Category: Features

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 →

Justice and Agency: Why Women Love True Crime

When I was young, I was obsessed with Unsolved Mysteries. While not typically a “go-to” show for an eight-year-old, my love of the program was unsurprising to my parents. I voraciously read every single Nancy Drew novel, regularly solved Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, and loved watching Father Dowling Mysteries and PBS’s Mystery! with my grandmother. But… Read more →

Militaristic Homophobia: Attitudes toward Homosexuality in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia

“Sin doesn’t lie in the act itself, but in its relation to other things.”1 Mikhail Kuzmin wrote these words in his novel Wings, which depicts a homosexual relationship between a middle-aged man and an adolescent boy. Kuzmin’s quote highlights that homosexuality was not harmful because of the sexual act itself, but in how it was… 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 →

Shame and Shearing: The Politics of Women’s Hair in Independence-Era Ireland

The shearing of women’s hair has a long history as a tactic for dehumanizing, humiliating, and setting women apart from the rest of the population.2 Hair often holds great symbolic value for women. Long hair can be a mark of femininity, and many women take great pride in their hair. The act of shaving a… Read more →

Dinner with Death: Kate Bender, Murder, and Mayhem on the Kansas Prairie

With the close of the American Civil War, western states like Kansas teemed with travelers and refugees seeking opportunity and solace as shattered families worked to rebuild their interrupted lives. Filled with open space and limitless development potential, Kansas attracted former Union and Confederate soldiers, Exodusters (newly freed African-Americans), and migrants from the world over.1… 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 →