|The Naked City||Aug 28 2015|
How many slayings over the years have been called “jigsaw murders”? Plenty. All a killer has to do is cut up the body and “jigsaw” becomes the go-to nickname. The particular jigsaw murders referred to on the cover of this August 1947 True Police Cases are ones committed in Lancashire, England during the late 1930s. A doctor named Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim—“Buck” for short, and aka Buck Ruxton—strangled his wife Isabella. And in a sad but classic case of wrong-place-wrong-time, a maid who had the misfortune of witnessing the event was also strangled.
Because the police used newly developed forensic techniques to help solve the crime—for instance, superimposing photos of Isabella’s face over the decomposed head to aid identification—the case generated a lot of attention. True Police Cases scribe Alan Hynd wasn’t the only journalist with an interest. Many true crime writers wrote about it, and the story eventually became an entire book by T.F. Potter in 1984 called The Deadly Dr. Ruxton: How They Caught a Lancashire Double Killer. All these years later, of the many jigsaw murderers, Buck Ruxton remains among the most famous.
|The Naked City||Jun 11 2015|
This issue of True Detective from June 1952 has cover art from Ozni Brown, along with all the standard crime magazine elements inside, but today we’re interested in its unusual solve-it-yourself murder feature. This is the first of these we’ve seen. A fictitious crime scene photo is published along with a short written scenario, and readers are invited to determine how the killing was committed and by which suspect. This particular puzzle is a television tie-in written by Darren McGavin, who at the time was starring in a CBS series called Crime Photographer. The show revolved around a world-weary crime tabloid photog narrating his latest adventures to his local bartender. The series lasted only forty-seven episodes, but McGavin would go on to star in other shows, including the beloved but also short-lived Nightstalker. If you want to take a crack at solving True Detective’s murder we’ve enlarged the relevant bits at the bottom of this post.
In order to make the whodunnit photo detailed enough we had to split it in half. It appears below along with the enlarged text.
And below is the solution.
|The Naked City||Feb 13 2015|
When Mrs. Young came to retrieve her daughter, she found the church empty. She called the Scout leader and was told Janet never attended the meeting. This prompted a frantic call to the police, who quickly found the girl’s charred body. They arrested Ebbs at home hours later. The crime, once it hit the news, aroused a furious reaction in the community. Two civilian participants in a police line-up with Ebbs punched, kicked and spat on him. Though the police of course denied this assault ever happened, they put together an armed detachment of thirty-five men to forestall trouble at Ebbs’ arraignment. At his trial, which lasted eight days, four psychiatrists testified that he was legally insane, but four others pronounced him sane. He was convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Ebb’s only reaction, at least according to accounts of the time, came when he saw the camera crews gathered to film him. He wondered aloud, “What will they think of me?”
|Vintage Pulp||Dec 16 2014|
Above, a nice cover of Master Detective from December 1953 with art by the always brilliant Barye Phillips. The magazine launched in 1924, but this is the earliest cover we’ve shared. We’ll dig a bit and see what we can find going back into the 1940s and earlier. By 1954 the covers became considerably more text heavy, which makes nearly blank examples like this worth looking for. We’ll see what we find.
|Vintage Pulp||Dec 14 2014|
We’re sharing this hyperviolent true crime magazine front because the art resembles that from yesterday’s post of Tom Palmer covers for The Crime Machine. Crime Does Not Pay has no art credits, so we can’t be sure who painted the covers, but we doubt it’s Tom Palmer because, while similar in mood, Crime Does Not Pay is more cartoonish. Artists' styles evolve, of course, and a couple of years separate the two magazines, but we still doubt it's the same guy. We checked every site online that deals in these sorts of publications and none of them had a name. We also have two full issues of Crime Does Not Pay and there are definitely no art credits anywhere inside, and the pieces are unsigned to boot, so we don’t even have a pair of initials or some illegible scrawl to work from. So the above cover art—brilliant and ingenious—remains uncredited. See the other three examples of Crime Does Not Pay here, here, and here.
