Sunday, February 5, 2017

"Of All the Perfect Crimes Ever Planned This One, Discussed Within Full Hearing of the Police, Was the Strangest"

SOME OF THE most famous detective fiction authors have turned their hands to accounts of true crime; P. D. James (The Maul and the Pear Tree, 1971 (HERE), The Detection Club (The Anatomy of Murder, 1936 (HERE), John Dickson Carr (The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey, 1936 (HERE), and Patricia Cornwell (Portrait of a Killer, 2002 (HERE) come immediately to mind. Through research, training, and practice mystery writers can make a historical crime fascinating enough to hold the reader's interest, and we normally expect no less.

So it's gratifying when true crime writers are able to make their reporting sound as inter-esting as fiction. John Kobler was a reporter who could do that, as in the three articles below, all from DFW in the mid-'30s:

~ ~ ~

"As for the Cold-blooded Murder of a Feeble, Old Woman, Their Imagination Balked at It"

"The Imperfect Crime."
By John Kobler (1910-2000).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, October 10, 1936.
True crime account (10 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
(Note: Text smudged but readable.)
"The Police Listened in on Every Detail of This Projected Murder, but They Did Nothing About It, Believing It Was an Elaborate Joke"
April-July 1932: At first it looked like a simple hit-and-run case, but before long it would morph into a full-blown murder-for-gain involving some ex-cons, a lawyer seemingly 
above reproach, large-scale embezzlement, and "marks like tiny horse-shoes."

~ ~ ~

"French Detectives Place a Strong Reliance on Intuition As Opposed to Pure Deduction"

"Murder in the Afternoon."
By John Kobler (1910-2000).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, October 24, 1936.
True crime account (9 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"Eminent French Pathologists Said of Guy Davin: 'He Is a Moral Madman. He Will Steal. Surely He Will Kill'."
December 1931: What at first looks like a negligible roadside accident turns into a case of cold-blooded murder when, thanks to the intuition and determination of a "suspicious bloodhound" of a commissaire, clue after clue lead to a killer who thinks nothing of firing three bullets into an unsuspecting victim and later making jokes about it.

~ ~ ~

"She Had Done It Simply So That He Would Not Hate Her"

"The Devious Lady."
By John Kobler (1910-2000).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, November 7, 1936.
True crime account (11 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"The Fantastic Case of a Society Woman Who, Trying to Escape the Stigma of a Poisoner, Fed Arsenic Bon-bons to an Entire English Town"
June 1871: The death of a 4-year-old boy from strychnine poisoning is just the tip of a murderous iceberg as a madwoman tries to exact revenge for being turned away by the 
man she loves.

- John Dickson Carr used "The Devious Lady" case as the basis for a novel, The Black Spectacles (1939; a.k.a. The Problem of the Green Capsule); see (HERE) for a spoiler-free précis.
- Our notorious poisoner, Christiana Edmunds, has a Wikipedia page (HERE) and a Murderpedia entry (HERE); Anna Massey portrayed her in a 1970 TV production (HERE).
- Another mass poisoning of an entire town that, depending on whom you choose to believe, was either accidental or intentional occurred in France; Wikipedia has more (HERE).
- John Kobler is remembered for what might be the definitive biography of Al Capone; see his New York Times obit (HERE); he also had one screen credit (HERE).
Our author's magnum opus
- Several other writers, known for their fiction, who could make real life crime interesting were Craig Rice (HERE), Erle Stanley Gardner (HERE), and Lawrence G. Blochman (HERE).

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