Murder, America, Bill James discussed on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory
Eight fifty AM and ninety four one FM. Bill James works for the advisers the Boston Red Sox. And and so it is that he spends a lot of his time in the sports world leaders is talking before the top of the hour about the difference between being in that sort of positive place with very positive energy around people involved doing positive community things and writing the from the train because he likes to write about crime. So do you want to finish that? You're you're fading out. I was not able to hear a lot of them. I'm fading out. No can have that. I was just saying that you were presenting sort of a dichotomy of. Working in the sports world by day and writing crime at night. Yeah. The saying that crime stories are fascinating too. It's because they they come from the parts of ourselves. So we don't like to talk about. And normally talk about in the specific case of the man the train. I didn't make a deliberate and thoughtful entry into the subject, I just got like a fish. I was I was I saw a documentary about the murders in blue sky called Velasco living with a mystery. It's an extremely well done documentary and far above normal levels of crime documentary. I was interested in it. And it was clear that there was a part of the story that was missing which is that it's relatively obvious that the bliss commercials are a part of a series. So I started going to put an hour into into trying to learn more about the series. But the the hour became we can the week eventually became prime. Five or six years. They I didn't I didn't decide to get into it. I just wandered into. It shows you. You can do you consider this a true crime book? Sure. Yes. It is. Yeah. And that's the interesting piece too. Is that true crime? The tradition for true crime is I discovered in my research goes all the way back to execution sermons. Right. Sort of shares a similar DNA with American journalism. Except that in the case of true crime. You know, it was the it was the preachers. It was the circuit riding preachers ministers. That would come to these towns on the day of somebody's execution, and they would do a sermon just before the execution that would try to provide the context for why this person was being executed in why the community overall would benefit from his or her death. And it became an important part of trying to understand executions in America. And and this is where when the preachers decided there they used to just print up their sermons and people would snap them up. And then he thought well heck this I'll just sell it for a nickel. And so they started to sell their execution sermons, and then they would get passed around and these became some of the early bestselling true crime narratives, it it fulfills the same function is what you're doing in in the man from the train you're trying to bring in even though it's a hundred plus years later, in some cases, you're trying to bring a kind of a kind of healing. Anyway, not that anybody is still alive that was directly involved, but for these communities, maybe this this lingering sense of some tragedy that had happened. Maybe some closure. On an exactly what happened to their town. And how their town was involved or not involved in the deaths of of somebody that at one point. You know, we're popular members of the community. There was an interesting thing that happened just a few weeks ago. I actually got a letter from a man in London England who was a a great great and had been was one of the victims of crime interesting always believed that the man who was accused of her murder and was locked up without any evidence for two years before he was released as he always believed that he had gotten away with it. And he says it reading it in my book that in our book that it wasn't. That was not actually what had happened was just a tremendous relief to him. That was a shock to me. I hadn't thought about it was it was a shot. You said he was just tremendously relieved to realize that it was just a random crime. And that this man hadn't actually that madman hadn't actually gotten away with it was this other fellow. And I don't know why it was important to him. Well, I understand I understand the sense. It was important to know what had happened. But you know, one guy getting away with it or another guy getting away with it. Unpunished, I I don't know that there's a lot of different. But he's still did have that reaction to it. Yeah. Go ahead. Please. No lot of the book. What book is about is is all all books. All good books. Our search for understanding a lot of the book is is trying to get people to understand the America in which these crimes occurred. They Kurt a hundred years ago and. I grew up in a small town very much like the crimes that these that these. He's murders occurred in and I grew up in fifty sixty years ago. So it's sorta equidistant from me and them, and that's one reason that the story was powerful to me. But I am trying to get people to understand what what the criminal Justice system was like help fantastically primitive. It was the what how people lived that. They they lived rich meaningful lies. People in urban areas today think of people who lived in small towns one hundred years ago or often think of people who lived in small towns a hundred years ago, I was living these boring lives, which nothing ever happened. All of the things that happened to you and me and people in our lives happen to people in small towns. I mean, they