The Boy Who Shot the Sheriff: The Redemption of Herbert Nicholls Jr.

Nancy Bartley, Author
Nancy Bartley. Univ. of Washington, $24.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-295-99245-7
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Bartley has written a compelling account of the true story of the 12-year-old “barefoot-boy murderer” who, in 1931, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for killing a sheriff in Asotin, Wash. The story profiles the many concerned citizens who rallied to get him out of prison, including Father Flanagan of Boys Town fame (who “was convinced that ‘there is no such thing as a bad boy’ ”), as well as those who tried to make life for Nicholls as enriching as possible while he served his time. Bartley does a good job of picking and unpacking the most fascinating bits of the boy’s tale—from prison riots to high school graduation, readers learn what a life behind bars was like in the days when murderers were still hung and there were no provisos for young offenders. The author also paints an enthralling portrait of Nicholls himself, who counted among his friends Governor Clarence Martin (they shared a birthday) and a society matron, and who learned Boy Scout knots, bookbinding, and aviation mechanics, all while incarcerated. This is a welcome addition to the true crime genre, and will also interest scholars of social issues and American history. 12 photos. (Apr.)
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