front cover of Never Seen the Moon
Never Seen the Moon
Sharon Hatfield
University of Illinois Press, 2004

Never Seen the Moon carefully yet lucidly recreates a young woman's wild ride through the American legal system. In 1935, free-spirited young teacher Edith Maxwell and her mother were indicted for murdering Edith's conservative and domineering father, Trigg, late one July night in their Wise County, Virginia, home. Edith claimed her father had tried to whip her for staying out late. She said that she had defended herself by striking back with a high-heeled shoe, thus earning herself the sobriquet "slipper slayer."

Immediately granted celebrity status by the powerful Hearst press, Maxwell was also championed as a martyr by advocates of women's causes. National news magazines and even detective magazines picked up her story, Warner Brothers created a screen version, and Eleanor Roosevelt helped secure her early release from prison. Sharon Hatfield's brilliant telling of this true-crime story transforms a dusty piece of history into a vibrant thriller. Throughout the narrative, she discusses yellow journalism, the inequities of the jury system, class and gender tensions in a developing region, and a woman's right to defend herself from family violence.


front cover of Night Riders of Reelfoot Lake
Night Riders of Reelfoot Lake
Paul Vanderwood
University of Alabama Press, 2003
A notable and tragic case of the struggle between legal and social justice

Reelfoot Lake has been a hunting and fishing paradise from the time of its creation in 1812, when the New Madrid earthquake caused the Mississippi River to flow backward into low-lying lands. Situated in the northwestern corner of the state of Tennessee, it attracted westward-moving pioneers, enticing some to settle permanently on its shores.

Threatened in 1908 with the loss of their homes and livelihoods to aggressive, outsider capitalists, rural folk whose families had lived for generations on the bountiful lake donned hoods and gowns and engaged in “night riding,” spreading mayhem and death throughout the region as they sought vigilante justice. They had come to regard the lake as their own, by “squatters’ rights,” but now a group of entrepreneurs from St. Louis had bought the titles to the land beneath the shallow lake and were laying legal claim to Reelfoot in its entirety. People were hanged, beaten, and threatened and property destroyed before the state militia finally quelled the uprising. A compromise that made the lake public property did not entirely heal the wounds which continue to this day.

Paul Vanderwood reconstructs these harrowing events from newspapers and other accounts of the time. He also obtained personal interviews with participants and family members who earlier had remained mum, still fearing prosecution. The Journal of American History declares his book “the complete and authentic treatment” of the horrific dispute and its troubled aftermath.

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Not the Camilla We Knew
One Woman's Life from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army
Rachael Hanel
University of Minnesota Press, 2022

The mystery of how an ordinary Minnesota girl came to be, briefly, one of the most wanted domestic terrorists in the United States

Behind every act of domestic terrorism there is someone’s child, an average American whose life took a radical turn for reasons that often remain mysterious. Camilla Hall is a case in point: a pastor’s daughter from small-town Minnesota who eventually joined the ranks of radicals like Sara Jane Olson (aka Kathleen Soliah) in the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army before dying in a shootout with Los Angeles Police in May 1974. How could a “good girl” like Camilla become one of the most wanted domestic terrorists in the United States? Rachael Hanel tells her story here, revealing both the deep humanity and the extraordinary circumstances of Camilla Hall’s life.

Camilla’s childhood in a tight-knit religious family was marred by loss and grief as, one after another, her three siblings died. Her path from her Minnesota home to her final, radical SLA family featured years as an artist and activist—in welfare offices, political campaigns, union organizing, culminating in a love affair that would be her introduction to the SLA. Through in-depth research and extensive interviews, Hanel pieces together Camilla’s bewildering transformation from a “gentle, zaftig, arty, otherworldy” young woman (as one observer remarked), working for social change within the system, into a gun-wielding criminal involved in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst.

