A retired Los Angeles County homicide detective recounts his investigation to apprehend a serial killer who murdered at least six people by injecting them with insulin.
It’s 1966, and Harold W. White learns from a colleague that William Dale Archerd “has lost another wife.” The much-married con man has been on the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s radar since the death of wife No. 4 in 1956, when Archerd claimed that robbers had injected him and his wife with sedatives. Disgruntled wife No. 3 told police that Archerd, who worked briefly as an assistant in a hospital, had discussed with her how injecting someone with insulin would be the perfect crime; she believed that, years ago, he killed his new wife and a male acquaintance in just that fashion. There wasn’t enough evidence, so the case stalled until 1961, when Archerd’s nephew died under suspicious circumstances. White, who was now on the case with his partner, uncovered that Archerd had financial incentive to kill the nephew and likely also killed wife No. 5 as well as the ex-husband of wife No. 6, but again, he can’t make an arrest. The death of wife No. 7, perhaps the sixth time Archerd killed, becomes the last straw for White. He, a new partner and a district attorney travel the country to get more information from Archerd’s various cohorts and, most importantly, tap medical experts to prove how the deaths were caused. Their work leads to a landmark 1968 conviction, the first for murder by injecting insulin in this country. While White’s memoir has historical value as a first-person account of the police work on this case, it’s both overly detailed and incomplete. Most readers would probably rather know less about the height and weight of minor players and more about the psychology of the killer, the women who married him and the science that proved critical to the case. An at-times humorous, “just the facts, ma’am” police report, White’s account often lacks the contextual consideration readers might hope for in the evaluation of a decades-old case. Archerd’s ultimate fate, for example, gets the short shrift in favor of multiple congratulatory letters White received following the conviction.
An uneven memoir better suited as source material for a deeper true-crime narrative.