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Crime of the Century

Readers' Cafe

The Beautiful Cigar Girl Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder
Destiny of the Republic A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
The Great Pearl Heist London's Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard's Hunt for the World's Most Valuable Necklace
The Invention of Murder How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime
Killers of the Flower Moon The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
The Midnight Assassin Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer
Murder in the First-Class Carriage The First Victorian Railway Killing
The Murder of the Century The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
The Thieves of Threadneedle Street The Incredible True Story of the American Forgers Who Nearly Broke the Bank of England
The Wicked Boy The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer
The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder / Daniel Stashower

Readers who enjoyed Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City will like mystery novelist and biographer Stashower's work here. Following a similar approach to a 19th-century crime, Stashower (Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle ) tells the story of New York City cigar store clerk Mary Rogers, whose violent death in 1841 brought on a frenzy of sensational newspaper stories and prompted the interest of Edgar Allan Poe. Stashower's special distinction is in moving back and forth between the lives of Rogers and Poe and then intertwining their stories: he details how the mystery surrounding Rogers's murder became the inspiration for Poe's story The Mystery of Marie Rogt. He also does an excellent job demonstrating the rise of lurid journalism in direct reaction to this crime and the inadequacies of the city police as they attempted to solve it. Well researched and accessible, here is a gripping story that is hard to put down; literary buffs in particular will enjoy this wonderful backstory to the creation of Poe's sequel to The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President / Candice Millard

James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.

But the shot didn't kill Garfield. The drama of what hap??pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur??moil. The unhinged assassin's half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power - over his administration, over the nation's future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care.?

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America / Erik Larson

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America's rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair's brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country's most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his 'World's Fair Hotel' just west of the fairgrounds -- a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.

Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Great Pearl Heist: London's Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard's Hunt for the World's Most Valuable Necklace / Molly Caldwell Crosby

In the summer of 1913, under the cover of London's perpetual smoggy dusk, two brilliant minds are pitted against each other - a celebrated gentleman thief and a talented Scotland Yard detective - in the greatest jewel heist of the new century. In the spirit of The Great Train Robbery and the tales of Sherlock Holmes, this is the true story of a psychological cat and mouse game set against the backdrop of London's golden Edwardian era. Thoroughly researched, compellingly colorful, The Great Pearl Heist is a gripping narrative account of a little-known, yet extraordinary crime.

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime / Judith Flanders

In this meticulously researched and engrossing book, Judith Flanders retells the gruesome stories of many different types of murder in Great Britain, both famous and obscure: from Greenacre, who transported his dismembered fianc??e around town by omnibus, to Burke and Hare's bodysnatching business in Edinburgh; from the crimes (and myths) of Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper, to the tragedy of the murdered Marr family in London's East End. Through these stories of murder-from the brutal to the pathetic-Flanders builds a rich and multi-faceted portrait of Victorian society in Great Britain. With an irresistible cast of swindlers, forgers, and poisoners, the mad, the bad and the utterly dangerous, The Invention of Murder is both a mesmerizing tale of crime and punishment, and history at its most readable.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI / David Grann

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.
In this last remnant of the Wild West - where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the "Phantom Terror," roamed - many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization's first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood.?

The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer / Skip Hollandsworth

In the late 1800s, the city of Austin, Texas was on the cusp of emerging from an isolated western outpost into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. But beginning in December 1884, Austin was terrorized by someone equally as vicious and, in some ways, far more diabolical than London's infamous Jack the Ripper. For almost exactly one year, the Midnight Assassin crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives, and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class. At the time the concept of a serial killer was unthinkable, but the murders continued, the killer became more brazen, and the citizens' panic reached a fever pitch.

Before it was all over, at least a dozen men would be arrested in connection with the murders, and the crimes would expose what a newspaper described as "the most extensive and profound scandal ever known in Austin." And yes, when Jack the Ripper began his attacks in 1888, London police investigators did wonder if the killer from Austin had crossed the ocean to terrorize their own city.

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Murder in the First-Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing / Kate Colquhoun

In July 1864, Thomas Briggs was traveling home after visiting his niece and her husband for dinner.

