Monday, September 19, 2016

Mob Boss Anthony Carfano was Murdered (September 25, 1959)

This week (September 19-25) in crime history – The Washington Post published the Unabomber’s manifesto (September 19, 1995); President James Garfield died from gunshot wound (September 19, 1881); Benedict Arnold committed treason (September 21, 1780); The Midtown slasher claimed his first victim (September 22, 1980); Billy the Kid was arrested for the first time (September 24, 1875); The Chicago Seven went on trial (September 24, 1969); Mob boss Anthony Carfano was murdered (September 25, 1959)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On September 25, 1959, mob boss Anthony Carfano, known as Little Augie Pisano was shot to death in New York City on Meyer Lansky’s orders. Lansky, one of the few organized crime figures who managed to survive at the top for several decades. The son of Russian immigrants, Lansky had an eighth-grade education, which put him far ahead of many other criminals. According to legend, Lansky was a straight arrow until one day in October 1918, when he joined a fight between teenagers Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano over a prostitute. After the three were charged with disorderly conduct, Lansky and Siegel became friends and began running a high-stakes craps game.

The two later expanded into bootlegging, car theft, and extortion, and helped form the New York “syndicate.” Lansky, a ruthless leader who would not tolerate disloyalty, ordered the murder of a thief who failed to provide an adequate kickback. Although he was shot several times, the thief survived to name Lansky as one of the assailants. Lansky then poisoned his hospital food, and though he survived a second time, the threat was enough to change his attitude toward testifying. Later, he even rejoined Lansky’s gang.

In June 1947, Lansky ordered the death of his old friend Bugsy Siegel in Beverly Hills, California. Siegel, who had been sent to the West Coast in order to establish a new mob presence, came up with the idea of building The Flamingo, Las Vegas’ first major casino. The casino had been built with mob money, and Lansky was angry over the pace of Siegel’s loan payments.

When Lansky ordered the murder of Anthony Carfano twelve years later, Carfano had been intruding on Lansky’s gambling interests in Florida and Cuba. His death eliminated all competition and opened up emerging markets for Lansky in South America. During the 1960s and 1970s, Lansky made a special effort to stay out of the public eye and was fairly successful. He died of lung cancer in 1983.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review of "Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?"

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on September 12, 2016

Who murdered the women known as the Jeff Davis 8? Is an unapprehended serial killer stalking the wetlands and byways of rural southern Louisiana? These are intriguing questions that have dogged law enforcement officials for nearly a decade. Located primarily in the southern reaches of Louisiana, the bayou is a defining feature of this unique region of the American South, and unlike the rest of the state, has its own pace, culture, and rules. The swamps and alligators might not be for everyone, but the Cajun people of the bayou feel right at home. Shadowy and often misunderstood, this region is often shrouded in mystery.

In 2014, HBO’s wildly successful and critically acclaimed television series True Detective debuted starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. This series was instrumental in bringing renewed interest to this secretive section of the country. The show focused on a mismatched pair of Louisiana state police investigators hot on the trail of a serial killer who is preying on young women deep in the heart of Cajun country. Although this quirky series is a work of fiction, it is alleged to have been inspired by a series of real life unsolved murders that have occurred in and around Jefferson Davis Parish. These murders are collectively and nationally known as the Jeff Davis 8.

Between 2005 and 2009, the bodies of eight female prostitutes were discovered in and around the outskirts of Jennings, a small town and seat of Jefferson Davis Parish. The bodies of these young women were dumped along highways, dirt roads, swamps, and canals throughout the area. Ethan Brown, an investigative journalist, private investigator, and author examines this riveting and spellbinding case in his new book Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?