During this time of mounting unrest and violence, Camilla Hall’s story is of urgent interest for what it reveals about the forces of radicalization. But as Hanel ventures ever further into Camilla’s past, searching out the critical points where character and cause might intersect, her book becomes an intriguing, disturbing, and ultimately deeply moving journey into the dark side of America’s promise.


front cover of The Notorious Edward Low
The Notorious Edward Low
Pursuing the Last Great Villain of Piracy's Golden Age
Len Travers
Westholme Publishing, 2023
Following the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1713)—generally known in the Americas as Queen Anne’s War—a dramatic, decade-long wave of sea-robbery plagued the Atlantic rim. Often glamorized as the “Golden Age of Piracy,” that period saw such colorful pirate leaders as Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Charles Vane, and “Calico Jack” Rackham and his henchwomen Anne Bonney and Mary Read. Outdoing any of these, a Boston-based laborer, Edward Low, left his mark on pirate history as a “monster,” the most vicious and sadistic raider of them all. Low’s reputation, and those of the other pirates of the time, was crafted through newspaper accounts and popular literature, most notably The General History of the Pyrates, first published in 1724. Romanticized as anti-heroes and egalitarians in a monarchical world who had liberated themselves from the constraints of law and society ashore, these marauders came to enjoy an immortality bestowed upon them by generations of historians, novelists, and moviemakers. That persistent gloss masks a more sordid reality.
            In The Notorious Edward Low: Pursuing the Last Great Villain of Piracy’s Golden Age, historian Len Travers reexamines this critical period through the career of Low, a complicated pirate leader, and his nemesis, Peter Solgard, captain of the Royal Navy warship HMS Greyhound. By the time Solgard, aboard Greyhound, was tracking Low in 1723, the era’s other notable pirates were gone—dead, captured, or disappeared. Drawing on previously unpublished Admiralty records and consulting both contemporary and modern chroniclers, Travers directs readers to much powerful testimony minimized in or excluded from histories of piracy’s “Golden Age,” leveling a critical eye at familiar sources too long accepted at face value. Travers demonstrates that, feared asthey certainly were, pirates were largely ordinary seamen trapped in desperate circumstances who, in the end, had little to show for their efforts. Contrary to popular portrayals, for pirates the second decade of the eighteenth century was a time of radically diminishing returns, scant treasure, buried or otherwise, and increasingly successful suppression by state authorities. One by one, safe havens shut out the sea-rovers, who with their depredations in America quickly squandered the sympathy and support they had once enjoyed among common folk. The Notorious Edward Lowputs individual actors, from colonial governors to captains to common seamen, at center stage, and reveals how British authorities used new anti-piracy laws to reclaim a measure of authority over their fractious North American colonies—a compelling  and meaningful story with its own brand of true-life swashbuckling on the high seas.

front cover of Notorious New Jersey
Notorious New Jersey
100 True Tales of Murders and Mobsters, Scandals and Scoundrels
Jon Blackwell
Rutgers University Press, 2007

Notorious New Jersey is the definitive guide to murder, mayhem, the mob, and corruption in the Garden State. With tabloid punch, Jon Blackwell tells riveting accounts of Alexander Hamilton falling mortally wounded on the dueling grounds of Weehawken; Dutch Schultz getting pumped full of lead in the men’s room of the Palace Chop House in Newark; and a gang of Islamic terrorists in Jersey City mixing the witch’s brew of explosives that became the first bomb to rock the World Trade Center. Along with these dramatic stories are tales of lesser-known oddities, such as the nineteenth-century murderer whose skin was turned into leather souvenirs, and the state senator from Jersey City who faked his death in a scuba accident in the 1970s in an effort to avoid prison.

Blackwell also sheds light on some historical whodunits—was Bruno Hauptmann really guilty of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby? Who was behind the anthrax attacks of 2001? Not forgotten either are notorious characters who may actually be innocent, including Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and those who have never been convicted of wrongdoing although they left office in scandal, including Robert Torricelli and James McGreevey.

Through 100 historic true-crime tales that span over 300 years of history, Blackwell shows readers a side of New Jersey that would make even the Sopranos shudder.


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