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The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars

3.5 199
by Paul Collins

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“No writer better articulates ourinterest in the confluence of hope, eccentricity, and the timelessness of the bold and strange than Paul Collins.”—DAVE EGGERS
On Long Island, a farmer finds a duck pond turned red with blood. On the Lower East Side, two boys playing at a pier discover a floating human torso wrapped tightly in


“No writer better articulates ourinterest in the confluence of hope, eccentricity, and the timelessness of the bold and strange than Paul Collins.”—DAVE EGGERS
On Long Island, a farmer finds a duck pond turned red with blood. On the Lower East Side, two boys playing at a pier discover a floating human torso wrapped tightly in oilcloth. Blueberry pickers near Harlem stumble upon neatly severed limbs in an overgrown ditch. Clues to a horrifying crime are turning up all over New York, but the police are baffled: There are no witnesses, no motives, no suspects.
The grisly finds that began on the afternoon of June 26, 1897, plunged detectives headlong into the era’s most baffling murder mystery. Seized upon by battling media moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the case became a publicity circus. Reenactments of the murder were staged in Times Square, armed reporters lurked in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in pursuit of suspects, and an unlikely trio—a hard-luck cop, a cub reporter, and an eccentric professor—all raced to solve the crime.
What emerged was a sensational love triangle and an even more sensational trial: an unprecedented capital case hinging on circumstantial evidence around a victim whom the police couldn’t identify with certainty, and who the defense claimed wasn’t even dead. The Murder of the Century is a rollicking tale—a rich evocation of America during the Gilded Age and a colorful re-creation of the tabloid wars that have dominated media to this day.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Collins’] exploration of the newspaper world, at the very moment when tabloid values were being born, is revealing but also enormously entertaining….Collins has a clear eye, a good sense of telling detail, and a fine narrative ability." Wall Street Journal

“Riveting….Collins has mined enough newspaper clippings and other archives to artfully recreate the era, the crime and the newspaper wars it touched off.” New York Times

"[A] richly detailed book that reads like a novel and yet maintains a strict fidelity to facts. THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY isn't a case of history with a moral. It's simply a fantastic, factual yarn, and a reminder that abhorrent violence is nothing new under the sun." Oregonian

“A wonderful reminder that we have often been just as we are: fools for spectacle, short of memory, cheered by the invigorating shock of the immoral.” Willamette Week

"Paul Collins' account of the headless torso murder that led to an all-out newspaper war and then a dramatic trial has all the timeless elements of a great yarn—a baffling mystery, intriguing suspects, and flawed detectives. It's compelling history that's also great page-turning entertainment." —Howard Blum, author of The Floor of Heaven and American Lightning

“Wonderfully rich in period detail, salacious facts about the case and infectious wonder at the chutzpah and inventiveness displayed by Pulitzer’s and Hearst’s minions. Both a gripping true-crime narrative and an astonishing portrait of fin de siecle yellow journalism.” Kirkus Reviews

"A dismembered corpse and rival newspapers squabbling for headlines fuel Collins’s intriguing look at the birth of “yellow journalism” in late–19th-century New York.  an in-depth account of the exponential growth of lurid news and the public’s (continuing) insatiable appetite for it." Publishers Weekly

Sam Roberts
…Paul Collins…artfully recreate[s] the era…[and] delivers a riveting account of what, years later, Walter Winchell would hail as "the first of the great newspaper trials."
—The New York Times
James McGrath Morris
Paul Collins engagingly recounts the press's obsessive pursuit of the story, the unlikely alliances that eventually led to the apprehension of the suspects and the trial…[he] has crafted a work that won't disappoint readers in search of a book like Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
In the sticky summer of 1897, New York City was rocked by the discovery of a human torso wrapped in oilcloth floating in the river. A second bundle wrapped in the same fabric was found, then a third. Who was the dead man, and where had his head been dumped? The murder terrified the populace but galvanized the newspaper tabloids. Upstart New York Journal, run by a very young William Randolph Hearst, took on the champion New York World, under Joseph Pulitzer, in a circulation duel to the death. The rival papers sent out investigators, hounded the police, and offered substantial rewards, not in the service of justice but of circulation. The dogged search eventually produced suspects, but how do you get a conviction when you can't even identify the body? Collins (The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World) utilizes newspaper accounts from more than a dozen dailies to bring this tale of sex, murder, and yellow journalism to life. VERDICT This intriguing case, sensational at the time but now long forgotten, will appeal to fans of early 20th-century social history and crime.—Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH

Product Details

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5.28(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.72(d)

