Larger-Than-Life Crime

May 20th, 2013


I recently heard a news story so bizarre I could hardly believe it was true.  A series of crimes in France was linked to a suspect, but then the case took a very odd turn. Police discovered the man was living with his identical twin and because twin DNA is virtually identical, they were at a loss to figure out whodunit. Did one or both twins commit the crimes? If only one twin was the assaulter, did the other twin know?  Would scientists be able to find case-breaking minute differences in their DNA?  The story seemed more like a best-selling thriller than real life, adding to that well-known adage that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Add to this mix the odd case of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympic athlete who shot and killed his supermodel girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.  At the same time, Pistorius’s brother Carl also was on trial for murder, this time in the form of vehicular homicide.  To top it all off, the lead investigator in Oscar’s case had to resign because he too was accused of attempted murder after firing into a taxi full of innocent passengers.  Like a well-written suspense with many twists and turns, I can hardly keep all these crimes straight.

Give it a few years, and I predict we’ll see a rash of books, movies and maybe even a few cheesy made-for-tv-movies about these cases.  But in the meantime, these larger-than-life crimes inspired me to wander the stacks in search of real life cases that could touch this level of outlandishness.  Turns out, there are many true accounts of cases so bizarre, you can hardly believe they are real:

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – The riveting history of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, who took advantage of the 1893 Chicago World Fair to cover up his crimes.

Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich A charming and brilliant young scientist pulls off the audacious theft of a 600-pound safe of moon rocks from a high-tech government facility, all to impress his girlfriend.

The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perryman  – The true tale of scandal and sex-filled murder cases involving beautiful Jazz Age women. This story inspired the musical “Chicago.”

Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal – Hard-to-believe but real account of a master identify thief who posed as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family for over a decade, married a wealthy woman, and then kidnapped and disappeared with his own daughter.

Midnight in Peking by Paul French – In 1937, a British schoolgirl’s dissected body is found propped against an old building in Beijing. The building is notorious for being haunted and though the murder becomes a media sensation, the crime is never solved and the public’s attention is quickly drawn away by invasion of Japanese forces.

Anyone You Want Me to Be: A True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet by John Douglas – Shocking account of a seemingly harmless family man who used the anonymity of the Internet to seduce and murder vulnerable women.

Provenance by Laney Salisbury – Fast-paced thriller of an elaborate, international con in which villains exploited high-profile art institutions into legitimizing hundreds of forged artworks, many of which still hang in museums today.

The Bobbed Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York by Stephen Duncombe – With her modern haircut and fashionable wardrobe, Ceila Cooney seemed anything but a criminal mastermind. Nevertheless, she engineered a thrilling series of thefts, taunted police, and escaped the largest manhunt in New York City history, becoming a celebrity and icon of the rebellious Jazz Age spirit.

What are your favorite shows, books and movies about crime?

Photo credit: “Crime Scene Do Not Cross” by Curtis Gregory Perry

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Transporting the Library in My Carry-On

May 14th, 2013


I’m not trying to rub it in or anything, but I just returned from a faah-bulous Hawaiian vacation. And while I fantasized about being technology-free while there, I realized that my tablet would sure come in handy for entertainment during my 12-hour (translation: forever) flight.

And handy it was. Surprisingly, my complimentary 8 peanut halves didn’t hold my attention longer than the 2.4 seconds it took to consume them, and the in-flight movie came at a rather steep price that I refused on principle. Stubborn, I know. But I learned quickly that you can take the girl out of the library, but you can’t take the library out of the girl, and my tablet connected me to everything I needed to have a pleasant travel experience. Books! Free books! At my beck and call! This concept is almost as mind-blowing as flying over an ocean whilst reading said books.

Thanks to my beloved CCPL, I had access to a great collection of digital ebooks provided by OverDrive. Browsing was a breeze. I love learning new things, so I chose to view all nonfiction titles, refining my results by availability, subject (history), and device compatibility. I “discovered” two promising titles: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander. I decided that they were perfect for me – just not on my vacation. So I made use of the convenient “Wish List” feature by clicking on the little ribbon that sticks out of the book cover image.

Then I found “the one,” a book that blends cheeky humor, personal experience, and well-researched history: The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell. She makes seemingly dull history – in this case, the Puritans of New England in the 1600s – very lively. A great vacation pick.

No beach vacation is complete without a beach read, of course, so I did a search for the first Sookie Stackhouse mystery by Charlaine Harris, Dead Until Dark. It was checked out, but CCPL often purchases extra copies of popular titles for only Cecil County folks, so after placing a hold, I received it in only a day or two. Talk about great timing!

I completed my mobile library experience with a search for travel and digital photography books. Much to my delight, OverDrive has both Fodor’s and Frommer’s travel guides to Hawaii and several books on photography, including the popular “Dummies” series.  What better way to spend a flight than coming up with fun things to do, see, and photograph when you land?

The library delivered knowledge, entertainment, and instruction, all from the discomfort of my pitifully “reclined” plane seat – for free!

Have a Kindle, iPad, Nook, or other device? Want help using OverDrive, our digital eLibrary? Visit or call your local branch for friendly, helpful instruction.

And tell us, how do you take your favorite reads on vacation?

Photo credit: “Hawaii” by Ricymar Photography

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