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Posts Tagged ‘True Crime’

The True True Detective, and Other News

August 20, 2015 | by


Two covers from True Detective, a true-crime magazine. Image via io9

  • “Several times the proper business of bed has been interrupted by mosquitoes,” Virginia Woolf wrote to a friend on her honeymoon with Leonard, which does not appear to have been an unqualified success: “They bloody the wall by morning—they always choose my left eye, Leonard’s right ear, whatever position they chance to find us in. This does not sound to you a happy life, I know; but you see, that in between the crevices we stuff an enormous amount of exciting conversation—also literature.” Books: the eternal consolation prize.
  • Subdued, black, drab, ruffled, veiled—the fashions of Victorian widows have once again wandered on to the catwalk. Rejoice. “The original moment when such styles took a somber turn was in 1861, after the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s great love. For the last forty years of her life, the monarch wore only black and expected everyone else to follow suit. A vogue emerged for gorily erotic storytelling tinged with mysticism. The image of the sexually experienced widow was regarded as a destabilizing factor, with her mourning frocks and jet jewelry subtly advertising the charms of the bereaved to potential second husbands. Darkness, then and now, becomes her.”
  • And what would these fashions be without black, the official color of death? The history of black is a history of perfectionism, a quest to find the blackest black, a black that could be, as the members of Spinal Tap put it, “none more black.” “In the words of the French artist Pierre Soulages, black ‘opens up a mental field all of its own.’ He began his epic journey into blackness in 1947, when he started creating abstract expressionist works using a dark walnut stain to make bold slashes across canvas. By the 1950s he was working in oils, thickly smeared onto surfaces using a palette knife. And in 1979, he began a new series of works in a style he dubbed ‘Outrenoir’—roughly translated as ‘beyond black’—with canvases completely saturated in black.”
  • Also back in style: gin, that most disreputable of liquors. Britain has seen fifty-six new gin distilleries open in the past two years, suggesting that it may finally have shrugged off any lingering resentment from the time of Georgian London, when “the city’s fetid backstreets spawned the Gin Craze, causing decades of soul-searching among philanthropists, politicians and magistrates about the wretched lives of the poor. Gin’s reputation as the crack cocaine of its day was cemented with lurid press tales about gin-fuelled degradation and squalor, culminating in William Hogarth’s infamous 1751 engraving Gin Lane.”
  • Before True Detective the mediocre TV show, there was True Detective, the mediocre true-crime rag, which ran from 1924 to 1996. The magazine had an appetite for the lurid, which, combined with its deeply lax editorial standards, made it very successful: “Consider these three not at all atypical tales of crime detection from a typical issue of True Detective: ‘I Was Raped,’ ‘I Hit Her with the Bowling Pin,’ and ‘Sex Monster At Large’ … The covers reached peaks of exploitation not seen since the ‘shudder pulps’ of the 1930s. They pictured screaming, scantily clad models frequently bound, often gagged … Editing appeared to be almost non-existent, as guidelines carefully instructed writers to leave margins wide enough so manuscripts could fit the typesetter’s copy holder.”

The Death Instinct

December 12, 2014 | by

The autobiography of one of France’s most notorious criminals.


Mesrine’s mugshot, 1973.

On the morning of November 2, 1979, a gold BMW pulled up behind a blue truck stopped at a stoplight in Porte de Clignancourt, in northern Paris. After a moment, a tarp covering the back of the truck opened to reveal four men with rifles. They opened fire in unison, blasting holes into the windshield. The man driving the BMW was hit fifteen times; the woman in the passenger seat was blinded and crippled by the attack. Her pet poodle died, too. And that was the end of Jacques Mesrine, France’s public enemy number one.

For nearly twenty years, Mesrine had humiliated the country’s judicial system with repeated high-profile bank robberies, murders, and daring prison escapes. But now the police had caught up to him. His bloodied corpse laid limp in his car, left out for the paparazzi. One of the officers tossed Mesrine’s wig, riddled with bullets, onto the car hood like roadkill into a dumpster. That last detail comes from one of the many YouTube videos you can watch of the shooting’s aftermath, waiting to be compared with Jean-François Richet’s 2008 two-part film Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One, both starring Vincent Cassel. And through the bullet holes of mythology, you can see in this tableau a bit of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, and a little bit of Jean-Paul Belmondo dying on the pavement, calling Jean Seberg a bitch.

