Description (from publisher):
In the horrifying annals of American crime, the infamous names of brutal killers such as Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, and Berkowitz are writ large in the imaginations of a public both horrified and hypnotized by their monstrous, murderous acts. But for every celebrity psychopath who’s gotten ink for spilling blood, there’s a bevy of all-but-forgotten homicidal fiends studding the bloody margins of U.S. history. The law gave them their just desserts, but now the hugely acclaimed author of The Serial Killer Files and The Whole Death Catalog gives them their dark due in this absolutely riveting true-crime treasury. Among America’s most cold-blooded you’ll meet
• Robert Irwin, “The Mad Sculptor”: He longed to use his carving skills on the woman he loved-but had to settle for making short work of her mother and sister instead.
• Peter Robinson, “The Tell-Tale Heart Killer”: It took two days and four tries for him to finish off his victim, but no time at all for keen-eyed cops to spot the fatal flaw in his floor plan.
• Anton Probst, “The Monster in the Shape of a Man”: The ax-murdering immigrant’s systematic slaughter of all eight members of a Pennsylvania farm family matched the savagery of the Manson murders a century later.
• Edward H. Ruloff, “The Man of Two Lives”: A genuine Jekyll and Hyde, his brilliant scholarship disguised his bloodthirsty brutality, and his oversized brain gave new meaning to “mastermind.”
Spurred by profit, passion, paranoia, or perverse pleasure, these killers-the Witch of Staten Island, the Smutty Nose Butcher, the Bluebeard of Quiet Dell, and many others-span three centuries and a host of harrowing murder methods. Dramatized in the pages of penny dreadfuls, sensationalized in tabloid headlines, and immortalized in “murder ballads” and classic fiction by Edgar Allan Poe and Theodore Dreiser, the demonic denizens of Psycho USA may be long gone to the gallows-but this insidiously irresistible slice of gothic Americana will ensure that they’ll no longer be forgotten.
I may be a weirdo, but I love reading about murder and true crime. Maybe because part of me says, “This could never happen to me,” but then a small voice says, “Oh, but it could!” And the tiny bit of fear makes me want to know more, because the scariest thing is not knowing and not being prepared for the worst that life (and death) can throw your way. It might seem sometimes like vicious murders and serial killers are a product of our modern society, but Schechter shows that this worst of criminal acts has been at work since the earliest days of the American republic, and that as long as there have been murders there has been an audience clamoring to know more.
It would have been easy to give a rehash of the major historical murder cases that influenced our country, like the Lizzie Borden murders, or Harry Thaw’s shooting of Stanford White. However, Schechter has done his research and presents a book full of the murder cases that were huge in their days, but are now largely forgotten. Most were lauded in their time as being the crime of the century, although they’ve now dropped out of our collective conscience. Schechter also demonstrates how the crimes that best grabbed their audiences seemed to echo the fears of the age, much as terrorist attacks do for us now, or Manson did for the hippie culture fearing public in the late 60s.
What I loved about this book was the level of research that was done, and how well each chapter is presented. Schechter ties the crimes to other better known crimes, and situates each story in time. He also shares many of the murder ballads that were written to describe the crime for the general public, gives images of contemporary broadsides of the murderers, and speaks a bit about “murderabilia,” where people would collect items attached to the crime, often destroying crime scene evidence in an effort to take home a piece of the action.
Psycho USA is surprisingly readable and fascinating, working on both true crime and historical levels. Fans of the true crime genre will definitely want to pick this one up.