Monday, January 23, 2017

Brenda Spencer - "I Don't Like Mondays" (January 29, 1979)

This week (January 23-29) in crime history – Emmett Till’s murderers publish confessions on Look magazine (January 24, 1956); BTK Killer sends message to Wichita television station (January 25, 2005); Charles Manson and three of his followers were convicted of multiple murders (January 25, 1971); The Mad Butcher of Cleveland claimed third victim (January 26, 1936); The Vampire of Sacramento murdered three victims (January 27, 1978); Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate began their murderous crime spree (January 28, 1958); Brenda Spencer shot and killed two and wounded eight children at a San Diego area school (January 29, 1979)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On January 29, 1979, teenager Brenda Spencer shot and killed two school employees as they enter the Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. Eight children and a police officer were wounded in the attack. Spencer blazed away with rifle shots from her home directly across the street from the school. After twenty minutes of shooting, police surrounded Spencer’s home for six hours before she surrendered. Asked for some explanation for the attack, Spencer allegedly said, “I just don’t like Mondays. I did this because it’s a way to cheer up the day. Nobody likes Mondays.”
Spencer was only sixteen-years-old at the time of her murderous attack and suffered with anger issues. In the weeks leading up to the mass shooting, Spencer had repeatedly shot out windows at the Cleveland school with a BB gun. Still, her father gave her a .22 semi-automatic rifle and ammunition as a Christmas gift at the end of 1978.
This seemed to inspire the young girl into more grandiose plans, and she started telling her classmates that she was going to do something big to get on television. When Monday morning rolled around, Burton Wragg, the principal of Cleveland Elementary, was opening the gates of the school when Spencer began firing her rifle from across the street. Wragg and custodian Michael Suchar were killed. When asked why she had committed the shooting Spencer stated, “I just did it for the fun of it, I don’t like Mondays.”
Spencer’s statements were later memorialized by Bob Geldof, the leader of the rock group The Boomtown Rats, in the song, “I Don’t Like Mondays.”
Spencer eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to twenty-five years to life at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California and has been dined parole multiple times.
Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is the award winning 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, December 5, 2016

The Boston Belfry Murderer Claimed his First Victim - December 5, 1873

This week (December 5 – 11) in crime history – Boston belfry murderer claimed first victim (December 5, 1873); The bank robbing Reno brothers were hanged (December 6, 1868); Colin Ferguson shot and killed six and wounded 19 on Long Island commuter train (December 7, 1993); John Lennon was murdered (December 8, 1980); Frank Sinatra Jr., was kidnapped (December 8, 1963); Civil rights activist Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered a Philadelphia police officer (December 9, 1981); Bernie Madoff was arrested and charged with masterminding Ponzi scheme (December 11, 2008)

Highlighted crime story of the week -

On December 5, 1873, Bridget Landregan was found beaten and strangled to death in the Boston suburb of Dorchester. According to witnesses, a man dressed in black with a flowing cape was seen running away from the scene. In 1874, a man fitting the same description attacked and clubbed to death another young girl, Mary Sullivan. The killer’s third victim, Mary Tynan, was bludgeoned in her own bed in 1875. Although she survived the attack for nearly a year, she was never able to identify her attacker.

Residents of Boston were stunned to learn that the serial murderer had been among them all along. Thomas Piper, the sexton at the Warren Avenue Baptist Church, was friendly with parishioners and nobody suspected his involvement. But when five-year-old Mabel Young, who was last seen with the sexton, was found dead in the church’s belfry in the summer of 1876, Piper became the prime suspect. Young’s skull had been crushed with a wooden club. Piper, who was dubbed “The Boston Belfry Murderer,” confessed to the four killings after his arrest. He was convicted and sentenced to die, and he was hanged in 1876.

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

Michael Thomas Barry is the award winning 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:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review of "By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O'Neill" By Arthur and Barbara Gelb

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Boks on December 1, 2016

Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill was a pioneer of the American theater and led the way for other literary legends such as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee. His true legacy is found in his ability to fearlessly tackle social and political values that today continue to inspire countless generations of authors and productions. Since his death in 1953, O’Neill’s treasure trove of works such as Long Day’s Journey into Night and others have been in constant production around the world. Although he was a very talented writer, O’Neill was a deeply flawed human being, who struggled his entire life with depression and alcohol abuse, which presented challenges in all of his personal relationships.

