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The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars

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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 witness 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. The Murder of the Century is a rollicking tale — a rich evocation of America during the Gilded Age and a colorful re-creation of the tabloid wars that have dominated media to this day.


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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 witness 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. The Murder of the Century is a rollicking tale — a rich evocation of America during the Gilded Age and a colorful re-creation of the tabloid wars that have dominated media to this day.

30 review for The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I think lots of people would like this book/audiobobok. Both the murder itself and what the tabloids did with this story are the two main themes. The book is non-fiction but reads as a novel. However, this is a double-edged sword. The press turned the murder/crime/trial events into pure sensationalism. The author too writes of the events in a sensational style, to capture the mood, the time, the way it was! That is good, BUT at the same time I found myself asking if the facts were being delivere I think lots of people would like this book/audiobobok. Both the murder itself and what the tabloids did with this story are the two main themes. The book is non-fiction but reads as a novel. However, this is a double-edged sword. The press turned the murder/crime/trial events into pure sensationalism. The author too writes of the events in a sensational style, to capture the mood, the time, the way it was! That is good, BUT at the same time I found myself asking if the facts were being delivered in a straightforward, objective manner. No they were not. And if this is to be called non-fiction then you cannot add subjective interpretations into the story-telling. Yet, the story was fun because of the very way it was told. At the same time, the story is thoroughly told. You leave the book with a very clear understanding of what actually happened, of the trial and of the media at the turn of the 20th century in NYC. Equally interesting and well covered are the later events in the main protagonists' lives. It is books like this that will make people realize that non-fiction need never be dry. The narration by William Dufris captured perfectly the sensational tone of both the criminal events and the press.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Occasionally, a book comes along that makes you really want to read it. The title is usually a hook, especially when the book is on a library shelf. The title here is representative of a newspaper headline. Whatever is published 'above the fold' is supposed to draw you in. The murder featured in Collins' book is not well known. When I searched online, I could find very few references to it, and most were in relation to Collins and this book. Calling it 'The Murder of the Century' is definitely ta Occasionally, a book comes along that makes you really want to read it. The title is usually a hook, especially when the book is on a library shelf. The title here is representative of a newspaper headline. Whatever is published 'above the fold' is supposed to draw you in. The murder featured in Collins' book is not well known. When I searched online, I could find very few references to it, and most were in relation to Collins and this book. Calling it 'The Murder of the Century' is definitely tabloid exaggeration. Surely more would have been written on it if it had such importance in print media history? The book also lacks photographs of the newspaper front pages which would have made good supporting evidence for it. To be honest, at times I thought I was reading a work of fiction. Individual chapters on Hearst and Pulitzer would have been good in order to understand properly what made them tick, as would individual chapters on the histories of their newspapers. Instead, we got brief paragraphs. And how did this murder 'scandalize a city'? Were the Vanderbilts and other famous families of the Gilded Age discussing it at their parties or in their drawing rooms, or did they did they refuse to speak of such subjects? Essentially, this book could have been so much more, especially when so much was apparently published in the tabloids on the murder. Instead, this reads like a synopsis for a greater work that was never written. What a waste.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Collins is a master of the nonfiction narrative, but I was a bit let down by this one. What he does best is a brand of creative nonfiction that blends memoir, travelogue and history with a penchant for finding the quirky and previously undiscovered (I’m thinking mostly of Sixpence House, but Banvard’s Folly, The Trouble with Tom and Not Even Wrong also fit the bill). This is more of a straight journalistic inquiry, something any author might have written if provided with an idea and enough archi Collins is a master of the nonfiction narrative, but I was a bit let down by this one. What he does best is a brand of creative nonfiction that blends memoir, travelogue and history with a penchant for finding the quirky and previously undiscovered (I’m thinking mostly of Sixpence House, but Banvard’s Folly, The Trouble with Tom and Not Even Wrong also fit the bill). This is more of a straight journalistic inquiry, something any author might have written if provided with an idea and enough archival evidence. I expect Collins to look deeper into the nooks and crannies of history to find the delightfully strange stories we didn’t even know we didn’t know. All the same, Collins certainly had a great story to work with here: a sordid murder and dismemberment case in which various sections of a man’s body were found around Long Island. First a chest (with tattoo dug out) and arms, then a torso, then a pair of legs, all wrapped in a distinctively patterned oilcloth. The victim, William Guldensuppe, had worked as a masseur at the public bathhouse (which sounds like a euphemism to me if there ever was one!) and had particularly memorable genitalia that helped his colleagues identify him. The guilty parties (and there wasn’t much doubt about their guilt, unlike Franz Müller’s in Mr. Briggs’ Hat) were Augusta Nack, a German midwife who also performed abortions, and her new lover Martin Thorn, who lured Guldensuppe to a suburban cottage where they shot him and then hacked him into rough pieces. Although this is undoubtedly sensational material and interesting enough in its own right, it lacks something in the telling. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is still the last word in how to write a fascinating true crime narrative that grips the reader from first word to last. Capote may well fictionalize and sensationalize in places, but his book is better and stranger than any fiction. Collins is perhaps too slavish in his adherence to the chronological facts, so that his narrative becomes, like history, just ‘one damn thing after another’. (The more intriguing story here is about the rise of the tabloid newspaper, particularly through the rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer and their respective New York rags. Hearst was especially shameless in taking advantage of the Guldensuppe murder for his own financial gain.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Cárdenas

