Douglas Starr wins the CWA Non-Fiction Gold Dagger
The judges have awarded the 2011 CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction to Douglas Starr for The Killer of Little Shepherds, published by Simon & Schuster. The book, about the crimes and conviction of the nineteenth century French serial murderer Joseph Vacher, known and feared as “The Killer of Shepherds,”, was commended for its excellent style and its appeal to the general reader. The announcement was made at the CWA Awards Ceremony during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate.
The judges were this year very impressed with the quality of the seventeen submissions for the Non-Fiction Gold Dagger. The subjects were particularly notable for their international coverage; not only the United States and Britain, but France, Japan, Mexico, Spain and Bali. The judges gave an honourable mention to In The Place of Justice by Wilbert Rideau (Profile).
The CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction is a competition for any non-fiction work on a real-life crime theme or a closely-related subject by an author of any nationality, as long as the book was first published in the UK in English between between 1st June, 2010 and 31st May, 2011. The other four books on this year’s shortlist were:
The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders (HarperCollins)
Slaughter on a Snowy Morn by Colin Evans (Icon Books)
The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo (Michael Joseph)
Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Colquhoun (Little, Brown)
The Killer of Little Shepherds
Simon & Schuster
Synopsis: At the end of the nineteenth century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher, dubbed “The Killer of Little Shepherds,” terrorised the French countryside. He eluded authorities for years - until he ran up against prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the era’s most renowned criminologist. The two men typified the Belle Epoque, a period of immense scientific achievement and fascination with its promise to reveal the secrets of the human condition.
Douglas Starr recounts the infamous crime and punishment of Vacher, interweaving the story of how Lacassagne and his colleagues developed forensics as we know it. We see one of the earliest uses of criminal profiling, as Fourquet painstakingly collects eyewitness accounts, leading to Vacher’s arrest. And we see the twists and turns of the celebrated trial: to disprove Vacher’s defense by reason of insanity, Fourquet recruits Lacassagne, who had revolutionized criminal science. Lacassagne’s forensic investigation ranks among the greatest of all time, and its denouement is gripping.
Judges’ comments: ‘A notorious French case of a serial killer, undetected for a very long time, as he traveled about the country. Many details of the investigation include the developments in forensic science by Lacassagne (who was principal witness at the eventual trial), Lombroso, Gross, Locard and Bertillon.’
Douglas Starr is a professor of journalism and co-director of the Science & Medical Journalism Program at Boston University. His previous book, BLOOD: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce won the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was named to the “Best Books of 1998” lists of Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal.
Here are more details of the shortlisted books:
The Invention of Murder
Synopsis: Murder in the 19th century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment began and became ubiquitous – transformed into novels, into broadsides and ballads, into theatre and melodrama and opera – even into puppet shows and performing dog-acts.
In this meticulously researched book, subtitled How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime Judith Flanders retells the gruesome stories of many different types of murder – both famous and obscure. From the crimes (and myths) of Sweeny Todd and Jack the Ripper, to the tragedies of the murdered Marr family in London’s East End, Burke and Hare and their bodysnatching business in Edinburgh, to Greenacre who transported his dismembered fiancée around town by omnibus.
Judges’ comments: ‘A comprehensive account of how journalists, playwrights and other writers brought the attention of the 19th century public to the entertainment value of stories of violent murder, and how they established the style and techniques of contemporary crime writing.’
Judith Flanders is the author of the bestselling The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed and Consuming Passions, as well as the critically acclaimed A Circle of Sisters which was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. She is a frequent contributor to the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Evening Standard and the Times Literary Supplement. She lives in London.
Photo: Clive Barda
Slaughter on a Snowy Morn
Synopsis: Sing Sing Prison, New York, July 1916 Charles Frederick Stielow, a 37 year-old farmhand with the mind of an infant, is just minutes away from the electric chair for a double murder he didn’t commit. With a vengeful legal system baying for blood, his situation looks hopeless. Eight blocks away, his wife sobs helplessly in her hotel room, certain she will never see her husband alive again… Slaughter on a Snowy Morn is one of the most fascinating but little-known stories in criminal history. Colin Evans’ dazzling new book is the first full account of the sensational murder case which divided New York society in the early twentieth century. Cinematic in scope, it charts a case of historical significance which marked the development of landmark changes in American forensic science.
Judges’ comments: ‘Not a well-known American crime, but a detailed and very readable account, and significant in crime history for two reasons. Firstly, the dedicated fight by a woman attorney to save the accused from the electric chair at Sing Sing. Secondly, the pioneering work in ballistics by Waite and Goddard.’
Colin Evans is the author of 16 books dealing with forensics and true crime. His fascination with the murkier side of human nature began while he was still in school. Hours spent in library archives soaking up contemporary newspaper accounts about Jack the Ripper (no, he doesn’t have any clues to the killer’s identity, and he seriously doubts that anyone else does, either) got him started and it’s really never stopped since then.
