by Steve Lehto
Berkley Books, New York, NY
Conrad Aiken was one of those famous poets who wrote such obtuse verse that he won a Pulitzer Prize. He was friends with all the major writers of the early Twentieth century, including T. S. Eliot. What I never knew was that Aiken’s father murdered his mother, then committed suicide in their Savannah, Georgia home. American Murder Houses, by Steve Lehto, recounts the tragic story that left Aiken an orphan.
Lehto describes 29 murder cases, some famous and some not so much. The cases sweep across America, from Florida to California. “Included here,” the author writes, “are the addresses and many other details of the houses.”
Still standing is the Villisca, Iowa home where an axe murderer slaughtered eight people, then vanished in the night. Despite one of the most intense manhunts ever conducted in the mid-west, the killer was never found. The home, believe it or not, is open to visitors, for a nominal fee. In fact, you can even spend the night there, but remember—it has no electricity or running water.
Many of the homes are private, but still visible from the road. There’s the small Pasadena, Texas cottage once lived in by the “Candyman,” serial murderer Dean Corll—absolutely horrific things went on in that house. There’s the “Wonderland” murder home, where porn star John Holmes helped several cohorts murder four people in a dispute over drugs. And there’s the Miami Beach home where Gianni Versace was gunned down by a psychopath named Andrew Cunanan.
What happens to a home after a gruesome murder or series of murders? Many, like Joel Rifkin’s mother’s home in East Meadow, New York, end up going back on the market. His mother traveled often, and while she was away, Rifkin would bring prostitutes to the residence where he murdered them. He was arrested after two cops stopped him for having no license plate on his truck. They smelled a foul odor and found a dead woman in the back. Rifkin quickly confessed to 17 killings. After he went to prison, Rifkin’s mother lived in the home until she died. Then the home was listed for sale, where it was described as a “handyman’s special.” The couple who bought it stated that they didn’t care about its history. Lehto writes that one of the new owners said: “A house is a house. People die all the time in houses. We’re bringing all positive vibes.”
I highly recommend this intriguing book to the readers of my blog.