    Murder of the century? Really? Which one? Not well organized. It was so confusing that I was forever going back to see who/what the author was talking about. Easy to put down. I read a little bit for short periods of time - not compelling enough to keep my attention. One would think that the "Murder of the Century" would keep you intrigued. It did do one thing well: I got a good night's rest every time I picked it up at bedtime. Not sure how the title applies - It didn't convince me that the crime Murder of the century? Really? Which one? Not well organized. It was so confusing that I was forever going back to see who/what the author was talking about. Easy to put down. I read a little bit for short periods of time - not compelling enough to keep my attention. One would think that the "Murder of the Century" would keep you intrigued. It did do one thing well: I got a good night's rest every time I picked it up at bedtime. Not sure how the title applies - It didn't convince me that the crime was "the murder of the century." Perhaps that description is so overused now that it has lost meaning. Certainly it did not have the impact of the Simpson trial or the Scopes Monkey Trial because I never heard of it before. The story that interested me most was the war among the newspapers / publishers. Proving that FOX News did not invent sensationalism, news reporters of the day were shameless in their pursuit of a salable story. Because the author tried to cram too much information about both the media and the crime, the book became a disjointed account of forensics & media reaction. This was a time during which police didn't secure crime scenes & news people had unlimited access-that in itself should have made for a compelling read. Perhaps The author could have used a little more sensationalism in his writing? Lots of interesting information that should have created a compelling story. The author could have focused on one subject and written two books: media sensationalism or crime/forensics. If he wanted both subjects, he could have styled it more like Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City - which had had better continuity. All is not lost if you trudge through this book. If you get through the labyrinth of information your reward will be information with which you can make impressive cocktail conversation.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars. (2011). Paul Collins. **. I have to confess up front that I couldn’t finish this book. It was so poorly organized that by the middle I was so confused that I no longer able to follow the story. I may not be the brightest penny in the pile, but I am usually a careful reader. The author, in his attempt to capture every detail of this crime and the resultant newspaper wars that it sparked, managed THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars. (2011). Paul Collins. **. I have to confess up front that I couldn’t finish this book. It was so poorly organized that by the middle I was so confused that I no longer able to follow the story. I may not be the brightest penny in the pile, but I am usually a careful reader. The author, in his attempt to capture every detail of this crime and the resultant newspaper wars that it sparked, managed to throw in everything except the kitchen sink (that may have come after I stopped reading it) into his narrative. The year is 1897. Body parts are discovered and recovered from the East River and from a remote area in Queens. The parts belong to the same body: a white male about 5’11” tall. The head was never found. The parts that were discovered contained no distinguishable marks. If there had been scars or tattoos, they had been cut out. The parts were wrapped in oilcloth and tied off with common twine. The two major newspapers in New York at the time were owned, respectively, by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Both men were trying to boost their papers’ circulations and ultimately become the top paper in NYC. The author chose to follow the developments in this case on a day-by-day basis. Unfortunately, the daily path was full of lies and misrepresentations on the part of each newspaper, so that following the actual case was impossible. Headline in each paper became more and more lurid and sensational. Both papers threw vast numbers of reporters against the case, and findings – even those that had nothing to do with the murder – screamed out in daily headlines. The author picked out three people to focus on: a NYC policeman, Detective Arthur Carey, a reporter from the New York World (Pulitzer’s paper), Ned Brown, and a professor of chemistry and toxicology from NYU, Dr. Rudolph Wittham. These three men were mostly responsible for narrowing down the search for the killer and examining clues for their value. In the end, arrests were made based on circumstantial evidence. Those charged were involved in a love triangle and the victim – although he was never really identified – was one of the characters. The story was a wild one, and could have been a riveting chance to explore the murder better, but I couldn’t after a while. There are lots of facts in this book about terms that were used at the time that were interesting, e.g., the name of the Bowery comes from the Dutch word, bouwerij, which simply means Dutch farm – what the area was before it became built up. An Inspector Byrnes from the NY police is credited with the first use (invention?) of the term, “third degree.” The term Yellow journalism comes from the first use of color printing in a daily newspsper. It was used in a comic strip titled, “The Yellow Kid.” The kid was printed in the color yellow. Sorry I couldn’t make it through.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mo

