the reader remains in total awe of the incredible credulity of the people Walker exploits. Quite an amazing tale.




Carlo, P. (2009). The butcher: Anatomy of a mafia psychopath. NY: HarperCollins.

Tommy “Karate” Pitera was a real mean guy and maybe an example of a quasi-successful psychopath. However, he was also creative, finding a novel use for a wildlife sanctuary (as a repository for lots of bodies); disciplined (he used coke sparingly and did post-black belt karate training in Japan), and loyal (he murdered his wife’s closest girlfriend after his wife OD’d while partying with said friend).

An interesting aspect of Pitera’s history is that he was definitely not an antisocial youth. He spent most of his time in the dojo. He started karate because his squeaky high voice made him a potential victim of bullying in the very tough neighborhood in which he was raised. He didn’t adopt a life of crime until he was in his twenties.




Casey, K. (2007). Die, my love: A true story of revenge, murder, and two Texas sisters. NY: Harper Collins.

A nice academic (who published a paper in Psychological Bulletin!) marries a manic depressive woman with a manipulative sister. A pathetic story in which the nice academic is killed by the mentally unbalanced and entitled wife who is aided and abetted by her sister. The poor kids of this union! The story of the investigation and trial is quite entertaining. The wife (herself a lawyer, albeit an incompetent one) must have thought that the police and legal system were unbelievably dumb in the foolish way she planned the murder (the plan involved wigs, alibis that could not be checked out, and cell phone calls). She didn’t realize that the locations of cell phone calls could be identified.




Clark, D. (2002). Dark paths, cold trails: How a mountie led the quest to link serial killers to their victims. Toronto: HarperCollins.

A bit on the amateruish side but tells some important tales about the invasion of computerized data bases and actuarial techniques into the area of criminal investigation. The vicissitudes of ViCLAS, the Violent Criminal Linkage Analysis System are featured. Progress appears to be measured, as in science, by the retirements or deaths of senior investigators.


 

Crowley, K. (2005). Almost paradise: The East Hampton murder of Ted Ammon. NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Very similar to Casey’s book, except that the husband is much richer and not nearly so nice. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is the amazing amount of money these folks could waste. When the husband started an affair and wanted to escape his crazy-making wife, it became an affair of two scorpions in a bottle. The sense of entitlement of this female scorpion was palpable, making her far more dangerous than the male—so much so that his friends and associates had long been concerned for his safety.

The wife gets a rounder electrician, with whom she is having an affair, to kill the husband. Are there clues as to whodunit? Well, the electrician had installed the security system in the house and was one of the very few who knew its location and how to disable it and had installed cameras throughout the house so that he, the wife, and their friends could continuously observe the husband and his girlfriends’ activities.


 

Cruise, D. & Griffiths, A. (1998). On South Mountain: The dark secrets of the Goler Clan. Toronto: Penquin.  

"Oh they say don’t go, to Sou-outh Mountain.....” If the description in this book be true, wonder no more where they got the hillbillies for the scenes in Deliverance--it was South Mountain, Nova Scotia. One can only hope that this book is a caricature of mountain folk because the basis of every joke you ever heard about inbreeding mentally retarded hill billies is here. The authors try mightily to explain the incest and general lack of civilization among the Goler Clan and their (exceptionally close) kin. First they try geology, (the mountain area is strange, geologically speaking, and has no soil to speak of), then they try geography (the mountain is isolated), then history (the riff raff from Boston came up after the French were expelled), then prejudice (the villagers despise the ignorant mountain folk), then neglect (the social service agencies gave up), and so forth, all to no avail. I thought that they were eventually going to come up with SATAN in the end but they didn’t get quite that far.

After these somewhat feeble attempts at explanation, the descriptive part concerning the crimes, the trials and their aftermath is much more interesting. There isn’t a lot of theoretical insight to be gained from this book but it is morbidly fascinating nonetheless. Most interesting is that the apparent moral of this tale is that there really doesn’t appear to be a damn thing anybody can do about the incest, neglect, and abuse. After all the trials, imprisonments, social service interventions, and media hoopla, life continues in these mountains pretty much as it always has.

Comments on the On South Mountain book from one of the former victims http://anniespeaksoutnow.piczo.com/?cr=3&rfm=y




Douglas, J. & Olshaker, M. (1997). Journey into darkness. NY: Scribner.

