The Blurb On The Back:
Discover the stories behind 20 of the most infamous unsolved murders of the last century, including the Black Dahlia, the Zodiac Killer and the JonBenét Ramsey case.
Crime scenes, crucial witnesses and persons of interest are clearly and concisely presented, along with essential details and clues.
Examine the evidence and decide for yourself who could have done it?
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Amber Hunt is an award-winning crime reporter and host of the podcast Accused and Emily G. Thompson is an investigative reporter and runs the Morbidology website. In this superficial, poorly laid out and ultimately disappointing true crime collection, they summarise 20 unsolved murders – some notorious (e.g. the Black Dahlia murder) and others less well known (e.g. the Hinterkaifeck Murders) – to provide cheap titillation to arm chair detectives.
I thought this book would be an interesting take on people and attitudes of a particular time and provide insight into why some cases just never get solved – whether that’s down to bad luck or poor investigation or a lack of willingness to cooperate on the part of witnesses who may know. I picked it up because I thought that, given the background of the authors, they would be able to provide some insight into the cases that they cover here. I was wrong. There is zero insight and zero analysis of any of the cases that they summarise here.
What you instead get is a brief summary of the background to a case, sometimes with pointless supposition on what was going on. For example, in the piece on the Zodiac killer, the authors state that the first victims – David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen – were startled and made nervous by a man with a flashlight but provide zero evidence to support this. Given that the victims were killed outright and there were no apparent witnesses, it seems tasteless and a little irresponsible to make such a bold assertion without collaborating evidence. Each section has some blurry photographs of crime scenes and/or people associated with the case (including suspects) and for some of the murders they have produced diagrams of the scenes themselves to establish where the victims were. There are also editorial notes in the margins of some of the crimes that provide additional snippets of information about the case – some of which is interesting, some a little random. What I found disappointing is that the authors set out different suspects but don’t really go into whether there’s much of a case against them and it all has a gossipy, sub-Reddit feel to it. There are also a number of typos in the book, which I found irritating – especially in the captions – as it highlights the lack of care taken in putting this book together.
The full list of cases covered are as follows:
– the Villisca axe murders;
– the murder of William Desmond Taylor;
– the HInterkaifeck murders;
– the William Wallace case;
– the Shark Arm case;
– the Cleveland torso killer;
– the Happy Valley murder;
– the skeleton in the wood;
– the Black Dahlia;
– the murder of Marylin Sheppard;
– the murder of Lynne Harper;
– the Lake Bloom murders;
– the Zodiac Killer;
– the Oakland County child killer;
– the Tylenol murders;
– the murder of JonBenét Ramey;
– the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls;
– the murder of Jill Dando;
– the murder of Kathleen Peterson; and
– the Long Island serial killer.
I did find it interesting to read of cases I’d never heard of – including the Villisca axe murders, murder of Hollywood silent movie producer William Desmond Taylor (a salacious Hollywood murder that has it all, including disappearing brothers) and the Shark Arm case (which is genuinely strange), but the cases I did know of – notably the Black Dahlia, the murder of Jill Dando and the Zodiac Killer – were all quite shallow in terms of the information given so if you’re looking for a basic primer, then they’re useful but there’s nothing much of substance there. To be honest, if you’re interested in any of these I’d probably start out with a Wikipedia and on-line search and look for materials from there rather than spend the money on this book.
UNSOLVED MURDERS: TRUE CRIME CASES UNCOVERED was released in the United Kingdom on 7th February 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.