|Jul 11 2023
A few years ago we read a thriller by Ben Benson titled The Venus Death, the first of a series featuring his franchise character Massachusetts state trooper Ralph Lindsay. It was good enough that we wanted to return to Benson, so here we are with his second Lindsay novel, 1954's The Girl in a Cage. Benson writes in a style more akin to novels from the mid-sixties and beyond, which is to say things happen in his books. There's excellent pacing. The stories aren't built solely around dialogue. By a quarter of the way through this one there's a fistfight, a second fistfight/brawl, and a few other attention getting moments. Amidst all this trooper Lindsay is working undercover to bust a car theft ring, but finds himself dealing with an unusual brand of sociopathic kingpin. The caged girl of the title is Leta Nofke, who the villain considers his personal property, so much so that he's branded her. Lindsay thinks he can help her, but only if she wants to be helped. And there's the rub. Another nice effort from Benson, who we'll read again.
|Apr 9 2023
A few days ago we shared a book cover inspired by a 1948 Life magazine photo. We wanted to show you a more direct inspiration from that shot. Here you see Tony Calvano's The Hellions, from 1965 for Greenleaf Classics, published by its sub-imprint Leisure Books. Calvano was in actuality Thomas P. Ramirez.
The art on this is by Robert Bonfils, and he basically copied the dynamic figure in the Life photo, and did so brilliantly, making changes to her hair (more and wilder) and bikini (smaller and flimsier). The result is an illustration that's a real eye-catcher. You can scroll down a few posts if you want to see the Life shot in a larger size. It was part of a photo essay on a performative youth movement called Activationism, centered in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
|Oct 29 2019
Monroe started her career as a girl-next-door type, but had become a star, gone platinum, and gotten her famed poodle hair-do by 1953. The two pin-up companies—assuming they were separate—both somehow had the identical negative from earlier in Monroe's career. One was content to print her as she was, but the folks in Boston decided on a platinum makeover. It was a canny move, except the re-do is different enough in an almost subliminal way to make her look like a psychopath who's smiling because she's about to devour a human kidney. Maybe not the best thing to have staring from your closet door after midnight. At least she's wearing blue. It's well known to be the sanest color.
|Jul 24 2017
We know you've probably been wondering how our old friend Caius Veiovis has been doing since landing in supermax for three 2011 murder-dismemberments. We finally have an update for you. His appeal for a new trial was denied last week by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. In seeking a do-over, Veiovis's lawyers claimed that the trial judge abused his discretion in admitting evidence and that this had the effect of prejudicing the jury. Which is interesting, because the jury probably assumed Veiovis vivisected nuns. When they learned he only cut a teenager's back open with a razor and kissed his girlfriend while licking the blood, it probably improved his standing in their eyes. The jury also learned that Veiovis possessed anatomical manuals detailing surgical and amputation procedures. In the end the appeals panel voted 3-2 against a new trial.
You're probably curious why the vote was so close. It's not because two of the panel were visited by an avatar of Satan who threatened an eternity of red hot branding irons in their eye sockets if they didn't vote for retrial, but because the case against Veiovis was circumstantial. There were no witnesses that testified to his involvement, no incriminating statements from Veiovis himself, and there was no forensic evidence linking him to the scenes. So unless Veiovis is simply so scary nobody will cross him (possible), and that same avatar of Satan windexed his DNA from the crime scenes (not likely), it indeed looks at least somewhat possible prejudice may have had a hand in his conviction. Which must have been a real shocker for him, because when he got those horns implanted and that 666 tattooed on his forehead he couldn't possibly have been expected to anticipate any negative effects. Back then, he probably thought it was a good look for Saturday nights at the goth club.