    2 stars If you were one of those people who were caught up in the O.J. Simpson case, watched all of the coverage on TV, and devoured every detail, then this might be a good book for you. If you went so far as to wait outside the courthouse every day, then I can definitely recommend this book to you! Umm… I was not one of those people. I thought this a story of mob mentality, and how the press creates and/or caters to it. I’m not even sure what led me to this book. I have no interest in eagerly s 2 ½ stars If you were one of those people who were caught up in the O.J. Simpson case, watched all of the coverage on TV, and devoured every detail, then this might be a good book for you. If you went so far as to wait outside the courthouse every day, then I can definitely recommend this book to you! Umm… I was not one of those people. I thought this a story of mob mentality, and how the press creates and/or caters to it. I’m not even sure what led me to this book. I have no interest in eagerly sucking up coverage of the latest sensational trial, and those people who become celebrities due to their resulting infamy actively anger me. There were a lot of people to keep track of in this story. I felt like I needed one of those big white boards covered with sticky notes that the police use while solving a case. At times I was left scratching my head! A led to B, which caused C, witnessed by D, told to E, reported by F, which caused G… my head to start spinning! (view spoiler)[In some ways, the real-life characters in this book reminded me of the fictional characters in the musical ‘Chicago’! Augusta Nack = Roxie Hart William Guldensuppe = Fred Casely William F. Howe = Billy Flynn Harriet Hubbard Ayer = Mary Sunshine Martin Thorn = Amos Hart (that’s if you believe he was a sap) And, of course, all the various prison guards, policemen, reporters, and courtroom gawkers. (hide spoiler)] This book was very well researched; perhaps a bit too well. There was WAY too much minutia for me. I admit that I skimmed the last few chapters. NOTE: There were some nuggets of gold to be gleaned along the way. Ever wonder why it’s called ‘yellow' journalism? Want to know where the expression ‘as dead as Kelsey’s nuts’ came from? Did you know that Henry Stanley was a reporter sent in search of Dr. David Livingston? These are just a few of the factoids that each gets a brief mention, but unfortunately, there were far too few of them… at least for me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    Hmm. This was a well-written book, and it has an interesting premise: looking at the rapid growth of late nineteenth century "yellow journalism" through the prism of a sensational, mostly forgotten murder case. I love to read about unscrupulous reporters as much as the next girl, and the trial sections of the book were pretty fun, but... the case just isn't very interesting. It's basically the Ruth Snyder/Judd Gray case from the twenties with the names changed, and while the first few chapters s Hmm. This was a well-written book, and it has an interesting premise: looking at the rapid growth of late nineteenth century "yellow journalism" through the prism of a sensational, mostly forgotten murder case. I love to read about unscrupulous reporters as much as the next girl, and the trial sections of the book were pretty fun, but... the case just isn't very interesting. It's basically the Ruth Snyder/Judd Gray case from the twenties with the names changed, and while the first few chapters set up as a mystery, the book drags a lot after the defendants are taken into custody and start sniping at each other about which of them murdered the unfortunate victim more, which takes up most of the book. The trial perks things up a lot, and the author does his level best to provide a little more excitement with the generous addition of outlandish contemporary rumors, but the lack of fleshed-out characters or a real whodunnit hurts the book a lot, and there aren't enough unscrupulous newsmen to make up for it. I'm still extremely excited about the author's next book about the Elma Sands murder, which will not only have a ton of plot (the case was never solved), but stars Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr as defensive lawyers. Way to market a book directly to me, Collins!

