Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping by Steven C. Drielak

Publication Date: August 3, 2020

In 1937 Alice McDonell Parsons was allegedly picked up at her home by two people interested in seeing a property she had for rent and was never seen again. A note found on the floorboard of a car led police to think it was a kidnapping, which wasn’t so far fetched as kidnaping was a very popular crime at the time. The FBI became involved and Hoover assigned his best agents to the case. The complications that followed and secrets that were exposed complicated the case of the missing woman whose fate was never really known. Drielak takes a deep dive into declassified documents to fit the puzzle pieces of what happened to Alice McDonell Parsons.

 

Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping is a fascinating read. The author spent 30 years in law enforcement and examines the historical evidence relaying it in a very readable way. There’s no whitewashing of the historical investigation. It was held up by clashes between law enforcement agencies and, in some cases, pedantic investigators. Readers start with the events of June 9, 1937 as relayed by Alice’s housekeeper/business partner, Anna Kupryanova, and Alice’s husband, William Parsons. Anna’s son, Roy, left on his bike for school while William went by train to New York City for a meeting. The changing stories and disdain that Anna had for Alice as well as Anna’s affair with Alice’s husband left suspicion in the minds of law enforcement but what would investigation show?

Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping is extremely well crafted. It’s linear and, as horrible as Anna is, relies on the facts of the case rather than the character of it’s suspects to prove it’s case. The mishandling of the case is outlined clearly. That Anna was so easily able to dominate and intimidate William was not helpful to the case. Drielak starts where the investigators do, with the idea that this is a kidnapping. The facts of the case influence the trajectory of suspicion. Why would William say that his wife couldn’t drive? Why did he lie about his relationship with Anna and why did both of their stories morph over the course of early days? 

Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping is 100% a true crime read. The details derived from law enforcement paperwork prove that truth is stranger than fiction. Did Alice walk away or did someone get away with murder? Draw your own conclusion. She certainly had the family connections and wherewithal to disappear and perhaps exact a little revenge in the leaving? Alice is a walking Dateline victim description, described as pleasant looking, gentle and happy. Loved by her family and close to her siblings children. This is true crime so there are times the morphing stories get confusing and also the narrative drags as there’s just nothing going on in the case. As the title reveals, the case was never solved. If William and Anne knew anything, they went to their graves without giving anything up and, as it’s in the title, that’s not a spoiler. 

Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping  is a great read and if you are a fan of history, true crime or just a really good story, this is a book that must not be missed.

Read an excerpt and buy Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping by Steven C. Drielak on

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Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder by Patrick Brode

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

On November 6, 1920, in the midst of Ontario’s prohibition, Provincial liquor inspector, Reverend  J.O.L “Leslie” Spracklin walked into the Chappell House Hotel in Windsor, Ontario and shot Beverly “Babe” Trumble at close range, killing him. What happened that day and how did Spracklin get away with murder?

 

 

Given the part that Ontario played in the US prohibition, which started in 1920, one would not assume that Ontario was dry at that time. The Ontario Temperance Act was passed in 1916 and while liquor could be produced and exported, it was not legal to consume. Brode begins Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder outlining Ontario’s history with alcohol and its citizens lack of reverence for the newly established rules after prohibition passed. Windsor, which is across a river just south of Detroit, Michigan,  was a special concern for the officials in Toronto as liquor seemed to flow freely back and forth across the water. There were speakeasys everywhere and hotels and social clubs would serve both locally produced and homemade products.  There are stately homes now in the lovely Walkervile area of Windsor, built by people that got rich off of the illegal flow of alcohol.

