Book 1: Uncivil Twilight: The 1920s Death Sentence that Left a Serial Killer Free to Stalk and Kill Children in 1937 –Nina Martin, only 8-years-old, May Martin, just turned 12-years-old. Sisters missing near the Baldwin Hills of Los Angeles. Their bodies were not found for months. The neighborhood nightwatchman, S.C. Stone, was convicted of their murder and sentenced to death. Did this wrongful conviction and death sentence in 1925 leave a man free to kill little girls again 1937?
Book 2: Colder Case: How California Executed the Wrong Man and Left as Serial Killer Free to Stalk Children – about the tragic 1937 murder case of three small children – two sisters and their friend. Melba Marie Everett and her little sister Madeline were playing in a park with their friend Jeanette Stephens when they disappeared near the Baldwin Hills of Los Angeles. “Feeble-minded” Albert Dyer was convicted of their murders. Concerned citizens were sure the wrong man was going to be hanged and they were certain they knew who the actual killer was. Uncivil Twilight revealed how the prosecutors, lead detectives, the jury and many witnesses fought against the execution of S.C. Stone after what the California Supreme Court ruled was an “error-free” conviction. Then in 1937 many citizens thought they had a serial killer in Los Angeles, and that serial killer was responsible for the 1924 murders and the 1937 murders.
Book 3: Abandoned Justice: The Cold Case of Ten-year-old Virginia Brooks. Virginia Brooks was missing for a month before her body was found. Was a serial killer responsible? The two little Martin sisters were murdered in 1924, and two more sisters in 1937, the Everett sisters along with their friend Jeanette Stephens. This third book details the facts surrounding this similar murder of little Virginia Brooks in 1931. The investigators did all they could with the science available to them, and tried so hard to follow trace evidence it is now a fascinating look into the history of forensic science, including entomology and horticulture. Are the 1924, 1931 and 1937 cases connected by a traveling serial killer?
Book 4: In the Court of Deadly Assumptions: Another wrongful conviction, Another Murdered Girl Abandoned. While Albert Dyer was on trial for the murders of little sisters Madeline and Melba Everett and their friend Jeanette, another shocking case on the other side of the United States terrified the nation. Little Joan Kuleba was the next little girl to suffer at the hand of a possible serial killer, and she definitely suffered a lack of justice when the wrong man was convicted of her murder. Here it is, the entire record on appeal, spelling out how justice bent on tunnel vision abandoned a 4-year-old murder victim. This is the fourth book in The Colder Case Series, colder because little girls are murdered and colder because when the wrong person is sentenced to death, the case is still unsolved and the real killer is still free to kill again.
Book 5: The heartbreaking murder of little Geneva Hardman in 1920 Kentucky leads to the first time a state tried to stop a lynch mob in the South. First the state militia then martial law under U.S. troops are called with orders to protect Will Lockett, the “Negro” criminal defendant. Death and destruction ensue.
Book 6: Mania for Murder: America’s Youngest Serial Killer. At only 12-years-old Jesse Pomeroy maimed and mutilated six little boys. After spending a short time in reform school he was released and he tortured and murdered two more children, a 10-year-old girl and a 4-year-old little boy. He was sentenced to death and his sentence was commuted to life in solitary confinement starting at age 14. Solitary was strict solitary. While previous books in the Colder Case Series explore these ghastly crimes against children from different points of view, this one reveals that issues then were the same issues we debate today. This account ends with a possible solution that could subdue the never-ending pendulum of crime and punishment swinging back and forth in extreme degrees. While the depictions of the brutal crimes are difficult to stomach, the analysis then and now is worth exploring.
Sometimes The Third Degree reads like a Dashiell Hammett story, sometimes it has the voice of Joe Friday in “Dragnet” and it is always true crime through and through.
Readers of the previous volumes in The Colder Case Series will already understand why The Third Degree is included in the series. Still, it might not be as clear as it could be just how brutal the third degree was. Even today it is shocking how many wrongful convictions are due to false confessions. Indeed, the Innocence Project recently freed its 350th person exonerated by DNA, many from death row, and its website reveals insights into how it can happen in our enlightened criminal justice system of today:
“Astonishingly, more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.”
Imagine when the third degree was rampant: black jacks, suspects kept awake for days without food or water. Beatings. There had to be countless false confessions.
Emmett J. Scott’s preface:
The Negro, in the great World War for Freedom and Democracy, has proved to be a notable and inspiring figure. The record and achievements of this racial group, as brave soldiers and loyal citizens, furnish one of the brightest chapters in American history. The ready response of Negro draftees to the Selective Service calls together with the numerous patriotic activities of Negroes generally, gave ample evidence of their whole-souled support and their 100 per cent Americanism. It is difficult to indicate which rendered the greater service to their Country—the 400,000 or more of them who entered active military service (many of whom fearlessly and victoriously fought upon the battlefields of France) or the millions of other loyal members of this race whose useful industry in fields, factories, forests, mines, together with many other indispensable civilian activities, so vitally helped the Federal authorities in carrying the war to a successful conclusion. (1919)