Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Book Review: The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son by Laura James


The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son: Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James
Laura James
Union Square Press, 2009

Review by Robert A. Waters

My wife and I recently traveled to Pocahontas, Tennessee (for those who don’t know, that’s half-way between Woodbury and Manchester) to attend her family’s annual reunion. I brought along a book that had been burning a hole in my brain for a couple of months. Entitled The Love Pirate and The Bandit's Son, it was written by Laura James. The author is an attorney, a blogger, and a crime historian extraordinaire. I believe CLEWS (her blog) is the best true crime blog on the Internet. So I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed when I opened her book. I wasn’t, and I recommend it to all true-crimers.


The case is as cold as the long-dead bodies of Zeo Zoe Wilkins and the men she drove to early graves. In 1924, Zeo was murdered. It wasn’t particularly surprising. In fact, Zeo had predicted that she would be dead within the week. When Kansas City, Missouri police entered her blood-soaked rental home they found her safe missing. According to witnesses, it was filled with diamonds and valuable bonds. They were the dead woman’s last remnants of wealth. Sired and raised in poverty, she had accumulated more than three million dollars in her life, but had lost it through lavish spending, hooch, and dope.

What’s surprising is that she wasn’t murdered sooner. Zeo was indeed a love pirate. The brazen beauty married six times (five times to different men)--each time she added to her bank account and left her victims’ hearts, souls, and pocketbooks shattered. One husband was shot by the schemer, another committed suicide, one lost his bank and his fortune and his sanity, one fled the state to be rid of her.

In addition to her marriages, Zeo was a nymphomaniac, as her affairs with hundreds of men would attest. Cops investigating her murder had so many suspects that they could never get a grasp on the case. Three men were arrested but there was never any real evidence against them and they were released. The crime was never solved.

Jesse James, Jr. was six-years-old when his father was murdered by the dirty little coward Robert Ford. Junior heard the gunshot and ran to the living room to find the famous outlaw lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Jesse James, Jr. would be forever scarred by the scene.

Junior went to law school. Like many attorneys of yesteryear and today, slime oozed from his every pore. Junior represented denizens of the underworld. For a while, he prospered, but eventually lost all his money and self-esteem when he invested in a disastrous movie about his father. He was adjudged insane and temporarily admitted to a doctor’s care.

Zeo Zoe Wilkins was unaware of his problems when she came to Junior for legal advice. She wanted someone to fence her diamonds and bonds. Who better than an underworld attorney whose father had “stole from the rich and gave to the poor?” Zeo brought Jesse James, Jr. to her house, bedded him, and showed him the contents of her strong box. Two weeks after they met, Zeo was dead and her last remaining valuables missing. They were never seen again.

Did Junior murder her? He was never considered a suspect by police, but historian James has presented a case against him. Is it compelling? You read the book and decide.

Buy The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son and add it to your true crime library. It’s well-researched, well-written, well-edited, and will keep your fingers moving. What more can you ask in a book?

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Ordered the book as soon as it came out. I recommend it as well. It was so thouroughly researched (all her sources were listed in the book as well) that I thought for sure she had the crime solved. Only thing that disappointed me was that she hadn't.