Saturday, November 10, 2007

Five best: books with sensational murder trials

Harold Schechter, author of the recently published The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century, named a five best list of books in which "sensational murder trials are at their most transfixing" for Opinion Journal.

One title on Schechter's list:
The Minister and the Choir Singer by William M. Kunstler (William Morrow, 1964).

Before he became the sort of radical provocateur who helped turn the 1969 trial of the Chicago Seven into a courtroom circus, lawyer William Kunstler produced "The Minister and the Choir Singer," a compelling chronicle of one of the most carnivalesque murder cases in American history. On Sept. 16, 1922, the Rev. Edward Wheeler Hall and his mistress, choir member Eleanor Mills, were found shot to death in a New Jersey apple orchard, their corpses strewn with Eleanor's torrid love letters. After a considerable delay, the reverend's eminently respectable wife, Frances, and her two highly eccentric brothers were indicted for double murder. With public excitement stoked to a frenzy by the tabloids, the trial became one of the most riotous media events of the Roaring Twenties, complete with outdoor refreshment stands, celebrity commentators and the dramatic appearance of a dying witness dubbed "The Pig Woman," who delivered her testimony from a hospital bed wheeled into the courtroom. In the end, the defendants were acquitted, and the crime remains officially unsolved. Kunstler's presentation of the facts is first-rate, though his speculative solution is more ingenious than convincing.
Read about Number One on Schechter's list.

--Marshal Zeringue