True Crime! William Edward Hickman "The Most Horrible Crime of the 1920's" and a Lurid Literary Genre
I read true crime books to relax. Somehow being reassured there are people in the world a million times more horrible than I is comforting. Despite lurid come-ons bellowing from every back cover, they don't "grip me with fear" they just put me to sleep at night, and that is goal enough. If I told you the number of times I've stuffed a book with the phrase "INCLUDES 16 PAGES OF SHOCKING PHOTOS" or "UPDATED WITH PRISON INTERVIEW WITH THE KILLER" into the trash after reading it, you wouldn't believe me.
The worst part of reading true crime is the raised eyebrows of the checkout clerk...but I'm not alone. The recent Casey Anderson fiasco proves public interest in the genre persists, despite appropriate criticism that only Caucasian blonds and pretty women receive public scrutiny. Even my little sister reads them, and she's normal as can be. In fact, most readers are women...a fact which I don't understand.
My favorite serious true crime book of the last few years is When Evil Came to Good Hart by Michigan writer Mardi Link. HUGE steps above the crappy instant books cluttering the checkout lane, it is a direct, straight, beautifully written and edited work of art which should earn an honored place in the Dewey decimal classification "364" in every library and on every bookshelf. A University of Michigan Press book from 2008, I've linked to it and you will thank me for the tip.
But back to those "16 pages of lurid photos."
Long ago, I posted a highly embellished press photograph of accused murderer William Edward Hickman to illustrate both the editing of newspaper photos and an early example of the "perp walk" phenom. (Now more common than the "Cake Walk" from the same era...cue the Ragtime music) I took my information from the reverse of the photo...no big deal, just another warped creep with confused and deadly hormones. But when an anonymous writer asked if I had any more photos, which I do, I took the time to look the loser up.
Hickman's crime has been called "the most horrible crime of the 1920's" and I need not describe it here. Shocking and disgusting it was, but when your sleeping pill is a book about a mob hit-man who killed over 100, including some left near the beautiful Delaware Gap as rat food, it hardly stands out. The Wiki article, which is extensive, goes on to tell the story of another major creep, Ayn Rand, who planned a book on this little weasel to be titled "The Little Street" the notes for which were later published in her journals. She isn't the only major writer to find inspiration in pathetic murderers. (Truman? Norman?)
This could be a longer essay than it is, but I am all about photos and art, not crime and punishment. To the anonymous writer who asked "if I had any more..." here ya go!
Group of Original Press Photographs of William Edward Hickman, all dated 1928 Collection Jim Linderman