Self-indulgent cashing in on the earlier best-seller Mind hunter, which I haven’t read but will bet real money was god-awful after attempting to read this one. Makes you wonder how the FBI actually catches anyone.




Drewe, R. (2000). The shark net: Memories and murder. Toronto: Viking.

This is a slow paced autobiographical reminiscence. The author is a master story-teller who manages to evoke a sense of the fifties in Perth, Australia. A very good read.




Edwards, P. (2010). The Bandido Massacre: A true story of bikers, brotherhood, and betrayal. Toronto: Harper Collins. Press.
In 2006, the bodies of eight bikers were found along a farm road near Shedden Ontario. For those few who don’t know, Shedden is home to the world famous rhubarb festival.

This is a very good true crime book, even though a bit repetitious in spots. As so often, the cover-up of the crime consists of the perpetrators seemingly doing everything they can to aid the police short of videotaping it and mailing it to them.
This “one percenter” biker gang (the phrase “one percenter” comes from the observation that 99% of bikers are law-abiding) are portrayed as incredibly and pathetically dumb losers. The cloudy motivation for the murders involved a putsch of an essentially non-existent Canadian Bandido organization. Even though natural selection must run its (in this case bloody) course, one can’t help but feel sorry for these bikers and their families.




Engel, H. (1996). Lord High Executioner: An unashamed look at hangmen, headsmen, and their kind. Toronto: Key Porter.
 
A basically unilluminating book about executioners. Some interesting and weird tales but not interesting and weird enough to sustain a book length treatment. The best story is about a woman who seduced the man who was to hang her and so escaped the noose. They lived happily ever after.

 


Fanning, D. (2009). A poisoned passion. NY: St. Martin’s.

This true crime story raises disturbing questions about the state of education in Texas. A female veterinarian gets pregnant and her ex-boyfriend, a military pilot, does the honourable thing. His mother-in-law doesn’t approve of him and poisons the relationship. The wife in turn drugs and murders her husband. All this is standard fare in this genre; however, the body disposal is, although not the most stupid I’ve read about, a close contender.

This murderess seems to be as dumb as a post—not only can she not figure out how to get rid of a body, she can’t spell or write grammatically, nor construct a plausible story for her legal defense. I thought veterinarians were supposed to be smart—can’t quite get my head around it.




Finkle, D. (1998). No claim to mercy: The controversial case for murder against Robert Baltovich. Toronto: Penguin.

An interesting case of a Toronto guy who may have been wrongfully convicted of one of Bernardo's murders. As of this writing (2004), the case is still dragging on, although Baltovich is no longer in custody. Whether Baltovich is innocent, as the book well argues, or not, one can't help drawing unflattering conclusions about the competence and objectivity of the police and the eptitude and ethics of the defense bar.




Firstman, R. & Talan, J. (1997). The death of innocents. N.Y.: Bantam. 

This is a first rate book. Extremely well done and entertainingly written. There is lots of drama here. If you decide to read the book and haven’t seen the TV documentary derived from it, don’t read the rest of this review and make sure that you don’t look at any of the pictures in the book before you finish it. Most of the book is written as a mystery and you don’t want to spoil it.

In part, the book is about professional myths and their creation. The villain of the piece is an incompetent but very ambitious MD./Ph.D, a Dr. Alfred Steinschneider. Steinschneider wrote the classic study on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) that purported to show that infant apnea was related to SIDS. The series of cases used in this study were much later shown to be murders in the investigation described in this book. Steinschneider was originally misled by professional hubris, ambition, and sloppy methodology; but persisted in his mistake because of greed. Greed because the apnea theory of SIDS led to the development of apnea monitors sold to anxious parents.

This whole sorry business of a harmful technology based on wishful thinking, poor science, and ideology (parents are always victims never culprits) is disturbingly reminiscent of developments in other fields.




Flacco, A. (2009). The road out of hell: Sanford Clark and the true story of the Wineville murders. NY: Union Square.

One of the few books so horrific that they are best left for forensic types to read. In 1928, 13-year old Sanford Clark was given by his mother, a Saskatchewan farm wife, to her brother, a sadistic homosexual pedophile and serial killer, to help with his chicken ranch in California. Clark is brutalized and forced to participate in murdering young boys on the ranch. His uncle is aided in his murdering by Clark’s maternal grandmother (Louise), an unbelievably antisocial woman. After an interminable period of time, Clark is saved by his elder sister who alerts the police.

