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

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & 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 oilcloth.


“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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. On June 26, 1897, the first of several gory bundles was discovered: a man's chest and arms floating in the East River. The legs and midsection were found separately and "assembled" at the morgue for identification. The two most popular newspapers—William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World—devoted entire issues to the corpse, sending reporters out to shadow police and offering dueling rewards for identifying the man. Hearst even formed the "Murder Squad," reporters who were often one step ahead of the cops. Eventually identified as William Guldensuppe, the Danish immigrant had been caught between his landlady (and lover) Augusta Nack and her new suitor, Martin Thorn. Though both were suspects, only Thorn was tried and executed, after Nack cut a deal. Collins (The Book of William), founder of McSweeney's Collins Library imprint, gives an in-depth account of the exponential growth of lurid news and the public's (continuing) insatiable appetite for it. B&w illus. (June)
Kirkus Reviews

Collins (English/Portland State Univ.; The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Changed the World, 2010, etc.) unpacks a sensational 1897 murder case that fascinated the public as it played out across the front pages of the New York City's leading newspapers: Joseph Pulitzer'sNew York Worldand William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal.

The tabloids would go beyond mere coverage of the story; the white-hot rivalry between the papers led to an astoundingly proactive agenda that saw reporters actually outflanking the police investigation and effectively solving much of the case. After a group of children discovered the ghastly severed trunk of William Guldensuppe, a Turkish bath-house attendant, the rival news organs spared no expense to ferret out the culprits, eventually tracking the purchase of an oilcloth used to wrap the torso to Mrs. Augusta Nack, a German immigrant midwife and rumored back-room abortionist. Guldensuppe had been Nack's lover before being replaced by Martin Thorn, a hotheaded barber. Things failed to progress smoothly. The manipulative, spider-like Nack and the handsome, violent Thorn are compelling villains, and other players, such as Thorn's grandstanding lawyer William Howe (a vain, corpulent charlatan of oratory brilliance), the pathetic John Gotha, Thorn's former friend and the prosecution's chief witness and the maniacally ambitious Hearst round out a thoroughly engrossing cast of characters. The narrative is wonderfully rich in period detail (readers may gag at the description of the rat-induced stench that filled the courtroom during the trial), salacious facts about the case (Guldensuppe's killing and dismemberment was a truly heinous crime) 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 siècle yellow journalism.

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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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Murder of the Century 3.5 out of 5 based on 5 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 .