  8. 5 out of 5

    John

    Carrier pigeons transported courtroom sketches while telegraph wires carried breaking news. Collins' nonfiction book does more than just depict a grisly murder which stunned New York. He uses the crime as an examination of yellow journalism in Fin de siecle Manhattan as Pulitzer's New York World and Hearst's New York Journal competed for readership by offering many grim and gory details as any "if it bleeds, it leads" 21st century local newscast. The trial of accused murderer Thorn allowed the p Carrier pigeons transported courtroom sketches while telegraph wires carried breaking news. Collins' nonfiction book does more than just depict a grisly murder which stunned New York. He uses the crime as an examination of yellow journalism in Fin de siecle Manhattan as Pulitzer's New York World and Hearst's New York Journal competed for readership by offering many grim and gory details as any "if it bleeds, it leads" 21st century local newscast. The trial of accused murderer Thorn allowed the papers to use their most modern techniques while he awaited a most modern fate: the electric chair. Collins does a good job of depicting the challenges for investigators who were using the most rudimentary forensic techniques (examining blood but not fingerprints.) Collins, unlike many authors including the star of the pack Eric Larson, actually draws a conclusion about who was responsible for the murder. His very logical take, completing a very compact and compelling work makes it easy to recommend this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    In the summer of 1897 pieces of Willie Guldensuppe began bobbing up in the East River. Each section was neatly wrapped in distinctive red and gold oil cloth and bound with window shade cord. Guldensuppe, a German immigrant and masseur at the Murray Hill Turkish Baths, was one of over 100 murder victims in NYC that year. But this was also the "yellow journalism" era and that was how this story became a sensation. A well-researched true crime story with plenty of colorful characters this book read In the summer of 1897 pieces of Willie Guldensuppe began bobbing up in the East River. Each section was neatly wrapped in distinctive red and gold oil cloth and bound with window shade cord. Guldensuppe, a German immigrant and masseur at the Murray Hill Turkish Baths, was one of over 100 murder victims in NYC that year. But this was also the "yellow journalism" era and that was how this story became a sensation. A well-researched true crime story with plenty of colorful characters this book read like a mystery with Hearst and Pulitzer shenanigans thrown in to make it even more interesting. An enjoyable read!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    I won an advance reader copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway and Crown Publishing, and I want to thank them for the opportunity to read and review this book. Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars covers the recovery of a torso, arms, and various parts of a man found in the river in New York City in 1897 and the ensuing trail both inside and out of the courtroom. The bizarre murder sparks controversy from the very beginning whe I won an advance reader copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway and Crown Publishing, and I want to thank them for the opportunity to read and review this book. Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars covers the recovery of a torso, arms, and various parts of a man found in the river in New York City in 1897 and the ensuing trail both inside and out of the courtroom. The bizarre murder sparks controversy from the very beginning when multiple people arrive to identify the remains, and cannot agree upon who was murdered. The case becomes more and more strange as the trial approaches and the media empires of Hearst and Pulitzer square off the get the scoop first. The main interest of this book comes in with the fierce battle over information and competition between the two rival tabloid newspapers, stunts that would even shock 21st century news media consumers (at one point the crime scene is bought so reporters from that particular newspaper would have exclusive access to it). Moreover, this case was just before the advent of modern forensic science. The medical examiners dismiss fingerprints as reliable evidence and the forensic toxicologist, though a brilliant expert, does not quite yet have an expert reputation in the courtroom. With the stranger details of the case arriving, a modern reader yearns for some sort of physical evidence for that "aha!" moment in a whodunnit; this was before much of the "CSI" forensic science was invented or recognized as effective or credible. Overall, it is surprising how little overage of sensational crimes has changed in the United States since the late 1800's. At one point, the book quotes the New York Herald's publisher saying "The newspaper are becoming the only efficient police, the only efficient judges that we have." Trials begin conducted in the newspaper, even without forensic evidence, is something that appears to be a fixture in American news coverage. While the topic was interesting and well researched, I had some issues with the tone in which this book was written. It is non-fiction and well researched, having the endnotes to prove it. However, the author uses quotes from these sources in a way that seems like the historical figures are speaking it immediately as dialogue in a scene from a novel. This is a bit confusing, especially when at first I couldn't tell if this was true crime, history, or something in between. The press coverage, as explained in "A Note on the Text", allowed the author to use many eyewitness sources. It took a while getting used to and the details of the crime, tabloids, and forensic science at the time are worth it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Doreen

    I've never really been a fan of the true crime genre as I grew up on a steady diet of murder mysteries, and true crime always pales in comparison. That said, I do enjoy the popular history genre, as it both entertains and makes me feel virtuous for learning something actual. This book is equal parts true crime and popular history, as it spends as much time describing the Guldensuppe case as it does the atmosphere around it, particularly the rambunctious journalism that sought to make news as much I've never really been a fan of the true crime genre as I grew up on a steady diet of murder mysteries, and true crime always pales in comparison. That said, I do enjoy the popular history genre, as it both entertains and makes me feel virtuous for learning something actual. This book is equal parts true crime and popular history, as it spends as much time describing the Guldensuppe case as it does the atmosphere around it, particularly the rambunctious journalism that sought to make news as much as report it. The exploits of the young William Randolph Hearst are fascinating, and almost overshadow the murder that gave his newspaper the excuse to institute such crusading groups as the luridly named Murder Squad. That said, it was the efforts of reporters that really solved this case, so to speak, and brought it to trial. Don't let the synopsis fool you: this book doesn't follow the actions of three investigators so much as it introduces you to a wide and colorful cast of characters involved in the trial. There isn't really that much of a mystery, not in the way Mr Collins presents it (my reaction to the "reveal" at the end was a "Well, duh.") As popular history though, and in particular as a report on the beginning of the tabloid wars, anchored in this trial, it's an excellent account. I received this book gratis as part of ELLE Magazine's "ELLE's Lettres" Readers' Prize program.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Whenever I read books like this, I always think about how people (usually older people) like to reminisce about the "good old days" when everyone was somehow magically moral, upstanding, and law-abiding. Then I chuckle a bit. Okay, so maybe it's a little weird to be chuckling when I'm reading a book about a murder, but cut me some slack. It amuses me that anyone would think that immorality is confined to the modern age. Yes, even back in those alleged "good old days," people were murdering each o Whenever I read books like this, I always think about how people (usually older people) like to reminisce about the "good old days" when everyone was somehow magically moral, upstanding, and law-abiding. Then I chuckle a bit. Okay, so maybe it's a little weird to be chuckling when I'm reading a book about a murder, but cut me some slack. It amuses me that anyone would think that immorality is confined to the modern age. Yes, even back in those alleged "good old days," people were murdering each other for stupid reasons and trying to cover it up in bumbling, ineffectual ways. The story begins on a hot summer day in the late 1890s, when some boys playing in a river in NYC fish out a wrapped package that they think will hold something of value. Instead, it holds part of a dead man's body. What follows is a sensational tale of infidelity, divorce, back room abortions, yellow journalism, and, of course, murder most foul. Honestly, except for the dismembered body (which always seems to rev up people's outrage factor), the murder turns out to have been rather pedestrian. Still, the book is a fairly fun read and it was obviously well researched. I've read more engaging true crime, but I've also read much more poorly written true crime. I'm sure most true crime buffs would like it. Others, perhaps not so much.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Beela

