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True Crime

The Burning of Bridget ClearyThe Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story by Angela Bourke
In March 1895, Bridget Cleary became ill. Her husband, Michael, and a number of neighbors and relatives became convinced that she was a fairy changeling and tortured her to death. This grisly true story forms the basis of Angela Bourke's outstanding narrative "The Burning of Bridget Cleary," in which the whole context of this "crime" and its punishment is sparely and powerfully laid out. Bourke's style, judgment, and eye for detail are superb. There are scenes in this book of appalling vividness--in particular, the chapters concerned with poor Bridget's end. The closed room, the men yelling questions at her, trying to force her to eat herbs boiled in milk (if she could eat them, then she might be the real Bridget and not the changeling), manhandling her, "lifting her body and winding it backwards and forwards, yelling, 'away with you; come home, Bridget, in the name of God!' while slapping her." On March 14, they held her over the fire to drive the spirits out, and on March 15, Bridget's husband set fire to her nightgown, throwing lamp oil on her to make the fire burn more fiercely. "She's not my wife," he told the assembled people. "You'll soon see her go up the chimney."

This is a chilling story, one that stays with you, creepily, long after you have finished reading. Like Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," it seems to open itself to a wide variety of interpretations, and Bourke's balancing of Old-World, superstitious Ireland against the new rational nation about to be born is expert. These events may be a hundred years old, but they come over as frighteningly contemporary.

Gangbusters by Michael StoneGangbusters: How a Street-Tough, Elite Homicide Unit Took Down New York's Most Dangerous Gangby Michael Stone
How do you rid a city of a brutal crack-trafficking gang--whose members have held a seven-year reign of terror and murdered at least 60 people, many of them in public--without threatening the lives of your witnesses? Pull them up by the roots. In the early 1990s in New York City, a 19-year-old college student was shot to death while driving down a highway when the leader of the Red-Tops (also known as the Wild Cowboys) decided to test-fire his new Uzi. What began as one policeman's search for an answer to this senseless murder eventually turned into an investigation of a vast conspiracy of crime, an investigation that involved police from Manhattan and the South Bronx and New York's only dedicated drug gang unit, the Homicide Investigations Unit (HIU). It turned out to be the biggest and one of the longest investigations ever conducted by the HIU (four years to bring the gang's leaders to prosecution, six months of trial) and was unusual in that it involved so many agencies.

Michael Stone details their investigation almost moment by moment. In the process, he reveals both the layered conspiracies in the world of the illicit drug trade and the twin issues of turf and credit that lead to fiefdoms and strife in law enforcement circles. His portrayal of the drug trade infrastructure--with its layers of managers, enforcers, runners, pitchers, and lookouts--and its tinderbox world of threats and counterthreats is eye opening and frightening. The same is true for the inner workings of the halls of justice. While there are certainly heroes in this story (a number of cops and attorneys literally dedicated their lives to bringing down the Cowboys), it becomes clear why the law is often unsuccessful in defeating gangs. Resistance to working with other offices, lack of communication, strong personalities, and intense possessiveness are but a few factors. At times the story is almost too complex to follow, with a huge cast of characters and a horrifying trail of crimes. But hang on: the trial near the end of the book ties it all together.

Dead Run: The Shocking Story of Dennis Stockton and Life on Death Row in AmericaDead Run: The Shocking Story of Dennis Stockton and Life on Death Row in America by Joe Jackson and William F. Burke, Jr.
"Dead Run" is the story of Dennis Stockton, mastermind of one of the most daring mass prison breaks in American history. It begins with his conviction for a crime he maintained that he didn't commit and weaves through his troubled life, his perpetual incarcerations, and his often brilliant, often comical escapades within the prison system. With frequent excerpts from Stockton's prolific diaries, the book reveals not only much about its surprisingly insightful protagonist but also about the prison system in general, including institutionalized corruption and power-hungry guards, inmates, and prison officers. There's more than enough intrigue, action, and disturbing comedy to fill several thrillers, but "Dead Run" is a true story of a man who refused to sit still and wait for the hour of his death.
The Stranger Beside Me: Ted BundyThe Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Classic Story of Seduction and Murder by Ann Rule
Not long ago, true crime writer Ann Rule recalls lying on an operating table. The anesthesiologist leaned over before putting her to sleep. "Ann," the anesthesiologist said softly, "tell me, what was Ted Bundy really like?" Despite meeting Florida's electric chair in 1989, the subject of Rule's bestselling book continues to haunt her. Rule and Bundy were friends. They met in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic, where they shared the late shift answering a suicide hotline. Their subsequent conversations, meetings, and letters spanned the rest of Bundy's life as he evolved into one of the century's most notorious serial killers. It's been 20 years since Rule first penned this chilling account. But the story--and her 2000 update--will still have readers reaching for their Xanax. No gratuitous gore here; just the basic, bone-chilling evidence. In fact, like a protective mother shielding us from horrors too awful to mention, Rule seems to avoid delving too deeply into crime scene descriptions. She devotes one paragraph in her new afterword to her discovery that Bundy engaged in necrophilia and returned to the scenes of his crimes to "line dead lips and eyes with garish makeup and to put blush on pale cheeks." She tells readers that John Hinckley, who shot Ronald Reagan, and David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam Killer, traded prison correspondences with Bundy. And she hints that Bundy's insatiable killer instincts may have started when he was a 14-year-old paperboy. (Ann Marie Burr, an 8-year-old girl on his route, mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night and has never been found.) The skimpy update is over too soon, leaving readers wanting more and offering further proof of the public's never-ending fascination with serial killers.
For more great True Crime titles, visit the Nonfiction page.

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