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.