The Best Stuff We've Read this Week - Crime Edition

Josh Clark

We had a bounty of good articles last week and some spilled over. We noticed they all shared the element of crime, so we put this post together. And here we are.

The Nightmare of the West Memphis Three. A New York Review of Books, well, review of a few documentary films and a book about three teenagers accused and convicted of the brutal 1993 murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The three accused were 16 to 18 at the time of their arrests, social outcasts and one was of below average intelligence. In the face of horror from the community and call for blood, all three were railroaded, sentenced to life in prison and one sentenced to death -- all wrongly. If it wasn't for the HBO documentarians who came to town to cover the crime and discovered how badly prosecutors had missed the mark, the men would likely be in jail still. But the HBO trilogy of the case brought international attention (and money) to the boys' defense, ultimately freeing them in 2011. This piece alone is incredibly engrossing; the documentaries must surely be amazing. And here is another, equally interesting piece on the West Memphis 3, published in 2011 in GQ.

Jailed Unjustly in the Death of a Rabbi, Man Nears Freedom. Another wrongful conviction report out of New York, this one from the Times, the story of David Ranta is a chilling reminder of how right your mother was when she told you to be careful who you hang around. When a high-profile Hasidic rabbi was murdered during a botched robbery in 1990, police, led by a "swaggering, cigar-chewing" detective, used old school techniques like trading opportunities to have sex with prostitutes among jailed rapists for their complicity in fabricating a suspect. That hapless target turned out to be David Ranta, a drug addict and thief who knew a guy who knew a guy who ultimately put the crime on him, complete with lying witnesses. Ranta is up for release, but perhaps the most important but ignored part of this piece is that the detective who obviously framed him is and will likely remain a free man.

How Crazy is Too Crazy to be Executed? Writing in Mother Jones, Mark Bookman chronicles the case of Andre Thomas, a Texas man suffering from schizophrenia who murdered his wife and two children and cut out their hearts because, as Thomas later said, the three were "Jezebel," "the Antichrist" and "evil." Thomas was convicted and sentenced to death, but his behavior in prison has caused some observers to wonder if he is too insane to be lawfully or ethically executed. Several years ago, Thomas gouged out his own eye; prosecutors, who have always believed Thomas is feigning mental illness in an effort to be released from prison, were unmoved. Thomas later slashed his own throat; prosecutors were still unmoved. Most recently, Thomas gouged out his other eye and ate it. With the attention being brought to the case now that the defendant has blinded himself, the opinions of the prosecutors may not matter any longer.

The Ax Murderer Who Got Away. A whodunnit of a gruesome 1912 octuple ax murder from the annals of a small town in Iowa, published in Smithsonian Magazine. I don't want to give anything away; I was surprised by how tawdry much of the townfolk were back then.

The Case of the Vanishing Blonde. This Vanity Fair piece by Mark Bowden, known better for writing military accounts of the Delta Force's exploits or the siege of a trapped U.S. platoon in Somalia, is perhaps the best work of true crime writing I've ever encountered. The story of a woman found beaten and raped in a field outside of Miami and the lone private detective she'd never met who painstakingly examined the evidence on the hunt for her attacker or attackers, the number, ethnicity or race of which she could not remember. Man, this was a good article.