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Ripped From the Headlines: True Crime

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true crime

The true stories of murderers, thieves, fraudsters and other assorted knaves and villains.

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Gilbert King. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the dawn of a new America.

Devil in the Grove is the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Arguably the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, Thurgood Marshall was on the verge of bringing the landmark suit Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court when he became embroiled in an explosive and deadly case that threatened to change the course of the civil rights movement and cost him his life. In 1949, Florida’s orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor. To maintain order and profits, they turned to Willis V. McCall, a violent sheriff who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a white seventeen-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, McCall was fast on the trail of four young blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves beyond the citrus groves. By day’s end, the Ku Klux Klan had rolled into town, burning the homes of blacks to the ground and chasing hundreds into the swamps, hell-bent on lynching the young men who came to be known as “the Groveland Boys.” And so began the chain of events that would bring Thurgood Marshall, the man known as “Mr. Civil Rights,” into the deadly fray. Associates thought it was suicidal for him to wade into the “Florida Terror” at a time when he was irreplaceable to the burgeoning civil rights movement, but the lawyer would not shrink from the fight—not after the Klan had murdered one of Marshall’s NAACP associates involved with the case and Marshall had endured continual threats that he would be next. Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, including the FBI’s unredacted Groveland case files, as well as unprecedented access to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund files, King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader, setting his rich and driving narrative against the heroic backdrop of a case that U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson decried as “one of the best examples of one of the worst menaces to American justice.”

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John Grisham. The Innocent Man: murder and injustice in a small town.

In the major-league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory. Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits – drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa. In 1982, a twenty-one-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder. With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row. If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you.

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Ethan Brown. Shake the Devil Off: a true story of the murder that rocked New Orleans.

A charismatic young soldier meets a tragic end in this moving and mesmerizing account of the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and no-safety-net America. Zackery Bowen was thrust into two of America’s largest recent debacles. He was one of the first soldiers to encounter the fledgling insurgency in Iraq. After years of military service he returned to New Orleans to tend bar and deliver groceries. In the weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, he met Addie Hall, a pretty and high-spirited bartender. Their improvised, hard-partying endurance during and after the storm had news outlets around the world featuring the couple as the personification of what so many want to believe is the indomitable spirit of New Orleans. But in October 2006, Bowen leaped from the rooftop bar of a French Quarter hotel. A note in his pocket directed the police to the body of Addie Hall. It was, according to NOPD veterans, one of the most gruesome crimes in the city’s history. How had this popular, handsome father of two done this horrible thing? Journalist Ethan Brown moved from New York City to the French Quarter in order to investigate this question. Among the newsworthy elements in the book is Brown’s discovery that this tragedy—like so many others—could have been avoided if the military had simply not, in the words of Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, “absolutely and completely failed this soldier.” Shake the Devil Off is a mesmerizing tribute to these lives lost.

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Vincent Bugliosi. Helter Skelter.

Prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi held a unique insider’s position in one of the most baffling and horrifying cases of the twentieth century: the cold-blooded Tate-LaBianca murders carried out by Charles Manson and four of his followers. What motivated Manson in his seemingly mindless selection of victims, and what was his hold over the young women who obeyed his orders? Here is the gripping story of this famous and haunting crime.

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Truman Capote. In Cold Blood.

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues. As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

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Philip Carlo. The Night Stalker.

Based on Death Row interviews with Richard Ramirez, an account of his murderous crime spree follows his criminal odyssey, from his first brush with the law, to his Los Angeles murders, to the investigation that brought him to justice.

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Paul Collins. Murder of the Century: the Gilded Age crime that scandalized a city and sparked the tabloid wars.

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. This book is a tale of America during the Gilded Age and a colorful recreation of the tabloid wars that have dominated media to this day.

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Patricia Cornwell. Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, case closed.

Between August and November 1888, at least seven women were murdered in London’s Whitechapel area. The gruesome nature of their deaths caused panic and fear in the East End for months, and gave rise to the sobriquet that was to become shorthand for a serial killer – Jack the Ripper. For over a hundred years the murders have remained among the world’s greatest unsolved crimes, and a wealth of theories have been posited which have pointed the finger at royalty, a barber, a doctor, a woman and an artist. Using her formidable range of forensic and technical skills, Patricia Cornwell has applied the rigorous discipline of twenty-first-century police investigation to the extant material, and here presents the hard evidence that the perpetrator was the world-famous artist Walter Sickert. By using techniques unknown in the late Victorian age, Patricia Cornwell has exposed Sickert as the author of the infamous Ripper letters to the Metropolitan Police. Her detailed analysis of his paintings shows how his art continually depicted his horrific mutilation of his victims, and her examination of this man’s birth defects, the consequent genital surgical interventions and their effects on his upbringing presents a casebook example of how a psychopathic killer is created.

