The Cyanide Widow


A reading from the pioneers of true crime

The sensational trial of Jessie Costello captured the public’s attention in the spring and summer of 1933, after her husband, a fire department captain, died of an apparent heart attack after attending the wake of a friend’s father.

But when officials get wind of his wife’s indiscretions, they snatch the body from the funeral to run a complete autopsy and find enough cyanide in his body to kill 20 men and his wife, Jessie, accused of his murder.

The case garnered a lot of attention, and this episode will explore four extremely varied reports of the trial and its aftermath.

The first report comes from a popular novelist of the day, Katharine Brush, whose “Red Headed Woman” was made into a major motion picture starring Jean Harlowe in 1931.

I’ve again enlisted the aid of my colleague Emily Simer Braun to read Ms. Brush’s take on Jessie’s testimony in her own defense.

The second section and fourth sections are Sunday Magazine style reports without by-lines, one written just before she went to trail and the finale written a year after.

Between those, we’ll hear from Pulp Nonfiction favorite, the cheeky Edmund Pearson, who was truly a pioneer of true crime.