A blog note…

I will be leaving on Saturday for Kansas (from Illinois), where I will be attending a funeral, attending to some wedding details and spending three weeks with my folks. Blogging will be light, since, while I will have a computer, I will be sharing it.

In the meantime, I have a couple of books that I’m reading, including “Black Dahlia Avenger” by Steve Hodel, which I am rereading. Hopefully I’ll find a few other books lying around here at the house to take with me, otherwise it’s going to be a rather dull three weeks.

Published in: on August 10, 2006 at 5:23 am  Comments (3)  

Torso: The Story of Eliot Ness and the Search for a Psychopathic Killer by Steven Nickel

Marion Bardsley, writing on Cleveland during the time of the Torso murders (also known as the Kingsbury Run murders) in an article at crimelibrary.com…

“Kingsbury Run cuts across the east side of Cleveland like a jagged wound, ripped into the rugged terrain as if God himself had tried to disembowel the city. At some points it is nearly sixty feet deep, a barren wasteland covered with patches of wild grass, yellowed newspapers, weeds, empty tin cans and the occasional battered hull of an old car left to rust beneath the sun. Perched upon the brink of the ravine, narrow frame houses huddle close together and keep a silent watch on the area.

“Angling toward downtown, the Run empties out into the cold, oily waters of the Cuyahoga River. There, dingy banks sprout a concrete and metal forest of drawbridges, storage tanks, and blackened factory buildings that flourish in the yellow sulphurous fumes and the fiery glow of the blast furnaces.”

(This article can be found at crimelibrary.com through this link. I recommend reading it if you’re not familiar with the Torso killings.)

It is against this background that one of the most mysterious chapters in the history of Cleveland, Ohio would take shape.

Torso, however, is almost misleadingly not as much about the murders as the roller coaster career of Elliot Ness.

Ness, who is best known for his work with The Untouchables-a small band of FBI agents who helped take down Al Capone. Following this success, Ness took a job as the Director of Public Safety of Cleveland, where he immediately made an impact by making a HUGE overhaul of the extremely corrupt police department.

However, despite his very public successes in the pursuit of corruption, Ness was unable to solve the series of dismemberments that held the city captive in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This would ultimately lead to a slide of massive proportions – to the point that Ness was living it almost utter poverty.

Unfortunately, he would die shortly before an author he was working with made Ness-and the Untouchables-a household name.

Even so, the Torso murders would remain a dark mark on an otherwise stellar career. What was it about the discovery of the remains of the Torso killer’s 12 known victims that would make it so difficult to figure out how those crimes actually happened?

Part of the issue was that the idea of a “stranger killing” was nearly unheard of. Police spun their wheels trying to find links between any of the victims that were identified, with no success.

This book is a great read. However, the title is misleading, as I have mentioned. While the details of the Torso murders are given well and are well tied to where Ness was in his career, there’s very little discussion of possible suspects.

To be fair, though, it IS a great read on the life of Elliot Ness, and is therefore a book I would recommend. In that respect, it is a more important book on American History than it would seem at first glance.

Published in: on August 7, 2006 at 3:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Murder At The Brown Palace: A True Story Of Seduction & Betrayal, by Dick Kreck

“This is just to let you know that someone knows a great deal. Therefore, under no circumstances, telephone me or try to communicate with me in any way. Everything is finally and absolutely off…”

With those words, Isabel Springer set into motion a drama that would end tragically for all involved – a high society murder, the downfall of a society girl and the tragic death of an innocent bystander.

(Want to know the whole story? Read it here!)

Isabel, recently divorced from her first husband, marries John W. Springer (who owned land that is now known as Highlands Ranch near Denver-he could have been a tremendously rich man, you know, if he could have lived to be 150. :)) who is 20 years her senior.

Little does Springer know that his sprightly wife was not only carrying on an affair with a man, named ouis Sylvester “Tony” von Phul from her hometown of St. Louis, but he was also unaware that she was getting cozy with a family friend named Harold Francis “Frank” Henwood.

All of this would come to a head on May 24, 1911, when von Phul-in town to try and convince Isabel to continue to see him and Henwood-who was SO concerned with saving the marriage of his friends the Springers that he was trying to retrieve some racy letters Isabel wrote to von Phul from being made public, would meet in a tavern in the stately Brown Hotel.

Von Phul would be fatally wounded by Henwood along with an innocent bystander, setting the stage for a juicy trial that would result in the immediate divorce of Isabel and John Springer. Unfortunately, it would also mark the pivotal point in Isabel’s life-she would thereafter move to New York City and slide from society girl to actress to prostitute. A mere six years later, Isabel would die penniless at the age of 37.

Henwood, meanwhile, eventually earns a new trial on the charge of killing the innocent bystander and is convicted a second time. After a surprising move of executive clemency, Henwood was paroled but shortly thereafter was returned to prison for a parole violation. He dies in 1929.

This book is intriguing. On one hand, it’s a well-woven tale of jealousy and murder, it’s also a tad bland in the telling.

Author Dick Kreck is a good storyteller – a former journalist with the San Francisco Examiner, he has worked in various capacities at the Denver Post for 31 years and has been a city columnist for 15. So he knows his subject matter.

But the telling comes off slightly dry – more of a “news” piece than a work of non-fiction worthy of a full length book. I yearned for more “paint” – more color to the book – more about the city in 1911, more about John Springer…just MORE.

It is not, however, boring. For this reason, I recommend the book.

Published in: on August 4, 2006 at 4:44 am  Comments (9)  

The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul, and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles, by Donald H. Wolfe

It’s an infamous Hollywood story-girl goes to Hollywood in search of fame, fortune and marriage, only to be found murdered in a vacant lot on January 15, 1947. Were that the entirety of the story, it might have faded into the pages of history-but for a sorded detail of her murder-Elizabeth Short was found bisected-cut in half.

Thanks to this sordid detail, the story hit headlines and remained there for many days, newspapers detailing the progress of the police outselling any day in the history of World War II.

(Want to know more? Unfamiliar with the story? See this summary from Crime Library.)

Donald H. Wolfe won’t win any awards for the simplicity of his theories put forth in the book, which is easy to read but rather complicated and probably not for those looking for a light beach read. But for those who enjoy delving into a mystery, with plenty of documentation and photography to go along, this is one you will enjoy. It’s well-paced and reads a little more like a novel than a true-crime book.

However, one has to be somewhat skeptical of all of the theories put forth, just because they are SO over the top-including everyone from Ben Seigel to Marilyn Monroe. Further, the author claims connection to everyone from Ben Seigel to Walt Disney, so the reader gets a feeling that the author might be a bit of a name-dropper.

That said, there are a couple of very interesting side notes in the book-one, a 12 page summary of why Steve Hodel’s book “Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder” was off the mark. (For those unfamiliar with the book, Hodel puts forth the theory that his own father, a Hollywood physician, was not only the Black Dahlia killer but a serial killer.) This was very interesting food for thought on one of the more popular Dahlia theories.

Another is the debunking of the theory that the “mystery” question held back by the police department was that Short had infantile sex organs, one of the more lurid and persisting stories about the murder. While Wolfe never discovers what that mystery question was, he makes a fairly sound argument that it was not any of the theories put forth before.

In short, if you are someone who has read books on The Black Dahlia before, this is something you will want to pick up. Otherwise, the story may be too convoluted and might not be the best place for a casual reader to start. However, the readability of the book, not to mention the many photos and illustrations, makes it a book I would recommend.

Published in: on August 2, 2006 at 2:25 am  Comments (2)