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by Colin Evans
Shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction 2011.
America, 1916 a man on death row, hours from the Electric chair committed by avaricious private investigators, bent law enforcement agents and cheapjack forensic experts. Charles Stielow was a poor, ill-educated labourer convicted of the murder of his employer and housekeeper, convicted but innocent, his case became a notorious proving ground for real forensics. Stielow’s case has as many twists and turns as any high-powered thriller and Evans spins out the tension as he details the battle of Stielow’s defence to get him freed and the true killers convicted.
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This title tells the dramatic tale of the New York farmhand condemned to death in 1915, who became the first convicted murderer ever to be freed by forensic science. How an innocent 37-year-old farmhand with the mind of an infant came within minutes of being executed at Sing Sing Prison in New York in 1916, only to be spared at the last moment, is one of the most fascinating yet little-known stories in criminal history. Slaughter on a Snowy Morn is the first full account of the landmark case that turned Charles Stielow, accused killer of a wealthy landowner and his housekeeper, into the American Dreyfus and changed the face of forensic science around the globe. Stielow was convicted on a phoney confession and the crooked 'expert' testimony of a fussy, jumped-up druggist named Albert H. Hamilton. Without the efforts of Grace Humiston, America's most celebrated female lawyer, Stielow would have gone to the electric chair. She saved him, but it was forensic science that gave him back his liberty. The colourful cast list includes New York state Governor Charles Whitman, keen to follow previous job incumbents Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt into the White House, and his nemesis, Sing Sing warden Thomas Mott Osborne, a passionate opponent of the death penalty, convinced of Stielow's innocence. But the story's unsung hero is the obsessively secretive, quietly spoken Charles E. Waite - the great mystery man of American forensic science - whose team of experts tore Hamilton's testimony to shreds, finding that Stielow's pistol had not been fired in years. Incensed by Stielow's ordeal, Waite was driven to found the world's first ballistics laboratory. This is a nail-biting account of wrongful conviction, redemption in an age of bare-knuckle politics, cynical courtroom manoeuvring - and American forensic science's baptism of fire.
The case of farm worker Charles Stielow remains one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American legal history, even though redemption eventually came. Stielow, who had the mind of a child, was convicted on trumped-up evidence of murdering two people against whom he had no grudge. Crooked lawyers, a corrupt druggist, and ambitious politicians refused to hear any evidence that would acquit Stielow, until forensic scientist Charles E Waite forced the legal system into a U-turn. Colin Evans writes almost like a novelist with a great eye for detail and drama, while even in a case as explosive as this he injects some humour.
Publication date: 01/07/2010
Publisher: Icon Books Ltd
|Publication date:||1st July 2010|
|Publisher:||Icon Books Ltd|
|Genres:||Crime / Mystery, The Real World,|
Colin Evans is the author of several books specialising in forsensics. 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)More About Colin Evans