This was a fitting death—and has been a fitting afterlife—for Mesrine. He was France’s most famous criminal not only because of his crimes but for the way he hot-wired the machinery of fame. While he was on the most-wanted list, he gave interviews and was photographed for the cover of Paris Match. Two years before his assassination, Mesrine wrote his autobiography, The Death Instinct, while incarcerated in the inescapable La Santé Prison, from which he later escaped. It was 1977, a bleak time for culture and politics: in England, it was “God Save the Queen,” with Johnny Rotten whinnying “no future” into recorded oblivion; in Germany, it was the Red Army Faction, their crimes, and their deaths in Stammheim Prison. For many in France, a few decades out of existentialism, the late seventies were a time of startling political conservatism, a time when the hopes of ’68 were being actively erased. It was this regime of erasure that Mesrine fought against, and that killed him two years later. Read More »


Marriage Plot

December 2, 2014 | by


From Twenty Years a Detective in the Wickedest City in the World, a 1908 book—putatively nonfiction—by Clifton R. Wooldridge, “the Incorruptible Sherlock Holmes of America.”

In his agony [Devel] confessed that the only reason he confessed the murder was that he desired to get hanged, and that he preferred hanging to life with his wife. […]

“I desired to be hung,” said Devel, mournfully. “Life is not worth the living, and with my wife it is worse than death. If I had been hanged no other man would marry my wife, and I would save them from my fate. Many times have I planned to kill myself to escape her. That is sin, and I lack the bravery to kill myself, besides. If they will not hang me I must continue to live with my wife.”

Devel states, among other things, that these are the chief grievances against married life in general, and his wife in particular:

  • She was slender, and became fat and strong.
  • She was beautiful, and became ugly and coarse.
  • She was tender, and grew hard.
  • She was loving, and grew virulent.
  • She grew whiskers on her chin.
  • She called him “pig.”
  • She wore untidy clothes, and her hair was unkempt.
  • She refused to give him beer.
  • Her breath smelled of onions and of garlic.
  • She threw hot soup upon him.
  • She continually upbraided him because there were no children.
  • She scolded him in the presence of neighbors.
  • She refused to permit him to bring his friends home.
  • She came into his store and scolded him.
  • She accused him of infidelity.
  • She disturbed him when he slept in the garden on Sundays.
  • She made him cook his own dinners.
  • She spilled his beer when he drank quietly with friends.
  • She told tales about him among the neighbors, and injured his business.
  • She served his sausages and his soup cold, and sometimes did not have his meals for him when he came home.
  • She did not make the beds nor clean the house.
  • She took cards out of his skat deck.
  • She talked continually, and scolded him for everything or nothing.
  • She opened the windows when he closed them, and closed them when he opened them.
  • She poured water into his shoes while he slept.
  • She cut off his dachshund’s tail.

These things, he said, made him prefer to be hanged to living with her.


A Crime Writer Turns to Crime, and Other News

November 9, 2012 | by

  • A Texas crime writer has been sentenced to thirty years for paying to have her husband murdered.
  • Ten things you may not have known about the Brothers Grimm.
  • Is horror a genre beyond redemption? Or, as The Guardian puts it, damned to literary hell?
  • “Don't worry about growing up,” and other advice from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter.
  • Behold: the bibliochaise.
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    Horror Story

    September 5, 2012 | by

    This month marks Stephen King’s sixty-fifth birthday, more than half a lifetime since he released The Shining, a novel inspired by the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. I’ve passed by the Stanley Hotel two times, between which I lived a scene that Stephen King could have written.

    The first time, a Saturday morning a few weeks before my graduation from the University of Colorado, I was riding in my roommate Julie’s car toward an Estes Park hiking trail. The hotel was grand, white, old-timey, and supposedly haunted, although not as isolated as the hotel in the movie. As we passed, our ponytails blowing out the open windows, the Rocky Mountains encircling us like a hug, I rested my feet on the dash, happy. Three years earlier, driving cross-country together, Julie and I had become best friends. Now, we hated separating even to sleep. Every morning, we woke up, turned on the TLC channel, one of the only channels we got, and danced in our living room while watching shows about makeovers and brides. Throughout the day, unless we were in class, we were together. We believed that this was life. Once, a guy took us both on a date. “I thought I had to,” he told us later. In Julie’s car, the familiar smell of the interior soothed me. Out the window, the day was perfect, the sky huge. When it’s cloudless, a Colorado sky resembles a great, empty aquarium.

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