Blood on the table : the greatest cases of New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

From Andrea Kalinowski

Author:  Colin Evans

Title:   Blood on the table : the greatest cases of New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner 

Blood on the table: the greatest cases of New York’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner by Colin Evans echoes some of the history which I had already known through reading Arsenic and clam chowder: murder in Gilded Age New York by James D. Livingston. Colin Evans explores, in detail, the complex history and tumultuous beginnings of the Coroner’s Office, which was eventually renamed. “Of the sixty-five men who had held the office of coroner since consolidation, not one was thoroughly qualified, by training or experience, for the adequate performance of his duties. By occupation, nineteen were general physicians without any formal training in legal medicine, eight were undertakers, seven were politicians, six were real estate dealers, two were saloonkeepers, and two were plumbers; the rest were respectively, a lawyer, a printer, an auctioneer, a contractor, a carpenter, a painter, a dentist, a butcher ….” This book was an eye-opener regarding the politics and fiduciary issues plaguing the Coroner’s Office. The Coroner’s Office was eventually abolished in 1915. “The small print stated that the current holder of the positon would be replaced when their engagement ended on January 1, 1918. Beginning in January 1918, the city of New York, would have its first chief Medical Examiner. For anyone interested in forensics and history, this book is a perfect amalgamation of both. It is sprinkled throughout with true crime examples and the bitter rivalries engendered by the esteem attached to the office of Medical Examiner.

chasing thieves and detectives through the secret world of stolen art

From Margaret Mezzacapo
Author: Joshua Knelman
Title: Hot art : chasing thieves and detectives through the secret world of stolen art
This book gives a fascinating introduction to the subject of art theft and the shadowy world that surrounds it. Despite what one may assume, the police have little in the way of resources to solve these crimes, and the art owners and dealers seem to haven even less in the way of desire to fight the crooks. Why? One word – money. Lots and lots of money. Although this may seem counterintuitive, read this book and it will start to make sense.

Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?

From Jackie Cantwell
Author:  Mark Fuhrman
Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?
This is the true crime account of the murder of 15 year old Martha Moxley on her own property in the exclusive area of Belle Haven, Greenwich, CT. on October 30, 1975. Her neighbors were the Skakels, who are related to the Kennedys. From the beginning, many people suspected that someone from the Skakel household must have committed the crime, as the murder weapon was a golf club matching a set found in the house. Thomas Skakel, the 17 year old son of the widowed Rushton Skakel, emerged early as a suspect, since he was the last known person to see her alive. Ken Littleton, the 23 year old tutor who moved in that day, was a suspect for many years. Not only was the police investigation incompetent, but they tiptoed around the wealthy Skakels. It seemed the only way the crime would be solved would be a confession, because the police weren’t about to uncover anything useful themselves! Not until the existence of “the Sutton file” (a report by a private investigation firm, paid for by Rushton to clear Thomas’s name) became known did Michael Skakel (15 y/o at the time of the murder) become a suspect.

I like how Fuhrman explained how a murder investigation is supposed to be conducted, as he is a former detective with LAPD, most notable for being associated w/ the O.J. Simpson trial. A cast of characters would have been useful.

Man overboard : inside the honeymoon cruise murder

From Jackie Cantwell
Author:  Joan Lownds
Man overboard : inside the honeymoon cruise murder 
This is based on the 2005 still-unsolved murder of George Smith IV during his Mediterranean honeymoon cruise with his wife Jennifer Hagel  Smith. They were a Connecticut couple who had it all: good looks, money, lots of friends, and a seemingly good relationship.  After a night of heavy drinking and gambling in the casino of the Brilliance of the Seas ship, Jennifer ended up passed out on one end of the ship, while George was in his stateroom with 3 or 4 male acquaintances.  Reports differ as to what may have occurred in the room, but we do know a loud thud was heard by “ear-witnesses” and then George went missing, and was presumed overboard. The next morning, passengers saw a bloodied awning below the Smith cabin.  There was a cursory investigation conducted by the Turkish authorities. George’s parents and sister feel that Royal Caribbean was negligent in their investigation and that the evidence was compromised. The book follows the actions and lawsuits that the Smith family pursued to find out the truth about what happened to their son, and to find the perpetrators.  There are also summaries of other cases where passengers were killed, raped or went missing. The book serves as an indictment of not only the Royal Caribbean cruise line, but the entire cruising industry. Overall, I felt the author overly relied on secondary sources, such as transcripts from TV programs and quotes from websites and newspapers. To my knowledge, she did not interview anyone close to the case. The author does not give her opinion as to who she thinks may have murdered George Smith. This is a cautionary tale for would-be cruisers.

