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Tailspin: The Strange Case of Major Call

Tailspin: The Strange Case of Major Call

4.5 2
by Bernard F. Conners

Written by former FBI agent and best-selling author Bernard F. Conners, TAILSPIN is a suspenseful true crime narrative which contains stunning revelations regarding Major James Call's role as Marilyn Sheppard's killer. It has received glowing endorsements from some of the top law enforcement and literary figures in America.


Written by former FBI agent and best-selling author Bernard F. Conners, TAILSPIN is a suspenseful true crime narrative which contains stunning revelations regarding Major James Call's role as Marilyn Sheppard's killer. It has received glowing endorsements from some of the top law enforcement and literary figures in America.

Editorial Reviews

Michael Hill
Conners fits together evidence from the two crimes like pieces of the same puzzle -- things like a bite wound on Call's hand the author contends was inflicted by Sheppard during her death struggle. He backs up his case with witnesses who years later still identify Call as the mysterious, bushy-haired man lurking near the Sheppard home in the early morning hours of July 4, 1954....

Jeff Call, the major's only child and now a buisnessman in Mississippi, said the book offers a "very objective" look at his father. He has never gone looking for a connection to the Marilyn Sheppard because "it was none of my business."

So, does he believe Conners' theory of the murder?

"I'm not going to second-guess a guy who's a professional," Call said. "He's very accomplished in his ability."

"Tailspin" is a dramaticized version of Call's story, but Conners makes his case for the Sheppard link in a lengthy appendix. Here are some highlights.

-A crowbar confiscated from Call fits as a murder weapon in the Sheppard case, based on the wounds to the victim's head. Call's crowbar had chipping red paint. Chips of red paint were found at Sheppard's house.

-Testimony from a forensic expert indicates Sheppard bit down on the hand of her attacker. Fingerprints taken of Call upon his arrest show an injury to his left index finger consistent with a bite. The mark does not appear on fingerprints taken when Call joined the military in 1943. Investigators found a fresh fingertip bandage at the Lake Placid shootout.

-A tiny triangle of leather was found at the Sheppard site, consistent with a leather flyers' glove of the sort Call was issued. The tear on the glove is consistent with a bite.

-Dr. Sheppard claimed the intruder in his home limped; Call had recently hurt his knee in a car wreck.

-Richard and Betty Jean Knitter saw a man that night near the Sheppard home. Looking at Call's picture 46 years later, Richard Knitter said: "That's the man we saw through our car window that night.
Associated Press
Publishers Weekly
James Arlon Call was a distinguished Air Force major whose life veered off course after his wife's unexpected death in 1952: he went from career military man to career criminal. Drunk, drifting from city to city, using the spoils of his crimes to cover his gambling debts, Call committed serial burglary in the suburbs of Cleveland and upstate New York that culminated two years later in a deadly shootout with police. With his temerity and survival training, Call slipped through the East Coast dragnet (a newspaper termed him "the phantom killer of the Adirondacks") and was finally captured several months later in a Reno pawnshop. But this crime spree is not the bombshell here: tracing Call's fugitive days, Conners (Dancehall), a former FBI agent, posits that Call was in fact the notorious "bushy-haired intruder" wanted in connection with the death of Marilyn Sheppard, better known as the wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard. Marilyn's murder (and her husband's avowed innocence) provided the basis for the television show The Fugitive and its spinoff film franchise, and was recently reexamined brilliantly so and toward a different conclusion in The Wrong Man by James Neff. Part of the problem with Conners's account lies in his narration, a liberal dramatization based on the facts garnished with re-created conversations. Moreover, the Sheppard theory's evidence occurs not in the narrative but in an exhausting 150-page addendum compiled of largely circumstantial evidence, and the decision as to whether Call was involved in the murders is left to the reader's discretion. The result is a two-part book whose conclusions are far from satisfactory. 150 b&w photos. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Major Call had it all: he was a war hero with a beautiful wife, a new baby, and a promising aviation career ahead of him. But when his wife died in 1954, Call's life went into a tailspin. Always a gambler and a risk taker, he went AWOL and began a crime spree that would end in the murder of a policeman in Lake Placid, NY. But novelist and former FBI agent Conners thinks that Call was involved in another murder and shows evidence that he was the "bushy-haired stranger" in the notorious Sheppard murder in Bay Village, OH. The book is split rather awkwardly into two parts, the first narrating Call's life from 1949 (when he met his wife) to his death in 1974 and the second offering circumstantial evidence that links him to Marilyn Sheppard's murder. Possibly, this should have been two books. But Call's life is interesting even without the speculation about the Sheppard case, and this should be considered for regional libraries and large true-crime collections. Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

