Murder Most Charming

The First Floor: New and Featured section of the Main library has a pretty epic graphic novel collection. That’s where I first came upon the works of Rick Geary, who writes and illustrates A Treasury of Victorian Murder and A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, two of the most delightful historical true crime series that’ll you’ll ever find (though to be fair, I’m not sure that he has a lot of competition in this arena).

I’ve read them all a few times, and always pounce on the new titles as soon as they come in. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.


That is not a trustworthy mustache.

The Beast of Chicago: an Account of the Life and Crimes of Herman W. Mudgett, Known to the World as H.H. Holmes – This character may sound familiar to you. It’s because he’s the Devil in Erik Larson’s most excellent book, The Devil in the White City. If you want both murder and lengthy digressions about architecture, read Larson’s book. If you want to get right down to business, read Geary’s book instead – there’s more than enough historical detail in here to make it both educational and an exciting romp. For the best of both worlds, you should (of course) read both books. This one really helped me picture the events described in The Devil in the White City, because, well, pictures. There are excellent diagrams of Holmes’ bizarre mansion, illustrations of Chicago and the World’s Fair, and maps of Holmes’ final flight. Good stuff all around.

(Bonus: Here’s a DVD about architectin’, and here’s one about murderin’. Because I belong to the Film & Audio department and have to work this stuff in somewhere.)

The Borden Tragedy: a Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Mass., 1892 – Before I read this book, all I knew about Lizzie Borden could be summarized as “Lizzie Borden took an axe, something something something.” But after reading just the title of this book, my Internal Borden Murder Fact Database instantly tripled in size! And once you crack open the covers, there’s even more good stuff – Borden’s mother wasn’t murdered, it was her stepmother. Borden’s father didn’t believe in hallways, so their house looked really weird (the floor plans are mighty confusing). Mrs. Borden died while cleaning the guest bedroom (19 blows), and Mr. Borden died while napping in the sitting room (10 blows). The back cover even lists the similarities between Lizzie’s case and that of the formerly illustrious O.J. Simpson.

that song

Copyright 1997 by Rick Geary!

Those two are pretty famous cases, like most of the titles in the series – there are books about the Lindbergh kidnapping, Jack the Ripper, and the assassinations of presidents Lincoln and Garfield, to name a few. But there are others – cases that were famous in their day but aren’t remembered now, like the murder of actor and director William Desmond Taylor, the trial of poisoner Madeline Smith, and the story of the Bender family, described below.

Hospitable looking, aren’t they?

The Saga of the Bloody Benders: the Infamous Homicidal Family of Labette County, Kansas – The Bender family (mother, father, son, and daughter) appeared in Kansas in 1870, purchased land near a local trail, and set up a small inn and grocery store to attract the business of people travelling west. Over the next three years or so travelers and locals alike started to disappear, usually after last visiting the Bender property. The family themselves vanished just when the townsfolk decided to start investigating – and then all sorts of things came to light: a missing man’s glasses, an odd assortment of hammers, a blood-soaked basement floor, and a collection of shallow graves. Ew.

If you enjoy true crime, unhappy books, Victorian history, cool illustrations, and gruesome facts, these are the books for you. Or if you have a slightly morbid reluctant reader (with strong nerves) in your home, introduce him (her/it/them) to Rick Geary. His books are educational, beautifully illustrated, and creepy good fun.

– Amy


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6 responses to “Murder Most Charming

  1. Jen

    I have a slightly morbid, moderately reluctant and at the same time voracious reader. Thanks for the tips…

  2. I read Larson’s Devil in the White City. Very horrifying. Especially that he remained under the radar for so long.

  3. I have read & enjoyed all of these books and hope that Geary writes more! :)

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