“The many threads that linked the Jeff Davis women in life (sex work) and in death (elevated levels of cocaine and anti-depressants, possible death by asphyxia) led local law enforcement to investigate the Jeff Davis 8 as a serial killer case.” But Brown’s multi-\year investigation has raised serious doubts about such an idea. He provocatively speculates that the Jeff Davis 8 were murdered for “knowing too much,” and that these homicides were the direct result of Jennings' brutal criminal underworld. Although Jennings resembles a sleepy, out of the way place, looks can be deceiving. For many decades the area has been the epicenter of violent criminal activity centered on the Interstate 10 corridor that connects the Texas border to Lafayette.

“To most Jennings residents, the Boudreaux Inn was simply a dingy motel off the interstate. But to workers at the motel and players in the South Jennings underworld, the rundown inn had an outsized reputation. Powerful people, it was whispered, patronized the motel. Those who ran the business were well connected in Louisiana politics.” Brown goes even further, disturbingly suggesting that there is a connection between local law enforcement and other powerful players to keep the case unsolved due to involvement in the profitable drug trafficking and sex trade.

“In life and in death, the Jeff Davis 8 were cast as outsiders by the ruling elite. Sheriff Ricky Edwards infuriated friends and family of the victims by publicly proclaiming that the Jeff Davis 8 all shared a high-risk lifestyle. Most interpreted this to mean that they were unworthy of sympathy or significant law enforcement resources.” Brown goes on to write, “It’s a staggering body count for a town of approximately ten thousand residents. . . . Complex murder cases such as the Jeff Davis 8 can remain open for years, sometimes even decades. But it should have been obvious all along that the Jeff Davis 8 killings were not the handiwork of a serial killer.”

The narrative of Murder in the Bayou is well researched and easy to read. The author uses thousands of pages of public documents and records as well as hours of interviews to doggedly investigate and arrive at his titillating assumptions on how and why each of these women were murdered. This book is thought provoking and explosive. Its mesmerizing allegations and scandalous conclusions revolving around the realities of modern day class division and brutalities of the rural South will captivate true crime enthusiasts as well as anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery with political intrigue.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Review of "Existentialism and Exess" by Gary Cox

Review first appeared at on September 7, 2016

“Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: With great power comes great responsibility. This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I'm Spiderman.” Actor Tobey Maguire spoke these words in the final scene of Columbia Pictures 2002 movie blockbuster Spiderman.

The character must have been reading a lot of stuff by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre when he imparted that little nugget of wisdom. Nearly 40 years since his death, Sartre’s philosophical ideas still resonate within modern society and pop culture. He was one of the greatest philosophical thinkers and most versatile writers of his time and alongside his longtime companion Simone de Beauvoir was one of the leading figures in the French intellectual community of the 20th century.

Sartre was a principal proponent of Existentialism, a philosophical theory that stresses the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices. Expanding on the 19th century writings of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Sartre determined that if man is the maker of his own morality, then his greatest power is the freedom of choice. In the 1940s and 1950s, Sartre through scholarly and fictional works promoted and brought to the mainstream public these existential themes. A complex and captivating figure, Sartre intricately binds together his life, writings, and revolutionary thoughts.

Gary Cox, a Sartre specialist and author of Deep Thought, How to Be an Existentialist, The Sartre Dictionary, and Sartre: A Guide for the Perplexed once again tackles Sartre in Existentialism and Excess: The Life and Times of Jean-Paul Sartre. This easy to read and thought provoking biography explores all of the key events of the legendary philosopher’s life and skillfully examines the close connections between his radical thoughts and philosophical works. The author reconstructs the existentialist crises that helped shape Sartre’s life and concisely capsulizes his complex philosophical concepts so that they are easy to read and understand.

“Humankind . . . is a futurizing intention. The destiny of each of us is in our own hands. We make ourselves through our choices. We are even free to choose what is happening to us, to take it on board rather than bemoan it, to realize to the full our being-in-situation.”

Throughout Existentialism and Excess, Cox perceptively identifies the major entanglements, love triangles, friendships, and affairs that engulfed Sartre over his lifetime. In an engaging and accessible manner, the author is able to convey these fascinating interactions into simple literary and biographical context.

