Astro-Data V: Profiles in Crime

Lois M. Rodden

Perhaps the most bizarre volume in any true crime library. The author has diligently compiled the astrological data of crime. Included are 300 full-blown charts (complete with all those cute little astrological symbols) for a motley crew of serial killers, mass murderers, Nazis and other assorted loose ends. And as an added bonus they’ve thrown in the planet positions for another 435 cases. Definitive or demented, take your pick. JM

Publisher: Data News
Paperback: 238 pages

Berserk! Motiveless Random Massacres

Graham Chester

There’s nothing like a nut with a gun, a grudge and plenty of ammunition to add spice to anyone’s day. Berserk! offers up a whole passel full, ranging from modern legends like Charles “Texas Tower” Whitman and James “McDonald’s” Huberty to lesser-known but no less interesting mass murderers like Wagner von Degerloch (who killed nine people in Germany in 1913) and Howard Unruh (Camden, New Jersey, 1949: 13 dead in 12 minutes). Chester offers up excellent, concise accounts of some of the more interesting criminals of the 20th century. JM

Publisher: St. Martin's
Paperback: 260 pages

Book of Executions

James Bland

A voluminous collection of the skinny on the many ways man has legally done away with his fellow man over the years. Although entries like “Hanging” and “Electric Chair” cover little ground not already familiar to the average capital punishment buff, there are plenty of brief entries about bizarre, obscure and quite painful death penalties. Consider the deterrence value of sentences like “Eaten by crocodiles,” “Sawn in half,” and “Burned internally.” Ouch! Plenty of inspiration awaits for both rabid law-and-order types and slasher-movie screenwriters. JM

Publisher: Trafalgar Square
Paperback: 436 pages

The “Counterfeit” Man: The True Story

Gerald W. McFarland

An outstanding look at one of postcolonial America’s more bizarre murders. One evening in 1812, Russell Colvin vanished from Manchester, Vermont, following a violent argument with his wife’s brothers, Jesse and Stephen Boorn. Tongues began to wag, the gossip flowed, and seven years later, the Boorns were convicted of murder. And then, just in the nick of time, Colvin reappeared. The Boorns’ convictions were quickly overturned.
But wait—there’s more! Forty years later, while trying to recruit a man for his counterfeiting ring, Jesse Boorn boasted about hiring an impostor to play Colvin. Unfortunately, Boorn’s potential recruit was an undercover U.S. marshal. McFarland carefully reconstructs the crime, and while he plainly leans toward the impostor theory, he avoids going on a heavy revisionist trip. Superior historical true crime. JM

Publisher: University of Massachusetts
Paperback: 242 pages

Crime: An Encyclopedia

Oliver Cyriak

There’s no shortage of books pretending to be “crime encyclopedias” of one sort or another, and this one fits right into the middle of the pack. More accurate than some, less comprehensive than others, Crime is pretty much an average crime reference book. Given the low standards prevailing in the field, this isn’t saying much. Somewhat sketchy with articles on individual criminals, it’s better at covering general topics like “repeat killers” and “sex crimes.” There are many more comprehensive (albeit more expensive) volumes. You have been warned. JM

Publisher: Trafalgar Square
Hardback: 468 pages

Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murder of Eight Nurses

Dennis L. Breo and William J. Martin

In this day of bloated crime books about inconsequential killings, it’s refreshing to see a Big Book about a Big Crime, and even better to get one that’s worth reading cover to cover. The subject is Richard Speck, whose killing of eight student nurses in his rampage through a Chicago dorm in 1966 was one of the most highly publicized cases of the decade. Breo and Martin effectively convey just why this case was so important, and fill in more than enough detail in what is the most definitive book available on a benchmark crime. JM

Publisher: Bantam
Paperback: 462 pages

The Death of Old Man Rice: A True Story of Criminal Justice in America

Martin L. Friedland

The death of Texas multimillionaire William Rice (founder of Rice University) in 1900 was the starting point for one of the strangest murder cases in U.S. history. Albert Patrick, a young lawyer, was quickly arrested for the crime. He had been running all over town cashing checks forged on Rice’s account, and had almost undoubtedly forged the will bequeathing the bulk of the Rice estate to him. He was convicted and sentenced to death after a lengthy, controversial trial.
But that was not the end. Over the years, the lingering doubts about the case grew. Patrick’s sentence was first commuted to life imprisonment. And then, several years later, he received a full pardon. Friedland, a University of Toronto law professor, is primarily interested in examining the proceedings as a case study of American justice, so there’s plenty of transcripts and analysis of the legal maneuvers. But for all the footnotes the writing isn’t turgid, and Friedland holds off on his revisionist tack (he thinks Patrick was guilty of no worse than forgery) to the end. JM

Publisher: University of Toronto
Hardback: 423 pages

Deviant: The Shocking True Story of the Original "Psycho"

Harold Schechter

For all the ink that’s been spilled over Wisconsin’s favorite murderer/necrophile, there’s been a surprising paucity of books on the guy. Until Deviant, the only one was an obscure small-press volume written by the judge at his 1968 trial. Kind of surprising for the murderer who inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho (and who makes Norman Bates look positively well adjusted by comparison). But any other book is now superfluous; Deviant is the definitive book on Gein. Schechter covers all the bizarre twists and turns in ol’ Ed’s story—the grave robbing, the bizarre corpse “experiments” and ultimately the murders, with a thoroughness that is unlikely ever to be surpassed. JM

Publisher: Pocket
Paperback: 274 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

The Gangs of New York

Herbert Asbury

Asbury’s informal chronicle of gang life in New York before the first World War is an eye-opener for anyone operating under the delusion that “those were the good old days.” Conditions in neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen and the Five Points put modern slums to shame. And they had gangs to match. Huge mobs of members of such hard-nosed organizations as the Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies and the Bowery Boys would stage pitched battles lasting for days. And when they decided to riot, the result was the Draft Riots, which were like all the riots of 1967 rolled into one week in 1863 Manhattan, only worse. There was even a police riot, when rival gangs of cops duked it out in front of City Hall. A wild book about wild times. JM

Publisher: Marlowe
Paperback: 400 pages