Saturday, November 10, 2007

Five best books with sensational murder trials

Harold Schechter, author of the recently published The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century, named a five best list of books in which "sensational murder trials are at their most transfixing" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on his list:
The Murder of Helen Jewett by Patricia Cline Cohen (Knopf, 1998).

On the night of April 9, 1836, a young prostitute named Helen Jewett was hacked to death in an upscale Manhattan brothel. Within hours, a suspect was arrested for the crime: a dry-goods clerk named Richard Robinson, scion of an old-line Connecticut family and one of Jewett's regulars. In Patricia Cline Cohen's impeccably researched and elegantly written "The Murder of Helen Jewett," we see how the case, with its titillating mix of sex, scandal and savagery, became a media sensation -- the O.J. Simpson affair of the 19th century. Thousands of New Yorkers -- their prurience piqued by lurid accounts in the "penny papers" (the progenitors of today's tabloid press) -- descended on City Hall for Robinson's dramatic five-day trial. Despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him, he was acquitted after less than 10 minutes of jury deliberation.
Read about the other books on Schechter's list.

--Marshal Zeringue