Clark is helped a great deal by the prosecuting attorney, is sentenced to a forward-looking training school, and 23 months later, at 17, returns to Canada to live near his sister. Although tormented for the remainder of his days by post-traumatic stress symptoms and shame, he leads an exemplary, and under the circumstances, remarkably happy life.
“Dysfunctional” and “antisocial” don’t come close to describing Louise and her two children. I’d sure like to know more about this extremely strange family.




Glassner, B. (1999). The culture of fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. NY: Basic.

What are the wrong things that Americans fear?-"crime, drugs, minorities, teen moms, killer kids, mutant microbes, plane crashes, road rage, & so much more." Much of this isn't very surprising to anyone with a nodding acquaintance with current criminology and some of the cases aren't as clear cut as the author suggests but, nevertheless, the book makes a compelling case about how misleading, sloppy, sensationalistic, and biased the news media are. The examples are simply appalling-the best of which is the nonexistent phenomenon of "road rage".




Horton, S. (1989). The billionaire boys club. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press. 

Lovely little true crime book that tells the oh-so-familiar story of credulous people being taken in by the preposterous schemes of a very psychopathic young man. The highly entertaining twist to the story is that the psychopath gets conned by a much smarter con-man, with tragic results.




Humphreys, A. (1999). The enforcer Johnny Pops Papalia: A life and death in the Mafia. Toronto: Harper Collins.

A pretty good true crime book. It will be of particular interest to people living in Montreal and southern Ontario. There is a very interesting account of the tragic conflict between Papalia and the Toronto gambler Maxie Bluestein.




Irving, C. (1988). Daddy’s girl: The Campbell murder case. N.Y.: Kensington.

Fast moving true crime book made interesting not only by the betrayal involved in the murder but the betrayal involved in solving the case.




Junger, S. (2006). A death in Belmont. NY: Harper.

This is yet another book on the Boston strangler, Anthony DeSalvo, but it is a very good one. It also details the story of a black small-time criminal and alcoholic who was probably wrongfully convicted of one of DeSalvo’s murders. Incredibly, DeSalvo worked on Junger’s parents’ house when Junger was a boy and it appears that Junger’s mother came very close to being one of his victims.




Kersten, J. (2009). The art of making money: The story of a master counterfeiter. NY: Penquin.

Very well done true crime story. The book captures the sense of "unexplained failure" characteristic of highly antisocial, if often quite nice, people and how criminal proclivities run in families.




Kingsbury, K. (1994). Deadly pretender: The double life of David Miller. NY: Dell.

David Miller is a guy with a magnificent sense of entitlement. So, he lives beyond his means and acquires two wives. He tells one of them that he works for the CIA on important and dangerous undercover missions that often keep him away from home, incommunicado. One wonders sometimes whether any real people actually work for the CIA! This is only one of many incredibly implausible lies that his gullible wives and associates buy. Miller can’t afford to keep two wives in any style so has to keep making up even more improbable lies. All this leads to a great scene when the two wives connect by phone—Hello, is this Mrs. Miller? Yes, this is Mrs. Miller—who’s this?

Miller gets bummed out and angry that his lies have been exposed, so murders one of his wives in front of a lot of witnesses. He’s too upset to even try to get away.




Knuckle, R. (1996). The flying bandit: Bringing down Canada’s most daring armed robber. Burnstown, ON: General Store.

I loved this book. Gilbert Galvin, aka Robert Whiteman, is an escaped prisoner from Wisconsin who gets a chance at another life in Canada. He marries a straight girl to whom he lies about his background and source of income and moves to, of all places, Pembroke, Ontario. Galvin flies all over Canada robbing many banks (you have to rob a lot of them because they don’t keep much money there) and later jewelry stores, because they are more lucrative. The downside of jewelry store heists is that you have to fence the goods.

As the French say, “quelle front”—Gilbert was one cheeky and impetuous guy!

Several morals to this tale: first you can do a lot of robbing whilst drinking an enormous amount. Second, you shouldn’t use a credit card to buy your plane tickets. Third, extradition can be a good way to reduce your sentence.





Krakauer, J. ( 2003). Under the banner of heaven: A story of violent faith. Toronto: Random House.

