The American press has always loved a good scandal or murder mystery. In 1897, they got both when a headless torso was found floating by a pier on the lower East Side of New York City. At first the police dismissed it as a ghoulish prank perpetrated by medical students. But when the severed limbs turned up in a ditch on the other side of town and stab wounds were found on the trunk, they realized this was not a prank but murder. Murder of the Century by Paul Collins tells the story of this ghoulish crime and its resulting trial.
In the 1890s, New York City’s major newspapers were involved in a brutal circulation war. Joseph Pulitzer’s old guard New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s up-and-coming New York Journal would do anything to out scoop the other. A headless body was manna from heaven for them and they went wild with it.
Reporters took the investigative lead over the police and identified both the victim, one William Guldensuppe, and the probable perpetrators, Martin Thorn and Augusta Nack. Augusta was ready made for the tabloid press. A cold-blooded femme fatale, she ran an abortion service out of her apartment, was married and had not one but two lovers, the dead man Guldensuppe and the accused killer Thorn. With both murder and a sexual scandal on display the resulting courtroom trial had the whole country watching.
The author Paul Collins does a terrific job in relating this juicy tale that is flush with colorful characters and twisty plot turns. In addition, we get some interesting historical information about the turn-of–the-century newspaper business, police operations and courtroom procedures. Well written, fast-paced and entertaining, Murder of the Century is a good choice for true crime fans.
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