2013: The Murder of the Century


"It was a slow afternoon for news."

The Murder of the Century, Paul Collins 

If you have any interest in historical true crime, I recommend The Murder of the Century whole-heartedly.  Collins does what so many other true crime writers cannot - write clear interesting prose, about an old crime case, without resorting to cliche and speculation.  It helps that this crime was solved, of course, and that the facts are pretty fascinating, but Collins deserves credit for telling the story so well - starting with the discovery of a torso in the East River, wrapped in oil cloth, through the discovery of the legs, the (ultimately failed) search for the head, the identification of the corpse, and the capture of the suspects.  It's a great story with lots of interesting details, and it's true.  What raises this from merely a nice little murder is that Collins also tells us about how the murder became one of the stories that was fueling a major feud between two tabloid newspapers - Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal.  Each paper was becoming more and more tabloid-y, and each was determined to get the scoop - often finding clues before the police did.  The combination of the two stories - the birth of tabloid press and the sordid murder makes the book unputdownable.  I intended to seek out more Paul Collins - it's so hard to find well-written true crime of any sort, but particularly when talking about old crimes, when people just tend to guess and hope for the best.*  Just an enjoyable read.

*Yes, I'm the one who thought that Devil in the White City is overrated.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017