The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 31, 2011

Patty Crane, book review: Books compile details of infamous murders

By Patty Crane
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Given that Monday is Halloween, I thought I should review something spooky. However, these two books might suffice because it is truly scary what one human being will do to another, sometimes in rage or passion but other times with cold calculation.

“The Killer Book of Infamous Murders” covers a lot of murders everyone knows about, even if you are not a true crime buff. Most of us have heard of Lizzie Borden, Jeffrey MacDonald, the Clutters (“In Cold Blood”) and Sam Sheppard (whose case the TV series “The Fugitive” was believed to be based on).

For others, we probably remember the event if not the name: James Huberty, who killed 21 people at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, Calif.; Sarah Johnson, convicted of killing her parents because they tried to separate her from her boyfriend; and Pam Smart, who seduced a high school student into killing her husband.

This book gives a thorough if brief treatment of each case and offers some things you don’t find in most compilations. For the Sam Sheppard case, you will find the transcript of the cross-examination of the coroner by the prosecutor and defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey, plus the transcript of Sam Sheppard’s testimony.

For the Leopold and Loeb case, you get Clarence Darrow’s impassioned plea to not sentence to death the two young men who kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks. In the Jeffrey McDonald entry, you will find the transcript of his interrogation by three members of the Army’s criminal investigation division.

Scattered throughout the book are asides on the cases or factoids about murder. “The Who Am I” segments list seven to 13 bullet points about a killer and then IDs them. For example, one “Who Am I” includes: “6. My favorite band was the Beatles; 7. At 16 I became a born-again Christian; 8. At one point in my life I read ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ É Answer: I am Mark David Chapman.”

This book by Tom and Michael Philbin, unlike the book below, is not an impartial telling of these and other famous murders. The brothers definitely have their own opinion on the guilt or innocence of those charged. While you may or may not agree with their view, this book offers some fascinating details on these famous cases.

Do you know what happened to Alfalfa of “Our Gang” fame or ever heard of Grady Stiles, aka Lobster Boy, or Alan Berg? Do you know what they have in common? All are murder victims whose cases are chronicled in David Frasier’s “Show Business Homicides: An Encyclopedia, 1908-2009.”

Offering a close look at murder in the entertainment industry, the cases cover those you would expect for actors and actresses, musicians and singers. What you might not expect are the cases covering circus performers (Lobster Boy), dancers, disc jockeys (Alan Berg), magicians, conductors and bandleaders, producers and directors, road managers and showgirls.

Arranged alphabetically, the entries are not all victims. Some -- such as O. J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Fatty Arbuckle -- are accused. Frasier has put a great deal of research into each case on not only the crime and aftermath, but on the person he is writing about.

The case of Bob Crane starts not with his body found in a room in Scottsdale, Ariz., but on his life leading to his career, downfall and eventual death. His success as a disc jockey and his drive to succeed set the stage for his acting career and possibly the sex addiction that may have led to his death.

Not every case has the same level of detail on the life of the person, as with the case of magician Robert Maloney (Willard the Wizard), which begins with the downfall and death. The drunk, unemployed Maloney saw the “devil” in his wife’s and 1-year-old daughter’s eyes and shot them both.

Almost 300 cases are covered in this book found in the Reference Department at the library (sorry, it does not check out). If you like true crime and/or celebrities, come in and read a case or two or more. You won’t be disappointed.

Patty Crane is the reference librarian at Joplin Public Library.