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Tom Faulconer. In the Eyes of the Law: the true story of love, betrayal, murder, fame and justice in 1950’s America.

The murder of Forrest Teel, a corporate vice-president and head of the international division of the largest pharmaceutical company in the world caught the attention of the nation in 1958. When his longtime mistress was arrested for the crime, the interest of the world was piqued. At the same time, a young lawyer was finishing a campaign to be elected judge in a criminal court in Indianapolis. Against all predictions, he won the seat. Only after he won did he realize he would be the judge for the largest trial in Indianapolis history.The book details the murder, investigation and arrest, then follows the struggles of the defendant, literally fighting for her life, and the politically ambitious judge, struggling to conduct and control a trial with no previous experience, all the while under the media’s powerful microscope.

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Paul French. Midnight in Peking: how the murder of a young Englishwoman haunted the last days of old China.

In the last days of old Peking, where anything goes, can a murderer escape justice? Peking in 1937 is a heady mix of privilege and scandal, opulence and opium dens, rumors and superstition. The Japanese are encircling the city, and the discovery of Pamela Werner’s body sends a shiver through already nervous Peking. Is it the work of a madman? One of the ruthless Japanese soldiers now surrounding the city? Or perhaps the dreaded fox spirits? With the suspect list growing and clues sparse, two detectives—one British and one Chinese—race against the clock to solve the crime before the Japanese invade and Peking as they know it is gone forever. Can they find the killer in time, before the Japanese invade? Historian and China expert Paul French at last uncovers the truth behind this notorious murder, and offers a rare glimpse of the last days of colonial Peking.

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Erik Larson. Devil in the White City: murder, magic & madness at the fair that changed America.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds – a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake. The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before. 

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Erik Larson. Thunderstruck.

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time. Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners, scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed, and the rich outdid one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for the emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, “the kindest of men,” nearly commits the perfect crime. With his superb narrative skills, Erik Larson guides these parallel narratives toward a relentlessly suspenseful meeting on the waters of the North Atlantic. Along the way, he tells of a sad and tragic love affair that was described on the front pages of newspapers around the world, a chief inspector who found himself strangely sympathetic to the killer and his lover, and a driven and compelling inventor who transformed the way we communicate. Thunderstruck presents a vibrant portrait of an era of séances, science, and fog, inhabited by inventors, magicians, and Scotland Yard detectives, all presided over by the amiable and fun-loving Edward VII as the world slid inevitably toward the first great war of the twentieth century. 

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Natalie Robins. Savage Grace: the true story of fatal relations in a rich and famous American family.

A spellbinding tale of money and madness, incest and matricide, Savage Grace is the saga of Brooks Baekeland, heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune; his beautiful wife, Barbara; and their handsome, gentle son, Tony, who destroyed the whole family in a violent chain of events. Savage Grace unfolds against a glamorous international background (New York, London, Paris, Italy, Spain); features a nonpareil cast of characters (including Salvador Dalí, James Jones, the Astors, the Vanderbilts, and European nobility); and tells the doomed Baekelands’ story through remarkably candid interviews and private letters and diaries, not to mention confidential hospital, State Department, and prison documents. A true-crime classic, it exposes the envied lives of the rich and beautiful, and brilliantly illuminates the darkest corners of the American Dream.

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Ann Rule. The Stranger Beside Me.

Ted Bundy was handsome, charming, brilliant in law school, and on the verge of a dazzling career. On January 24, 1989, he was executed for the murders of three young women, having confessed to taking the lives of at least thirty-five more. This is the story of one of the most fascinating killers in American history – of his magnetic power, his bleak compulsion, his double life, his string of vulnerable victims. It is also the story of Ann Rule, a writer working on the biggest story of her life, tracking down a brutal serial killer. Little did she realize that the “Ted” the police were seeking was the same Ted who worked with her at a Seattle crisis clinic, a man who had become her close friend and confidant. As she began to put the evidence together, a terrifying picture emerged of the man she thought she knew. 

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Harold Schechter. Psycho USA: famous american killers you never heard of.