He draws from a vast array of published writings and other sources to support research that reveals titillating insights into Sartre’s complex persona including the extent to which he juggled, depended upon, and supported his many mistresses and the compulsive need he had to seduce women far more beautiful than he, despite his tepid sensuality. Cox writes, “His sense that he was physically ugly . . . led him to feel that a woman could not really enjoy his body. His successes with various woman gave him new found confidence . . .”

The author also candidly scrutinizes Sartre’s complicated and avant-garde relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. She was the cornerstone of his social circle, an intellectual equal, life-long companion, and philosophical sparring partner. Cox writes, “What is undoubtedly true is that without her [de Beauvoir’s] influence, Sartre’s philosophical contribution would have been different and less impressive.”

This book also studies Sartre’s many political flip-flops, seduction and conversion to Communist ideology, and steady health decline and eventual isolation in the 1960s and 1970s. All intrigues aside, however, Cox concludes, “Despite his (Sartre’s) neurotic desire to become one of the gods and immortals of philosophy and literature . . . his desire to become a name to conjure with the like of Plato, Descartes, Nietzsche, Proust, Flaubert or Dickens . . . Sartre was wise and realistic enough to comprehend that there is no such thing as true immorality.”

But Jean-Paul Sartre did create a legacy that is memorable and does not matter simply because he was a great writer, although his exceptional command of styles and genres expertly complemented his purpose. Sartre matters because so many fundamental points of his analysis of the human reality are right and true, and because their accuracy and veracity entail real consequences for our lives as individuals and in social groups.

Gary Cox’s Existentialism and Excess is a remarkably vivid and intimate biography that shows the existentialist legend had feet of clay, without in any way diminishing his contributions and greatness. If you are a fan of Jean-Paul Sartre, French intellectual life, philosophy, or biography, in particular, this first-rate account is highly recommended as a starting point for any study of this great man.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sacco & Vanzetti were Executed (August 23, 1927)

This week (August 22-28) in crime history – Irish revolutionary Michael Collins was assassinated (August 22, 1922); The Barker gang killed a Federal Reserve officer in Chicago (August 22, 1933); Sacco and Vanzetti were executed (August 23, 1927); Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced (August 24, 2012); Old west outlaw Bill Doolin was killed (August 25, 1896); Preppy murderer Robert Chambers killed Jennifer Levin in Central Park (August 26, 1986); NFL star Michael Vick pleaded guilty to dog fighting (August 27, 2007); Lord Mountbatten was assassinated (August 27, 1979); Danny Rolling murdered two coeds at the University of Florida (August 28, 1990)

Highlighted crime story of the week -

On August 23, 1927, despite worldwide demonstrations in support of their innocence, Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed for murder. On April 15, 1920, a paymaster for a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts, was shot and killed along with his guard. The murderers, who were described as two Italian men, escaped with more than $15,000. After going to a garage to claim a car that police said was connected with the crime, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and charged with the crime. Although both men carried guns and made false statements upon their arrest, neither had a previous criminal record. On July 14, 1921, they were convicted and sentenced to die.

Anti-radical sentiment was running high in America at the time, and the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti was regarded by many as unlawfully sensational. Authorities had failed to come up with any evidence of the stolen money, and much of the other evidence against them was later discredited. During the next few years, sporadic protests were held in Massachusetts and around the world calling for their release, especially after Celestino Madeiros, then under a sentence for murder, confessed in 1925 that he had participated in the crime with the Joe Morelli gang. The state Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict, and Massachusetts Governor Alvan T. Fuller denied the men clemency. In the days leading up to the execution, protests were held in cities around the world, and bombs were set off in New York City and Philadelphia.

