I worked yesterday morning at the bookstore, and it wasn’t until I was there, and well into the workday, that I remembered that I had signed up for “Mark My Words,” a true crime-writing workshop at the Old Worthington Library. The workshop was to begin at 2 p.m., and I debated leaving at noon, but my supervisor was not in, and didn’t feel right about just disappearing at 12 noon and leaving a note on his desk.
Diana Britt Franklin led the workshop. She is the author of The Goodbye Door, the story of Anna Marie Hahn, “the blonde Borgia,” who is famous for being the first female serial killer executed in America. (She was electrocuted at the Ohio Penitentiary in 1938, after killing many elderly people in Over-the-Rhine, the neighborhood just north of downtown Cincinnati.) Franklin also wrote Gold Medal Killer. I have read neither of these books, but just reserved them online from the library.
One of the reasons I forgot about the workshop was because I changed cell phones. The Net10 cell phone I have carried for over a year is finally dying on me, and on Friday night I began using the Verizon phone a co-worker gave me. I had not entered my calendar events into the new phone, so I forgot about the event until I had a “Wow, I coulda had a V-8!” moment while re-shelving the buyback books. Meanwhile, on my dresser at home, the old cell phone had beeped to remind me to head Worthington-way.
I think my interest in true crime began in 1974 or so, unless you count my endless research on the Lincoln assassination. When Charles Lindbergh died, the news programs ran small biographies, including the 1927 New York-to-Paris flight, his isolationism in the pre-World War II days, his environmental activism, and his writing. Until I heard these, I had not known about the kidnapping and murder of his first son in 1932. (For those of you who don’t know about this, Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son Charles Augustus, Jr. was kidnapped from his crib in New Jersey in 1932. The kidnapper left a note demanding $50 thousand ransom, and mailed several other notes afterwards, including one attached to the boy’s pajamas. Lindbergh paid the ransom, but no one found the child at the Massachusetts location the kidnapper had mentioned. Six weeks after the ransom payment, the boy’s body was found in the woods by the Lindbergh home.)
Lindbergh had been a hero of mine, after I read about his flight to Paris, and before I knew about his flirtation with eugenics and Nazism. I knew remarkably little about his life other than the flight, and knew nothing about the kidnapping. (I wrote him a fan letter, which I never mailed, and its P.S. was “I was wondering–are you related to Anne Morrow Lindbergh?”) I went to the library and borrowed the best book at the time on the case: George Waller’s Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case. It’s a very thick book, with small type and no index, but I read it over a three-day period in the summer of 1975, and immediately went on to The Hand of Hauptmann, by J. Vreeland Haring. Reading these books opened the door to my interest in true crime, and I began haunting the 364 (Criminology) section of the library.
In the last 10 or 15 years, I have become a bit more snobbish about my tastes in true crime. I have bought true crime books by writers such as Aphrodite Jones and Ann Rule, but I usually relegate them to the less visible bookshelves in my house, like a teenager hiding pornographic magazines, or the same way I would hide Harlequin Romance novels… if I owned any. To me, the three best true crime books written were Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field, and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. (In Cold Blood is a “non-fiction novel,” and later research bears out the thought that it’s more novel than non-fiction.) The Executioner’s Song is a novel, but it is much more thoroughly and meticulously researched than many true crime books I have read, including the hastily produced ones that hit the newsstands days after a horrendous crime. (I remember two books on the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide appearing less than a week after it happened.)
|First edition of In Cold Blood.|
Currently, I’m immersed in Stephen King’s newest novel, 11/22/63, about a Maine high school teacher who turns time traveler in order to prevent John Kennedy’s assassination. I have yet to reach the part of the story where he meets Lee Harvey Oswald, but I am currently quite fascinated by his sojourn to Derry, Maine not long after the 1958 events in It. (Derry reminds me in many ways of my hometown, Marietta, Ohio.)
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, a holiday for State workers, and Susie has the day off from school as well, so we’re going to mark the event with eye examinations. Long overdue, but quite necessary for both of us.