A lawyer recounts a woman’s sensational murder trial and the implications of her insanity defense.
The title is the literary equivalent of click-bait, but this is a meticulous and well-written account of one of Ohio’s most infamous murders, second perhaps in notoriety only to the Sam Sheppard case. This is not a whodunit; Tabac’s debut book begins with this statement: “In 1965, Mariann Colby, an intelligent, attractive Shaker Heights housewife and mother, shot a nine-year-old neighbor boy to death.” The boy was the son of John Young Sr., with whom the obsessed Colby “was hopelessly in love.” According to one theory, she murdered his child in revenge because he rebuffed her advances. Young told the police after identifying his son in the morgue, “Mariann Colby did it, and I believe that it was me that she wanted to kill.” Colby would become “one of the state’s most infamous villains.” Her formidable defense attorney, Gerald Gold, considered Colby’s situation to be “an electric-chair case.” When his plea to prosecutors to make a deal that would spare her life was rejected (“All of the neighbors wanted to see Mariann Colby dead,” he said), he decided to mount an insanity defense. Tabac is a practicing attorney and an emeritus professor at Cleveland Marshall College of Law. He does an admirable job of laying out the facts of the case and writing accessibly about the insanity defense, from its historical roots to the risks it presented Gold. Though readers know from the get-go that Colby is the culprit, Tabac’s deft uses of foreshadowing (“Despite a shocking act of betrayal that she committed against” her son) hint at the case’s twists and turns and should heighten readers’ eagerness to see justice done and to discover what happens next. He advances the story through dramatically doled out revelations that make this book on par with the better episodes of NBC’s true-crime series Dateline. The jury is still out on the author’s practice of bolding the first paragraph of each chapter.
Did Colby get away with murder? You be the judge. Recommended.