He boarded a first-class carriage on the 9:45 pm Hackney service of the North London railway. At Hackney, two bank clerks discovered blood in the seat cushions as well as on the floor, windows, and sides of the carriage. A bloodstained hat was found on the seat along with a broken link from a watch chain. The race to identify the killer and catch him as he fled on a boat to America was eagerly followed by the public on both sides of the Atlantic. Kate Colquhoun tells a gripping tale of a crime that shocked the era.

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars / Paul Collins

On Long Island, a farmer finds a duck pond turned red with blood. On the Lower East Side, two boys playing at a pier discover a floating human torso wrapped tightly in oilcloth. Blueberry pickers near Harlem stumble upon neatly severed limbs in an overgrown ditch. Clues to a horrifying crime are turning up all over New York, but the police are baffled: There are no witnesses, no motives, no suspects.

The grisly finds that began on the afternoon of June 26, 1897, plunged detectives headlong into the era's most baffling murder mystery. Seized upon by battling media moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the case became a publicity circus. Reenactments of the murder were staged in Times Square, armed reporters lurked in the streets of Hell's Kitchen in pursuit of suspects, and an unlikely trio - a hard-luck cop, a cub reporter, and an eccentric professor - all raced to solve the crime.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective / Kate Summerscale

In June of 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection, ironically destroying, in the process, the career of perhaps the greatest detective in the land.

At the time, the detective was a relatively new invention; there were only eight detectives in all of England and rarely were they called out of London, but this crime was so shocking, as Kate Summerscale relates in her scintillating new book, that Scotland Yard sent its best man to investigate, Inspector Jonathan Whicher.

Whicher quickly believed the unbelievable -- that someone within the family was responsible for the murder of young Saville Kent. Without sufficient evidence or a confession, though, his case was circumstantial and he returned to London a broken man.?

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a provocative work of nonfiction that reads like a Victorian thriller, and in it Kate Summerscale has fashioned a brilliant, multilayered narrative that is as cleverly constructed as it is beautifully written.

The Thieves of Threadneedle Street: The Incredible True Story of the American Forgers Who Nearly Broke the Bank of England / Nicholas Booth

In the summer of 1873, four American forgers went on trial at the Old Bailey -- London's iconic law court -- for the greatest fraud the world had ever seen. The attempted crime: stealing five million dollars from the Bank of England from under the noses of its unsuspecting officials. In The Thieves of Threadneedle Street, Nicholas Booth tells the extraordinary true story of the forgers' earliest escapades in Chicago, Louisville, and Manhattan, culminating with the heist at the world's leading financial institution, the Bank of England. At the heart of the story is the charming criminal genius Austin Bidwell who, on the brink of escaping with his fortune, saw his luck finally run out.

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer / Kate Summerscale

In the summer of 1895, Robert Coombes (age 13) and his brother Nattie (age 12) were seen spending lavishly around the docklands of East London -- for ten days in July, they ate out at coffee houses and took trips to the seaside and the theater. The boys told neighbors they had been left home alone while their mother visited family in Liverpool, but their aunt was suspicious. When she eventually forced the brothers to open the house to her, she found the badly decomposed body of their mother in a bedroom upstairs. Robert and Nattie were arrested for matricide and sent for trial at the Old Bailey.

Robert confessed to having stabbed his mother, but his lawyers argued that he was insane. Nattie struck a plea and gave evidence against his brother. The court heard testimony about Robert's severe headaches, his fascination with violent criminals and his passion for 'penny dreadfuls', the pulp fiction of the day. He seemed to feel no remorse for what he had done, and neither the prosecution nor the defense could find a motive for the murder. The judge sentenced the thirteen-year-old to detention in Broadmoor, the most infamous criminal lunatic asylum in the land. Yet Broadmoor turned out to be the beginning of a new life for Robert--one that would have profoundly shocked anyone who thought they understood the Wicked Boy.

At a time of great tumult and uncertainty, Robert Coombes's case crystallized contemporary anxieties about the education of the working classes, the dangers of pulp fiction, and evolving theories of criminality, childhood, and insanity.

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