His books include The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes, and Father of Forensics (Icon, 2008). He lives in Wiltshire.
In the Place of Justice
Synopsis: In 1961, young, black, eighth-grade dropout Wilbert Rideau despaired of his small-town future in the segregated deep south of America. He set out to rob the local bank and after a bungled robbery he killed the bank teller, a fifty-year-old white female. He was arrested and gave a full confession. When we meet Rideau he has just been sentenced to death row, from where he embarks on an extraordinary journey. He is imprisoned at Angola, the most violent prison in America, where brutality, sexual slavery and local politics confine prisoners in ways that bars alone cannot. Yet Rideau breaks through all this and finds hope and meaning, becoming editor of the prison magazine, going on to win national journalism awards. Full of gritty realism and potent in its evocation of a life condemned, Rideau goes far beyond the traditional prison memoir and reveals an emotionally wrought and magical conclusion to his forty-four years in prison.
Judges’ comments: ‘The heart-warming autobiography of Wilbert Rideau, a teenage killer who spent the longest-ever imprisonment in the USA, mostly in an Angolan prison. He was for many years editor of the prison newsletter, the Angolite, winning many awards for journalism, and after a long struggle was eventually declared rehabilitated in 2005.’
Wilbert Rideau has won many journalism awards. He was editor of the Angolite, the first prison publication to be nominated for a National Magazine Award. It was nominated seven times under his editorship. He also co-directed the documentary The Farm which was nominated for an Oscar. He now lives in Louisiana.
The Murder Room
Synopsis: Three of the world’s greatest detectives – a renowned former FBI agent, a forensic sculptor and an eccentric profiler known as ‘the living Sherlock Holmes’ – were distraught at the growing tide of unsolved murders. And so William Fleisher, Frank Bender and Richard Walter pledged themselves to a quest for justice . . . They invited the finest collection of forensic minds ever assembled, drawn from five continents, to bring the coldest killers in the world to account. Named after the first detective – Eugene Francois Vidocq – the Vidocq Society meets monthly to solve a cold case. The Murder Room paints a chilling picture as the three partners travel far and wide to hunt – among countless others – the ruthless killers of a millionaire’s son, a serial killer who carves off faces, and a child killer enjoying fifty years of freedom and dark fantasy.
Judges’ comments: ‘The story of the Vidocq Society, founded by former FBI expert William Fleisher, forensic sculptor Frank Bender, and the eccentric profiler Richard Walter – known as ‘the living Sherlock Holmes’. They meet regularly to investigate, and hopefully solve, the ever-increasing number of murder cold cases in the USA.’
Michael Capuzzo has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize four times. He is the author of the international bestseller Close to Shore. He lives with his wife and two children in New Jersey.
Photo: Bevin Coffee
Mr Briggs’ Hat
Synopsis: In July 1864, Thomas Briggs was travelling home after visiting his niece and her husband for dinner. He entered a First Class carriage on the 9.45pm Hackney service of the North London railway. At Hackney, two bank clerks entered the carriage and discovered blood in the seat cushions; also on the floor, windows and sides of the carriage. A bloodstained hat was found on the seat along with a broken link from a watch chain. The race to identify the killer and catch him as he flees on a boat to America was eagerly followed by citizens both sides of the Atlantic. Kate Colquhoun tells a gripping tale of a crime that shocked the nation.
Judges’ comments: ‘‘Britain’s first railway murder’. Thomas Briggs, a City banker, was fatally attacked on a Hackney-bound train on 9 July 1844. In a blood-spattered compartment , all that was found was his walking-stick, his empty bag – and a hat that was not his. There was no sign of Briggs. The author evokes the atmosphere of Victorian rail travel, and details the hunt for the killer.’
Kate Colquhoun’s previous non fiction titles were shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize 2004 and longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. As well as writing for several newspapers and magazines, she appears regularly on national radio and television. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.
Brian Innes, Chair: Graduated in chemistry, and worked for some years in biochemical research. He is the author of more than 40 books, mainly on criminal matters, and published in 16 foreign languages.
Elli Gooden: Eleanor Gooden has been employed for over twenty years in the Probation Service, working both in prisons and out in the community, specialising in sex offences, domestic abuse and other violent crimes. She has run therapeutic programmes to treat offenders.
Professor Allan Jamieson, Director of the Forensic Institute in Glasgow: Widely recognised as an expert in forensics science, he is also co-editor in chief of Wiley’s Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences.
Susan Moody: Susan has published 28 novels most of them crime fiction, and has been translated into 20 languages, She is a former Chairman of the CWA and a former President of the International Association of Crime Writers (IACW).
Helen Pepper: Helen’s first job was with the Forensic Science Service. She currently works as a senior lecturer in Police Studies at Teesside University. Helen enjoys helping crime writers with their research, and is also a consultant for ITV drama.