Category: Killing Clio

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 →

Blinded by the White: Race and the Exceptionalizing of Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy just won’t quit. Or at least our cultural obsession with him won’t, long after he was executed in Florida by electric chair just over thirty years ago. Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, released in January, has reignited interest in Bundy once again and introduced him to a new generation… 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 →

Fictional Detectives and Real-Life Forensic Science

On April 10, 1935, Lord Hugh Montague Trenchard, the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, invited policemen and politicians to celebrate the opening of the new Metropolitan Police Laboratory (MPL). The attendees, wrote a Times correspondent, “have been invited not just to see a collection of microscopes and test tubes, but to open the door to… Read more →

True Fake Crime

On April 1, 2019, news broke that Awkwafina and Ike Barinholtz are producing and starring in a movie named Crime After Crime, a comedy about true crime podcasting. Earlier this year, fictionalized true crime podcast The Angel of Vine, which featured Hollywood stars like Joe Manganiello, Constance Zimmer, and Alfred Molina, wrapped up its 10… Read more →

Louis “The Laughing Eel” Ross and the Road of No Return: Incarcerating the “Criminally Insane”

In 1921 a burglar called the “Laughing Eel” began serving a ten-year prison term, but it was 33 years before he got his freedom back. Like thousands of other incarcerated people with mental illnesses, Louis Ross was diagnosed as “criminally insane” and moved to a state hospital with a virtual life sentence. Despite his slippery… 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 →