Help I’m Alive, My Heart Keeps Beating Like a Hammer

kitty genovese

 

If you know the name Kitty Genovese, you’re almost certainly aware the story associated with her. She was stabbed multiple times over the course of a half an hour while 38 bystanders watched and did nothing. Her name has been associated with urban apathy for over 50 years and her case helped give rise to Good Samaritan laws across the country and the 911 calling system. But in truth, only two people saw and comprehended what was happening to Kitty; others only heard a scream and then nothing. Some saw the attacker run off and assumed the danger was over. At least one person did call the police but calls weren’t logged in 1964. Kevin Cook’s book show’s us the complexity of the case and of Kitty herself, who was more than just a murder victim.

This book first shows us the life of Kitty herself. She was an independent young woman who chose to stay in Queens when her family pulled up stakes and moved to Connecticut. She was also a closeted lesbian who was going home to her partner the night she was stabbed (a fact kept out of the papers and court trial for fear of the victim becoming unsympathetic). We also see the life of Winston Mosely, the troubled man whose path would cross with Kitty’s in the early hours of March 13, 1964. Cook also puts the crime in context. New Yorkers in the early 60s avoided calling the police, who were often unresponsive and unhelpful. He also notes that the street where the crime occurred was home to a bar that was open until 4AM and was often the source of rowdy drunks and domestic disputes that would spill out onto the sidewalk at night. This certainly caused many of the witnesses the night of Kitty’s murder to ignore her screams and go back to sleep.

Kitty Genovese may be the most well known crime victim in American history. The details of her murder were embellished while the truth of her life was hidden from the public. While this led to many positive changes in how we report crime and how we view the responsibility of bystanders, Cook’s book gives much needed nuance and depth to the story. He also gives voice to Kitty’s partner who, by choice and necessity, has kept her life with Ms. Genovese and the pain of her loss private for half a century.

 

KITTY GENOVESE 2

I am the one hiding under your bed, Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red

the night stalker

For those that don’t know, Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker was a serial killer and rapist who terrorized the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco area from April of 1984 until August of 1985. His trial would be the most expensive in California history until the O.J. Simpson trial. I say “terrorized” in the truest sense of the word. He invaded houses in the dead of night; killing, raping and robbing people when they were at their most vulnerable. He left houses ransacked, covered in blood and occasionally Satanic symbols. Sales of firearms, guard dogs and and security systems skyrocketed. Locksmiths could not keep up with the work load. He was the closest thing to the boogie man to be found in real life.

Philip Carlo begins with Ramirez’s shocking crimes in part one. In the second part, he reviews the killer’s troubled family history and upbringing, which make Richard’s bloody crimes seem almost inevitable. He then discusses his capture, trial and life in prison where he would eventually marry one of his many admirers. Carlo seemed to have pretty unprecedented access to Ramirez, and while this gives him some pretty intimate knowledge of the killer, his sense of smugness about this tends to be readily apparent in the final chapters.

If you are a weirdo murder buff like me, this the book to read about Richard Ramirez. You learn a great deal about all the major players in this case: Ramirez and his family, the detectives who hunted him and his many victims and their loved ones. It’s as thorough a true crime book as you will find.

The Real American Horror Story: Hotel

devil in the white city

 

This is actually a reread for me. I originally read it shortly after it came out in paperback several years ago. Since then my tastes have changed a little and I’ve gotten myself a history degree and it’s really deepened my appreciation for this book. Larson’s research is meticulous and his writing is engaging and reads more like literary fiction than a historical text. Word has it that Leonardo Dicaprio has bought the film rights to this book and I am super excited.

The book tells the parallel stories of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect in charge of the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair and Dr. H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who lured fair goers into his specially designed hotel (for you American Horror Story fans, Evan Peters’ character in the Hotel season is based on Holmes). Both Burnham and Holmes were ambitious men for whom the fair would make their reputations. Though it is Burnham’s accomplishments that are move visible in the modern city, it is Holmes’ name and grisly works that people remember today.

What’s striking from Burhman’s chapter is how difficult the building process was in the late 19th century. Today we watch buildings appear seemingly overnight but even the task Burnham and his associates took on was Herculean. From Holmes’ chapters, what’s stunning is how easily he seemed to be able to get away with not only cold-blooded murder but fraud for so long. In fact, it was an insurance fraud case that finally brought the actions of America’s first urban serial killer to light. If you haven’t already picked up this book, I encourage you to do so soon, so you can nitpick the film when it eventually comes out.

Nothing can save you. Justice is Lost. Justice is Raped. Justice is Gone.

lost girls cover

 

If a possibly unhealthy interest in true crime has taught me anything, it’s that the law does not function equally for all members of society. Many of the most prolific and longest working serial killers were those that preyed on prostitutes. The media don’t consider these victims compelling news, and the police often feel these women are at least partially to blame for their fates and put their cases on the back burner. In the 21st century, sites like craigslist and backpage have added even more anonymity to the process of connecting with a sex worker. All of these ingredients have combined to aid a killer in Long Island who has killed at least 4 and as many as 10 women and who is still at large as of today.

Lost Girls narrows its focus to 5 of these young women: Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amber Lynn Costello, Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy and Shannan Gilbert. It is Shannan, who placed a frantic 911 call before running off screaming into the night that brings attention and the subsequent discovery of the bodies of the other four girls into the news. The book begins by giving a brief outline of the short and difficult lives of the girls. Then Kolker covers the days leading up to their disappearances, the discovery of their bodies and the ensuing case which seems to have uncovered some suspicious characters, but no strong leads. Also complicating this is the fact that the community of Oak Beach, where the bodies were found, is peopled by well-off, private people that would like nothing more than this entire mess to go away.

This book is well written and researched but the subject matter is bleak. The title tells you going in the case is unsolved. I found it difficult reading about the girls childhoods filled with poverty and abuse knowing that there would be no justice in the end for them. If you follow this read up with the Making a Murderer and the Paradise Lost documentaries, you can solidify your disillusionment with the American Judicial System.

Lost Girls

Seriously, f#ck Akron

the jeffrey dahmer story

 

Well I haven’t had a book rated less than 3 stars all year so I guess I was due for a stinker.

I started a book club last month for fans of the new podcast My Favorite Murder. If you’re a fan of true crime, I highly recommend it. This book was the first selection and it was not good. It reminded me of a few papers I wrote in college (thankfully just a few) where I procrastinated like hell and when I finally sat down to write, I realized I did not have enough information gathered and I had zero time gather more. I just bullshitted and quoted like crazy to fill the space until I was done. That’s what this book reads like; A half-assed research paper.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or maybe if you’re super young, you know who Jeffrey Dahmer was. He was a serial killer who murdered 17 young men, mostly gay and mostly racial minorities. This book was originally published in 1991, before Dahmer’s trial had even concluded and the ramifications of his crimes could truly be felt. The writer tried for a more high brow approach to crime writing by adding local history. This can be an effective technique if it’s done correctly and it’s relevant to the narrative. The writer spends dozens of pages on the history of Akron, Ohio. Dahmer’s childhood home is located in Bath Township, which is a suburb of Akron but otherwise has nothing to do with the story. I can only assume Don Davis is from Akron and wanted to use some hometown history to fill out his book.

There are some interesting parts. The murders did expose the racial divides that existed in Milwaukee and caused a great deal of social and political tension in the city. It would have been interesting to see how all of that shook out given some time and perspective. But this was lost in the rush to publish this book while Jeffrey Dahmer was still in the news.

There are excellent true crime books. Ann Rule, Jon Krakauer and Erik Larsen have written some great ones. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of their books and give this one a pass.