    This book is now one of my favorites of ALL TIME. Hands down, the best true crime story I have ever read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cassie

    This book was so entertaining! It is not only about an astonishing true crime, but the rise of tabloid journalism, and a little known episode in history that pitted two great giants- Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst - against on in another in an event that forever changed the way we receive our news. Paul Collins combines all of the things that I love in a book: non-fiction, criminal minds, history, and wit. I really enjoyed it!!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Connie D

    4.5 stars. This is fascinating as a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and a look at the strange media wars and early paparazzi of late 19th century New York. It kept my attention even late at night when I normally fall right asleep. (And yes, it is quite gruesome at times.) It's especially disturbing because it's true.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kirsti

    Nonfiction account of an 1897 murder that reads like a novel. Lots of information on the yellow journalism that was going on in New York City at the time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    AdultNonFiction Teton County Library

    Teton Co Call No: 364.152 Collins P Julia's rating: 4 stars What a page turner! True crime junkies, get your fix! Collins, whose other books I now must seek out, has done insanely extensive research (there are forty pages of sources and notes) to retell a scandalous tale of Gilded Age New York that was followed in newspapers around the globe. Picture New York in 1897 where Harlem is a land of farms and a place to go berry-picking. Picture the newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst as a young and Teton Co Call No: 364.152 Collins P Julia's rating: 4 stars What a page turner! True crime junkies, get your fix! Collins, whose other books I now must seek out, has done insanely extensive research (there are forty pages of sources and notes) to retell a scandalous tale of Gilded Age New York that was followed in newspapers around the globe. Picture New York in 1897 where Harlem is a land of farms and a place to go berry-picking. Picture the newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst as a young and ambitious contender willing to do anything to stake his claim in the newspaper biz - above Joseph Pulitzer. McKinley's not yet gone to war in the Phillipines. Teddy Roosevelt is still freshly remembered as the NYC Police Commissioner. Picture a barber shop, a soda shop, the local bakery, the piers, the Bowery, tenement houses and the Fourth of July - all this (and more) plays into this intriguing tale of a murder fueled by infidelity, jealousy and deception, and an investigation that takes you from Manhattan to Harlem to Long Island and back again. And tabloids, called "yellow newspapers," had the story that would put them on the map and in the money. The crime is grisly, the characters shady yet strangely sympathetic, the evidence and methodology questionable, the public interest at a fever-pitch and the drama rather unstoppable. The narrative is packed with quotations taken from first hand reports and trial transcripts diligently researched and documented. These details add so much color that you can practically feel the street mud on your boots, the nickle for the paper in your pocket and hear the newsboys crying out another headline.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    The author skillfully combines a sensational turn of the century murder with a historical look at New York and the newspapers that ruled the day. This crime, while an event for its day, was unknown to me (and I read a goodly amount of true crime). It is a love triangle between a woman and her two lovers. The crime takes place in 1897 at the beginning of the advent of forensics - fingerprinting is just being proposed, there is little in the way of crime scene preservation as the police, press, an The author skillfully combines a sensational turn of the century murder with a historical look at New York and the newspapers that ruled the day. This crime, while an event for its day, was unknown to me (and I read a goodly amount of true crime). It is a love triangle between a woman and her two lovers. The crime takes place in 1897 at the beginning of the advent of forensics - fingerprinting is just being proposed, there is little in the way of crime scene preservation as the police, press, and rubberneckers flock to potential crime sites, and the identification of victims is a tedious process in a morgue without refrigeration. The victim - eventually identified as William Guldensuppe - is found in pieces (torso, arms, legs) and his head was never found despite extensive searches by the police, the press and the general public. The pair accused of his murder are his lover Augusta Nack and her current beau Martin Thorn. The murder and subsequent trials fire up the press (and there were scads of papers then) and the general public. The 'press wars' eventually come down to Hearst's Journal and Pultizer's World. The pressure of attempting to scoop each other actually contributes to the solving of the crime as both papers were investigating side-by-side and, sometimes even ahead (no pun intended), of the police. This was a well researched and engaging look at a bygone era.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leona

