"Old Sparky", the electric chair used at Sing Sing prison. Image © Public Domain

Blood and Volts: Edison, Tesla and the Electric Chair

Th. Metzger

“An ax murderer, two of the most brilliant scientific minds of the century, billions of dollars in profit, precedent-setting legal battles, secrets of life and death—all of these come together in the story of the first electric chair… At the dawn of the 20th century, electricity was thought to be a highly ambiguous force: at once a godlike, creative power and demonic destroyer of life… In the popular imagination, Tesla and Edison were seen as nearly superhuman beings, and their struggle was not only for wealth and power, but to reshape the face of America.”

Publisher: Autonomedia
Paperback: 191 pages


The Police Dictionary and Encyclopedia

John J. Fay

“More than 4,900 law-enforcement terms and phrases are defined and explained in this comprehensive work. Examples are provided where necessary, and applications of important practices have been delineated. The entry-level officer, as well as the seasoned veteran, will find the text to be a valuable guide in updating his or her working vocabulary.”

Publisher: C.C. Thomas
Hardback: 378 pages

Polly Klaas: The Murder of America’s Child

Barry Bortnick

The middle-class crime of the century, or, as the book cover puts it, “the crime that broke our hearts!” October 1993—a 12-year-old suburban California girl is kidnapped from her own bedroom. “Sean Anthony Bush watched videos with his friend Aaron Thomas in the rental unit Thomas leased in Eve Nichol’s back yard. Bush had a clear view of his neighbor’s back porch. He recalled seeing a ‘thick’ man walking up the home’s back steps at about 10 pm. Bush told police the man crouched down and glanced through the home’s back windows.” (Bush and Thomas ignored this!) Meanwhile, Polly “decided to move the slumber party from her room into the living room so the girls could spread out their sleeping bags. When she opened her bedroom door, the bogeyman stood waiting. He was big and held a kitchen knife. Polly let out a soft gasp. The nightmare on Fourth Street had begun.” GR

Publisher: Pinnacle
Paperback: 264 pages

Prison Groupies

Clifford L. Linedecker

“They only love the men who kill!” And there are 14 reasons why these desperate Doras think that the only good men are behind bars. “They are women from all across America—women who have given up their families, careers and even their freedom to be with the men they love. From housewives to nurses to lawyers and teachers, from best-selling authors (Danielle Steel) to Hollywood sex-kittens (Sue Lyon), they all share one shameful secret: their lust-driven obsession for America’s deadliest killers.” GR

Publisher: Pinnacle
Paperback: 300 pages

Prison Slang: Words and Expressions Depicting Life Behind Bars

William K. Bentley and James M. Corbett

“Two writers made good use of their time in the big house to compile a lexicon of the colorful terms they heard. Arranged alphabetically within chapters on such topics as communication, sex and drugs and alcohol, and death in prison.”

Publisher: McFarland
Hardback: 128 pages

The Private Diary of Lyle Menendez: In His Own Words!

Lyle Menendez as told to Norma Novelli with Mike Walker

Mike Walker also wrote Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted, which tends to confirm one’s impression of him from this book, particularly from his introduction, as a self-serving and barely literate parasite. As for the disgracefully adolescent Norma Novelli… What a pathetic loser she was! I use past tense in reference to her because she was nothing before she attached herself to Lyle Menendez in a menopausal crush, and she has returned to being less than nothing since. Lyle’s conviction for the “brutal shotgun slayings” of his parents is supposedly exposed and analyzed by this tedious book with its unique angle of having reprinted “actual diaries.” The usual pseudo-psychological stuff; society’s right to know; prevention of future murder by familiarity with the “mind of a cold killer”; and righteous curiosity are the reasons glibly trotted out as justification. I resent having wasted my precious time, an irreplaceable part of my life trying to read this garbage. Yes! A plague upon thee and all who doth sail in thee, oh morass of apathy and pus-drenched conformity that be suburbia! I say. Oh, that feels better!
If you do seriously wish to enter uncannily into the existential world of a sociopathic serial killer and the obsessive mind of a sadistic pervert more completely and shatteringly than you could ever have imagined to witness; a lost soul chillingly and articulately trying to understand how it came to this, and what could possibly have possessed him, then I cannot recommend highly enough Killing for Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen by Brian Masters. After all, any right-thinking, socially sensitive observer would have to concur that an all-consuming, uncontrollable hatred for that very suburbia from which so many serial executors are drawn is really the primary common factor in all these sobering tales. Furthermore, and potentially more disturbing to the self-deceiving, I must grudgingly suggest that any right thinking and sensitive person would also have to empathize with that hatred, whilst being careful not to condone necessarily these particularly gruesome expressions of it.
So, anyway, returning reluctantly to the onerous task I have pledged to fulfill: This is a vile book reveling in vicarious consumption on every possible level. It is a gratuitous consumer product in and of itself so superficial and dull in content that it makes tabloids in the genus of National Enquirer sparkle like James Joyce’s Ulysses in comparison. The Menendez brothers are consumed with such immature and ineffective greed, compounded by a mental retardation, that the acknowledgment of this is the only shocking aspect of this drivel. Suburbia was, for the post-Warholian 15 minutes or so, consumed with vicarious fascination. Norma was consumed with a blatantly self-deceiving obsession for Lyle. (Of course this dreadful, dreadful housewife wanted to fuck him!). Erik and Lyle consumed the media attention. The public consumed the media sensationalism. And on and on… A typical American fable of rags to body bags.
Really, all you can say is: What a bunch of repulsive people. Stupid, mundane, unglamorous, uninspired, disposable, vacuous middle-class foolish, repulsive people. Bungling, masturbatory, opportunist, amoral, vainglorious, unattractive, repulsive people. Blessedly, this cast of idiots have either crawled back under the rank stones from whence they came, or been consigned officially under more architecturally demanding, but equally dank, official stones. Which would be fine and dandy if it was an interesting tale well told. But it’s not. It’s a “crock of shit” as you Americans would say, and I can only wholeheartedly concur, European though I am. GPO

