Friday, September 27, 2013

Truth Be Told

Last evening I attended a reading at UAlbany by Gilbert King, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction for his book Devil in the Grove.

The book is the story of a rape accusation in Florida in 1949. Thurgood Marshall, later a Supreme Court justice, spearheaded the effort to save the black men who were falsely accused and in danger of losing their lives, either at the hands of the sheriff who ruled the county or the jury that sentenced them to death. Mr. King was on a panel at Bouchercon. His book is being made into a movie.

The brief conversation I had with Mr. King last evening got me thinking about the true crime cases that have had an impact on popular culture, inspiring books, films, documentaries, and continued discussion and debate. Many of these cases are about "murder most foul" – cunning, sensational, and/or shocking. Sometimes these are unsolved crimes with a list of suspects and/or an assumed culprit. Many of  these cases are remembered as a "crime of the century" because of the public interest, media coverage, and enduring memory of the case in American culture. These are the cases that are often described as "symbolic cases" because of what they reveal about American society. But some cases – such as the story Mr. King recounts – are so intense that they do not offer the opportunity that many true crimes buffs value to engage in intense scrutiny of the events but from a safe distance. Some true crime cases require emotional involvement and soul-searching because they speak to who we have been, are, and might become as a society.

As you might suspect from the fact that I have featured Mr. King's book in my post, I recommend it. Mr. King narrative style is riveting and the story he tells is important.

There are many other true crime cases, many of less intensity and perhaps less importance in the larger scheme of things. We all know the Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray ("Double Indemnity") murder case and the Clutter family murder case that was the basis for Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Here are a few other cases that might have escaped your attention (with one or more of the books about the case):

  1. Martinsville Seven (The Martinsville Seven: Race, Crime, and Capital Punishment by Eric W. Rise)
  2. Gary Gilmore (The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer)
  3. Leopold and Loeb Compulsion by Meyer Levin; For the Thrill of It by Simon Baatz)
  4. Grace Brown and Chester Gillette (Murder in the Adirondacks by Craig Brandon; An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser)
  5. Harry Thaw-Stanford White (American Eve by Paula Uruburu)
  6. Mary Rogers (The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower)

Other personal favorites that you would add to the list?