Five New True Crime Books May 28, 2018 17:25:25 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on May 28, 2018 17:25:25 GMT -5
Five New True Crime Books
A woman spends 40 years hunting the man who murdered her college friend. ... The heir to an industrial empire is kidnaped and killed, possibly by accident. ... A serial killer eludes the police by disappearing into a fog. ... The mutilated body of an attractive young woman is dumped in a vacant lot. ... Fans of bleak crime fiction would love a novel on any of these dismal subjects, but they’re out of luck here because these spine-tingling stories are all true – and, some would say, even stranger than fiction.
Mad City: The True Story of the Campus Murders That America Forgot by Michael Arntfield makes the most of the local crimes he covers by hitching them to some of Wisconsin’s more flamboyant murder cases. Regional pride was excuse enough to bring up notables like the “Plainfield Ghoul,” Ed Gein, “a serial killer and body snatcher whose crimes inspired the Robert Bloch novel and subsequent Alfred Hitchcock film, Psycho, as well as the comparatively down-market Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise that followed”), and the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” Jeffrey Dahmer. Not to mention the “Vampire of Düsseldorf,” an infamous German murderer whose mummified head came ashore in the baggage of a returning World War II soldier. (The head continues to be the prize attraction in a little museum in the tourist town of Wisconsin Dells.)
Arntfield presents his murder case as “perhaps the greatest story never told in American history, at least the history of American crime.” Like his literary style, that claim is overblown. But the story of Christine Rothschild and Linda Tomaszewski still deserves to be told. In 1967, the girls met at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and became friends. The late 1960s were a time when protest marches were replacing pep rallies and coeds no longer wanted to be called coeds. Christine had a room on the ground floor of Ann Emery Hall, a genteel women’s residence with “no controlled entry, no intercom, no cameras or convex mirrors, and no sign-in book.” She was unaware that a stalker was paying her nightly visits (via her window) until he stepped up his twisted courtship with creepy phone calls.
Once she had identified her stalker as 42-year-old Niels Bjorn Jorgensen, a third-year medical school resident, Christine told the campus police, whose advice was simply to remain alert and buy a rape whistle. Luckily, she had also confided in Linda. Christine wound up beaten and stabbed to death and her friend was the only person with the grit to pursue Jorgensen – across the country for 40 years! As a grim reminder of what he had done, for many of those years, Linda also sent him a card each Valentine’s Day. As with so many true-crime touches, this one is better than fiction.
The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty by Philip Jett is a compassionate appraisal of the tragedy that shattered the family of Adolph (Ad) Herman Joseph Coors III, the 44-year-old chairman of the board of the Colorado beer company who died during a botched kidnaping. The message conveyed is: The rich are human, too, and the tragedy couldn’t have happened to a more undeserving member of his moneyed class.
Ad Coors was devoted to his wife and four children and lived a relatively simple, scandal-free life. (The white-over-turquoise International Harvester Travelall he drove was a modest indulgence.) Coors suffered from a severe stutter – which angered his formidably stern father – and, ironically, he was allergic to beer, so needless to say, he was not the favorite son. However, as the eldest of three brothers – the Coors sister didn’t count – he was destined from birth to take over the family enterprises.
Joe Corbett was more impressed by Ad’s position than was Ad. A plotter and planner who didn’t think robbing a bank was worth the effort, he picked a softer target. On the morning of February 9, 1960, he intercepted Ad at Turkey Creek Bridge as he was driving to work. Somehow, the kidnaping turned into what may have been an accidental killing, leading to the biggest U.S. manhunt since the Lindbergh baby was kidnaped in 1932. Although Jett’s chronological narrative is pretty straightforward, certain forensic details, such as the use of fingerprint analysis and dental records, should please techno-wonks – as will the fact the case was solved by identifying varieties of paper stock and various models of typewriters.
Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson raises in her well-researched and densely atmospheric study of two interesting events: the murder spree of John Reginald “Reg” Christie and London’s Great Smog of 1952.