    I came across this book in the WSJ. After hearing/listening/reading about the Casey Anthony trial, one would think that the sensationalism connected to that case was a modern day phenomenon. Not so. As far back as 1897, the public was fascinated by the murder this book is about. While not a 24/7 news cycle as we have with the internet, the newspapers were reporting on this story day in and day out and the people couldn't get enough of it. You have the crazies writing love letters to the defendan I came across this book in the WSJ. After hearing/listening/reading about the Casey Anthony trial, one would think that the sensationalism connected to that case was a modern day phenomenon. Not so. As far back as 1897, the public was fascinated by the murder this book is about. While not a 24/7 news cycle as we have with the internet, the newspapers were reporting on this story day in and day out and the people couldn't get enough of it. You have the crazies writing love letters to the defendants, you have the salacious details of the relationships between the victim, Augusta Nack and Martin Thorn, there was a trial which captured the attention of everyone, the newspapers were battling, obviously not for ratings, but for circulation. The two rivals, William Randolph Hearst who owned The Journal and Joseph Pulitzer who ran The World were competing for readership. It was during this time that the term "yellow journalism" took hold and continues until this day.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kris Irvin

    Why did I read this book? (No. Really. Why?) OH right, it's because it was mentioned in The Poisoner's Handbook, an excellent PBS documentary. The synopsis of this book is about 10 times more thrilling than this book itself. You'd be better off reading the Wikipedia articles, people. It's long, it's boring, it's repetitive. But someone worked their butt off on researching it so I gave it 2 stars. Never again. PBS, you have betrayed me for the last time.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Fishface

    What a great read. Covers a notorious historical crime case with humor, insight and a ton of interesting details that never bog down. The story moves right along. I was sorry to see it end.

  22. 5 out of 5

    J.M.

    Well-written look at a gruesome murder and subsequent trial that was played out in the tabloids back in 1897.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Paula Dembeck

