The latest in the ‘Best New True Crime Stories’ from Mitzi Szereto showcases a mixture of well and lesser known cases.
This book features the following writers: Joe Turner, Edward Butts, Dean Jobb, Priscilla Scott Rhoades, Tom Larsen, C.L. Raven, Anthony Ferguson, Craig Pittman, Iris Reinbacher, Mark Fryers, Chris Edwards, Jason Half, Shashi Kadapa, Stephen Wade, and Mitzi Szereto.
How we express ourselves, what we are willing to accept or do to gain someone’s approval or to make sure that they remain in our lives, differs for everyone.
In this book, we see a variety of crimes that reflect people’s most elementary expressions. We cannot condone the crimes but to a point, we do understand the emotions that they went through before they committed their crimes.
However, in other stories, sheer evil was at the heart of the crimes and the criminal. In this spirit, I must add a trigger warning to the short story by Shashi Kadapa. The story about Akku Yadav is one of evil, sexual exploitation, and assault. The story describes multiple rapes, gang rapes, of pregnant women, and children as young as twelve. It is extremely hard to read so I want to add the trigger warning.
The story that Anthony Ferguson describes, the Alma Tirtschke case, should be known to readers from another book review.
One of my favourite poison cases is in this book: Christiana Edmunds, the chocolate cream killer. It isn’t just her family’s medical history that is worth reading. It is her reasoning for the crimes that she commits, her trial, and how she spent her time in prison.
We learn in this story how certain illnesses were perceived at the time. For example, insanity was deemed to be triggered by moral causes such as poverty. Hysteria was explained by Pluto as “that which proceeds from the uterus” as he thought that the uterus was a small animal that roamed inside a woman attacking her organs.
At the time that Christiana was alive, early 1800s, strychnine could be bought at the pharmacy. You needed to sign a transaction book in front of a witness but there was no CCTV or Real ID so, wear a hat, lie through your teeth, and you could amass a small, lethal supply to get rid of a lot of people.
The reason why Christiana started her string of poison cases was as simple as it was complex. Was Christiana a jilted lover or, did she read more in the attention a man gave her that he later would not care and dare to admit? Not only will this story give you some insight into the forensic sciences available at the time but also in the cunning ways that Christiana tried to get herself off the suspect lists by getting sick too.
The story also throws a light on the complexity of deeming a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Was Christiana a M’Naghten Rule case, yes or no?
“The M’Naghten rule is a test for criminal insanity. Under the M’Naghten rule, a criminal defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity if, at the time of the alleged criminal act, the defendant was so deranged that she did not know the nature or quality of her actions or, if she knew the nature and quality of her actions, she was so deranged that she did not know that what she was doing was wrong.”
As we know, there is a difference between what is legally and morally wrong especially in how a wrong is experienced and/or perceived. In any case, Christiana was originally sentenced to death. Then, with the support of many community members, that sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Christiana spent the rest of her life at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. She died there on September 19, 1907 when she was 78 years old. Cause of death, old age combined with senile decay.
Christiana never explained what exactly was the last straw that pushed her to become a killer. She never gave any indication that there was indeed more to her relationships or not. She never expressed any regrets or said that she was sorry even though children fell victim to her poisonous chocolates too.
Right now, the asylum where she died is known as the Broadmoor Hospital. It is is a high-security psychiatric hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire, England.
As usual, Mitzi Szereto has selected quite a skilled group of short story writers who have brought to life some of history’s most gruesome cases. The book takes you across the globe and into a variety of reasons for murder and of course, manners in which they were executed. In short, there is a lot to read, a lot that you will recognize, and a lot to discover as I explained in Christiana’s case.
The publisher, Mango Publishing, gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. My other book reviews are here.