True Crime Book Review: Good Kids, Bad City by Kyle Swenson

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On May 19, 1975, Harry Franks, a white salesman, was robbed, assaulted, and murdered in broad daylight in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood. Three black youth were sentenced and spent a combined 106 years in prison for the crime. The murderer was never caught. The entirety of the prosecution’s case against Wiley Bridgeman, Kwame Ajamu, and Ricky Jackson was based on the eye-witness testimony of 12-year old Ed Vernon. Nearly 40 years later Vernon recanted his story, revealing that the police used fear and coercion to convince him to tell the story they wanted him to tell.
In Good Kids, Bad City, journalist Kyle Swenson weaves the personal stories of the young men who were sentenced to grow up in prison with the corruption and injustice that plagued the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland police department. Swenson’s narrative is a scathing indictment of systematic discrimination that continues to this day.

True Crime Book Review: Couple Found Slain by Mikita Brottman

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As an avid listener of true crime podcasts, I am drawn to stories that focus on the victims. In this case, everyone is a victim. In many ways each person-both the murder victims and their son, their killer-was the victim of untreated mental illness. The family history leading up to the deadly event is just part of the story. The rest of the story is Brian’s and what happens to the criminally insane. This is a well-researched, deep dive into life in a mental institution. Readers are left wondering about Brian and his fate. Lots to unpack and discuss.

True Crime Book Review: The Five by by Hallie Rubenhold

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Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols. Annie Chapman. Elizabeth Stride. Catherine Eddowes. Mary Jane Kelly. Everyone knows the moniker Jack the Ripper, but very few know the names of his victims. For over a century the focus has been on the killer and the nature of his crimes, the meticulous and brutal murder of prostitutes. Author Hallie Rubenhold flips the script on traditional Ripper lore, and presents the lives of the five women whose lives have been reduced by history to their victim status and alleged unsavory activities. These women were more than victims. They were servants, business owners, wives, and mothers. The press of the day was so eager to allay fear amongst Londoners that they painted a portrait of a madman who preyed on prostitutes. This narrative was not only false, it prevented the truth about these women to be known. They were not perfect, but their greatest crime was being born poor women and being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is a fascinating look at poverty in Victorian London as well as an exciting new chapter in the Jack the Ripper case. Modern day true crime fans will appreciate that author’s work in humanizing and respecting the victims of these brutal crimes. 

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