I have a morbid love of reading about these wackoes. This is a good read, fast-paced and suspenseful. The radical mormons strikingly resemble the Taliban. If these groups ever became aware of their similarities, what a fifth column would exist in America! On the other hand, given the incompetence and credulity of the folks described in this book, it probably wouldn't matter.





Krivich, M. & Ol’gin, O. (1993). Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books.

A soviet serial killer. Chikatilo is, as one would expect, sexually deviant and sexually preoccupied. He becomes a sexual sadist who savagely kills both males and females, using the time honored system for avoiding arrest of targeting vulnerable strangers close to a means of transport (in this case trains). The book provides an interesting look at the Russian judicial system.




Lamothe, L. & Humphreys, A. (2006). The sixth family: The collapse of the New York mafia and the rise of Vito Rizzuto. Toronto: Wiley.

This book documents the rise of a branch of the Sicilian mafia in Montreal. It’s a modern organization that believes strongly in globalization through alliances with both mafia and other gangs, such as biker groups. Family ties remain important in the new look organization, although sometimes altered—for example, the children become lawyers and conversations at home subject to lawyer-client privilege. This gang is now under serious siege. Vito has been extradited to New York for an old murder and there have been many more arrests since this book’s publication. The book is based on a lot of documentation and is well written.




Lawson, G. & Olham, W. (2006). The brotherhoods: The true story of two cops who murdered for the mafia. Toronto: Pocket Books.

An engrossing true crime story. It’s strange to discover that I can still be offended by criminal behaviour but there is something particularly abhorrent about police acting as informers and hit-men for the Mafia. Two senior and decorated detectives are weasels from the start of their career—one has the effrontery and stupidity to write a book entitled Mafia cop: The story of an honest cop whose family was the mob. One gets a good feel for the departmental dynamics in police work in the description of the bad guys’ careers and the long pursuit by the good guys. Mercifully, justice eventually prevails and the bad guys don’t get to enjoy their retirement.




Lehr, D. & O’Neill, G. (2000). Black mass: The Irish mob, the FBI, and a devil’s deal. NY: Public Affairs.

A story of careerism, bad judgment, and poor organization within the FBI. Justifiably, this tale has become quite notorious and been the subject of a lot of TV coverage. Good reading, especially for those who believe that crime never pays.




Maas, P. (1968). The Valachi Papers. N.Y.: HarperCollins.

I finally got around to reading this classic work on the mafia. If you have been watching the Sopranos, you probably don’t need to read this. The Soparano writers have paid very close attention to Joseph Valachi’s account of life in the mafia. The efforts of government officials to suppress the publication of the story are of interest as well as Valachi’s tragic end.




Maas, P. (1997). Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano’s story of life in the mafia. N.Y.: Harper Collin.

A good "red and black” book. Gravano’s account (from many interviews) is detectably self serving in spots but a very good portrait of  La Cosa Nostra.

One very interesting vignette. John Gotti tells Vincent "the Chin” Gigante that his son, John Junior, has recently been made (inducted into the Cosa Nostra). Chin (who spent his adult life feigning mental illness) replies, "Jeez, I'm sorry to hear that.” Given the life expectancy of the made guys who avoid prison, a sensible reaction.


 

MacDonald, I. & O’Keefe, B. (2003). Born to die: A cop killer’s final message. Surrey, BC: Heritage House.

Rather amateurishly written and in need of an editor but admirably portrays the ambience of Vancouver in the fifties. Joe Gordon is a petty career criminal who ends up shooting a cop. Before his hanging Gordon wrote an account of his life and a plea for unfortunate high risk kids that could have been taken from Willard Motley’s Knock on any door, the 1947 classic crime novel.




McClintick, D. (1982). Indecent exposure: A true story of Hollywood and Wall Street. NY: Dell.

It all starts when a straight-shooting actor, Cliff Robertson, is told by the IRS that he owes taxes on a $10,000.00 payment from Columbia Pictures. Robertson has no memory of receiving any such payment and starts to investigate--at first tentatively and then in earnest. Robertson is distinctly irked and won’t let it drop. It turned out that the cheque was issued by 56-year old David Begelman, a flamboyant former talent scout who had become president of Columbia pictures. It then turned out that not only had Begelman issued the cheque, he had also endorsed it using Robertson’s signature and cashed it. I didn’t say “forged” because Begelman didn’t go to the trouble of trying to copy Robertson’s signature.