they got married they fell in love and got married, and they got divorced, and they started careers and got promoted and got fired they moved and they went on long trips and brought back souvenirs, they they had entertainment. So they went to literally every night all of the things that that happened to happen to us happened to them, and I was trying to create a a picture. Unfortunately, it is a picture of their death. So that's a terrible picture because they died terrible death. But also is trying to create a picture of how they live and give the reader an understanding of what it was like to be an American small town two years ago. I think you did that very effectively. In fact, I think that's one of the interesting things about true crime in general is that the the focus can be on things which Rian Vert the inverted pyramid of journalism. And you can spend a lot more time on the things which are less important to telling the story in proper journalism. You can spend a lot more time talking about the atmosphere of town or the the things that people eight or the way that houses were constructed or communities were laid out you can you can do that. And it brings a fresh context to these murders. You know, as opposed to the traditional way that that crimes are covered in in straight storytelling in journalism context. That's what I really like what you were doing especially when you're getting into the fabric of of these communities. What is that always sticks? With me that the point you were just making that has to do with the the taco in the case asako and vans. Eddie. One of them. I think it was Sako. Had an alibi for the time of one of the crimes what are the crimes committed on December twenty four th of I think nineteen nineteen or nineteen eighteen and he had a. He had witnesses who said that on that particular date. He was delivering a to his neighbors in an Italian community a pickle deals because pickled eels were a delicacy that were eating on Christmas day. And there were there was. But there was conflict in testimony that said, no, no, no that couldn't have been done on December twenty four th because you never by the pickle deals on December on Christmas Eve, you have to buy them on December twenty second or something. So that you have time to prepare them and put them in on on ice for a couple of days before you eat them the. It's a it's a tiny detail that you would never survive. I mean, you would never know that that was true Italian as a way that the talian American communities live two hundred years ago, except that it's important in a crime story. Stories are they're these little there's a flash of light. That eliminates the details of. Something that would otherwise be totally forgotten. Yeah. I think that brings us very effectively to volition Iowa, and the the crime story, which as you pointed out earlier is the one that starts to to give away. The the communities are already catching on at this point to the fact that there's a killer on the railways take us take us through what happened invalid. On the night of June nine nineteen twelve. The lights were out in politica. Due to a a dispute between the ballista city council and the power company. So they had city lights and streetlights, but they were out and the town was in complete darkness the Sunday night. There was a church service. I Sunday night check service organized by one of the victims. The woman who was the head of the house after the. After the service. I didn't get into this in the book. But I think it's true. I don't believe the murders would ever have happened when they did had the lights been on. And the reason that was true is that he had committed another atrocity of just six days earlier about a hundred miles away. And he normally would not have. Had another outrage that quickly, but because the lights the city was plunged into darkness. It was a perfect opportunity for him. And he couldn't pass it up anyway, re two little girls named Anna Lena, still injure went home with a more family, the family of Henry Moore, they walked home after the church service, and and the little girl spent the night with the their friend. The little girl is a member of the family on the morning of June ten wanna stirring around in the house. The and the his brother finally comes and breaks into the house finds a couple of bodies and runs out of the house scraping. They bring the town marshal. And he his name was Hank Horton, Horton courageously goes through the house. You have to understand. He has no reason to believe anything other than. That a crazed murderer is hiding somewhere in this house. It is a dark house. He's holding matches in front of him. With no gun no form of protection, holding matches in front of in front of his himself going from room to room finding bodies very eight dead bodies in the house and long towels in a small quiet, but western town, the and all of and hitting the head with an axe the access found as it usually is next to the body of a little girl. The mansion the train was a pervert. And he was interested in little little girl. Little girl was usually found in a in an attitude suggesting that she had been. She had been outraged after that the. In any case. The crime was not there was a great uproar as you can imagine. But the crime was not solved. Two years later, a con man named Jay and Welker Sohn came to Valenica and realized that he could sustain a phony investigation of the crime by keeping people angry. He could keep donations coming in by keeping people angry..