The Ontario Attorney General of the day, William Rainey, opted to bypass the local police and engage private enforcement for the liquor laws. He appointed Spracklin, the Pastor of Sandwich Methodist Church, a liquor inspector and Spracklin brought on board his own force including a very dubious Hallam brothers. From the start, there was a massive overreaching on the part of the team and allegations that when “inspections” would happen, things would go missing. The team didn’t shy away from violence and didn’t seem to care about the optics of their raids or the positions of the subjects. Rather than seeming the law of the Wild West of Ontario, they were coming off as bullies. What caused Spracklin and his men to raid the Chappell House on that November night is unknown but stories of what happened varied wildly and seem to have been the last straw for those that employed Spracklin. It may seem a spoiler in the title to say that Spracklin got away with murder but, as in any true crime, the journey is key.

At 216 pages, a quarter of which is bibliography, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a quick read. Brode, a local historian, covers Prohibition and how it was passed before going into the lives of the participants and the difference in the ways they were raised and how they looked at life. Their mothers came from the same area of Ontario to Windsor and were friends. The retelling of the event itself it brief with more detail going into the subsequent trial. It was interesting, as someone who has lived in Essex County, for 21 years, to read the names that remain familiar in the city of Windsor. Trumble’s body was handled by Janisse Funeral Home which is still in operation 100 years later. Spracklin’s men stopped people leaving Our Lady of Assumption Church, a church that was a risk for a few years but is now being restored, to search vehicles for alcohol. The trial took place at Mackenzie Hall; now an event space and where Mr. Rabid Readers and I had our wedding reception. There is a historic courtroom preserved with original furnishings in the building that is now used for Landlord-Tenant Court and as an interpretive display piece.

If you are interested in the subject, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a great read. The start is a bit dry so one must bear with the work but once the author gets into the local events and his subjects; Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is utterly fascinating and a very quick read.

 

Read an excerpt and buy Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder by Patrick Brode on

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And Now for Something Completely Different — Podcast Recommendation

I’m going to do something a little different for this Towel Day and make a recommendation of a podcast that has been around for years, but I’ve only recently started downloading.

Most Notorious is a true-crime podcast hosted by author and historian, Erik Rivenes. In each episode, Erik examines a certain moment, both well known and obscure, of history by interviewing the authors who have written books about the event. Erik and his guests strip the mythology of the bygone eras away and get to the hear of. His linear style of guiding the conversation through the event discussed is engrossing. Since discovering this podcast my “to be read” pile has grown exponentially.

In an early episode, Erik interviews author Harold Schechter whose work of non-fiction Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness I reviewed last year (to read that review click here). The interview with Erik Rivenes focuses on Schechter’s book Fiend, the subject of which is America’s youngest serial killer, Jesse Pomeroy (to check out the book’s Amazon page, click here). They discuss the recorded and likely reasons that the 14-year-old sexual sadist chose his victims and what became of him after his conviction and the many years he spent in isolation. In another early episode, Erik interviews E. Don Harpe with a focus on his book The Harpe’s Last Rampage, the True Story of America’s First Serial Killers (to check out the book’s Amazon page, click here). E. Don Harpe, a descendant of the Harpe brothers, digs deep into his subject matter and opens up about the connection he felt to his ancestors when he visited the site of their hideout. In another episode, Erik and J.D. Chandler, author of Murder and Scandal in Prohibition Portland, discuss the Torso Murder and the police’s lack of action to find a missing woman who may have been more of a danger to local law enforcement officials than they might have liked. Why was the disappearance never investigated? Is the Torso found in the local river that of the missing woman? Will the recent reopening of her disappearance yield any results?

The host’s ease with his guests and his knowledge of each subject keeps the subject moving and really makes washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom in this time of isolation a delight. As with any true-crime podcast, the subject gets heavy at times but the style of the host imbues a lighter tone while not robbing the bad that happened of its gravity. That is not to say, that all of the episodes involving bloody and horrible crimes (Nazis in America with author Arnie Bernstein was entertaining and will give listeners a new perspective on journalist, Walter Winchell).

