The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Warsby Paul Collins
“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.… See more details below
“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 detectivesheadlong 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.
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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