British American Publishing, Limited
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.08(w) x 9.14(h) x 1.35(d)

What People are Saying About This

Robert Danzig
Bernie's books bind! They lock you in and say, 'Don't you dare put me down until the very last word of the very last page.' You are guaranteed a compelling read.
— Robert Danzig, Author and Speaker, Former Vice President and General Manager of Hearst Newspapers
William Kennedy
Tailspin is an intriguing mix of fictional method and dazzling fact, a key perhaps-coda most certainly-to one of America's most publicized murders of the 20th century. Bernard Conners again brings his FBI sleuthing expertise to bear on the did-he-or-didn't-he story of James Call, an Air Force major, a career criminal, a Jekyll and Hyde charmer, and the result is a true crime non-fiction novel of high order.
James Brady
The strange, unsettling story of an American war hero gone bad. If this were a novel you'd be tempted to protest the twists and turns as fictional excess. But Conners is telling the story of an actual person, Major James Call, gifted, charming, lethal, doomed.
— James Brady, author of The Marines of Autumn and Warning of War
Louis J. Freeh
A well-written and researched book, Tailspin reads with the excitement and detail of a fast-moving case. Mr. Conners' work is a fitting tribute to the heroic and able efforts of the men and women of the New York State Police.
— Louis J. Freeh, Former Director, FBI
Joseph E. Persico
What a read! Brilliant. Riveting to the last page.
— Joseph E. Persico Author of My American Journey (a collaboration with Colin Powell) and Roosevelt's Secret War
George A. Plimpton
Tailspin is an astonishing work that is not only riveting to read but casts new light on one of the more notorious murder cases of the last century. Conners' years spent researching his subject is time well spent for his reputation as a writer. Tailspin offers a startling solution to a crime that has puzzled the nation for fifty years.

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Tailspin: The Strange Case of Major Call 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recently came into possession of Tailspin, authored by best selling author Bernard F. Conners. I gave the book a cursory examination and then started the read. I couldn't put the book down. The book contains 506 pages. It is about "The Strange case of Major James Call." Major Call had it all, intellectual,good looks,devoted wife and many more attributes including being an Air Force Hero. Where did this person, who had everything, go wrong? Haunted by the loss of his beautiful wife, this hero of many war time flying bombing missions, took to the path of crime, gambling and into the dark side of life. Author Conners in his writing takes you to the beautiful mountains of the Adirondacks and the usually peaceful community of Lake Placid, NY where burglaries occur at a Lake Placid Club and other residences. Lake Placid police officers check a camp and a gun battle erupts wounding the officers and eventually the death of one of the officers. The coolness displayed in the action by the shooter was obvious. The 106 day manhunt in the "Adirondack wilderness" takes many twists and turns with very able NY Troopers on the trails, through the wet lands, with bloodhounds pulling hard on the leashes of their handlers. One State Trooper Commander indicated that the shooter may have come to the mountains while hiding other serious crimes, one of which may have been the murder that took place in a midwestern city suburb on July 4th, 1954. The author brilliantly tells this true story veiled in a bit of fictionbal method. He skillfully puts the reader on the scene and brings out investigational techniques that flow well as the cases unfold. This work is a diamond in police investigation and I recommend it highly. This is a "real world" story amd I salute Mr. Conners for the time and energy that he expended in bringing this outstanding book to the readers of America and Canada. You also observe the professional ability of the New York State Troopers at their best. Thank you Mr. Conners for this outstanding book.