Most Notorious is my new favorite podcast and if, like me, you love history and maybe tend to run a little bit behind the times, check it out. I think you’ll love it too. I am rapidly plowing through the 162 episodes currently uploaded and unlike some of my other podcasts, no break needed. I’m spending a ton of books and there are no regrets. Check it out today!

To check out the Most Notorious podcast go to their website.

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark Shaw

Publication Date: December 6, 2016

 

On November 8, 1965, 52-year-old investigative reporter and television personality, Dorothy Kilgallen, is found dead of an apparent overdose in her New York City home. Her files are missing and the air conditioning is running. She has been investigating the Kennedy assassination and has told people she is poised to crack it wide open. Was she the reporter who knew too much?

 

Before he started investigating the Jack Ruby trial, Mark Shaw remembered Dorothy Kilgallen as a panelist on the syndicated CBS game show, “What’s my Line.” Digging into the records, Kilgallen’s name kept coming up and her interest and dedication to cracking the case sparked Shaw’s interest in the enigmatic and talented reporter and her mysterious death. Research for The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen took Shaw 12 years and justice for Kilgallen has become his calling. Continue reading The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark Shaw

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

Publication Date: January 5, 2016

In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham, it’s 1954 and Juliet Hulme and her friend, Pauline Parker, killed Pauline’s mother. The crime, committed by two teenage girls who lived rich fantasy lives and simply did not want to be separated when Juliet would be sent to South Africa, rocked Auckland, New Zealand. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century chronicles the crime, trial and Peter Jackson film that led to the hunting down of the two long released convicts.

It seems a widely known fact that English author, Anne Perry, was born as Juliet Hulme and spent five years in prison after she and Pauline Parker were convicted of killing Pauline’s mother. Given the first name when released from prison and returning to England, she took her stepfather’s last name. A secret for many years, the release of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures brought the crime back to the public eye and interest in tracking down the now elderly teen killers. Continue reading Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

Death in the Queen City: Clara Ford on Trial, 1895 by Patrick Brode

Publication Date: June 24, 2005

 

Death in the Queen City: Clara Ford on Trial, 1895 by Patrick BrodeDeath in the Queen City: Clara Ford on Trail, 1895 by Patrick Brode is the story of Frank Westwood who was gunned down in front of his home that he shares with his parents in Parkdale, Ontario, on October 6, 1894. The 18-year-old lingers three days before dying and the police have few leads. A single tip leads the police to Clara Ford, a 33-year-old seamstress of mixed race. Clara claims that she killed Frank, but did so because he had attempted to sexually assault her. In a highly sensational case that stands as a intimate look into Victorian Toronto, would Clara be convicted or would an admitted killer go free?

 

Continue reading Death in the Queen City: Clara Ford on Trial, 1895 by Patrick Brode

Never Tell by Alafair Burke

Publication Date: June 19, 2012

 

Never Tell by Alafair BurkeIn Never Tell by Alafair Burke, N.Y.P.D. Homicide Detective Ellie Hatcher, and her partner J.J. Rogan are called to the scene of what appears to be a suicide. A sixteen-year-old with an eating disorder slashes her wrists in the bathtub and even leaves a suicide note. When the wealthy parents of the deceased use their money and connections to bring an investigation, Ellie soon realizes that there’s more to this case than meets the eye.

 

Continue reading Never Tell by Alafair Burke

A Killing in Iowa: A Daughter’s Story of Love and Murder by Rachel Corbett

Publication Date: November 14, 2011

 

A Killing in Iowa: A Daughter’s Story of Love and Murder by Rachel CorbettIn A Killing in Iowa: A Daughter’s Story of Love and Murder by Rachel Corbett, the author tells the story of growing up and knowing that her mother’s ex-boyfriend had killed himself, but not knowing the full details of his death. When she finds out that his death was the suicide part of a murder/suicide, she launches a quest to find out more about the crime and why this man she considered a father would have done such a thing.

 

Continue reading A Killing in Iowa: A Daughter’s Story of Love and Murder by Rachel Corbett