EXTRA! A Quick Shot of Crime

When I’m researching a story, I always keep an eye out for interesting headlines to see if they lead me to interesting murder cases. I have written books about cases I stumble upon that way. The title of my Two-Dollar Terror “Man Beheaded; Dentist Shot” is the headline that drew my attention to that bizarre tale.

It is frustrating to find the occasional provocative headline and intriguing article but no follow-up or back story, not enough information to build a case file and compose a solid episode.

Still, some of them are too good not to share, so the occasional “EXTRA!” Edition shares one of these orphan newspaper clippings.

The Purcell Nicotine Poison Puzzle

Or, Death of a Composer


A special edition of Yesterday’s News examining some of history’s most perplexing murder mysteries

This episode involves the body of a songwriter and real estate speculator found tied to a chair with an expression of surprise frozen on his dead face and suspicions of suicide.

Wait. What?

Suicide tied to a chair?

The evidence is so jumbled, police are at a loss to explain, but the backstory to the incident and a foray into the worlds of traveling musicians and actors, hints at motives deeply hidden, and possibly scandalous.

This is one that will keep you guessing.

Theme Music by Dave Sams

Incidental music: “The Old Bachelor” by Henry Purcell. www.musopen.org

Sound effects: freesound.org

The Belle in the Belfry


An exploration of the criminal justice system at its most extreme: Inflicting the death penalty.

The Terrible Murders of Blanche Lamont and Minnie Williams

Although this episode begins with the disappearance of young Blanche Lamont, it is the body of her friend and confidante Minnie Williams that is first found in a storage room in a San Francisco Baptist Church.

But in searching for clues, police find Blanche’s brutalized corpse far up in the church’s bell tower.

The Sunday School Superintendent, a dapper but depraved medical student is charged with both murders, tried for the death of Blanche Lamont.

I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but you’ll want to stick around for the bizarre execution feast at the end.

Music by Dave Sams


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.

Poison in the Pepper Box


A reading of Yesterday’s News exploring some of history’s most prolific murderers.

Although Louise Vermilya of Chicago was never convicted of a crime, history lays up to 10 deaths at her door, mostly family members and suitors.

She did go to trial once, and we’ll take a pretty close look at the drama, including a suicide attempt, that led up to her acquittal as we look at the wake of mysterious deaths throughout her life. This story allows me to bring back Emily Simer Braun, who did such a remarkable job giving us the confession of Anna Hahn a couple of months ago, to read the quotes attributed to Louise Vermilya in the Chicago newspapers.

Music by Dave Sams


Continue reading “Poison in the Pepper Box”