In 1961, a test of Sacco’s gun using modern forensic techniques apparently proved it was his gun that killed the guard, though little evidence has been found to substantiate Vanzetti’s guilt. In 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation vindicating Sacco and Vanzetti, stating that they had been treated unjustly and that no stigma should be associated with their names.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Carol Bundy Confessed Role in the Sunset Slayer Murders (August 11, 1980)

This week (August 8-14) in crime history – Six German saboteurs were executed in Washington (August 8, 1942); Sharon Tate and four others were murdered by Charles Manson’s followers (August 9, 1969); The severed head of Adam Walsh was found in Florida (August 10, 1981); Son of Sam was arrested (August 10, 1977); Carol Bundy confessed role in Sunset Slayer murders (August 11, 1980); Jonesboro school shooters pleaded guilty (August 11, 1998); Yosemite Slayer, Cary Stayner was born (August 13, 1961); Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal was captured (August 14, 1994)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On August 11, 1980, Carol Bundy, a nurse, confessed to co-workers her connection to the “Sunset Slayer,” the killer who had been murdering and mutilating young women in Hollywood, California, all summer. “I can’t take it anymore. I’m supposed to save lives, not take them,” she reportedly said. Her confession was relayed to police, who immediately arrested Douglas Clark, Bundy’s accomplice and boyfriend.

Bundy and Clark met in a North Hollywood bar in January. Clark was a self-described “king of the one-night stands.” But when he met Bundy, he soon discovered that she was willing to assist and indulge in his sick fantasies.

In June, Clark abducted two teenagers, sexually assaulted them, and then shot them in the head. He dumped their bodies off the freeway and then went home to brag about it to Bundy. Two weeks later, Clark struck again, killing two young women in separate incidents. In the second attack, Clark cut the head off the woman and took it home, insisting that Bundy apply cosmetics to it. Because most of his victims had been abducted from the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the press had taken to calling the serial killer the “Sunset Slayer.”

Clark proved to be more of an influence than Bundy expected. When she blabbed about Clark’s activities to a former boyfriend, she felt compelled to kill the man to make sure that she wasn’t implicated. On August 5, Bundy stabbed John Murray to death and then cut off his head. Within a week, she was tearfully confessing to her fellow nurses. During his trial in 1981, Clark tried to pin all of the murders on Bundy, but the jurors found his story hard to believe and sentenced him to death. Bundy attempted an insanity defense, but she eventually pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 52 years-to-life.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of seven books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchase from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, July 25, 2016

Centennial Olympic Park Bombing (July 27, 1996)

This week (July 25-31) in crime history – Notorious California bandit Joaquin Murrieta was killed (July 25, 1853); Serial killer Ed Gein died (July 26, 1984); Adam Walsh was abducted (July 27, 1981); Centennial Olympic Park bombing (July 27, 1996); Son of Sam serial killer claimed first victims (July 29, 1976); Megan Kanka’s killer was charged with murder (July 30, 1994); Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared (July 31, 1975)

Highlighted crime story of the week -

On July 27, 1996, the XXVI Summer Olympics in Atlanta were disrupted by the explosion of a nail-laden pipe bomb in Centennial Olympic Park. The bombing, which occurred during a free concert, killed a mother who had brought her daughter to hear the rock music and injured more than 100 others, including a Turkish cameraman who suffered a fatal heart attack after the blast. Police were warned of the bombing in advance, but the bomb exploded before the anonymous caller said it would, leading authorities to suspect that the law enforcement officers who descended on the park were indirectly targeted. Within a few days, Richard Jewell, a security guard at the concert, was charged with the crime, but in October he was fully cleared of all responsibility in the bombing.

On January 16, 1997, another bomb exploded outside an abortion clinic in suburban Atlanta, blowing a hole in the building’s wall. An hour later, while police and ambulance workers were still at the scene, a second blast went off near a large trash bin, injuring seven people. As at Centennial Park, a nail-laden bomb was used and authorities were targeted. Then, only five days later, also in Atlanta, a nail-laden bomb exploded near the patio area of a crowded gay and lesbian nightclub, injuring five people. A second bomb in a backpack was found outside after the first explosion, but police safely detonated it. Federal investigators linked the bombings, but no suspect was arrested.