“But, whatever O’Neill’s personal failings, there is no denying that, as an artist, he stood tall. An idealist and visionary, he bravely endured his years of struggle, demanding to be accepted on his own terms as a dramatist.”

The celebrated and award winning husband and wife team of Arthur and Barbara Gelb have spent 50+ years studying and examining the life of Eugene O’Neill, and their previous works include O’Neill (1962) and O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo (2000). Arthur Gelb died on May 20, 2014 and Barbara “wearily polished” the final few pages of their final collaboration, a book they had been grappling with for nearly a decade. Their third and final collaboration in the O’Neill saga, By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O’Neill, is an 869 page epic, in which the Gelbs examine the last 25 years of the playwright’s life through his stormy relationships with the most important women in his life, primarily his third wife, actress Carlotta Monterey.

The word comprehensive is often used to define thoroughly researched biographies and other works, but this definition doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface in the amount of excruciating detail the Gelbs have provided in this volume. The majority of the book is spent discussing his emotionally tempestuous marriage to Monterey, which was dominated by years of alcoholic setbacks, mental and physical decline, and hostile resentment. Within this volume are also discussed some of the longstanding misconceptions of O’Neill’s life such as his battle with alcoholism and depression, as well as his views on feminism and racism.

“He also had a violent and destructive temper, especially when he was on a drinking binge. At those times, he didn’t hesitate to manhandle his lovers.”
Unfortunately, there are only brief discussions of O’Neill’s early marriages and his complicated relationship with his mother.

“When, as an adolescent, Eugene O’Neill realized that his mother, Ella Quinlan O’Neill, blamed her morphine addiction on his birth and confessed she wished him unborn, she betrayed him in a way he could never forgive or forget.”

In this work the authors rely primarily of the previously unpublished diaries and interviews of Monterey as well as material from friends and associates. Monterey gave the authors a melancholy version of O’Neill’s final years as a sick and forgotten man who isolated himself from his family and fans.

“O’Neill hated hotels, she told us, because he had been born in one and had spent the first seven years of life traveling from hotel to hotel while his father toured the country with his acting company. . . .” She repeated what are commonly claimed to be O’Neill’s final words, spoken on November 21, 1953, “Born in a hotel room and God damn it, died in a hotel room.”

By Women Possessed is a captivating and in-depth study of one of America’s most revered literary giants. This volume is a superb example of a skillful, thorough, and cynically examined editorial biography that draws from an exhaustive treasure strove of previously unexploited source material. It offers the reader an extraordinary and thought provoking view on the playwright’s life and works. By Women Possessed is heartily recommend to anyone interested in the American theater, Eugene O’Neill, or biography in general.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review of Deirdre Bair's "Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend"

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on November 16, 2016

“Al Capone was a son, husband, and father who was looking for the best way to become a good provider for everyone.”

Nearly seven decades after his death, what is it about Al Capone that captures the imagination? Some lives contain multitudes, and his would seem to be one of them. From his heyday to the present, his life has enthralled the public’s collective imagination.

Born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York, to Italian immigrant parents, Capone would become one of the most notorious crime figures in American history. During the height of Prohibition, his criminal enterprises, including bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling, dominated the city of Chicago.

His long-running turf war with rival gangs came to a bloody and shocking crescendo on St. Valentine's Day 1929. Through it all, the charismatic Capone remained barely above it all, and Federal income tax evasion was his eventual undoing. In 1931 he was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison but served a little over half his sentence, mostly at Alcatraz. A very ill Capone, suffering from the physical and mental effects of syphilis, was released to live out his final years in Miami.

Deirdre Bair, National Book Award winner and author of numerous biographies, attempts to uncover a more personal side of the infamous crime boss and examines the legend and facts surrounding this intriguing and enigmatic figure in her new biography, Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend.

“His ascent in mobdom was phenomenal, his time at the top sensational, and his downfall meteoric. Indeed, his reign did last only six short years, but everything that happened in that brief time still commands worldwide attention, interest, and speculation.”

The book follows Capone’s entire life from his humble beginnings in Brooklyn to his rise as crime boss in Chicago though his astonishingly swift downfall and imprisonment and death in 1947.

