front cover of Under a Bad Sun
Under a Bad Sun
Police, Politics, and Corruption in Australia
Paul Bleakley
Michigan State University Press, 2021
Why do police officers turn against the people they are hired to protect? This question seems all the more urgent in the wake of recent global protests against police brutality. Historical criminologist Paul Bleakley addresses this by examining a series of intersecting cases of police corruption in Queensland, Australia. The protection and extortion of illegal gambling operators and sex workers were only the most visible features of a decades-long, pervasive culture of corruption in the state’s law enforcement agency. Even more dangerous—and far harder to prosecute—was the corrupt bargain between the police and the state’s conservative government, which gave law enforcement free rein to profit from criminalized vice in return for supporting the government’s repression and persecution of its political enemies, from punk music fans to gay men to left-wing protestors. While intimidating members of the political opposition, the police also protected friends and allies from criminal prosecution, even for offenses as serious as child sex abuse. When journalists and investigators revealed this corrupt bargain in 1987, the premier was forced from office and the police commissioner went to prison. But untangling politics from policing proved—and continues to prove—far more difficult in societies around the world. This true crime story goes beyond the everyday violations of law and ethics to underscore how central honest, equitable policing is to a truly democratic society.

front cover of Unwanted
A Murder Mystery of the Gilded Age
Andrew Young
Westholme Publishing, 2016
A Sensational Crime and Trial that Confronted Racism, Sexism, and Privilege as America Took to the World Stage
On the foggy, cold morning of February 1, 1896, a boy came upon what he thought was a pile of clothes. It was soon discovered to be the headless body of a young woman, brutally butchered and discarded. She was found just across the river from one of the largest cities in the country, Cincinnati, Ohio. Soon the authorities, the newspapers, and the public were obsessed with finding the poor girl’s identity and killer. Misinformation and rumor spread wildly around the case and led authorities down countless wrong paths. Initially, it appeared the crime would go unsolved. An autopsy, however, revealed that the victim was four months pregnant, presenting a possible motive. It would take the hard work of a sheriff, two detectives, and the unlikely dedication of a shoe dealer to find out who the girl was; and once she had been identified, the case came together. Within a short time the police believed they had her killers—a handsome and charismatic dental student and his roommate—and enough evidence to convict them of first-degree murder. While the suspects seemed to implicate themselves, the police never got a clear answer as to what exactly happened to the girl and they were never able to find her lost head—despite the recovery of a suspicious empty valise. 
Centering his riveting new book, Unwanted: A Murder Mystery of the Gilded Age, around this shocking case and how it was solved, historian Andrew Young re-creates late nineteenth- century America, where Coca-Cola in bottles, newfangled movie houses, the Gibson Girl, and ragtime music played alongside prostitution, temperance, racism, homelessness, the rise of corporations, and the women’s rights movement. While the case inspired the sensationalized pulp novel Headless Horror, songs warning girls against falling in love with dangerous men, ghost stories, and the eerie practice of random pennies left heads up on a worn gravestone, the story of an unwanted young woman captures the contradictions of the Gilded Age as America stepped into a new century, and toward a modern age.

front cover of Utah's Lawless Fringe
Utah's Lawless Fringe
Stories of True Crime
Stanford J. Layton
Signature Books, 2001
 It was Sunday and worship service was in progress. One of the settlers who was not attending service eyed four known outlaws passing near town. He raced to church to spread the alarm, and parishioners leaped up, grabbed their guns, and galloped off in pursuit, joined by some neighboring cattlemen. Before it was over, one of the posse was dead.

So it went on the outskirts of Utah Territory. In this case it was the little town of Bluff where the Mormon bishop served for some ten years as de facto sheriff and his congregation as deputies. As elsewhere, law and order developed organically rather than by legislation.

In this anthology several aspects of the process are considered, including one of the worst manifestations of citizen action: vigilantism. Territorial Utah witnessed more lynchings than legal executions. Another citizen trait was an unexpected indifference to vice. In 1908 Salt Lake City had 148 registered prostitutes overseen by a madam who was recruited for the position by the mayor and city council. During Prohibition one of the largest distilleries in the West operated in a Salt Lake warehouse.

What is to be learned from this? The contributors to these fourteen articles leave moral considerations to the reader’s contemplation, while providing surprises along the way in an extremely engaging—dare we say arresting—read.


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