Publisher: Dove
Hardback: 263 pages

Prophet of Death: The Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings

Pete Earley

“Charismatic thief, philanderer and self-proclaimed man of God, Jeffery Lundgren began preaching his unique dogma of radical Mormonism in Independence, Missouri. To the members of his small but fanatically devoted sect, he was the ‘Last Prophet,’ whose coming was foretold in the Book of Mormon. A master of hypnotic oratory, Lundgren used his own twisted interpretations of religious texts to justify any excess—perversion, sexual slavery… even human sacrifice. And on April 17, 1989, Lundgren and a group of his followers led the Avery family—a husband, wife and their three young children—into a barn in rural Ohio and slaughtered them, one by one.”

Publisher: Avon
Paperback: 422 pages

Rack, Rope and Red-Hot Pincers: A History of Torture and Its Instruments

Geoffrey Abbott

“This book discusses the history of torture, from medieval times to 1850. Roughly half of its material is about England (mainly, the Tower of London), and the other half miscellaneous areas of continental Europe. It covers the well-known instruments, such as the rack, iron maiden and guillotine. There are also a lot rare ones, such as the Duke of Exeter’s invention. There are muzzles for nagging wives, and topless public bull-whipping of female criminals.”

Publisher: Trafalgar Square
Paperback: 243 pages

Rancho Mirage: An American Tragedy of Manners, Madness and Murder

Aram Saroyan

May-September husband and wife Andrea Claire and Robert Sand seemed to have a happy marriage until wheelchair-bound Sand was found murdered in their Palm Springs house. Soon any illusion that they and their marriage had been anything other than utterly bizarre was shattered. First, information came out that Andrea had worked as a call-girl, her husband had been a client, and the essential nature of their relationship had not changed since the marriage and had included SM role-playing. Under investigation by the police, Andrea began to report attacks by people she claimed were associates of her late husband, in which she would receive scratches to her body, and knives would be inserted in her rectum. Then followed a murderous attack on her new boyfriend. Brought to trial for her husband’s death, her defense turned on the question of her sanity after a lifetime of abuse. Fascinating tale of the grotesque which lurks behind the manicured lawns of suburbia. NN

Publisher: Barricade
Hardback: 366 pages

Riots and Pogroms

Edited by Paul R. Brass

“During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, many Korean-American businesses were looted and burned to the ground. Although nearly half of the looters arrested were Latinos, the media portrayed this aspect of the riots more in terms on the on-going conflicts between Korean-Americans and African-Americans… Riots and Pogroms presents comparative studies of public violence in the twentieth century in the United States, Russia, Germany, Israel and India… How do political and social forces seek to assign causes and attach labels to riots, attribute motives to rioters and ‘pogromists,’ and explain why particular groups are selected for violent assaults? To what extent are the state and its agents implicated in those assaults? To what degree does organization and/or spontaneity play a role in these incidents?

Publisher: NYU
Hardback: 320 pages

The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America

Albert Fried

“Recalls the rise and fall of an underworld culture that bred some of America’s most infamous racketeers, bootleggers, gamblers and professional killers, spawned by a culture of vice and criminality on New York’s Lower East Side and similar environments in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Detroit, Newark and Philadelphia. The author adds an important dimension to this story as he discusses the Italian gangs that teamed up with their Jewish counterparts to form multicultural syndicates. The careers of such high-profile figures as Meyer Lansky, Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, and ‘Dutch’ Schultz demonstrate how these gangsters passed from early manhood to old age, marketed illicit goods and services after the repeal of Prohibition, improved their system of mutual cooperation and self-governance, and grew to resemble modern business entrepeneurs.”

Publisher: Columbia University
Paperback: 351 pages