Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins, published by Crown Publishers

3.5 of 5 stars

The Murder of the Century starts with the discovery of the upper torso of a man floating in the East River of New York City in June, 1897. The following day the lower portion of the body is discovered in the Blueberry patches of Harlem. Who is the dead man? Who killed and cut him up. Where is his head?

1897 was the beginning of the great newspaper wars of New York City. William Randolf Hearst had moved in to make a name for himself by taken over the Journal. Joseph Pulitzer was running the World and they would and did anything and everything to outstrip the other. It was a time when newspaper reporters were on their bicycles out detecting the police and out scooping each other. Forensic science was in its infancy and Sherlock Holmes was the expert on catching criminals. The victim was identified by the unusual look of his circumcision and women were excluded for the court because of such evidence.

The Murder of the Century is the story of a lover's triangle, if you leave out the cuckolded husband. Mrs. Augusta Nack coped a plea and went to prison for a few years while her accomplice Martin Thorn took the rap and was one of the early victims of the electric chair.

You hear of such stories every day. The story's real interest for me was the behavior of the newspapers and the role they took in solving the case. New York Homicide Bureau was created, forensic science stepped forward and millions of newspapers were sold. Ultimately this is a story of yellow journalism and tabloids that foreshadows our current hunger for the latest news, regardless of fact or fiction.

George W. Parker

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