The exposure of the fraud is indecent in the sense that it leads to revealing not only Begelman’s history of fraud and the prevalence in tinsel town of slippery ethics combined with a mind-blowing sense of entitlement but also how many in show business would collude in lying to protect their own. Are all corporations the same?

This tangled web ensnares a large number of individuals and precipitates a series of career changing within- and between-corporate altercations. It’s really amazing and I found it quite interesting, somewhat oddly I suppose, because I neither know nor care about any of these (apparently famous) people.




McGinniss, J. (2007). Never enough. Toronto: Pocket Star.

OK, this has got to be the absolutely dumbest crime ever committed (it is true, however, that I’ve thought this several times before). An about to be divorced woman drugs her financially predatory, very rich, husband and bashes his brains out in the bedroom of their luxury suite in Hong Kong. So far, so good. What could be the problem? Well, the live-in servants and the little kids for starters. Because, you see, the body begins to smell after a time. When the murderess finally calls workmen to cart away a heavy, heavy object rolled up in a rug to—get this—the storage area in the basement (!!), they become nauseous and call the cops. As well, there is the problem that she had simultaneously drugged the husband’s friend who went home and slipped into a quasi-coma. Then there were the e-mails to her lover and the internet searches for poison recorded on her computer….oh yeah, and the body parts and bloody linens hidden in the children’s closets. Oh, I forgot, she also neglected to get rid of the drugs used in the murder.

The wife is splendidly psychopathic. She reminds me of Diane Downs in Ann Rule’s book, Small Sacrifices. The husband’s wealthy family is portrayed as a nest of vipers. For example, in a subsequent and unrelated incident, the husband’s brother (a big-time embezzler) is found murdered just before he is to be sent to jail.

Well done and very entertaining.




McGinniss, J. (1991). Cruel doubt. Toronto: Simon & Schuster.

If you ever think you are having a bad day, give this book a read to make yourself feel really lucky. At one level this is the standard scenario of conflict between step-dad and children and at another it is a tale of a mother’s cruel betrayal and continuing faith in her offspring. Well done true crime.




McSherry, P. (1999). The Big Red Fox: The incredible story of Norman "Red" Ryan. Canada’s most notorious criminal. Toronto: Dundurn.

Ryan is the sort of career criminal that a theory of crime must explain. A classic early starter and an almost unbelievably persistent bank robber in adulthood who possessed a breathtaking lack of prudence. Ryan is noteworthy partly because of the drama of some of his exploits (including an escape from Kingston Penitentiary) but mostly because he bamboozled a prison priest into recommending his release. The priest was an easy victim because he could use Ryan’s "reform" as evidence that Catholicism and his chaplaincy should receive more support from the penitentiary service.

Penitentiary officials thought that Ryan’s renunciation of a life of crime and his religious conversion was a simple con. Nevertheless, a Toronto newspaper had an interest in Ryan and used his criminal exploits and subsequent reformation in its circulation wars with other papers. The paper kept the pressure on the government, ultimately leading to Ryan’s politically expedient but tragic release.

In all, quite an entertaining and interesting story. Ryan managed to hurt a lot of people but required a great deal of help from his noncriminal accomplices to do so.




Morgan, J. (1985). Prince of crime. N.Y.: Stein and Day.

Llewelyn (The Camel or Murray the Hump) Humphreys is one of the more appealing gangsters to come out of the Capone era. One of his racketeering enterprises involved Chicago laundries and he originated the jokes about "taking people to the cleaners” and "laundering money”. His advice to the Chicago voters was "to vote early and vote often.” Humphreys was the first gangster to "take the fifth” and he had a wooden plaque with the fifth amendment on his wall, together with one that read "Love they crooked neighbour as you love thy crooked self.”

After a false start at an honest career as a paper boy, Humphreys (a Welshman) joined the Sicilian mob in Chicago. During the thirties, he was second in command to Capone. However, he was clever enough to outlast all of his peers and retained his influence in organized crime to the end of his life.




Neff, J. (1995). Unfinished murder: The capture of a serial rapist. Toronto: Pocket Books.

A pretty good "red and black” book. Very nice description of compulsive rape as a manifestation of mating effort and sexual deviance.




Norris, W. (1987). The man who fell from the sky. Markham, ON: Viking.

