Vintage True Crime Stories published by Historical Crime Detective Publishing is almost as interesting in its organization and compilation of stories as is the content of the stories themselves. The work reviewed here is Volume I: An Illustrated Anthology of Forgotten Cases of Murder & Mayhem. There are two primary historical sources for the stories. Refer to the section About This Book to learn about the primary sources as well as contributions made by the publishers. Ten clearly defined publisher actions make this an interesting addition to libraries of crime literature addicts. There is a companion webpage which provides images and additional reading sources for each of the twenty chapters/cases in this volume. For fans of the crime genre, this is a rich resource which will provide much reading for the Amazon price of USD 0.99.
The Introduction is a must read as the publishers describe their method of choosing and extracting the cases presented in this work from original sources. Read this to find out why much material was excluded. This section also describes how to access the bonus material. Footnotes linked in the text are invaluable as publisher annotations explain the “story behind the story” when the original source author wrote in a way that assumed knowledge of the time that is too vague for modern day readers.
Below are points I found most interesting for each case. These are my “takeaways.” In some cases, there were crime scene and context elements that were more interesting than the crimes themselves. Reader interests vary.
Chapter 1: Proving a Guilty Man Guilty, New Jersey, 1910 ***** I found the most impressive fact of this case was the great expense and hard work expended to prove something investigators felt to be true but could not prove. By clicking on reference links, find out what a “Spymograph” is. The deceptive measures used as detectives tried to inject one of their own to live with the suspect and develop trust are brilliant (and expensive).
Chapter 2: The Doctor’s Wife, Rhode Island, 1915 ***** The most interesting part of this chapter is the description of the doctor’s lifestyle. The amount of money he made and spent converted to present day income is staggering, as is the open knowledge of the illegal sources of portions of his income. The culpability of the doctor’s wife in the murder almost comes in second as far as interest in this case.
Chapter 3: The Dynamited Culvert, Pennsylvania, 1903 ***** In this chapter the primary suspects escaped to Europe and had to be extradited. Despite mistakes in the extradition paperwork, Scotland Yard helped by holding the suspect pair until correct paperwork could be drafted.
Chapter 4: The Basket Baby Mystery, Iowa, 1916 ***** Adoptions were done quite differently at this period of history. That is one factor that makes this case interesting.
Chapter 5: The Capture of the ‘Missouri Kid,’ Missouri, 1902 ***** The description of the bank robbery is excellent. It almost reads as if it were a military action based on the volume of fire.
Chapter 6: The Inconsistent Killer, Chicago, 1898 ***** This was a case noted for the refusal of clemency by a governor. The governor believed that the sentence of the court should stand despite denials of guilt by the prisoner. Jacks had led a bizarre double life as he was a police chief and Deputy US Marshal while also acting as a thief and burglar.
Chapter 7: The Belleville Mystery, Indiana, 1895 ***** This case was remarkable in that it was a staged murder committed by a formerly respected member of the local clergy. He had killed his wife and staged his own injuries which he claimed had been committed by robbers.
Chapter 8: Detective’s Vision Solves Case, Philadelphia, 1889 ***** The perpetrator in the death of a young girl meted out justice to himself in his own gruesome way
Chapter 9: Via the Bluff, Washington, 1915 ***** Fingerprints were used to induce a suspect to confess. But whose fingerprints were they?
Chapter 10: A Killer Gets Away with It, Oklahoma City, 1907 ***** This was remarkable for how many times the suspect, Tegler, stood trial. While waiting for his fourth trial, he received a pardon from the state Lieutenant Governor.
Chapter 11: The Human Bonfire, California, 1914 ***** This looks at the life of a career criminal, an arsonist, and a murderer. Sentenced to life imprisonment, Davis served nine and one-half years and died a free man.
Chapter 12: Potatoes & Kerosene, Chicago, 1915 ***** No one could believe that a young boy who delivered groceries could kill a woman and her two-year-old child in a dispute over change for bill payment.
Chapter 13: A Grand Rapids Thriller, Michigan, 1913 ***** This is a story of dogged, persistent police work. Once again, a detective worked undercover as a bad guy in order to find a suspect.
Chapter 14: The Doctor’s Son, St. Louis, 1912 ***** Cheatham, the son, was never charged with a crime of identity theft although he was guilty of that as well as of murder. He was a master con man. This came out as a result of detailed investigation when he tried to obtain medical licenses in several States.
Chapter 15: Kentucky’s Most Brutal Murder, Louisville, 1912 ***** Wendling, a convicted murderer was eventually released from prison whereupon he returned to France and was treated as a hero and a victim of an unjust American justice system.
Chapter 16: The Preller Murder Case, St. Louis, 1885 ***** This is the story of a carefully planned and executed undercover operation which put a man in jail to get true information that would result in the conviction of a murderer. I looked at the complexities of carrying out such an operation rather than the details of the crime.
Chapter 17: The Collins Case, Topeka, 1898 ***** This was a case of fratricide for money. It was a highly publicized account due to the social prominence of the family.
Chapter 18: A Murder in Dallas, 1893 ***** This was a case of a falling out between business partners. Had the killing or killings been successful, there would have been insurance money to divide.
Chapter 19: The Good Employee, St. Louis, 1892 ***** This is a case of police jealousy in which the local police decided they wanted to prosecute the detective agency for operating without a city license rather than the criminal who had been discovered by the agency.
Chapter 20: Decoying a Bad Man, Oklahoma, 1882 ***** Was this a train robbery committed by remnants of the James gang? That was what the robbers claimed. Detective Foster had to enlist the help of Native Indian law enforcement as robber Sweeny was hiding on Indian land. Sweeny spent some time in jail for a train robbery and killing. On release, he threatened the detective agency responsible for his capture but unwisely used the Postal Service to transmit the threat. Sweeny went back to jail. After release, Foster met him again during the prosecution case for another Sweeny crime. This is a story of a serial criminal.
This last chapter is followed by a bonus chapter from a follow-on book. There is a description of a common matrimonial scam involving a character named Archie Moock. It is interesting enough that I will read the follow-on book.
The publishers of this novel present original reporting from records of the time about each of the twenty cases above. The language will sometimes be unfamiliar to the modern reader, but most terms are explained through annotation pop-ups supplied by the publisher. Combined with frequent links to a website that supplies additional material, this novel is an interesting read combined with an activity book if the reader decides to click on the links.
This is a five-star Amazon read based on originality in content presentation as well as good organization, good writing, and excellent source referencing.