In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. His transatlantic flight catapulted him into the limelight, but it also made him a target. Five years later, the pilot’s namesake, Charles Jr., just shy of his second birthday, was taken from his crib as he slept. A ladder was found outside the child’s bedroom window. The kidnapping and frantic search for the Lindbergh baby captivated the nation. The investigation, led by New Jersey Police superintendent H. Norman Schwarzkopf, involved suspects ranging from Lindbergh’s household staff to members of the mafia. Months later, the baby’s lifeless body was discovered in the woods. Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Jr. Mark W. Falzini and James Davidson examine the crime and media circus that surrounded it in their new book New Jersey’s Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial. Falzini is one of the foremost experts on the subject and the author of Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case. Davidson is a local historian and long-time collector of Lindbergh memorabilia. Short, succinct chapters recount the details of the case, but the story here is really told in the pictures. Dozens of rare and vintage photographs, many not seen since the 1930s, take readers inside the massive investigation and circus-like trial of Hauptmann. It’s an extraordinary look at a case that continues to fascinate historians and true crime buffs. —Fio
Thirteen year old Sanford Clark was living a nightmare. It was 1928, and he was miles away from his native Canada, trapped in California, with his Uncle Stewart. Presumably, Sanford was there to help his uncle start up a chicken ranch. It was a trip the teenager made begrudgingly. His mother had sent him packing, despite his protests. The experience, his uncle promised would offer “boyhood adventure and help with [Sanford's] character development.” In reality, Gordon Stewart Northcott had little interest in developing his nephew’s character, and even less interest in ranching. At twenty, Northcott was handsome, charming—and a sadistic sexual psychopath.
Newton and the Counterfeiter recounts an unlikely period in the life of Sir Isaac Newton: discoverer of gravity, closet alchemist, and, yes, kick-ass cop. In the late 17th Century, England’s economy was in shambles, thanks in part to a wave of counterfeiting large enough to prompt the government to recall all the realm’s silver coins, melt them down, and re-stamp it into more complex designs in an attempt to put counterfeiters out of business. Newton was universally considered an expert in just about everything, and was, therefore, as good a candidate as any to run the mint during this huge undertaking. And so, in 1696, Newton took the job as Warden of the Mint.
Years ago my classmates and I had the privilege of sitting in on an entire Supreme Court session. We watched history in the making as the late William Kunstler argued (successfully) that an American citizen had the right to burn the American flag. The justices loved Kunstler, probably because he livened up what were usually monotonous proceedings. I remember being surprised at how human the justices were. I was still young and expected them to be very proper, reserved, and polite. Instead, they heckled the attorneys, rocked back and forth in their large imposing chairs, tapped their fingers impatiently, got up and left the courtroom during the proceedings—and in one case, a justice who shall remain anonymous took a long nap while the attorneys summed up their arguments. Robert Schnakenberg exposes the wizard behind the curtain in his latest book Secret Lives of the Supreme Court: What Your Teachers Never Told You About America’s Legendary Justices . With Supreme Court Justice David Souter planning to retire next month, this book is especially timely—it’s also fascinating, and at times funny as hell. (And Bob was kind enough to give me a shout out on the copyright page. Thanks, Bob!) Did you know that Sandra Day O’Connor created the court’s first Jazzercise class? Or that the revered Benjamin Cordozo was probably a virgin? Bet you had no idea that Thurgood Marshall was hooked on soap operas, or that one of the justices was a member of the KKK. Secret Lives of the [...]
The Last Undercover: The True Story of an FBI Agent’s Dangerous Dance With Evil by Bob Hamer Bob Hamer has no shortage of amazing stories to tell. An undercover FBI agent for decades, he spent his career infiltrating just about every type of crime organization in operation today—the Russian mob, the Crips, La Cosa Nostra, the Iraqi syndicate (yes, there is such a thing). But the story he really wanted to tell was his infiltration of a group that exists within the bounds of law: the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA. Citing the popularity of such TV shows as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “To Catch a Predator,” Hamer and his agent assumed that publishing companies would jump at the chance of putting out a book on the subject of pedophiles. Regarding his first premise, he was right—the subject of child sexual predators is a subject of extreme fascination to the American public—but, as he quickly learned, landing a publishing deal for a book devoted solely to this subject would be no easy task. In fact, they found it impossible. No publisher was about to release a true-crime book with the word “pedophile” on the cover. Hamer points out that in their rejection letters some editors even referred to the “ick factor,” which, he speculates “must be a literary term taught at our prestigious universities.” No, it’s just marketing—smart marketing. He might have noted there’s no overt mention of pedophilia, pederasty, or any other offensive sexual [...]
Book Review Whisper of Fear: The True Story of the Prosecutor Who Stalks the Stalkers by Rhonda B. Saunders and Stephen G. Michaud Before Glenn Close played the ultimate spurned-lover-turned-psycho (turned-superhuman-underwater-breathing- murderess) in the popular 1987 movie Fatal Attraction, stalking was not a common topic of conversation. Afterwards, though, the term “stalking” entered the American lexicon—and the heart of every cheating husband skipped a beat every time the phone rang or his wife started a sentence with, “I ran into a friend of yours . . .” Yet in the place where it counted—the criminal justice system—stalking remained at worst a minor offense until California adopted the world’s first statute against talking in 1990. Prosecutors generally didn’t track down stalkers, simply because the laws, as written, didn’t specify stalking as a felony. Each instance was taken on a case-by-case basis: a “pattern” of intimidation was not considered a felony; a felony was considered to have occurred only after someone was hurt. California criminal prosecutor Rhonda B. Saunders changed all this, writing new laws and rewording old ones, which were adopted by the California legal system in the early 1990s and subsequently used as models in jurisdictions around the country. In Whisper of Fear, Saunders, along with co-writer Stephen G. Michaud, author of numerous true-crime books, including Ted Bundy: Conversations With a Killer, recalls the most important cases of her career thus far. In 1992, Saunders prosecuted her first stalker, a woman named Susan Dyer who expressed her refusal to accept [...]
True Stories of Law & Order series authors Kevin Dwyer and Juré Fiorillo weigh in on crime, justice, and their favorite television show.