Very entertaining whodunit. Yes, the victim, an unpopular robber baron type tycoon and financial speculator named Alfred Loewenstein, really did fall from the sky over the English Channel in 1928. Amazingly, no one was convicted or even charged with his murder—even though it was reasonably clear that someone among the small number of individuals on his private plane must have thrown the victim out and the others must have been keenly aware of what was going on. The author claims to have solved the mystery and I believe he really has identified the culprit.




Olsen, G. (1997). Starvation heights: A true story of murder and malice in the woods of the Pacific northwest. NY: Random House.

This is a masterfully constructed story about how a dominating lady “doctor” proponent of flaky new age nostrums, such as starvation therapy, together with her alcoholic cad of a hen-pecked husband, fatally “treat” and rob their gullible clients. I swear that each page of this book describes something even more outrageous. Highly recommended.




O’Shea, G. (2005). Unbridled rage: A true story of organized crime, corruption, and murder in Chicago. NY: Berkley.

This is a real cold case. The murder of two Chicago boys in 1955 is finally solved forty years later. This book is written much better than most true crime stories, making the murders more poignant and disturbing.




  Phelps, M.W. (2008). I’ll be watching you. NY: Kensington.

Edwin Snelgrove is a bumbling Ted Bundy wannabe. Bumbling, but convinced of his intellectual superiority. He strangles and stabs his victims and then poses them in a sexual way. First, he murders a woman who has jilted him, then, a few years later, attempts but fails to kill a stranger. He plea bargains by admitting to both crimes and gets sentenced to 20 years.  Because of “good time” he is out in eleven and ready to try again.

The most amazing aspect of this story is the short original sentence, particularly because, in his letter to the court, Edwin described having homicidal sexual fantasies since he was a child. It is not clear how many women (in addition to the post-release victim he is currently incarcerated for killing) paid for the brevity of this sentence with their lives.




Phelps, M.W. (2010). The devil’s rooming house: The true story of America’s deadliest female serial killer. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press.

This is the crime upon which “arsenic and old lace” is based. It’s all simple economics. If you run a boarding house for old folks, you can recruit a lot of boarders by offering them a really good life-time contract. Once recruited, however, the boarders who continue to live cost more to take care of than the contract they signed is worth. A simple solution thus presents itself; a solution all the more satisfactory if the boarder appears to have left their wordly estate to the owner of the boarding house.

A very entertaining little book.




Preston, D. & Spezi, M. (2008). The monster of Florence: A true story. NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Marriage is late in Florence and during the long engagements, affianced couples live in their respective parents’ homes. The couples drive to secluded spots to have sex where they are subject to the attentions of local voyeurs. There are even guides who, for a fee, will lead voyeurs to the “good cars” and best vantage points.

Over a period of many years, the monster of Florence preyed upon these couples—shooting the man, then killing and mutilating the woman. Writer Preston teams up with detective Spezi to investigate the crimes. They advance a theory of the crimes at variance with the official prosecutors’ view and, because of the very foolish way Italian law is organized, become scapegoats and even suspects themselves.

Interesting—for example, the serial killer has accomplices--but ultimately disappointing because there is no definite proof of the principal suspect’s culpability.




Read, S. (2005). On the house: The bizarre killing of Michael Malloy. NY: Berkley.

Alcoholism can be just as devasting as an addiction to crack cocaine or any other substance. This is the stunning tale set in the seediest part of New York in the thirties of how habituation to enormous doses of alcohol can cause a person to be extremely resistant to his “friends’” determined efforts to collect his life insurance policy through the use of heroic doses of poison.




Richmond, C. (2007). The good wife: The shocking betrayal and brutal murder of a godly woman in Texas. NY: HarperCollins.

The title says it all. I suppose the moral to this good little crime book echoes the conclusion reached by academic criminologists—religious belief does not protect perpetrators or victims from criminal activity.




Robins, N. & Aronson, S.M.L. (1985). Savage grace: The true story of fatal relations in a rich and famous American family. NY: Simon & Schuster.

This is a book about the sort of people my mother invariably referred to as “the idle rich”. The book is entirely composed of interviews, quotations from psychiatric reports, diaries, and the like. The material is skilfully edited and very effective. It does, however, engender misanthropy. The majority of these people reveal themselves, usually unintentionally, to be shallow, callous, name dropping social climbers and snobs.