So Veiovis is back in supermax serving his full sentence of life, but with a narrow appeal decision the case could actually be taken up by the federal courts. Veoivis's lawyer believes the misconduct in the trial sets a precedent allowing anything creepy about a defendant to be admitted as evidence, even if it has nothing to do with the case. We'd argue that drinking blood from a sixteen-year-old's back lacerations and studying dismemberment are relevant to a murder-dismemberment case, but his lawyer does have a point. A guy like Veiovis is almost guaranteed to have incriminating items around his place. If it hadn't been medical books, it might have been a copy of American Psycho or a bunch of Electric Hellfire Club albums. A slippery slope indeed. Though Veiovis lost this round, at least he's learning not to make himself look worse than he already does. When he was convicted of the 2011 murders he screamed to the jury: “I'll see you all in hell! Remember that! Every fucking one of you! I'll see you all in hell!” This time he let the bailiffs lead him quietly away.
|Nov 13 2016
This beautiful Quarter Books edition of Harmon Bellamy's Frenchy was published in 1949 and was a re-issue of Bodies Are Different, from 1935. The story deals with two very different twin sisters in New York City and their various escapade with men. Bellamy, who also wrote such books as Flesh and Females and Leap Year Madness, was a pseudonym used by Herman Bloom, who wrote as sideline and as an actual job ran a camera shop with his brothers in Springfield, Massachusetts. The cool cover art is by Bill Wenzel, and you can more of his work here. Also, we're just joking about the French. The cliché is untrue. We've been treated quite well during our many trips to France, but it does help if you bother to memorize a dozen or so useful phrases. File it away.
|Sep 15 2011
Defense: “Ladies and gentlemen, my client’s adornments are no different than a hat and pair of sunglasses, accoutrements any of a thousand other men could easily wear, and probably do. In fact, I even have a couple of horns I wear sometimes. I got them when I passed the Bar Exam. Your Honor, move to dismiss.”
|Oct 13 2010
Midnight, like other tabloids, learned quite well that a Kennedy could move product. Thus their editors splashed a Kennedy, or Jackie Onassis, on the cover of their paper at pretty much every opportunity. On the above issue from today in 1969, editors tell us that Teddy Kennedy is at the end of his rope. Apparently, after enduring the assassination of two brothers, a plane accident in which he broke his back, his wife Joan’s miscarriage, and a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which he drove into a pond and his companion Mary Jo Kopechne drowned, Kennedy was not in a good frame of mind. Go and figure. Midnight claims to have gotten this statement out of him: “I see [Mary Jo Kopechne’s] face in my dreams and imagine her features contorted as she struggles to escape the car, death closing in on her.” And this: “I dream of Mary Jo every night and wake up in a cold sweat, scared and screaming.” Did Midnight really scoop every paper in the land and get these anguished quotes? Well, no—this is the same paper that wrote two weeks earlier that John Kennedy’s ghost was haunting Jackie Onassis. So we take their claims of unfettered access to the Kennedy clan with a grain of salt. However, we have three more issues of Midnight with Kennedy themes, so maybe they can still convince us. We’ll be sharing those issues down the line.
|The Naked City | Vintage Pulp
|Oct 7 2010
We double up on the murders today, thanks to the always informative true crime magazine Master Detective. This issue is from October 1954, with Barye Phillips cover art, and amongst the horrors revealed is one involving Massachusetts spouses Melvin and Lorraine Clark. The Clarks were heavy into key-swapping parties, at which opposite sexes blindly selected each other's keys from a bowl or sack to randomly determine who would be whose companion for the evening. If you’ve ever seen the Sigourney Weaver movie The Ice Storm, it was exactly like that—a few drinks, a few joints, and some freewheeling, no-strings-attached sex.
But when Melvin came home the night of April 10, 1954, and found Lorraine in bed with another man outside the context of a swapping party, an argument ensued that escalated to the point where Lorraine stabbed her husband with a knitting needle and shot him twice. She wrapped Melvin’s body in chicken wire, weighed him down with a cement block or two, and dumped him off Rocks Village Bridge into the Merrimack River, where the current was supposed to carry him out to sea.