“This is the story of a ruthless killer, a scofflaw, a keeper of brothels and bordellos, a tax cheat and perpetrator of frauds, convicted felon, and a mindless, blubbering invalid. This is also the story of a loving son, husband, and father who described himself as a businessman whose job was to serve the people what they wanted.”

Written with the cooperation of Capone’s family and descendants, Al Capone does a wonderful job of gathering all of the urban myths surrounding his life and career and lays them out side by side with the facts, exposing and demystifying their falsehoods from the realities. “Attempting to reconstruct their truth is much like trying to solve the most complicated puzzle imaginable.”

Although this book is superbly documented and researched, its end results are mixed. The narrative is somewhat dry and uninspiring in its presentation and ultimately failed to uncover any startling new information. In the end, this book is best suited for readers who already have a basic understanding and familiarity with the subject matter. It is recommended for anyone interested in anything related to organized crime, Al Capone, and the Prohibition era in general.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review of Robert Masello's - The Jekyll Revelation

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on November 8, 2016

Buy the book -

What if the terrifying legacy of Jack the Ripper and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were connected and somehow transported across space and time from Victorian England to present day California? The consequences would be terrifying. Robert Masello, an award-winning journalist, television writer, and the bestselling author of numerous supernatural and historical thrillers that includes The Einstein Prophecy tackles this innovative and thought provoking historical whodunit in his new book The Jekyll Revelation.

Protagonist Rafael Salazar, an environmental scientist on routine patrol in Topanga Canyon, California, expects to find animal poachers but instead discovers a mysterious antique steamer trunk filled with a treasure trove of artifacts that includes a puzzling journal, written by none other than legendary author Robert Louis Stevenson. The journal cryptically reveals chilling details regarding the creation of his classic horror novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and an even more disturbing link to one of the most notorious serial killers of all-time. Within the pages of this mysterious journal is disclosed the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

“I begin this journal in high, if somewhat desperate, hopes. I mean to make it a record of my deliverance. If it becomes something other than that, it shall have served as my epitaph. A bookmark . . . or a bookend.”

The journal, unfortunately, wasn’t the only artifact in the trunk, and isn’t the only memento that has been pilfered. A bottle that purportedly contains the last drops of the potion that inspired Jekyll and Hyde and also created London’s most infamous killer has disappeared and fallen into the wrong hands. With parallel story lines set in present day California and 1880s London, The Jekyll Revelation masterfully alternates between reluctant hero’s Salazar and Stevenson as both attempt to stop the terror that has been unleased within their respective time periods.

Masello has done an admirable job of creating recognizable characters, although they tend to be somewhat formulaic. He sticks with the standard literary storyline of man playing God and its catastrophic fallout. The Jekyll Revelation is a fast-paced tour de force through history and contemporary California. It is a heart-pounding page turner filled with loads of action and intrigue.

“The brilliantly executed crime of Jack the Ripper have been laid at a dozen doorsteps, but none of them mine. Nor will they be, not so long as I am alive to be called to account for them. No, I mean to keep this journal, and my souvenirs, intact and unknown. They shall travel with me wherever I go (at this moment, my native California is again striking my fancy), and when, many years from now, my end draws near, I shall consign them to some appropriate grave. An unmarked spot where, in the fullness of time posterity shall rediscover, and perhaps reassess them. I leave that to fate.”

Masello has crafted an exceptional murder mystery with a literary twist that will not disappoint. This novel will most certainly captivate anyone who loves true crime, suspense thrillers, literary history, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Jack the Ripper. A must read and highly recommended.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Bodies were Unearthed at Sacramento Board and Care Home (November 11, 1988)

This week (November 7-13) in crime history – David Hendricks murdered his family in Bloomington, Illinois (November 7, 1983); Carol DaRonch escaped abduction by Ted Bundy (November 8, 1974); John List murdered his family then disappeared for 18 years (November 9, 1971); Louise Woodward’s murder conviction was reduced to second degree (November 10, 1997); Bodies are unearthed at Sacramento board and care home (November 11, 1988); Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son (November 12, 2004); FBI agents find bomb making equipment at the home of John Graham (November 13, 1955)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On November 11, 1988, authorities unearth a corpse buried in the yard of 59-year-old Dorothea Puente’s home in Sacramento, California. Puente operated a residential board and care home for elderly people, and an investigation led to the discovery of six more bodies buried on her property.

