Sunday Reading: Crimes of Passion
In 1859, Daniel Sickles, a congressman from New York, shot his wife’s lover—the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and the son of Francis Scott Key—in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. Sickles invoked the defense of “temporary insanity”—he was the first American to do so—and, soon afterward, was acquitted by a jury sympathetic to the idea that he had committed a crime of passion. This week, we’re bringing you stories about criminal acts committed in the midst of romantic tumult. In “The Perils of Pearl and Olga,” St. Clair McKelway explains how a Manhattan salesgirl was tricked by a man into shooting another woman on a subway train. Nathan Heller examines the saga of two college lovers convicted of a brutal slaying; James Lasdun writes about his dentist, Gilberto Nunez, who became embroiled in a murderous love triangle. In “Mind Game,” Carl Elliott considers the case of a New Zealand psychiatrist whose wife died under mysterious circumstances. Janet Malcolm reports on the trial of a Queens doctor accused of hiring someone to kill her estranged husband. Finally, Joan Acocella explores how some nineteenth-century women used arsenic to dispatch their husbands. We hope that you enjoy these stories of doomed and deranged love.
“They had never met, had never spoken, but their lives had been drawn together, and the entwinement was a sinister one.”
“The crimes of which Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Soering were convicted, it has become increasingly probable, weren’t the murders that occurred.”
“We go through life mishearing and mis-seeing and misunderstanding so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up. Trial lawyers push this human tendency to a higher level.”
“ ‘My dentist was recently indicted for murder.’ It sounds like a droll line that you’d use at a dinner party, but in my case it’s true.”
“In the mid-nineteenth century, arsenic poisoning was commonly the resort of women. But unpleasant husbands were not the only people you might want to eliminate.”
“What is striking about the case of Colin Bouwer was the man’s ability to fool his colleagues, many of whom would have studied psychopaths in their medical training.”