Beyond the Book
"Crimes of the Century"
Tacking down a precise date for when the term "Crime of the Century" was first
utilized is not easy, but most scholars would attach the name of Jack the Ripper
to the creation of that notorious slogan. The killing spree in 1888 that
resulted in the deaths of at least five accountable victims and possibly ten
more was never solved, but the fear it provoked in England, and across the world
for that matter, is legendary.
In the United States, the list of highly publicized crimes is no less
spectacular. Arguably, at the top of list is the kidnapping of the Lindbergh
baby in 1932. Yet, some 22 years earlier, Los Angeles newspaper headlines broadcast the shocking horror that Blum recaptures in American Lightning.
The Los Angeles Times journalists who referred to the explosion at their newspaper's headquarters as "the crime of the century" might have been inspired by the 1889 publication of The Crime of the Century
by Henry Hunt. This 576-page work chronicles the
murder of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin, an Irish-American who threatened to reveal
the involvement of the Clan-na-Gael (United Brotherhood) in several explosions
in England throughout the early 1880s in an attempt to secure Irish independence
from British rule.
For those with an interest in reading about the lesser-known criminal minds of
the Victorian era, two titles are worth searching out: Angus McLaren's A
Prescription for Murder
(1993), which documents the killings of Dr. Thomas
Neil Cream, who is considered to be the first serial murderer in the
English-speaking world; and Erik Larson's
The Devil in the White City
, a superb story of death and destruction
during the innovative Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The former is geared towards
academia and professional historians, while the latter will attract the same
audience that will enjoy American Lightning
those who want a little
history with their murder mystery.
article listing the Top 25 "Crimes of the Century".
About the Author:
Once a reporter for the New York Times
, and twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Howard Blum currently works as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
Quite the prolific writer, Blum
has authored eight books including several national bestsellers like Wanted!,
The Gold of Exodus,
The 1910 bombing of
the Los Angeles Times Building came to his attention while reading an
article commemorating the anniversary of this nearly forgotten tragedy. It took
Blum three years to fully document the events narrated in American Lightning
In the September 2008 issue of Vanity Fair
, he argues, "This is more than
a true-crime drama from the past
It's a part of our national narrative
wiretapping, the suspension of habeas corpus, the search for weapons of mass
destruction we're still dealing with these issues nearly a century later."
This article was originally published in October 2008, and has been updated for the
October 2009 paperback release.
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