In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965 – Vintage Books)
Capote’s is the Bible for this genre; the granddaddy of them all. Not just the first True Crime book, but really, a work of art; literary, but a news story at the same time! I can’t study it enough, even if I try. It’s a model also for how a writer should go about getting ready for the task at hand. I had a chance to pass through Holcomb, Kansas, when my family was vacationing once, in the late 1960s. I still get goosebumps when remembering Dick Hickock utter confidently: Let’s go hang some paper, Perry!
Helter Skelter The True Story of The Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry (1974 – Norton)
I got to see Vincent Bugliosi speak one time, at the UT Student Union; he gave his standard spiel about Charlie (and his band of renegade hippy riff-raff), but it made a strong impression on me. I’ll need to credit this paperback for introducing me to this fairly new genre (for the mid-1970s). And take a good look at the cheesy photo panoply in the center; it sets a standard for how the photo section should be laid out; with long, lively captions that tie you into the riveting aura of what the Family was all about!
Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss (1989 – Penguin Books)
Acid Is Groovy, Kill the Pigs! Did Captain McDonald do it, or did a random, raggedy band of disgruntled, sideshow, deviant hippies do it? It looks like Jeffrey’s imagination ran amuck on a cold, rainy February morning, in a brief homicidal, flickering instance of amphetamine-induced paranoia and rage, or flagrant narcissistic bullsh*t! Alright, so I’m buying the well-researched conclusions of Joe McGinness. Too much physical evidence to weasel out, Captain MacDonald! Your bloody-blue pajama top convicted you, friendo!
The Man With The Candy: The Story of The Houston Mass Murders by Jack Olsen (1974 – Simon and Schuster)
I was a student at the University of Texas when these shocking and entirely unbelievable accounts emerged on our dormitory television sets. I heard this news in 1973 (sometime), when a pimply-faced Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr. (facing the camera), casually tells a Houston crew his grisly saga of Dean Corll’s homosexual torture cult, that resulted in the death of nearly 30 young boys.
Blood Will Tell: The Murder Trials of T. Cullen Davis by Gary Cartwright (1979 – Harcourt)
Unfortunately, my copy of the blood-red colored paperback, which is not in very good condition from obstinate and repeated abuse, is gathering moss in my Public Storage concrete cubby hole of a unit. If I kept all of my True Crime paperbacks here at home in my teeny bedroom, I wouldn’t be able to mozie up to my computer to peck out a few pertinent lines! Gary Cartwright is one of my favorite writers, and the story he tells here of T. Cullen and Priscilla Davis (and don’t forget the haunted mansion in Fort Worth) still raises the hair on the back of my neck. This could only happen in Texas! To this day, I still fantasize about Priscilla, who had a quality about her that couldn’t defy controversy! (I’ll not take it any further than that, at this time).
Careless Whispers The Lake Waco Murders by Carlton Stowers (1984 – Taylor Publishing Company)
I got the hardback edition now, as of yesterday. Lots of TLC in this edition, published by Taylor up in Dallas. I wonder if they still exist? A great map of the Waco area when you open the cover. You really need these types of crime maps when you’re studying a case. Another superb photo section in the middle; a well laid out photo volley, which is a unique feature of this genre. I see it as mandatory! I didn’t know, but read last night, Chilly got lethal injection in 1997. Glad that maniac’s not around anymore!
Go Down Together The True Story of BONNIE and CLYDE by Jeff Guinn (2009 – Simon & Schuster)
Nearly all of my life I’ve been trying to get the story straight regarding what really happened with Bonnie and Clyde. The trouble mainly begins when I saw the movie in downtown Dallas, at the historic Majestic Theatre, when I was just 14-years-old (that would be the late summer of 1967). This was the most violent film I’d seen, up to that point in my life. This aspect is historical!
While this shouldn’t exactly be termed a Summer of Love film per se, the movie was made subconsciously, with a flourish of this Flower Child mindset. Jeff Guinn gives us the nitty-gritty, black and white (true to life) version, that finally puts many of the myths to rest. I want to know the truth; and now I’m getting it. Boy, West Dallas was a dump in the early 1930s!
Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule (1987 – New York: Signet)
How could Diane Downs be? Ann Rule asks the same question, and comes up with a chilling portrait of a socio-pathological woman, who cared more about romance than the lives of her own progeny. The Farrah Fawcett made-for-TV movie helps a lot also, to make this case a classic, in a genre that was raging Full Metal Jacket in the late 1980s (when the print market was still our way of getting much of our news)! I must opine, however, I believe the popular genre (published in a pristine paperback format) will endure, much as vinyl records have in the music area.
In Broad Daylight A Murder In Skidmore, Missouri by Harry N. Maclean (1988 – St Martin’s True Crime)
I read Harry Maclean’s wonderfully written book right when it came out in 1988, a time when this genre I speak of was throttling on all 8 cylinders. It was around this time I started having fantasies of myself becoming a famous True Crime writer. And it’s partially due to the well-researched and meticulous construction of In Broad Daylight, that I got so lathered up and bothered about this fresh genre.
I said to myself: “Maybe if I work really hard, I too can be as successful as Harry Maclean, one day!” This is truly the greatest account of bullying I’ve ever encountered. Ken McElroy deserved to be executed vigilante style by the Skidmore community.
Murder In Greenwich by Mark Fuhrman – (1998 Avon)
Mark Fuhrman is not such a great writer, but he is an excellent detective and investigator, however. Mark is actually responsible for solving the 1975 bizarre murder of Martha Mozley. Furhman actually went to Greenwich, Connecticut and conducted a new investigation of this lovely teenager’s untimely death, from the ground up; he began anew and interviewed everyone. Well, we know now, Michael Skakel is the one who did it; but this is more a story of a cover-up and an effort to protect a sequestered society, imbued with years and years of power and privilege (as Dominick Dunne, another one of my heroes, would say).