Murder of a Journalist

Crowl, Thomas. Murder of a Journalist: The True Story of the Death of Donald Ring Mellett.  Kent, Ohio; The Kent State University Press, 2009.

I have looked at several Crime of the Century stories.  The “Crime of the Century” was a genre of crime that was very popular in the 1920s, where a murder in Columbus becomes front page news on the New York Times.  The murder of editor Donald Ring Mellett in 1926 and its subsequent trials is notable, as it not only told the nation the story of Mellett (he posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize), but it helped tell the story of Canton, Ohio, whose trial attention was not welcomed by the locals.   Thomas Crowl’s Murder of a Journalist recreates Prohibition Canton from “the Jungle” red-light district along Cherry Street to “Whiskey Alley” behind the court house and the excitement that the court case brought from such a horrible murder.

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The Professor & the Coed

Gribben, Mark. The Professor and the Coed: Scandal and Murder at The Ohio State University.  Charleston, SC; The History Press, 2010.

Does the name Dr. James Howard Snook ring a bell?  It may be a result of this reviewer not being familiar with the general history and folklore of Columbus, but Snook’s story is new to me.  He was an Olympic sharp shooter and pioneering veterinary science researcher at Ohio State in the late 1920s.  But, if remembered at all, it would be for having an affair and murdering med student Theora Hix in 1929, known as the “Crime of the Century” at the time.  Mark Gribben painstakingly puts together all of the pieces of the whole affair in The Professor and the Coed.

As mysteries go, the murder of Theora Hix would make a disappointing 48 Hours episode.  While the sordid details of the affair would fill an interesting segment or two, the Columbus police went from difficulty identifying the body to getting a confession from Snook within several days.  The trial lasted several weeks – Snook’s testimony was very explicit – but the jury deliberated and convicted Snook of first-degree murder (which by state law at the time resulted in execution for all convictions) in about thirty minutes.  There was never any doubt, or mystery, in the crime.

It is the simplicity of the case and the lack of unsolved questions that would typically leave the whole affair as little more than a foot note in a larger work of history – possibly a “Famous Murders in Columbus”.  But Gribbens does a thorough investigation and places the story within the phenomenon of a “Crime of the Century”.  Within the Columbus newspaper market, there a scramble to uncover outrageous details from the crime.  At one point, the prosecution allowed a few papers the chance to interview Snook (not a common practice today).  The other papers then scrambled to make up facts to compete for sales.

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Shards & pellets & knives, oh my!

Fulker, John. Shards & pellets & knives, oh my! Wilmington, Ohio; Orange Frazer Press, 2007.

The literary career of John Fulker would seem to have a very narrow audience.  The longtime attorney from Troy has written four collections of fictionalized-true-crime stories about murder in Miami County.  While this could very easily pigeon-hole many authors into local fan-fare, Fulker’s focus on legal procedurals could bring his writings to a larger audience… of lawyers.  Turned off? Please read on.

Fulker’s most recent work, Shards & Pellets & Knives, oh my!, focuses on three twentieth century murders.  The crimes, while brutal, lack pizzazz and would not find themselves as plots on reruns of Law & Order.  But, there is an ethical element to each story that kept me interested.  The second installment, ‘Pellets’, involves a victim who died unexpectedly several weeks removed from the violence and the final tale, ‘Knives’ has the whole ‘insanity’ plea to work through.  I do not want to give away anything from the first and longest of the stories, ‘Shards’, but there are ethics to be discussed.
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Ohio Confidential

Boertlein, John. Ohio Confidential. Cincinnati, Ohio: Clerisy Press, 2008.

Read about famous and soon-to-be-famous crimes and criminals from Ohio!  Ohio Confidential compiles over 30 notable crime related stories from the state that brought you Warren Harding.   From infamy with its roots in Ohio (Charlie Manson and the Traci Lords affair) to political scandals to random and serial killings, Ohio Confidential is truly a hodge-podge of the macabre.

Boerlein’s (from Cincinnati) writing style is the complete opposite of Cleveland’s James Renner, whose investigation is half the story.  For the most part, Boerlein has a very third person account the different crimes.  His writing style is very reporter-esque and the whole book can be read quickly without too many complaints (I may have rethought some of the font sizes used).   Ohio Confidential is somewhere between a reference book and something one would read in one sitting.  While many of the articles error on the brief side, some quality storytelling can be found, including the piece on Eliot Ness and the Torso Murders in Cleveland.

There are a few articles where Boerlein has more of a personal connection, which I found to be some of the better reads.  As a retired Cincinnati police officer, he had some personal insight into the cold case murder of Officer Donald Martin (solved over 40 years after the act).  Also, the article about Dolly Mapp (the supreme court case of Mapp v. Ohio) is thorough in discussing the case and the 4th Amendment ramifications.  (Important stuff for law enforcement).

I do not know if I would necessarily recommend Ohio Confidential because most of these stories can be found with more detail elsewhere.  But at the same time, why would one think to look up most of these crimes without one’s curiosity first being piqued.  Boertlein has taken the first step in your study of dark side and I can see Ohio Confidential fitting nicely on a coffee table, leading to discussions of murder in the heartland.

Amy and The Serial Killer’s Apprentice

Renner, James. Amy: My Search for Her Killer: Secrets & Suspects in the Unsolved Murder of Amy Mihaljevic. Cleveland: Gray & Company, 2006.

Renner, James. The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: And 12 Other True Stories of Cleveland’s Most Intriguing Unsolved Crimes. Cleveland: Gray & Company, 2008.

Reading former Cleveland Scene writer James Renner’s published works about infamous crimes of Greater Cleveland is a different experience than what you get from the typical true crime story. Always at the forefront is James Renner’s investigation. Unsolved mysteries will be presented, but the story is Renner’s journey. I could see where this could turn some readers off, but I give Renner a break as I have never investigated crime and it is all new to me. He is just some guy trying to solve some crimes.

Amy is probably his best work to date. Renner, who is a few years younger than Mihaljevic, remembers very explicitly the months after Amy Mihaljevic. From these childhood memories, he has developed a compelling story. I do not want to give away the ending, but even though we still do not know who killed Mihalijevic, Amy feels like a completed memoir about Renner’s investigation. The story follows his early career at Scene though his full-time investigation of Mihalijevic’s unsolved 1991 kidnapping and murder. What makes Amy so readable is the creepy nature of this case. There are a lot of possible suspects outlined in this book, each more disturbing than the last. From suspects to witnesses to law enforcement agents, enough questions are posed to make this a page turner.

For those with a shorter attention span, my favorite piece by Renner is “The Ted Conrad Affair ” from Serial Killer Apprentice. This article covers Conrad’s 1969 robbery of Society National Bank in downtown Cleveland. An inside job. Conrad is never seen again. Two scenes stick out for me. First, Renner recounts the night he is drinking margaritas at El Jalepenos on W. 117th Street when he is called by Conrad’s former girlfriend. The investigator in action. The second involves a brief moment when he believes he found Conrad from the details in a long-forgotten 1970’s novel, only to end with a disappointing phone call to some criminal’s mom. This leads to a visit to a visit to the Trumbull Correction Institution.

Yes, there might be other true crime about Cleveland, but will it be as much fun? I would recommend both of these titles. Amy will get in your head and you will think about it for days (ending up conveniently visiting Bay Village for the flimsiest of reasons, if I know you). The Serial Killer’s Apprentice captures Renner’s energy from Amy, but in a more workmanlike, professional-writer-sort-of-way.