It’s interesting to ponder why the reader (well, at least one reader) is so disappointed in the lives of these glitterati and heirs to great wealth. The lives of many of them seem to totally lack meaning. But this is quite a double standard—the lives of the unwashed masses also lack meaning. I guess we don’t expect ordinary people to rise above mediocrity, whereas we believe that the very rich could and should do better.

The story concern the callous and aloof heir to the Bakelite fortune, his gold-digging, pretentious, aggressively convivial, wife, and their unfortunate son. A delightful part of the book deals with the Broadmoor sojourn of the somewhat antisocial and very psychotic son following his murder of his mother. Broadmoor is the senior “special” or forensic psychiatric hospital in England. As might be expected, the son, coming from an upper class family, gets special treatment. Well meaning and totally ignorant relatives and friends arrange to get him released, with predictable results.




Rule, A. (2004). Green River, running red. Toronto: Pocket Star.

Once again, an uninteresting serial killer. Anne does a good job but the book is burdened by her need to tell us a little bit about each of the very, very, many victims.

Murder seems pretty easy to get away with if you don’t tell anybody about it and choose transient strangers as victims. Although Gary Ridgway was caught essentially by chance, there were pieces of evidence pointing toward him for many years—his co-workers called him “Green River Gary” because of the police interest in him. His other nickname was “Wrong-way” Gary because of the mistakes he made painting trucks.




Rule, A. (2003). Heart full of lies. NY: Free Press.

Pretty good true crime book. As in many of these stories, one is left wondering about the credulity of people who are bamboozled by the villain (in this case, villainess of the piece). This woman basically lies nonstop throughout her adult life-and when I say nonstop, I'm not kidding, one wonders when she breathes. Not only does she talk, she writes, and writes about fictional crimes that resemble very strongly what eventually comes to pass. Not a sound strategy for a budding murderess.




Rule, A. (1999). The end of the dream: the golden boy who never grew up and other true cases.  N.Y.: Pocket Books.

Rule rules. Straight up crime reporting at its best. Rule deservedly has quite a following. You can visit her website to get the bird’s eye lowdown. The story about the golden boy is interesting in showing the expected continuity in risk taking and antisocial behavior that culminates in very serious crime. One might think that this continuity results from retrospective bias but in this case it is too extreme and well documented.




Sanger, D. (2005). Hell’s witness. Toronto: Penquin.

An artfully crafted and carefully organized saga of a long-time informer in the Quebec biker milieu. This organization is necessary because Sanger packs an enormous amount of detail into his story—not that the tale is ever boring. The events described are often so bizarre and the bikers such pigs that a writer couldn’t employ them in fiction. Some conclusions: The police in Quebec are deeply divided among themselves, incompetence is a serious problem among both the bikers and police, justice is costly and uneven (to put it mildly), and, in case you didn’t know, loan sharking and drug selling is very lucrative. An excellent read.




Sassé, C.S. & Widder, P.M. (1991). The Kirtland massacre. N.Y.: Fine.

Billed as the true and terrible story of the Mormon cult murders. Yet another description of how a psychopathic jerk convinces a bunch of credulous folks that he’s divine. Barnum was on the money. Great description of the cult leader: "Lundgren, Jeffrey Don.......receding hair, hazel eyes. Tall, muscular, tends toward obesity. Manipulative narcissist, thief, con man.”

In typical cult fashion, the husbands have to be separated from the wives and the wives end up having sex with the Leader. There’s some amusing twists in Jeffery’s accomplishing this. Jeffery is the "father” of the group and his children are known as, of all things, the "naturals” who have lots of special privileges (like going to MacDonald’s). The group ends up killing a family that annoys Jeffery and his wife (they are too clingy and want their money back). Jeffery uses some nice thought control methods.




Scott, G.G. (2006). Homicide by the rich and famous: A century of prominent killers. NY: Berkely.

I needed a trashy book for a train ride but didn’t anticipate just how trashy this one would be. Quite dreadful it was, as Yoda would say. The synopses of the crimes aren’t bad even if they are taken from very popular books (a number of which I’d read) but the connecting material dedicated to why we should be interested in crimes by the rich and famous and whether they are the same or different than those committed by the less fortunate is pure and fatuous filler.




Scott, R. (2005). Unholy sacrifice. NY: Kensington.