It was bitterly cold that December, prompting the city’s eight million residents to pile on the coal briquettes and draw close to the fire. At the time, Britain was selling its best black coal to foreign countries and palming off the dirty brown stuff on its own people, who couldn’t afford the better coal anyway. But this cheaper means of heating proved deadly, asphyxiating 4,000 Londoners and leaving thousands of others gasping. The death toll was so high that undertakers ran out of coffins. Shifting weather patterns contributed to the disaster, trapping pollutants over the city, grounding planes and suspending traffic. Theaters, hotels and restaurants operated on reduced staff because many employees were unable to work, though few of their patrons were willing or able to venture out. Day after day, the “peasouper” hung in the air and the roaring fires burned in the city’s hearths. “Swirls of fog,” Dawson explains, “were romantic and beguiling to Londoners” and the “affinity for an open fire was virtually a requirement for being British.”
Meanwhile, the fog rolling over 10 Rillington Place proved a Satanic blessing, smothering the little garden where Reg Christie was industriously planting the bodies of the eight women he had killed. (Ironically, he had enticed some of them into his flat with the promise of a special cough medicine that would clear their smog-filled lungs.) This diligent gardener wasn’t entirely secretive about what he was doing, even using a human thighbone to prop up the garden fence. “‘Neighbors watched me digging,’ he said. ‘They nodded ‘cheerios’ to me.’” Until he was brought to trial the following year, the infamous “Beast of Rillington Place” may have been the only person in London to delight in the Great Smog.
Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell is yet another book about our favorite pin-up corpse. Elizabeth Short was 22-years-old when her nude and savagely-mutilated body was discovered in mid-January of 1947 at the edge of an empty lot in Los Angeles. “Nobody had expected her to be so sullenly beautiful,” writes Eatwell, who speculates that Short’s striking beauty – which inspired the infatuated press to call her “The Black Dahlia” ... “evocative of an exotic flower, of desire both toxic and intoxicating,” prompted her enduring legend.
“Her story became a morality tale,” Eatwell continues in this juicy page-turner, “a fable illustrating the dangers posed to women by early-20th-century ‘Hollywood’: a space of adventure and freedom, glamour, ruthless commercialism and dangerously uncircumscribed female sexuality.” This is nicely put, capturing both the allure and the perils of the dream factory that promised riches and fame to star-struck young women from tired little towns all over war-weary America and which, even today, find themselves at the mercy of predatory men. The original mass migration to Los Angeles created, as one observer put it, a subculture of uprooted single women: “tall girls and short girls, curly-haired girls and girls with their hair drawn sleekly back over their brows, girls who suggest mignonettes and girls who suggest tuberoses; girls in aprons and girls in evening gowns – girls by the score, their faces all grease paint, waiting in little chattering groups for their big moment.”
For all its salacious content, Eatwell’s historical crime study is an expansive work that delves into the broader culture of postwar Los Angeles, “a city of bright lights and darker shadows, where cops fraternized with mobsters and girls sold themselves for the promise of a bit part in a movie.” Her zealous efforts to solve the case and name the killer are less than convincing, but her immersive style is filled with camera-ready period detail.
Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits: The Crime Spree That Gripped Belle Époque Paris by John Merriman is about the rise and fall of the Bonnot Gang (1911-12), but the author shrewdly wraps his historical analysis in the arms of a love story. “The guidebooks never mentioned the quartiers populaires,” he notes, “or the impoverished suburbs of Paris, where most of the workers who ran the trams, built the popular new cars and cleaned the city lived.” It took the anarchists to argue, often violently, that working people were suffering from “increased mechanization, the decline of apprenticeship, the increase in piece rates, speedups and the beginnings of scientific management in large factories.”
Rirette Maîtrejean and Victor Kibaltchiche met on the battlements of the class war, which fueled their affair and gave it purpose. But Jules Bonnot, the leader of their gang, was more committed to plunder than to the cause. “Our blood pays for the luxury of the wealthy” went the anarchist battle cry. “Our enemy is the master. Long live anarchy!” However, Bonnot just wanted to get his hands on that upper-class loot.
Source: Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times, October 26, 2017.