cover image The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age

The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age

Michael Wolraich. Union Square, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4549-4802-5

This engrossing true crime tale from journalist Wolraich (Unreasonable Men) examines mobsters and misconduct in 1930s Manhattan through the case of murdered actor Vivian Gordon. Shortly after Gordon—locally known as the “Broadway Butterfly”—was discovered strangled in a Bronx public park in February 1931, authorities unearthed three black leather notebooks in her apartment. Some incriminated powerful men and police officers in criminal activity ranging from gambling to sex trafficking; others included correspondence with an investigative team helmed by then-governor Franklin Roosevelt that uncovered a coordinated effort to frame innocent women for prostitution. Wolraich throws a wide net as he recounts the search for Gordon’s killer and the fallout from her notebooks, roping in a cast of characters that includes vice cops, ex-husbands, madams, mistresses, stool pigeons, bootleggers, theater denizens, and judges including Samuel Seabury—the “Bishop” of the title—who was dragged into the case and followed his instincts all the way to the top ranks of Tammany Hall, helping to bring down New York City mayor Jimmy Walker in the process. Wolraich does a sterling job spinning the investigation into a portrait of wider New York society, all while keeping the pages turning as quickly as in any top-shelf mystery novel. Fans of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City will be enthralled. Photos. (Feb.)