The fiendish story of “mad sculptor” Robert Irwin (1908–1975), featuring “the kind of lurid goings-on that speak to the secret dreams and dangerous desires of the public.”
Examining the life and surroundings of Irwin, who perpetrated a triple homicide on Easter Sunday 1937, veteran true-crime writer Schechter (American Literature and Culture/Queens Coll.; Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of, 2012) also offers tales of other grisly murders, particularly the two murders that took place over an 18-month period in exclusive Manhattan’s Beekman Place. They are connected only by geography and the fact that the tabloids embellished the stories with any salacious material they could dig up or create. Schechter delivers a solid indictment of the journalism practices of the 1920s and ’30s. It was a time of trial by newspaper, with everyone, including Walter Winchell, having a go at the latest suspect. The police were not much help since they fed the beast in their announcements of every lead and suspect. The murders by the mad sculptor were not even his intended victims; they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Obsessing about a girl who spurned his proposal, Irwin intended to kill her, and his earlier attempt at self-emasculation to enable him to focus on his powers of visualization brought him to the only psychiatrist who understood his problem, the famed German-born Fredric Wertham. Irwin committed himself to mental institutions on a number of occasions, and his long history of mental illness, possibly due to congenital syphilis, his explosive temper and self-delusion marked him as a man who never should have been released.
For readers who enjoy the stories of the sensationalistic press of the 1930s and its crass exploitation of the details of horrific murders; not for fans of clever police work or investigative reporting.