1800s, 1900s, True Crime

Bloodlands: A Superb Collection of Murderous Tales

Bloodlands is a series of six e-books available free to members of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited: each book a story of a series of murders in the 19th and 20th centuries. They were serial killers before serial killer became a term.

All the books are written by Harold Schechter. They are: The Pirate, Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie, Brick Slayer, Panic, Pied Piper, and Rampage.

Anyone who reads these books has to have a taste for the true crime genre. As a former police reporter, I can appreciate the work that went into gathering these stories and creating the collection. They are graphic, but not overly bloody. Still, anyone who reads them has to have a strong stomach.

Each story is engaging, and proves that mass murder did not begin with Columbine. Long before the many school shootings we’ve witnessed, people were murdering others.

Each of the stories is tantalizing. Rampage is the story of a man who woke up one day when he was 28 and went out in the Camden, New Jersey street to shoot 13 people, including a couple of children. He was angry because someone had vandalized his gate the night before.

The Pirate, which takes place in the early 1860s, is the story of a man who joined the crew of an oyster boat and slaughtered the three other members to rob them. He was convicted of piracy and put to death a few weeks later.

Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie is the story of the Bender family, who lived not far from Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family on the Kansas prairie in the 1870s. The Bender family ran an inn of sorts, and bludgeoned single men who they suspected of having cash, burying them in their orchard. They escaped with their lives, and although some suspects showed up in later years, the two parents and their daughter were never positively identified.

The Brick-Slayer is the story of teenager Robert Nixon, an African-American resident of Los Angeles who was convicted in a series of home invasions there and later in Chicago. The murderer entered the homes and killed people inside with a brick. The Brick-Slayer details the racist tactics the police and press used, and the fact that he was convicted by an all-white jury.

Panic describes a national panic after a wave of child murders in the 1930s. Many of these children were sexually assaulted, and parents and neighbors were horrified. One man fatally shot his three young daughters in order to protect them from this fate.

The Pied Piper, perhaps the most horrible of all the stories, is the tale of Charles Schmid, a 5’3″ monster who fancied himself a “bad-boy,” wore make-up and put a beauty mark on his cheek. He killed three young girls who were attracted to his strange charisma. The author claims his murder spree foreshadowed the free love moment and the Charles Manson murders a few years later. It also inspired a classic Joyce Carol Oates story about another “bad-boy” who comes calling when a girl is left alone at home.

While all of these stories have faded from the headlines, they encompass a century of horror played up by a media as incitable as today’s. Each book can be read in about an hour.

Grade: A-

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