On January 29, 1998, an abortion clinic was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama, killing an off-duty police officer and critically wounding a nurse. An automobile reported at the crime scene was later found abandoned near the Georgia state line, and investigators traced it to Eric Robert Rudolph, a 31-year-old carpenter. Although Rudolph was not immediately found, authorities positively identified him as the culprit in the Birmingham and Atlanta bombings, and an extensive manhunt began.

Despite being one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, Rudolph eluded the authorities for five years by hiding in the mountains in western North Carolina before finally being captured on May 31, 2003. As part of a plea agreement that helped him avoid a death sentence, Rudolph plead guilty to all three bombings, as well as the 1998 murder of a police officer, and was sentenced on July 18, 2005 to four consecutive life terms.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website at for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review of The Hemingway Thief by Shaun Harris

In early December 1922, Ernest Hemingway was in Switzerland on assignment as a correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star, covering the Lausanne Peace Conference. The journalist and editor Lincoln Steffens was also there. Apparently, Steffens was impressed with Hemingway’s writing and asked to see more.

Hemingway cabled his wife, Hadley in Paris and asked her to bring all of his writings to Switzerland. She quickly packed all of his fiction and poetry, including carbon copies that she could find and hurried off to Gare de Lyon train station. At the station, she got a porter to carry her luggage to the train compartment. During the very brief period when the bags were out of sight, the valise with the manuscripts was stolen. 

So what did the thief do with the valise once he realized it only contained the scribblings of an unknown writer? Did he throw it into the Seine? Burn them? Hide them away in an attic? Or is there a more provocative and unforeseen twist? Of course, this is one of literatures great mysteries, these lost manuscripts of one of America’s greatest authors that today would be worth more than their weight in gold.

But what if they did survive? Shaun Harris tackles this literary “what if” in his debut novel The Hemingway Thief.

Henry “Coop” Cooper is a successful but discontented romance novelist who is questioning the trajectory of his career. He yearns to become a serious writer and is in need of a jumpstart that will propel his literary credibility.

To clear his mind he’s taken refuge at a low budget beach resort in Baja, Mexico, where he befriends the motel’s eccentric owner, Grady Doyle. The duo soon become entangled in a deadly escapade involving the theft of Ernest Hemingway’s original manuscript to A Moveable Feast, a rare piece of literary history that reveals provocative and unpublished clues to the possible location of a suitcase which contains a treasure trove of the author’s early unpublished works that were stolen in 1922.

In this suspense filled and surprisingly humorous novel of cat and mouse, Coop and company trek across the cartel-laden Sierra Madre in a ramshackle RV in search of Hemingway’s fabled suitcase, finding themselves out of their element at every turn. For Coop this experience could become the storyline of a book of a lifetime . . . that is if he can live long enough to write it. 

On a whole the plot construction of this south-of-the-border historical themed thriller was a little silly and occasionally confusing, although it most certainly was not predictable, which is always a pleasant surprise with a debut novel.

The story is filled with stereotypical crime thriller type characters, which is not a bad thing. The overall tone of sarcasm of the good guy protagonists Coop, Grady, and their cohorts (who are always ready with a witty wisecrack), reveal them to be more smart alecky than tough guys was a little bit over the top. Many readers will find the bloodthirstiness of antagonist, Newton Thandy, a conman, gunrunner, and rare book collector to be particularly unique and entertaining given that these “vocations” normally don’t coexist. 

On a whole the narrative moves swiftly along and is filled with numerous comical and poignant pop culture references. The premise of the book is quite exceptional, a blend of literary history and suspense, mixed with a pinch of comedy, buddy adventure, and crime thriller. Overall, The Hemingway Thief is a quick and worthwhile read for anyone interested in an amusing crime thriller or anything relating to Ernest Hemingway. 

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Seventh Street Books (July 19, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 163388175X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1633881754

  • Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for

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    New York Journal of Books website and full review - click the link: