Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer

Harold Schechter. Little A, $24.95 (254p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2532-4

In this gripping account, Schechter (Hell’s Princess) charts the descent of farmer Andrew Kehoe into madness. On May 18, 1927, Kehoe killed 38 children and seven adults at a school in Bath, Mich., in what has become essentially a forgotten crime. On that day, Kehoe, a member of the Bath school board, killed his wife, set fire to his farm, and blew up the new consolidated schoolhouse. He then loaded his truck with shrapnel and an incendiary device, drove back to the scene of the crime, and called the superintendent over to the vehicle and blew it up. The two men were killed instantly, and multiple bystanders were injured. An inquest found that the disgruntled Kehoe, who seemingly hated everyone and everything, was pushed over the edge by the new property tax to build the school. As for his mental issues, Schechter notes evidence of a brain injury when Kehoe was young, after which he killed his sister’s cat and was suspected in the fire that killed his stepmother. Whatever the source of his demons, Kehoe has the dubious distinction of being the first to target a school for mass murder. Thorough research matches the assured prose. True crime buffs will want to take a look. Agent: David Patterson, Foundry Literary. (Mar.)