|The Naked City||Dec 12 2014|
We would love if this issue of Uncensored Detective published this month in 1946 had a story relating to the desperate clown on the cover, but no such luck. You can read the text of the issue at this link, but we’ll summarize for those short of time—you learn about cheating spouses, a killer cop, and a millionaire con artist, but no clowns. The stories are all interesting (as are the photos and photo-illustrations posed by models that probably barely earned meal money for the week), but the tale of double homicide on Lowry Air Force Base in Denver is the one that caught our interest. The details of the murders are not in any way fantastic, but because the parties of interest are all Chinese cadets Uncensored Detective gets to drop lines like this one: The workings of the Oriental mind are strange indeed. And this one: What secret mechanism in the Oriental mind caused a normal Chinese student to go berserk and commit murders for pride? Oh, those inscrutable Chinese. The story is a classic case of framing the banal as somehow alien when it involves other ethnic groups, and it’s a lazy, vicious form of journalism you see often in both old magazines and modern cable news. The mechanism of murder in the Denver crime was indeed pride, and that’s not so secret or strange. The other murders in the magazine were committed for jealousy, money, and lust, and there’s nothing secret or strange about those either. What would be strange is clowns. But there isn’t a single damned one in the magazine.
|The Naked City||Nov 25 2014|
Front Page Detective shows on this November 1971 cover how to attract eyeballs with lurid art and titillating text. Eisenhower’s social secretary murdered? That sounds intriguingly political, but it turns out Eisenhower’s only connection is that his White House had more than a decade earlier employed the murder victim in a secretarial position. Though no political angle exists, the crime itself is still very interesting. Laura Carpi, scion of a prominent Philadelphia family, disappeared in February 1971. In June the decomposed body of a woman was found in New York City’s East River, labeled an accidental drowning victim, and twenty days later interred on Hart Island as a Jane Doe in the potter’s field there. After the body was identified as Carpi’s, the New York Times published a sensational story claiming that her head had been removed before burial for study by junior pathologists, or, according to some sources in the pathologist’s office, simply to be used as a desk ornament. The Times claimed that a technician had been cleaning out whatever grisly remnants of flesh were still attached to the skull and happened to find a bullet lodged in its neck tissue. Dealing now with a suspected homicide, police focused on missing persons, and eventually summoned Carpi’s dentist. Recognizing his own work, he made the positive identification.
The ME’s office became the center of a storm, with Chief Medical Examiner Milton Helpern blasting the Times story for insinuating that “the doctors in this office are cutting off people’s heads to make ashtrays.” He pronounced the entire article “grossly distorted.” Perhaps it was, but uncovering a murder by chance never looks good, and he didn’t help his cause when he responded to a question about why his staff had failed to discover the bullet by saying that he ran a mortuary, not a graveyard, and was extremely busy. Though his answer was callous, it was also correct. His office had a contant flow of bodies coming through—that year more than 1,800 alone that had been victims of murder—and his staff was overworked. Add to this the facts that Laura Carpi had thick hair that concealed the small caliber entry wound at the base of her skull, the slug had left no exit wound, and the head had been four months in the water, and it’s possible to see how mistakes could be made. As to why the head was kept, the unconvincing official reason was that it was because the dentalwork would allow for possible future identification—which only made sense if all the Jane and John Does on Hart Island were also headless.
In any case, the finger of suspicion for the murder immediately pointed toward Carpi’s estranged husband Colin, at right, who was battling for custody of their four children. Not only would the loss of this battle and subsequent divorce settlement wipe him out financially, but he was also well aware that his wife had been seeing another man. For various reasons—jurisdictional issues and general reluctance to pursue the crime—Colin Carpi didn’t go to trial for two more years. A mountain of circumstantial evidence pointed at him, but his acquittal was deemed by most legal experts to be the right decision. The prosecution simply bungled its presentation to the jury, and even if the courtroom aspect had been perfect, much of Colin Carpi’s suspicious behavior could be chalked up to the circumstances around the custody battle and his wife’s affair. Perhaps a not-guilty verdict was an anti-climax after the high drama associated with the identification of Laura Carpi’s body, but not finding the perp is the way it often goes in true crime, and real life.
