Tag: murder

Evidence Written in Blood: Forensic Science and the True Crime Consumer

According to reports, in December 2001 Michael Peterson found his wife, Kathleen Peterson, dead at the bottom of a set of stairs in their Durham home. While locals like me remember the hullabaloo that followed, true crime fans became familiar with the case through a multipart French documentary, The Staircase, which Netflix renewed for five… Read more →

The Postmortem Life of Anton Probst: Philadelphia’s First Mass Murderer

On the morning of June 7, 1866, Henry Leffmann, a first-year medical student at Jefferson Medical College, arrived at Philadelphia’s Myomensing Prison to set up a large quantity of galvanic batteries. Leffmann’s mentor, Dr. Benjamin Howard Rand, requested these “voltaic cells” to conduct “a most unusual experiment” upon the corpse of executed mass murderer, Anton… Read more →

Challenging Myth and Misogyny in the Ripper Murders: An Interview with Hallie Rubenhold

In her new book The Five: The Untold Stories of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, social historian Hallie Rubenhold deftly challenges conventional Ripper mythology with an extensively researched deep dive into the lives of his overlooked and stereotyped victims. Through reconstructions of these women’s individual lifelong experiences, Rubenhold counters the long-held assumption that… Read more →

Disappointed Love and Dangerous Temptations: Textile Factories and True Crime

Mary Bean enjoyed “unlawful relations” in the summer of 1849; by the fall she was pregnant. In November she entered the house of the mysterious Dr. Savin and was never seen again.1 Jilted at the altar, Orrilla Durrell died from “disappointed love”;2 so did Catherine Cotton, whose encounter with a con man pushed her to… Read more →

“Ample Justification for the Deed”: Public Interest in the “Sickles Tragedy” as Gender Performance

Congressman Daniel Sickles murdered Philip Barton Key on February 27, 1859, just steps from the White House. The day before, Sickles’s wife, Teresa, had tearfully confessed to an affair with Key, who was then the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. When Key, oblivious to this new development, appeared in view of the Sickles… Read more →

“Charlie Says” and the Santa Cruz Prison Project

Joan Didion, Again “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969.” This ubiquitous Joan Didion quotation, from her essay “The White Album” (1979), appears in approximately one gazillion accounts of the Manson Family murders, and now it serves as the opening title card to the 2019… Read more →

Sherlock Holmes Comes to Paris: True Crime and Private Detection in the Belle Époque

What’s the appeal of true crime? There’s the mystery to solve and the lure of thinking about violence from a safe distance. There’s also the desire to see justice done: one of the staples of true crime is a botched or mishandled police investigation. There are those who say they are wrongfully accused (Adnan Syed… Read more →

Armchair Detectives and the Allure of Death in Miniature at the Smithsonian

It was one of the coldest January days in recent memory, but that didn’t seem to deter the crowds inside the Renwick Gallery of American Art in downtown Washington, D.C. As I entered the museum that afternoon in 2018, I ran into a dense crowd of people—all simply waiting to enter the museum’s blockbuster exhibit… Read more →

Murder, She Miniatured: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Homemaking and Homicide From the outside, Frances Glessner Lee’s childhood home resembled a prison. H. H. Richardson designed the home in 1886 with imposing granite and an austere facade, complete with barred windows. At the time of its construction, the home was considered the eyesore of Chicago’s fashionable Prairie Avenue. The inside of the home… Read more →

The Disappearance of Juliet Stuart Poyntz

Throughout the spring and early summer of 1937, telephone operators at the American Woman’s Association Clubhouse in Manhattan noted that a man with a deep voice called daily for one of the residents, Juliet Stuart Poyntz. Poyntz took the calls every time, until one morning in June when she spoke with her mysterious caller and… Read more →