Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of

Harold Schechter. Ballantine, $20 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-345-52447-8
Forget Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. The ax murderers, poisoners, and generally unpleasant specimens of humanity whom Schechter (The Serial Killer Files) chronicles in this macabre collection of Americana are the ones who’ve faded from our collective memory. True crime expert Schechter (also professor of American literature and culture at Queens College in New York City) arranges his stories chronologically, each case examining the perpetrator and the crimes, with psychological analysis only if supported by experts. But beware, those with weak stomachs, of details like “the [baby’s] brains fell out in the cradle.” Two cases are of particular interest for their similarity to better-known events, one fictional and one not. Edgar Allan Poe is said to have based his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” on Peter Robinson’s 1840 murder of Abraham Suydam, who was beaten and buried alive in Robinson’s basement. And although Polly Bodine’s name is known only to the savviest crime history buffs, she shares much with the infamous Lizzie Borden: both were accused—and acquitted—of “hacking two family members to death.” Schechter expertly dissects not only the details of the crimes but also what leads some homicides to become legendary while others fade from memory. Illus. Agent: Loretta Barrett Books. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/14/2012
Release date: 08/07/2012
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