A recounting of the gruesome details of sensational crimes of the twentieth century in Germany, the United States and Canada.
Originally published in Germany in 2002, forensic scientist Benecke (The Dream of Eternal Life, 2002) brings his research to the English-speaking audience. He explains the tools and techniques of scientific investigators, makes manifest the role of chance in criminal investigations, reveals the workings of criminal minds and demonstrates that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Some of the cases he presents are from German archives and are likely to be unfamiliar to American readers—for example, Peter Kurten, aka the “Dusseldorf Vampire,” and Karl Denke, who served his victims as meals and made tools from their remains. More familiar will be the Lindbergh kidnapping case (Benecke shows how investigators were able to match wood in the ladder used with wood in the home of Bruno Hauptmann, the man convicted of the crime), and the O.J. Simpson case (Benecke retraces the prosecution’s errors and presents the forensic evidence that the jury dismissed). Jeffrey Dahmer gets a close look, too, as do Paul Bernardo and Karla Homulka, whose series of brutal rapes made headlines in Canada in the 1990s. Sandwiched into this rambling narrative of heinous crimes and criminal investigations are a dozen boxed mini-essays on such topics as the preservation of Lenin’s corpse, facial reconstruction, corpse-tracking dogs and genetic finger-printing. The author, who opposes capital punishment, includes an especially graphic piece on the effects of beheading. Many of the illustrations are gruesome, featuring skulls, corpses, murder weapons and the remnants of butchered bodies.
This hodgepodge of crime stories is definitely not for the squeamish. Prepare for gore.