|The Naked City||Oct 1 2014|
These two issues of Crime Detective, which appeared today in 1962 and 1964 respectively, both feature the same cover photo—each a reverse of the other—of Jean DiFede and Armando Cossentino. DiFede and Cossentino, who were thirty-six and nineteen, were May-December lovers convicted of murdering DiFede’s husband Dr. Joseph DiFede in order to collect a $72.000 life insurance policy (about $560,000 in today’s money). Dr. DiFede was attacked in his bedroom with a hammer and carving knife, and the disarray of the scene showed that he had battled fiercely for his life before succumbing to multiple blows and seven stab wounds. A third person on the scene later turned eyewitness against the lovers, claiming Dr. DiFede gasped to his wife with his last words, “I forgive you everything… Don’t kill me.” Meanwhile Cossentino stood over him and shouted, “Die! Die! Die!”
The eyewitness account (he said the extent of his participation had been helping to clean the crime scene because he feared for his life) was damning enough on its own. Police also discovered that Jean DiFede had bought Cossentino a new convertible, rented an apartment for him, and went on public dates with him. And just for good measure the all-male jury was repeatedly reminded that Cossentino was only two years older than Jean DiFede’s oldest son, who had been instructed to refer to her by her name rather than “mom.” When the guilty verdicts came down, Cossentino was sentenced to die in the electric chair and DiFede got twenty years. Upon hearing her sentence she screamed, “If I have to spend twenty years in jail I’d rather be dead!” As it turned out, neither of them died in prison. Cossentino’s sentence was commuted to life, and both eventually earned parole.
|The Naked City||Sep 1 2014|
This cover of Front Page Detective from today in 1968 features suspected murderer Alice Crimmins, and it caught our eye not only because of its bold graphic style, but because it’s a prime example of what is today called “slut-shaming.” It’s a term we don’t like, but we didn’t make it up. Basically, it’s the process of assassinating the character of women who dare to have multiple sexual partners, or perhaps who have few partners, or even one, but seem to enjoy sex a little too much. Generally it doesn’t matter if she’s married or single—it’s a special trap designed just for women.
In the end Crimmins was convicted of manslaughter, the verdict was overturned, and she was tried again. The second trial took place in 1971 and featured less overt slut-shaming than the first, but Crimmins was notorious by that point and her reputation once again may have contributed to her conviction, this time for both manslaughter and murder. These verdicts were struck down in 1973, the manslaughter conviction was quickly re-instated, and Crimmins served another four years before being paroled in 1977, after which she went on to live in quiet obscurity. See more of Front Page Detective’s lurid cover style here.
|The Naked City | Vintage Pulp||Jul 29 2014|
Above is a very nice True Detective from July 1959 with a Brendan Lynch cover depicting a woman startled by the arrival of a criminal. It’s actually a perfect cover, because inside the issue you get an interesting story related by Elma Baldwin, who was kidnapped by a paroled convict named Richard Arlen Payne. Payne snatched Baldwin and three her kids at gunpoint as part of an ill-conceived plan to trade them for the release of his former cellmate Burton Junior Post, aka Junior Starcher, who was serving time at West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville. Payne didn’t want Starcher out because they were buddies. Quite the opposite—he had vowed to kill the man, and threatened to torture and murder the Baldwins if his demands weren’t met. He wrote in a note to Governor Cecil Underwood, “My purpose is to kill and take the head of my worst enemy, who is now out of reach. I must kill him or go mad.”
You’re probably asking why Payne never did anything to Starcher while they were cellmates. Payne’s answer was simple: “I could have killed him at any time, and I thought about it very seriously. At times I had a blade to his throat. But he was as good as done for anyway, because I knew once I got in the free world there were ways that I could get at him.”
Well, maybe not so much. In any case, the kidnapping was big news in 1959, probably owing to its sheer incomprehensibility. Today it’s mostly forgotten but remains a good case study of the benefits of being able to let go one’s anger. The entire event lasted only twenty hours, ending with a brief shootout in which nobody was injured, followed by Payne’s admittance to a mental asylum. Asked if Starcher had done anything specific during their time at Moundsville to engender such hatred, Payne said, “Well, nothing I can put my finger on. It was just a sort of natural hatred.”