Fairly typical of its genre. A weirdish but good-looking dude with millennial preoccupations acquires a few dumb and malleable followers. Together they start murdering various folks as part of some hare-brained scheme. This book is more entertaining than most because the culprits manage to leave more clues for the investigators than one would have thought possible. Why so many criminals keep receipts and to-do lists, among other incriminating things, is beyond me. This book describes what is possibly the absolutely dumbest scheme to dispose of bodies ever.




Scott, R. (2003). Dangerous attraction. NY: Pinnacle.

An incredibly oafish and brutal skin-head rapes and kills a foolhardy female gang groupie in front of some gang wannabes in his mother’s home. The mother cleans up and the body disappears. It’s possible that the killer could have got away with it but he just couldn’t stop being antisocial. The mother gets jailed for a while because of her continuing illegal efforts to protect her son. The book raises interesting questions about how the son managed to become such a horrible person—family dynamics, hanging around with similar oafish people, shared genes….?


 
Scott, R. (2002). Like father like son. NY: Kensington.

A nasty little book about some very nasty sexual sadists. Not very informative about the etiology of sadism (one keeps hoping). The only real interesting thing here is the description of the extended family—a homicidal version of the Kallikaks!




Smith, C. (1999). Death in Texas. NY: St. Martin’s Press.

The wife of a wealthy Texan bookmaker wants a divorce and half of the big-time money. The problem is that the money was illegally obtained. How can the bookmaker solve his tax problem? Not only does he solve his problem, he gets away with it, after an increasingly bizarre sequence of events. No one would ever find this story plausible as a fictional plot line.




Stewart, J.B. (1999). Blind eye: The terrifying story of a doctor who got away with murder. Toronto: Simon & Schuster.

An entertaining, if infuriating, story about a bizarre and homicidal physician who did indeed get away with many murders. This is as good an argument I’ve seen for the view that professions should never be allowed to police themselves. Prospective employers and academics almost never check into applicants’ suspicious applications. Mind boggling but it all rings true. 




Summerscale, K. (2008). The suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A murder and the undoing of a great Victorian detective. Vancouver: Raincoast Books.

Oh my, this was a good read. I finished it in one marathon sitting. This story is about the widely publicized murder of an upper-middle class young boy in rural Victorian England. Belatedly, the investigation is taken over by Mr. Whicher, a Scotland Yard detective, with disappointing results. By the middle of the book, the reader begins to believe that the mystery will never be solved. However, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and the mystery does eventually get solved in all of its sociobiological glory many, many years later. I won’t give the plot away.




Van Sant, P. & Jackson, J. (2007). Perfectly executed. Toronto: Pocket Star Books.

This is a story of shockingly immature and coddled boys who believe that they are very special—Nietzschean superboys. So, as a mercenary lark, the dominant boy murders the sub’s parents and autistic sister with a baseball bat while the sub looks on. The lads have carefully planned their perfect crime, leaving no material clues, and have a good alibi.

After questioning by the police and leaking guilty knowledge in various ways, the pair escape to Canada. This complicates everything legally and leaves the case suspended until extradition can be worked out. However, their escape also leaves them vulnerable to the attentions of the RCMP who (unlike their American brethren) are relatively unfettered in employing extremely elaborate schemes designed to elicit surreptitiously videotaped confessions.

Very entertaining read.




Volkman, E. & Cummings, J. (1986). The heist. N.Y.: Dell.

Great story of the Lufthansa robbery at the JFK airport. I read this years ago and had forgotten just how dumb most of the perpetrators of the largest robbery in history were. Dumb, but they got away with it (if you include being liquidated as getting away with it). Very entertaining.




Wambaugh, J. (1973). The onion field. NY: Dell.

A well-written and impassioned argument for capital punishment. Wambaugh describes the two police officers who were victimized in the onion field, the perpetrators, and the crime in great detail in order to set up the endless series of trials and legal shenanigans that follow, the account of which succeeds in infuriating the reader.




Wansell, G. (1997). An evil love: The life of Frederick West. London: Headline.

A must read for those benighted souls who think that serial killers might be interesting people. Frederick West was a graceless, dumb, jerk of a guy who nevertheless managed to murder a large number of unlucky and vulnerable women and girls.

The book itself is poorly written and repetitious to the point of being annoying.


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