The Most Notorious Crimes in American History
Editors of Life
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Buy *Life: The Most Notorious Crimes in American History: Fifty Fascinating Cases from the Files - in Pictures* by Editors of Life online

Life: The Most Notorious Crimes in American History: Fifty Fascinating Cases from the Files - in Pictures
Editors of Life
144 pages
November 2007
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Is there someone on your Christmas list who watches Cold Case Files, CSI, Bones, or Notorious? This is the coffee table book for people who like their coffee with a little crime.

It's a big book with stark, emotive photographs, beginning with the title page: the derringer used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Such a pretty weapon, such a foul deed. There's the axe handle that gave forty whacks to Lizzie Borden's mother and forty to her father.

The crimes chronicled in this book are not merely murders, or merely murders of only one person, but there are enough of those to make us stop and think about the effects of removing one human being from the planet - if that person was Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy, the ripple effect of their loss is arguably still with us. What about killing three people? The racially-based slayings of three young civil rights workers reverberated throughout the twentieth century, and the killer, a Baptist minister and leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was not prosecuted until he was 79 years old; even at that, the Mississippi Klansmen who pulled the triggers escaped the hangman's noose. In the case of the Rosenbergs, two people were executed so that others might live - these notorious spies sought to bring down the American government by passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

The book is arranged in categories, including Politics, Passion, Profit, and Pointless Mayhem. In Passion are included the bizarre case of Nancy and Sid Vicious, the tragic slaying of Laci Peterson, the affair of Mary Kay Letourneau and her 12-year-old boy lover, and the still unsolved mystery of the death of Nicole Simpson, a story that still dogs the headlines.

Crime for profit takes an evil twist, from the kidnapping of Baby Lindbergh to the murders "in cold blood" of a Kansas farm family. The killers got away with a few dollars for a few days, and were later immortalized in print by Truman Capote, who seemed to have felt an emotional bond with one of the drifters, Perry Smith. Over a million dollars from the great Brinks robbery are still missing, but the perpetrators of the well planned heist were caught and convicted. Such diverse crimes as the murder allegedly committed by anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti and the stock scams of Ken Lay and others are part of this chapter.

Pointless mayhem holds a fascination that crimes for a reason cannot touch. Why did Richard Speck savagely rape and kill eight women in one night? What is the perverted ethos that provokes school killings, a plague that is with us yet, and not only in America?

The book devotes a two or three-page spread to each of the crimes the editors at Life have singled out. It's just the facts, but in Life the magazine, as in life the reality, pictures are worth a thousand words. The photographs - John Lennon tenderly feeding his newborn baby weeks before his death, serial killer Ted Bundy, mouth gaping open in an expression of rage, young sex goddess Evelyn Nesbitt staring seductively at the camera, and three bodies barely visible in a pit of Mississippi mud - tell the stories with surprising eloquence.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2007

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