Lorraine never expected to see her husband again we can be sure, and even filed for divorce as part of her cover story, claiming he had abandoned her after a bitter confrontation. But Melvin hadn’t abandoned her—in fact, he hadn’t gone far at all. A bird watcher found his mostly skeletonized body in a riverside marsh in early June.
Under police questioning Lorraine caved in pretty much immediately and, long story short, earned a life sentence in federal prison. She never named an accomplice, but no bodybuilder she, it seemed clear she could not have done the heavy lifting involved in the murder without a helping hand. Also, for someone who had little to no experience with firearms, she sure had good aim. Melvin had taken one in the forehead and one in the temple. But Mrs. Clark was not pressed to name a partner in crime, did her time in silence, and was eventually paroled. In retrospect, you wonder if local bigwigs wanted the case to go away. After all, you meet the most interesting people when you swap.
Master Detective treats us to a second fascinating story, this one on Italian fashion model Wilma Montesi, who in April 1953 was found dead on Plinius Beach near Ostia, Italy. Police declared her death a suicide oraccidental drowning—case closed. But the public had many questions. How had she drowned in just a few inches of water? If it was suicide, why had she shown no signs of depression? Why were her undergarments in disarray? The police weren’t keen to reopen the case, but agreed to an informal re-investigation. Weeks later they announced once more: suicide or accidental drowing. But the public suspected cops weren’t trying to reach any other conclusion.
When the editor of the neo-fascist paper Attualita charged in print seven months later that Wilma Montesi had not gone to Ostia the day of her death, but to a fancy hunting lodge in nearby Capocotto, the story was not just ignored—Italian authorities hauled the editor before a court and threatened him with charges for spreading false information. But his tale was backed up by a witness—Anna Maria Caglio, who had spent time at the lodge and dropped a bomb on Italian society when she said it was a front for drugs and sex parties—sort of like The Ice Storm again, but with much richer and more powerful people involved. By powerful, we're talking about judges, politicians, the Pope’s personal physician and other Vatican officials, and the well-connected Foreign Minister’s son Piero Piccioni, who you see pictured just above.
When the national Communist party began making waves, the carabinièri—Italy’s military police—stepped in. Like the local cops, they weren’t keen to pursue the case, but they weren’t about to let the Communists break it open and potentially expose the corruption of the entire political establishment. The carabinièri’s involvement angered many upper crust Italians, but when their officers walked the streets during those months the general public literally applauded them for daring to tread where the police had not.
Their investigation soon focused on Piccioni, who besides being the scion of a political family was a famous jazz composer. But Piccioni had an alibi—at the time of the murder he was in the house of actress Alida Valli in Amalfi, where he claimed to be sick in bed. Rumors sprang up that he was Valli’s lover. Why did anyone care? Because Valli, a big star at the time who had appeared in Orson Welles’ The Third Man, was married to another famous musician, Oscar de Mejo. The case was now a full-blown media circus.
This is the way it may have gone: every direction the carabinièri turned, politically connected Italians threw up walls in their path. Alternatively, it may have gone like this: the carabinièri made a noisy show of annoying a few heavy hitters, but were only performing for a suspicious and cynical public. What was clear was very powerful people wanted the orgiastic activities in Capacotto forgotten.
Behind the scenes manuvering was rife. Anna Maria Caglio even wrote a letter to the Pope warning him that there were people around him who meant him harm, presumably because they wanted to expose the involvement of Vatican officials in the late night shenanigans at the lodge. Pressure came down from the highest levels of the Italian establishment to put the case to bed quickly. It wasn’t quick.
But neither was it necessarily thorough. Eventually four people were brought to trial, including Piero Piccioni. All were acquitted. Perhaps the only consequence of the investigation is that it became one of the most celebrated mysteries of all time, inspiring many books, and even a symbolic reference in the incomparable Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita. But what really happened to Wilma Montesi? Nobody knows. Today the case is still unsolved.