Thanks to Laura James at CLEWS, whose enthusiastic words on librarian and true crime pioneer Edmund Lester Pearson led me to track down Studies in Murder and Masterpieces of Murder: An Edmund Pearson True Crime Reader.
Just a few stories in, and I already feel like I'm having fireside chats with a very dear, very morbid old friend.
You see, as my colleague, Greg, and I were tracking down "crimes of the heart" stories for our Valentine's Day-themed true crime program at LAPL, we had an interesting conversation about what makes a "good murder." We had no trouble finding stories that fit the bill -- Angelenos have been killing their loved ones since the city was founded.
The challenge was to find the stories that were unusual without being outright downers, or otherwise too grisly to discuss over lunch. There had to be some zaniness, some audacity, and at the risk of sounding callous, even some humor to them.
If a woman stabs her husband, it's a tragedy. If a woman stabs her husband, then claims he sustained the wound while making himself a ham sandwich, it's a tragedy, and something else as well. Something that, as Pearson might say, appeals to "the collector" of such stories.
In "What Makes a Good Murder?" Pearson explains, "The good murder, the really desirable performance, beloved by the collector is committed not by an habitual criminal but by someone of blameless life... Interesting, because unaccountable." The murder that is carefully planned and carried out for purposes of monetary or other gain resonate more than the stick-up turned tragic or the crime committed in the heat of the moment "because it is the most wicked."
Pearson's opinionated style may put some off -- he's cynical of insanity pleas, bullish on the death penalty, and openly fascinated with murderesses. However, he has all the goods that characterize the best true crime writers -- a sense of justice, a researcher's whimsical curiosity, a storyteller's instinct, and most importantly, a boundless desire to get to the bottom of things.
Some may find this kind of fascination distasteful, but to them I put Pearson's words, "Eight out of ten people are interested in murder, and of the two, one is a pretender."
As one of the eight, I can't wait to read more.