The bone garden : the Sacramento boardinghouse murders

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Wood, William P
 The bone garden : the Sacramento boardinghouse murders
This is the true story of Dorothea Puente who was one of our country’s most prolific female serial killers. The author has first-hand knowledge of the crimes, as he was a deputy D.A. in Sacramento when she was tried for drugging and robbing elderly people in 1982. After jail time, she continued her life of crime in earnest. She opened a boardinghouse where she “cared for” the sick, the elderly, and the mentally ill. She got referrals from local social workers.  She took the tenants’ monthly government checks and cashed them. If any of her charges got difficult, they were drugged, strangled or smothered to death, and buried in the backyard.  This is definitely a page-turner. “The bone garden” will chill you to the bone.

Bringing Adam home : the abduction that changed America

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Standiford, Les
Bringing Adam home : the abduction that changed America
 This is the heartbreaking story of the 1981 abduction and murder of Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh, the host of America’s Most Wanted (AMW) T.V. program.  According to the authors (and later the Hollywood (FL) PD), the case is now solved and closed.  Les Standiford is a well-known author and Joe Matthews is a retired detective and polygraph expert from Miami-Dade PD and is now an investigator on the AMW program.  Joe assisted the detectives early in the investigation of the murder, and was called upon by John and Reve Walsh in 2006 to conduct a complete, methodical private investigation to solve the crime once and for all. Joe was given access to all the original police files. The Walshes suspected all along that Ottis Toole, a drifter and admitted serial killer, was Adam’s murderer.  Toole had confessed to the killing several times over the years, and then recanted. But he knew things that only the killer could know.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), Toole died in prison serving other charges in 1996. He was never charged with the murder.  The book serves as an indictment of the Hollywood PD, the Broward County authorities, and of the incompetent investigation of the murder.

The most dramatic evidence is a photo taken of Toole’s Cadillac floorboard carpeting. You absolutely must see this photo, enhanced by Luminol to detect blood, to believe it. Incredibly, this (and other damning) evidence was there for the detectives to see all along.  Some passages were difficult to understand due to the coincidence that many surnames began with “H”, such as, “Hoisington made an effort to do what Hessler ordered, but by the time Hoffman and his partner Hickman had finished with Toole … “.  (There are also characters named Hart, Hughes, Haggerty, and Hardaman, I kid you not). Another confounding aspect of the book was the typographical errors. There is reference made to a Gerald Schaffer, Toole’s one-time cellmate. Schaffer’s name is misspelled twice later in the book. There is a Cast of Characters section in the back, but it is of limited usefulness. Fans of true crime will most probably like this book.

It comes with a warning, however: the subject matter is very disturbing and sometimes graphic.

Musical Mysteries: From Mozart to John Lennon

From Edna Susman
author: Borowitz, Albert
Musical Mysteries: From Mozart to John Lennon
Author Albert Borowitz, a graduate of Harvard and a true crime historian, presents us with a fascinating interplay between crime and music.  The book is divided into two parts: the first explores eight famous crimes and crime legends including the alleged killing of Mozart by Antonio Salieri and the murder of John Lennon by Mark Chapman. The second part examines crimes within various musical settings including Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.  True crime aficionados as well as students of music history will enjoy this book.