    The time is 1897 and it is hot down by the docks in New York City. The reader can almost feel the listlessness as crowds of people wander the streets and go about their lives. That was all to change when four young boys playing by the 11th Street Pier spotted a bundle floating in the East River, a bundle they thought might have fallen off a cargo freighter and potentially hold something valuable they could sell. One of the boys swam out to retrieve the package and brought it back to the wharf. A The time is 1897 and it is hot down by the docks in New York City. The reader can almost feel the listlessness as crowds of people wander the streets and go about their lives. That was all to change when four young boys playing by the 11th Street Pier spotted a bundle floating in the East River, a bundle they thought might have fallen off a cargo freighter and potentially hold something valuable they could sell. One of the boys swam out to retrieve the package and brought it back to the wharf. As the boys opened it, they came upon a truly ghastly scene: the package contained two human arms attached to a muscular chest and nothing else. Later the lower torso and hips of the same body was found in an isolated rural area of the Bronx along the Harlem River. The only thing missing was the head. The Manhattan police, mired in corruption and incompetence were slow to react. When they did, their initial response was to dismiss the findings as a mischievous prank. Medical students from the five schools in the area used cadavers to study anatomy and practice their surgical skills and had been known to pull foolish stunts in the past. But the physicians at the morgue noted that a saw and not a knife had been used to sever the head from the body. These were not the signs left by a physician who would saw bone and slice flesh. This butchering had been performed by an amateur. This was a murder. So began an unusual summer in New York City, when an excited public became involved in trying to solve a crime in which there were no witnesses, no motives and no suspects. The police could not even identify the victim with any certainty. As sordid details of the mutilated body were made public, the news quickly became the talk of the town. This fascinating book has two major narratives: one captures the grisly murder of a man called William Guldensuppe and the second details how the media response to the event began one of the biggest tabloid wars in American history. It was responsible for the birth of tabloid journalism, the reporting of sordid, gruesome and melodramatic news that has since permeated the media. This so called “news”, a combination of facts, theories, conjectures and sometimes falsehoods is put before an audience to satisfy the voyeuristic impulses of an insatiable public and to produce profits. The two most notable press barons at the time were Joseph Pulitzer who owned the New York World and William Randolph Hearst who had recently bought the New York Journal. Both recognized that an important opportunity had just presented itself and they quickly took advantage of it. Newspapers were the main source of news at the time and there was no better way to grab the public’s attention than a ghastly murder. Every newspaper sold meant profit. And during the period of this investigation and trial, both of them sold a lot of newspapers and made a lot of money. They were two very different men. Pulitzer was an immigrant and yearned for the respect of the those in the monied upper class. He had not had the privilege of being born in a cultured society but longed to be a part of it. Initially Pulitzer appeared as the established front runner, an older man who had earned his money through determination and hard work. He had built a successful newspaper as an unapologetic populist crusader, reporting on a combination of lurid stories and exciting stunts. After he introduced colored comics in the weekend edition, he was considered by some to be an emerging leader in journalistic innovation. Hearst was the younger of the two men, a brash upstart who represented everything his Park Row neighbor did not. He was American born and the son of a family with money and status. He had been kicked out of Harvard but had endless wealth and community standing behind him. And he was ambitious, determined to dominate the newspaper industry and take down his rival Pulitzer. It was not long before Hearst had caught up to Pulitzer and was nipping at his heels. He was getting better and faster at getting the news to his readers and was willing to use whatever resources and tactics were necessary to beat his rival. After news of the murder was made public it quickly became apparent that the police, overworked and unsophisticated, were uncertain how to proceed with the investigation. With the police lagging behind, the newspapers had no news to print unless they discovered it themselves. To ensure they continued to hold the attention of their readers (and the resulting profits), reporters began hunting down whatever clues they could find and encouraged the public to help. Men, women and children took on the role of amateur detectives and became actively involved in trying to identify the body and catch the killer. Each time a new piece of evidence was discovered it created a frenzy of newspaper sales. The fact the murder was so gruesome held the public’s attention and when there was no news to report, the papers created it themselves, producing whatever salacious fact or theory would get their readers to buy the latest edition of the newspaper. Reporters were ahead of the police at every step, obtaining and recording details of the crime scene, interviewing the coroner and knocking on doors to interview dealers of oil cloth similar to the one in which the body parts had been wrapped. Scores of reporters fanned out across the city shadowing the police. Some of the police even shadowed the reporters as it seemed they were more successful at picking up clues. Meanwhile endless rounds of people came forward as the coroner tried to identify the body. People lined up to view the corpse, seeking long lost friends, relatives and husbands. And with reporters continuing to dig up new evidence, there were fresh opportunities to consider theories for the crime or the identity of the killer. Readers were completely involved, enthusiastically following the investigation day after day. The two leading papers became ruthless in their battle for the public’s readership. When Pulitzer’s paper offered a $500 reward to the reader who could bring in a solution to the crime, Hearst offered $1,000. And Hearst did whatever was necessary to keep Pulitzer’s reporters away when his reporters came upon new evidence. They cut telephone lines to prevent the information from spreading, paid guards to stand sentry and keep a new find hidden and gave misleading directions to the location of a new discovery. Hearst printed photographs of the vcitims, created maps to show where body parts had been found and had artists draw diagrams of the nude torso, marking the location of the many stab wounds. He even hired launchers to drag the bottom of the East River with the order “to find the head”. He created a team he called the Wrecking Crew and gave them bicycles so they could get around quickly. The bikes allowed reporters to push their way easily into throngs of people when crowds hovered over a new piece of evidence. Hearst did whatever he could to get publicity, anything to create the next big headline and sell his paper which he had priced reasonably, making it accessible to everyone. He was the first to use color on a breaking news story and pioneered the idea of “blitzing” a feature, sending out several reporters to a scene with different assignments, some to sketch drawings, some to collect people’s ideas and some to interview the crowd. This way when they returned he had several different stories to spread over the entire front page of the paper. This form of saturation coverage created a suspenseful narrative out of every angle of the case whether there was anything substantive in it or not. Hearst openly questioned why anyone would just cover the news if he could create it, which was exactly what he did. This was certainly not the best quality journalism, but it produced a large quantity of newspapers which sold quickly as crowds swarmed the newsboys to get the latest edition. Hearst slowly gathered power and profits and soon beat Pulitzer at his own game. It is fascinating to read how the “yellow” tabloid journals grabbed the case from the police and actually helped solve the crime. They worked smarter and harder than the police whose bumbling, inept and often corrupt ways were exposed to public scrutiny. Hearst knew his readers and what they wanted. So when there was no news, he found a way to create it, making it almost impossible for the public to avoid becoming immersed in the story. And it is probably true, that without their help, the crime would never have been solved. The case centered on the relationships in a love triangle, relationships that had turned destructive. The body was eventually identified as that of William Guldensuppe, a Danish immigrant caught between his manipulative landlord and lover Augusta Nack, a German immigrant and mid-wife, and her new suitor Martin Thorn, a handsome but hot tempered and violent barber. The book continues the story through their capture and the trial. Augusta Nack cut a deal, testified against Martin Thorn and was sent to prison. Martin Thorn was tried, found guilty for the murder and executed. Both stories, the one of the crime and the story of the rise of tabloid journalism are informative and at times shocking. It reminds readers of the murder of Nicole Brown and the trial of her ex-husband O.J. Simpson in 1995 when the same craziness was repeated. In both public trials, a crazy circus evolved. Large numbers of potential jurors ran the gauntlet before the lawyers until the required number was selected. High profile defense attorneys stalked the courtroom insisting on their client’s innocence and vowing to win the case. Residents living in the areas near the courtroom rented out rooms to roving reporters. Hastily assembled food wagons delivered coffee and snacks. It seemed everyone was out to make money. Newspaper accounts of both trials shoved aside the national and international news. The Guldensuppe trial was the one that helped create the twenty-four hour news industry and the O.J. trial fanned its flames. It remains healthy and flourishes to this day. And in both criminal cases when it was all over, many benefited from the notoriety engendered by the entire process. Promotions were awarded, new careers were launched, life stories and memoirs were written and books detailing the investigation and trial appeared soon after the cases were closed. This book has been solidly researched with plenty of source notes. By skillfully combining the tabloid frenzy with the ghastly and sensational murder, Collins has produced a very readable and interesting narrative. It includes a fascinating cast of characters, probably better than one could ever imagine for a book of fiction. It makes the entire volume an intriguing combination, both entertaining and educational.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Steven Howes

