A true-crime drama follows the deadly exploits of a madman who always seems to stay one step ahead of the law.
Born in 1831, August Tuxhorn grew up in Prussia under the cruel tyranny of his father, Henry. When Henry committed suicide, August resolved to make his way to the United States with money he had long been secretly saving. He forged documents to allow him to leave the country, an act of fraudulence discovered by a fellow Prussian while August was in New Orleans. August murdered the man and a prostitute who discovered his hoard of cash. He then killed and framed the local banker for the crimes. August then made his way to Illinois, where he bought a large tract of land and began transforming it into a successful farm, becoming well-known for his violent temper. He married Elizabeth Birkenbuehl, a local waitress and fellow Prussian, and the couple gave birth to several children—Charles was the first and most unruly of all of them, made vicious by his father’s savage abuse. Eventually, Charles grew old enough to fight back, and August sent him to Kansas with a visiting cavalry regiment. Charles settled in Missouri and continued his father’s legacy of violence and murder, always slyly capable of evading arrest. He eventually married Eva Whitmore and subjected her and their children to grim mistreatment; he was finally charged with child abuse. Refusing to admit defeat, he liquefied his assets, killed his two sons, and burned his own property down to the ground, escaping yet again. Beltran’s (Trapped!, 2016) painstaking research is clearly evident, and her unadorned prose brings the story to vivid life. The author’s family story—she was adopted by Charles’ grandson, making the killer her great-grandfather—is a chilling one, and she intelligently raises probing questions about the lineage’s legacy of suicide and sadism. In addition, Beltran wisely leaves those questions without definitive answers, fodder for readers’ contemplation. The book reads like a novel, which clearly required some measure of fictional embellishment, a creative contribution supplied with skill and restraint.
A dark tale of murder all the more astonishing since it turns out to be true.