"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 Dillinger Dossier

Jay Robert Nash

Did John Dillinger orchestrate his own permanent retirement as Public Enemy Number One? Nash presents compelling evidence that it was not John H. Dillinger who was gunned down in front of the Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934, by Hoover’s G-men, but a small-time hood named Jimmy Lawrence. Why did the corpse have brown eyes, if Dillinger’s were blue? Why did the coroner’s autopsy report go missing for over 30 years? And why was the body laid to rest under 2,500 pounds of impenetrable concrete? Nash assembles documents, morgue shots, handwriting, first-hand interviews, and purported photographs of Dillinger in old age, all of which indicate strongly that Dillinger not only faked his own death, but was alive and well as late as 1979, and living in Hollywood, California. HJ

Publisher: December
Paperback: 250 pages

Do or Die: For the First Time, Members of America’s Most Notorious Gangs — the Crips and the Bloods — Speak for Themselves

Léon Bing

“The inside account of street gangs and their brutal world… Bing lets the L.A. gang members discuss their lives, loves and battles.”

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 277 pages

The Dracula Killer: The True Story of California’s Vampire Killer

Lieutenant Ray Biondi and Walt Hecox

“A serial killer with a taste for blood as told by homicide detective Lieutenant Ray Biondi… here is the actual story of the all-out effort to stop murderer Richard Chase—a psychotic killer so depraved, he drank his victims’ blood.”

Publisher: Titan
Paperback: 256 pages

Ed Gein: Psycho!

Paul Woods

“America may have had its fill of psychos for the last 40 years, but none of them has inspired so many books and films (Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) as Wisconsin’s cannibalistic handyman, Ed Gein. None of them has been used as the ultimate ogre in countless children’s stories and off-color jokes, and none of them has been found guilty of as many unspeakable atrocities as Ed Gein. This is his story. This is his legend.”

Publisher: St. Martin's
Paperback: 165 pages

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers

Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg

“A comprehensive, A-Z guide to the world’s most horrifying criminal personalities. Includes two indexes for identifying hundreds of killers throughout history, making this a complete and timely reference.”

Publisher: Berkley
Paperback: 408 pages

Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu

Ted Anton

This highly unusual true-crime book looks at the still-unsolved shooting of University of Chicago Divinity School professor Ioan Culianu in a campus men’s room in 1991. Maybe it wasn’t the biggest killing of the year, but author Anton digs up more than enough muck and delves into areas sufficiently far afield from your normal cops-and-killers stuff to make this well worth a look-see. Culianu was an acclaimed professor of comparative religion doing cutting-edge work in areas as diverse as Renaissance magic, gnosticism and after-death experience. And just to show he wasn’t all work and no play, he harbored a secret ambition to put all those Ph.D.s (he had three!) to work writing some science fiction. But he also was a Romanian exile with an unfortunate penchant for fingering the spades in Romania’s post-Ceauscescu government. Anton builds a strong case for Culianu’s killing as the first political assassination of a professor in the United States. And along the way, he paints a fascinating portrait of Culianu’s life and work spiced with plenty of Romanian political weirdness. JM

Publisher: Northwestern University
Hardback: 292 pages


Luc Sante

“Photography, like murder, interrupts life,” says the author, who also wrote Low Life. “The pictures would not leave me alone.” Presents an amazing documentation of NYPD crime photography between 1914 and 1918. Saved only by accident, it’s the “true record of the texture and grain of a lost New York, laid bare by the circumstance of murder.” Most taken with a wide-angle lens, and many taken from high above a sprawled corpse, the photos compare to a nightmare journey through a surrealistic city, always lonely, always night, and always death in every room. “Time in its passing casts off particles of itself in the form of images, documents, relics, junk.” Some can be forgotten, some cannot. GR

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Paperback: 99 pages

Execution: Tools and Techniques

Bart Rommel

Not quite the how-to manual the title would suggest, but chock-full of fun facts and conversation starters like: Did you know prison guards commonly force those who are to die by electrocution to wear special diapers or even tie their penises with rubber hose to contain urine involuntarily released? Or that the first guillotine was built by a German harpsichord maker? Or that guards during the Inquisition took special delight in raping women during execution by the “peine forte et dure” (“pain both long and hard”) because of the extreme vaginal tension produced by the piling of rocks upon a victim’s torso? And so forth. Obligatory lamentation over the squeamishness of juries and “bleeding hearts” who pooh-pooh the direct correlation between capital punishment and deterrence. Rommel concludes that “executions will never go out of style” and sees hope for the future in new technologies, such as his own brainchild: a “zapper box” for microwaving the head of the condemned. RA

Publisher: Loompanics
Paperback: 119 pages

The Family Jams

Steve 'Clem' Grogan et al

“In 1970 some close friends of Charles Manson recorded his collection of lost ‘desert music’ songs as a statement of friendship and faith during his highly unconstitutional trial. This is the definitive release of the classic acid-folk-rock session of Manson compositions—featuring Clem on vocals and guitar, ultra-ethereal female backing vocals by Brenda (Gold), Country Sue and others, and Gypsy on violin. The second CD contains an hour of never-before-heard songs and radical alternate versions. The 20-page booklet contains psychedelic embroidery from the legendary missing vests of Manson and Beausoleil, unpublished photos and vast liner notes written by Manson, Lynette Fromme (Red) and Sandra Good (Blue).”

Publisher: Aoroa
Audio CD

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America

Geoffrey Canada

Brought up on the streets of the South Bronx, where learning to fight was simply a matter of survival, Geoffrey Canada knows about street violence firsthand. When crack and handguns flooded the inner cities in the ‘80s, violence spiraled out of control, becoming a deadly epidemic. Determined to provide some hope for the future, Canada has returned to the ghetto as a Harvard-educated adult to teach children’s strategies for survival: Hit the ground—sound advice when someone is pointing a gun in your direction but you are not the primary target. Not a bad test question for use in our urban schools:When someone points a gun in your direction but doesn’t want to shoot you in particular, you should
a) run into the nearest building.
b) yell and scream and run away.
c) stand still.
d) hit the ground
Each week, another innocent child is shot while amateur gunmen blast away at targets real and imagined. It’s a sad state of affairs in this country when as they enter kindergarten our children need to be taught not only the ABCs but more importantly what to do when they hear shots or see people pointing guns. NN

Publisher: Beacon
Hardback: 224 pages