    This was a very interesting and well-researched book. It deals with a rather macabre murder that took place in New York City in 1897. While the murder itself was sensational in that it involved a love triangle and a dismembered body without a head, it was by no means atypical when compared to the scores of other murders that took place in New York at the time. What made this murder sensational was the coverage it received from the City's many newspapers and in particular William Randolf Hearst's This was a very interesting and well-researched book. It deals with a rather macabre murder that took place in New York City in 1897. While the murder itself was sensational in that it involved a love triangle and a dismembered body without a head, it was by no means atypical when compared to the scores of other murders that took place in New York at the time. What made this murder sensational was the coverage it received from the City's many newspapers and in particular William Randolf Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's World. Newspapers were the television and internet of the day and they were in constant competition for readership. They were always trying to 'scoop" each other and engaged in what many would consider unethical or "yellow" journalism. They routinely involved themselves in police investigations, offered rewards, and disseminated misinformation. The public could not get enough and the cast of characters soon became famous. Another complicating factor was the state of forensic science at the time. In the end, the wrong person may have been executed. Even those who were affected by the crime but were innocent had their lives turned upside down as result of the constant attention of the news media. This case reminded me of a more recent "Murder of the Century" - the O.J. Simpson Case. While we certainly cannot minimize the loss of two lives, the O.J. Simpson case can hardly be considered more than a blip in the course of human history. Yet the media's quest for the big story (and money) and the public's thirst for celebrity made this event overshadow many more important ones.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mariam

    Tabloid wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst around a grisly murder in the Gilded Age

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    This 1897 murder was "an open sewer of murder, dismemberment, adultery, contract killing, false identity, gambling, illicit abortion, and medical malpractice." Perfect fodder for the rise of the tabloid press wars. William Randolph Hearst in particular was shameless. He had his own murder squad out trying to solve the crime ahead of the police and obstructing justice at every turn. He felt government didn't move fast enough to meet pressroom deadlines, so he made his own news. Reporters even sal This 1897 murder was "an open sewer of murder, dismemberment, adultery, contract killing, false identity, gambling, illicit abortion, and medical malpractice." Perfect fodder for the rise of the tabloid press wars. William Randolph Hearst in particular was shameless. He had his own murder squad out trying to solve the crime ahead of the police and obstructing justice at every turn. He felt government didn't move fast enough to meet pressroom deadlines, so he made his own news. Reporters even salted scenes with faked "evidence" just so they could cover the "news." Observers at the time liked attributing guilt based on physical characteristics, like saying that a suspect had ears typical of degenerate. Forensic evidence barely came into play, although they were getting better at it. The description of the electric chair execution of the guy who was ultimately convicted was chilling.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Great book- fascinating look at the rise of yellow, tabloid journalism especially between Pulitzer and Hearst fueled by a spectalcular murder- a headless corpse is recovered, boiled and with no ID. There are fake witnesses, planted evidence (by ringers for the papers) generally a circus atmosphere. The murder itself is also worth a book- a love triangle, midwife, butcher, barber, rumors and innuendo. Fast listen, recommended!

  28. 4 out of 5

    NancyHelen

    I found this story shocking not because of the murder itself outlined, but the distasteful, opportunistic and frankly macabre behaviour of the tabloid press and much of the New York population at the time in response to the murder. I wish I could see that the world has become more respectful and sophisticated since the turn of the 20th century, but unfortunately I saw so many parallels with today's media and entertainment seeking masses that I finished this book feeling quite disturbed.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    WOW! I loved this book! I lost sleep several nights wanting to finish this book. It details a murder mystery from the late 1800's however what the story truly involves is news and how we developed as a society, into the news hungry group that we are. With familiar names like Pulitzer and Hearst playing prominent roles, the story unfolds as these magnates are competing for attention. Throughly well written and I would highly recommend.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Enjoyed this. It's non-fiction that reads enough like a novel to be a murder mystery set in the streets of old New York. Parts of a dismembered body are found in a few locations -- meanwhile the competing World and Journal go into a full on battle of headlines - starting the beginnings of the first "tabloid war". The story is interesting -- the man is identified, yet his head is not found. The likely suspects are identified as well, and a lengthy trial brings out further sensationalism. Mrs. Nac Enjoyed this. It's non-fiction that reads enough like a novel to be a murder mystery set in the streets of old New York. Parts of a dismembered body are found in a few locations -- meanwhile the competing World and Journal go into a full on battle of headlines - starting the beginnings of the first "tabloid war". The story is interesting -- the man is identified, yet his head is not found. The likely suspects are identified as well, and a lengthy trial brings out further sensationalism. Mrs. Nack, Martin Thorn, Guldensuppe, and newspaper men Joseph Pulitizer and William Randolph Hearst are names you hear from the "Gilded Age" of NY. Apparently the case got such notoriety that for many years any time a head was found it was said to be "Guldensuppe's head".

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