Meet the Author

PAUL COLLINS is the author of seven books, which have been translated into ten languages. His work has appeared in Slate, New Scientist, and the New York Times, and he is regularly featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition as their “literary detective.” He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Murder of the Century 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 199 reviews.
Peanut61 More than 1 year ago
Fascinating story written so well it reads like fiction! The investigators and detectives have their hands full without any of the modern forensic tools and even fingerprints are considered junk science! And the media? Boy if you think the media is out of control today... you've got to read this!!
merrycoz More than 1 year ago
The murder is fascinating enough, but Collins also explores the ways in which the war between competing newspapers and the corruption in the New York City judicial system affected the investigation and trial--and vice versa. Collins has a lively writing style; he knows just what historical details to add and when to spice things with humor. This is well researched, highly entertaining, and one of the best true crime books around. Formatting of the ebook version is excellent.
romeo_alpha More than 1 year ago
I bought this book thinking that I would read about a grizzly murder and the subsequent investigation and trial. And I did that and so much more. Society, the working class, corruption and the city. But the most disturbing aspect of this story is the "yellow journalism" of the time. I have lost any respect I had for William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. I have even greater respect for The New York Times. Paul Collins did a great job telling this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Murder, a headless body cut into 3 sections, history, adultery, and an epic battle between two of the greatest names in newspaper history...Hearst and Pulitzer! The story starts with the murder of William Guldensuppe by his lover, Augusta Nack and her other lover, Martin Thorn. (Augusta's husband wasn't involved!) Problems start right away because no one is completely sure that the body is Guldensuppe...because there's no head! As big as this story is, it's almost the backstory to the real story...the battle between Pulitzer's New York World and Hearst's New York Journal newspapers. It's this battle over this story that marks the beginning of "yellow journalism" and tabloid newspapers! Extremely well researched (63 pages of notes, credits, and acknowledgments) and very well written, Collins will even make you chuckle a few times! My only criticism, and it's a minor one, is that sometimes it's hard to tell if this is a murder story or a journalism history lesson. Enjoy this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read and well told real life historical murder mystery
Amelia Mccurdy More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed the book. The history of print journalism and the story itself was very entertaining.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book brings perspective to the newspaper wars and William Randolph Hearst, one of the most interesting characters of the 20th century. A great read with many interesting people, some you will know, others you wish you did!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book, as much for the New York history, and the yellow journalism of Hearst, as the so-called Murder of the Century. An interesting and educational glimpse into the past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a fast interesting read. The detail and just the story were amazing. The history of this and the way the author dishes out the information kept me drawn from the first words to the last.
krpoole1 More than 1 year ago
The book description sounded interesting to me, so I decided to buy it.  I am glad that I did.  Paul Collins writes in an entertaining yet educating way that maintained my attention from beginning to end.  He incorporates newspaper articles and letters from the period, written by those involved in the case, and he brings this historical event to life for us a century later.  For those who like history but do not like to read history textbooks, and for those who like an enthralling story, this book is for you.  My wife read it after I did and had many of the same comments that I write here.  I look forward to reading more of Paul Collins's work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The historical references and information were facinating and were well woveninto the story. Very entertaining.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was very surprised by the depth and scope of this novel. The dynamic interplay with all of the characters and how the author guides you through the events really brings this entire drama to life and gives you an almost disturbing look into the reality of the human mind. The changes that happen during this investigation and it shapes the way that we do things still today is a marvel.
Dominican More than 1 year ago
This was a very well written true crime thriller and I don't believe the crime was truly solved by the officials at the time. It is much more than the crime when the newspapers of the day make a circus out of it. The study of how Hearst and Pulitzer handle the story (or become part of it) could easily become more interesting than the crime itself.
cat2tat More than 1 year ago
This is a nicely paced book about a sensational murder trial that took place in the late 1800’s. It is not only about the murder but also includes events surrounding this murder trial. The publishing war between Hearst and Pulitzer and some ramifications and changes brought about by the coverage of this trial. It was an easy read that was educational as well as enjoyable.
JJP22 More than 1 year ago
I think this book makes fascinating reading for history buffs. It is well-written and an easy read. It definitely held my attention. The lengths the tabloids went to at the turn of the century to gain readership is truly something to read about.
Pat-Tee1947 More than 1 year ago
Why criticize a book without reading it first. This happens to give an old case "A UNIQUE WAY OF SEEING HOW ROTTEN JURISPRUDENCE HAS ALWAYS BEEN".while leaving it suspenseful and timely. TRY TO KEEP AN OPEN LITERARY MIND!
AnnBradleyBell More than 1 year ago
I enjoy reading books about journalism and I enjoy mysteries. This book had both. I love when a non-fiction book reads like fiction and this book did. It's not fair for people to give it one star because they were angry that the book was shipped for free to their Nook. That is lowering the review mark unjustly. I paid for my copy and I loved it.
Debbie-V More than 1 year ago
I throughly enjoyed this book. It took me to history of the newspaper business in the early 1900's! Profiles of well know people that established the newspaper guidelines and how industry.
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It was really interesting to read this book. I really enjoyed it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reads like a thriller and teaches like a great history class .