Monday, September 30, 2013

REVIEW: The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Pennsylvania

The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Pennsylvania by Ron Franscell and Karen B. Valentine
Globe Pequot Press, 2013

Review by Robert A. Waters

Ron Franscell and Globe Pequot Press have united to create an intriguing series of true crime books.  Each book digs into the criminal past of a state or section of America “where seemingly idyllic places reveal secrets.”  This time, with co-author Karen B. Valentine, Ron explores Pennsylvania.  GPS coordinates allows the reader to visit the sites where the crimes occurred.

There’s the story of Ira Einhorn, the “peace-loving” hippie who murdered his girlfriend in Center City and fled to France.  After 20 years of fighting extradition, prosecutors finally succeeded in getting the pompous killer returned to the United States.  He is now serving life in prison.  His victim, Holly Maddux, had made the mistake of believing that Einhorn was a profound leftist thinker instead of a psychopathic con-artist.  She is buried in her native Texas.

There’s the mother who murdered eight of her babies, and got away with it for 30 years.  In Kensington, Marie Noe’s bad luck at keeping children alive was chalked up to “crib-death.”  It took decades before cold case investigators revisited the strange deaths, and got Noe to confess.  In yet another bizarre twist to this case, the disturbed killer was sentenced to house arrest instead of prison.

The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Pennsylvania describes hundreds of such cases.  The kidnapping of little Charley Ross made national headlines in the 1870s, long before Charles Lindbergh, Jr. was abducted.  Charley, aged 4, was snatched off a street in Germantown.  The abductor demanded a ransom, but the instructions were so confusing and poorly-written that Christian Ross, Charley’s father, couldn’t decipher it.  The child was never recovered.  A few years later, two burglars were shot by residents as they attempted to flee from a home they’d broken into.  The robbers turned out to be gangsters Gil Mosher and Joseph Douglas.  Both were mortally wounded.  With his dying breath, Douglas claimed that he and Mosher had taken part in the kidnapping of Charley Ross.  Was the confession true?  They both died before they could tell police where to find the body.

One area of the Keystone State that is a must visit for true crime aficionados is Center City.  Here are just three sites that deserve a look:

Eastern State Penitentiary still stands in that city, the “once-modern” prison that housed Al “Scarface” Capone, among others.  During the eight months of his incarceration, Capone lived like royalty, fawned over by guards and given comforts no other inmate would ever have.

Frank Bender’s sculpting studio can be viewed in Center City, the place where he created plaster casts of fugitives as well as unidentified victims.  His most famous case was that of John List, who murdered his entire family and fled to Colorado.  After establishing a new life, List settled into anonymity and re-married.  Years later, Bender created a bust showing the fugitive’s face in amazing detail—the killer was caught after a viewer of the television crime show, America’s Most Wanted, recognized him.

And Edgar Allan Poe’s home still sits in Center City.  It was there that he wrote many of his classic stories, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” as well as his well-known poem, “The Raven.”  The story of Poe’s strange and tragic death is told in Ron’s book, The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Washington, DC.

I could go on and on, but I need to stop.  I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in criminal history to order this book.  It’s a keeper.

1 comment:

Mary Claire Mattiello said...

This will be on my wish list definitly, since I live in Pa. Can't wait to read it.