Puente was a diagnosed schizophrenic who had already been in trouble with the law. She had previously served prison time for check forgery, as well as drugging and robbing people she met in bars. After her release, she opened a boarding house for elderly people. Beginning in 1986, social worker Peggy Nickerson sent nineteen clients to Puente’s home. When some of the residents mysteriously disappeared, Nickerson grew suspicious. Puente’s neighbors, who reported the smell of rotting flesh emanating from her vicinity, validated Nickerson’s concern.

Although all the buried bodies were found to contain traces of the sedative Dalmane, the coroner was never able to identify an exact cause of death. Still, during a trial that lasted five months and included thousands of exhibits, prosecutors were able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Puente had murdered her boarders, most likely to collect their Social Security checks. Though she was formally charged with nine counts of murder and convicted on three, authorities suspected that Puente might have been responsible for as many as two dozen deaths. She received a life sentence without the possibility of parole and died in 2011 of natural causes at the Chowchilla Central Women’s Prison facility.

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review of James Patterson's - Filthy Rich

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on (October 19, 2016)

In February 2005, 14-year-old Mary (not her real name) was a naïve and impressionable teenager. She desperately sought out attention and wanted to make a good first impression. The money she would earn in one hour for giving an old man a massage was more than her father made in a whole day.

“What she tells herself, over and over again, is: It’s not that big a deal.”

But of course, it is a big deal and her visit to the mansion of eccentric billionaire Jeffrey Epstein would result in one of the most scandalous criminal investigations in Palm Beach history. In Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal that Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein, James Patterson, one of the world’s most successful thriller authors in collaboration with John Connelly and Tim Mallory, tackle this deeply troubling and captivating case.

So who is Jeffrey Epstein, really?

Epstein was a highly successful financier, investor, and philanthropist who contributed millions of dollars to academic institutions around the globe. He funded numerous political campaigns and hob knobbed with a wide-ranging and diverse cast of characters that included Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and many others. He rose from humble origins to the heights of New York City and Palm Beach’s privileged and societal elites.

On the surface he appeared to have it all: fame, fortune, and achievement but behind closed doors he wanted more and for many years successfully concealed a perverse sexual appetite for pretty underage girls. This compulsion would eventually led to his downfall with allegations of abuse by dozens of young women whom he employed as “masseuses” at his opulent Palm Beach estate and other properties.

Backed by a plethora of high powered defense attorneys that included Gerald Lefcourt, Alan Dershowitz, and later, Ken Starr, this dream team masterfully orchestrated a plea bargain for Epstein who avoided serious charges in exchange for a guilty plea to felony solicitation of prostitution and the procurement of minors for prostitution.

He received a sentence of 18 months and was required to register as a class three sex offender. One other concession was the media would not be alerted to his ultimate release date, which occurred on July 21, 2009. This was a mere slap on the wrist for the atrocious crimes that were committed, and he served less than 13 months behind bars. Following his release there were lawsuits, seven of which were settled for undisclosed amounts prior to going to trial.

Patterson questioningly writes, “There never was any doubt that Jeffrey Epstein was guilty. The question is, what exactly was he guilty of?” Although Filthy Rich provides an adequate overview of the case in general terms it suffers from a lack of in-depth research of Jeffrey Epstein and other key characters. It ultimately fails to provide any definitive answers to the many questions it poses.

The reader must be cautioned that Filthy Rich is gritty and at times unseemly in its narrative, which devotes large sections of text to the lured transcript testimony of Epstein’s alleged victims. These chapters are extremely detailed and tend to wander through an overabundance of sexually explicit scenarios that appear on the surface to be a concerted attempt by the authors to embarrass Epstein, whom they categorically believe got off easy for the crimes he committed.

Although not one of Patterson’s better written books, Filthy Rich is a fast paced read with many chapters less that a page long. But on a useful note it does raise some deeply disturbing and timely questions about the unspoken rape culture and sexually exploitive views of women that exist within some segments of our society. The crimes for which Jeffrey Epstein were accused and ultimately convicted of are truly reprehensible, and the fact that he was able to use a network of well-connected friends to get out of trouble is even more appalling.

This book leaves the reader with a feeling of dread at the shameful realities of our deeply flawed legal system as it pertains to the haves and have nots. Reader be warned, more than soap and water will be necessary to wash away the sleazy grimness of this obscenely shocking tale.