Spurred by profit, passion, paranoia, or perverse pleasure, these killers—the Witch of Staten Island, the Smutty Nose Butcher, the Bluebeard of Quiet Dell, and many others—span three centuries and a host of harrowing murder methods. Dramatized in the pages of penny dreadfuls, sensationalized in tabloid headlines, and immortalized in “murder ballads” and classic fiction by Edgar Allan Poe and Theodore Dreiser, the demonic denizens of Psycho USA may be long gone to the gallows—but this insidiously irresistible slice of gothic Americana will ensure that they’ll no longer be forgotten. 

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Lawrence Schiller. Perfect Murder, Perfect Town.

The author of the number-one New York Times best-seller, American Tragedy, offers an exhaustive account of the still unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey based on hundreds of exclusive interviews with all involved. 

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Robert Snow. Slaughter on North LaSalle.

On December 1, 1971, the bodies of Robert Gierse, James Barker, and Robert Hinson were found in their blood-spattered Indianapolis home. All three had reputations as prodigious womanizers, hard-drinking bar fighters, and unscrupulous businessmen–the kind of men with more enemies than friends. When detectives searched the home and discovered an address book used as a sex contest scorecard, their new suspect list included jilted one-night stands, jealous boyfriends, and husbands–dozens upon dozens of names. Sensational reports and rumors soon overwhelmed the investigation , and real answers eluded the police and the media alike for three decades, until Roy West, a detective with a reputation for cracking “unsolvable” cases, re-opened the files…

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Les Standiford. Bringing Adam Home: the abduction that changed America.

Before Adam Walsh there were no faces on milk cartons, no Amber Alerts, no National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, no federal databases of crimes against children, no pedophile registry. His 1981 abduction and murder, unsolved for over a quarter of a century, forever changed America. One sunny July morning in 1981, Reve Walsh and her six-year-old son Adam stopped by the local Sears to pick up some new lamps. Enchanted by a video game at the store’s entrance, Adam begged Reve to let him try it out while she shopped. When she returned a few minutes later, Adam was gone. The shock of Adam’s murder, and of the inability of the police and the FBI to find his killer, radically altered American innocence and our ideas about childhood. Gone forever were the days when parents would allow their kids out of the house with the casual instruction “Be home by dark!” Reve and John Walsh, who would go on to create America’s Most Wanted, became advocates for the transformation of law enforcement’s response to and handling of such cases. Prompted by the Walshes’ activism, Congress passed the Missing Children Act in 1982, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was founded in 1984. While our lives have been significantly altered by Adam Walsh’s case, few of us know the whole story, how, after more than twenty-seven years of relentless investigation, decorated Miami Beach homicide detective Joe Matthews finally identified Adam’s killer. Bringing Adam Home is the definitive account of this horrifying crime, which, like the Lindbergh kidnapping fifty years earlier, captured public attention, and its aftermath, a true story of tragedy, love, faith, and dedication. It reveals the pain and tenacity of a family determined to find justice, the failed police work that allowed a killer to remain uncharged, and the determined efforts of one cop who accomplished what an entire legal system could not. 

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James Stewart. Blind Eye: how the medical establishment let a doctor get away with murder.

Young, blond, handsome Dr. Swango seemed a godsend wherever he was hired to practice medicine. But acclaim would turn to disbelief, dismay, then horror, as the evidence mounted that he could actually be murdering his patients. Then Dr. Michael Swango would leave that hospital – only to be rehired at another. Today the FBI believes that Swango may he the most prolific serial killer in American history.
In Blind Eye, James Stewart takes readers into the closed world of America’s medical establishment, where doctors repeatedly accept the word of fellow physicians over that of nurses, hospital workers and patient – even after the horrible truth emerges. With prodigious investigative reporting, Stewart’s account moves from the hospital rooms of the prestigious Ohio State University Hospitals to Illinois, South Dakota, New York and finally to a remote missionary hospital in Zimbabwe. There Stewart tracked down survivors, relatives of victims, shaken hospital workers – and the evidence that may finally lead Swango to be charged with murder. Blind Eye shows us the danger we face in a hospital system that too often puts appearances, reputation and potential liability ahead of patients’ welfare – and tells us what needs to be done to stop it. 

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Kate Summerscale. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: a shocking murder and the undoing of a great Victorian detective.

In June of 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection, ironically destroying, in the process, the career of perhaps the greatest detective in the land. At the time, the detective was a relatively new invention; there were only eight detectives in all of England and rarely were they called out of London, but this crime was so shocking, as Kate Summerscale relates in her scintillating new book, that Scotland Yard sent its best man to investigate, Inspector Jonathan Whicher. Whicher quickly believed the unbelievable—that someone within the family was responsible for the murder of young Saville Kent. Without sufficient evidence or a confession, though, his case was circumstantial and he returned to London a broken man. Though he would be vindicated five years later, the real legacy of Jonathan Whicher lives on in fiction: the tough, quirky, knowing, and all-seeing detective that we know and love today…from the cryptic Sgt. Cuff in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone to Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. 

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Alice Sebold. Lucky.

In a memoir hailed for its searing candor and wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was utterly transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. What propels this chronicle of her recovery is Sebold’s indomitable spirit-as she struggles for understanding (“After telling the hard facts to anyone, from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes”); as her dazed family and friends sometimes bungle their efforts to provide comfort and support; and as, ultimately, she triumphs, managing through grit and coincidence to help secure her attacker’s arrest and conviction. In a narrative by turns disturbing, thrilling, and inspiring, Alice Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims even as she imparts wisdom profoundly hard-won: “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”

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Terri Jentz. Strange Piece of Paradise.

In 1977, Terri Jentz and her Yale roommate, Shayna Weiss, make a cross-country bike trip. They pitch a tent in the desert of central Oregon. As they are sleeping, a man in a pickup truck deliberately runs over the tent, then attacks them with an ax. The crime is reported in newspapers across the country. No one is ever arrested. Both women survive, but Shayna has amnesia, while Terri is left alone with memories of the attack–their friendship is shattered. Fifteen years later, Terri returns to the town and makes an extraordinary discovery: the violence of that night is as present for the community as it is for her. Slowly, her interviews with the townspeople yield a revelation: many say they know who did it, and he is living freely in their midst. Terri then sets out to discover the truth, and ultimately finds herself face-to-face with the alleged psychopath.

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Miles Harvey. The Island of Lost Maps: a true story of cartographic crime.

The Island of Lost Maps is the story of a curious crime spree: the theft of scores of valuable centuries-old maps from some of the most prominent research libraries in the United States and Canada. The perpetrator was the Al Capone of cartography, a man with the unlikely name of Gilbert Bland, Jr., an enigmatic antiques dealer from south Florida whose cross-country slash-and-dash operation went virtual.

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Ulrich Boser. The Gardner Heist: the true story of the world’s largest unsolved art theft.

The Gardner museum in Boston is the idiosyncratic collection of one woman, who bought art apparently as the mood stuck her. But along the way Isabelle Gardner acquired some of the most important paintings in Western art. In March of 1990, the museum was robbed of several works, including Rembrandts, a Manet, Vermeers and several Degas. To date, no one has been convicted of the theft and none of the paintings have been recovered. Crime writer Boser inherited the files of Harold Smith, who investigated the theft. This is the story of Boser’s increasing obsession with the mystery. Over several years, he learned a great deal about the shady underworld of art theft. In this case, he believes that at least one of the perpetrators is a career gangster named David Turner. In many ways, the tale is one of frustration, like most real investigations. Smith died without ever solving the crime. Boser seems to have gotten much further but, of the missing art, there hasn’t been a whisper. 

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Ben Mezrich. Sex on the Moon: the amazing story behind the most audacious heist in history.

Thad Roberts, a fellow in a prestigious NASA program had an idea—a romantic, albeit crazy, idea. He wanted to give his girlfriend the moon. Literally. Thad convinced his girlfriend and another female accomplice, both NASA interns, to break into an impregnable laboratory at NASA—past security checkpoints, an electronically locked door with cipher security codes, and camera-lined hallways—and help him steal the most precious objects in the world: the moon rocks. But what does one do with an item so valuable that it’s illegal even to own? And was Thad Roberts—undeniably gifted, picked for one of the most competitive scientific posts imaginable, a possible astronaut—really what he seemed? Mezrich has pored over thousands of pages of court records, FBI transcripts, and NASA documents and has interviewed most of the participants in the crime to reconstruct this Ocean’s Eleven–style heist, a madcap story of genius, love, and duplicity that reads like a Hollywood thrill ride.

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David Cullen. Columbine.

On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma-City style, and to leave “a lasting impression on the world.” Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence-irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting “another Columbine.” When we think of Columbine, we think of the Trench Coat Mafia; we think of Cassie Bernall, the girl we thought professed her faith before she was shot; and we think of the boy pulling himself out of a school window — the whole world was watching him. Now, in a riveting piece of journalism nearly ten years in the making, comes the story none of us knew. In this revelatory book, Dave Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris, and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal. The result is an astonishing account of two good students with lots of friends, who came to stockpile a basement cache of weapons, to record their raging hatred, and to manipulate every adult who got in their way. They left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boy’s tapes and diaries, he gives the first complete account of the Columbine tragedy.

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Joshua Gilder. Heavenly Intrigue: Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and the murder behind one of history’s greatest scientific discoveries.

Tycho Brahe was rich, famous, a fabulous host, and brilliant. Johannes Kepler was poor, unpopular, a potion-maker, and almost as brilliant as he wanted to be. Kepler worked for Brahe as his assistant, and on Brahe’s death took over his notebooks. Kepler later achieved a stardom in cosmology that survives today. However, according to recent forensic investigations, Brahe died of acute mercury poisoning, and bequeathed his notebooks to his family hours before his agonizing death. Gilder and Gilder, journalists, investigate the very real possibility that Kepler, unable to break free from his low origins and high ambitions, poisoned Brahe and stole his ideas.

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Frank Abagnale. Catch Me If You Can: the amazing true story of the youngest and most daring con man in the history of fun and profit!

Frank W. Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, was one of the most daring con men, forgers, imposters, and escape artists in history. In his brief but notorious criminal career, Abagnale donned a pilot’s uniform and copiloted a Pan Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks, all before he was twenty-one. Known by the police of twenty-six foreign countries and all fifty states as “The Skywayman,” Abagnale lived a sumptuous life on the lam-until the law caught up with him. Now recognized as the nation’s leading authority on financial foul play, Abagnale is a charming rogue whose hilarious, stranger-than-fiction international escapades, and ingenious escapes-including one from an airplane-make Catch Me If You Can an irresistible tale of deceit.

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Mark Bowden. Finders Keepers: the story of a man who found $1 million.

Joey Coyle was down and out – the affable, boyish South Philadelphian hadn’t found dock work in months, he was living with his ailing mother, and he was fighting a drug habit and what seemed like a lifetime of bouncing into and out of bad luck. One morning, though, while cruising the streets just blocks from his home, fate took a turn worthy of Hollywood when he spotted a curious yellow tub he thought might make a good toolbox. It contained $1.2 million in unmarked bills – casino money that had just fallen off the back of an armored truck. Even before news of the missing money exploded across the headlines, Detective Pat Laurenzi, with the help of the FBI, was working around the clock to track it down. Joey Coyle, meanwhile, was off on a bungling, swashbuckling misadventure, sharing his windfall with everyone from his girlfriend to total strangers to the two neighborhood kids who drove him past it (and whose parents were beginning to wonder where their car had disappeared to). To hide the money, Joey turned to the local mob boss – a shadowy, fearsome man who may or may not have helped launder it. But as adrenaline-filled nights began taking their toll, Joey Coyle’s dream-come-true evolved into a nightmare: Whom could he trust? With an entire city on the hunt, for how long could he continue to hide? And was he prepared to live his life in constant fear of being caught, maybe even killed? 

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Elliott Gorn. Dillinger’s Wild Ride.

In an era that witnessed the rise of celebrity outlaws like Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger was the most famous and flamboyant of them all. Reports on the man and his misdeeds–spiced with accounts of his swashbuckling bravado and cool daring–provided an America worn down by the Great Depression with a salacious mix of sex and violence that proved irresistible. In Dillinger’s Wild Ride, Elliott J. Gorn provides a riveting account of the year between 1933 and 1934, when the Dillinger gang pulled over a dozen bank jobs, and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. A dozen men–police, FBI agents, gangsters, and civilians–lost their lives in the rampage, and American newspapers breathlessly followed every shooting and jail-break. As Dillinger’s wild year unfolded, the tale grew larger and larger in newspapers and newsreels, and even today, Dillinger is the subject of pulp literature, serious poetry and fiction, and films, including a new movie starring Johnny Depp. What is the power of his story? Why has it lingered so long? Who was John Dillinger? Gorn illuminates the significance of Dillinger’s tremendous fame and the endurance of his legacy, arguing that he represented an American fascination with primitive freedom against social convention. Dillinger’s story has much to tell us about our enduring fascination with outlaws, crime and violence, about the complexity of our transition from rural to urban life, and about the transformation of America during the Great Depression. 

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