Friday, April 04, 2008

The Devil's Gentleman

The Devil’s Gentleman by Harold Schechter…where to begin? First like most people I read the book because I enjoyed Schechter’s earlier work. He’s written several historical books on famous serial killers. Schechter is that rare historian who has a knack for story telling. His books read more like novels as opposed to dry historical text. He creates atmosphere and fleshes out characters better than many popular novelists and his books aren’t fiction but well researched history.

Enough of the praise! While I enjoyed the book the subject matter is a departure from Schechter’s earlier works. Previously, he wrote about serial killers including H.H. Holmes; Ed Gein; and little Jesse Pomeroy. Lurid tales in the best sense of the word! This time around he covers the sensational murders involving Roland Molineaux and the poisoning deaths of a Mrs. Adams during the turn of the century in NYC.

It’s odd…Schechter uses terms like libertine to describe Molineaux, but there isn’t a lot of detail to back up that description. He had an affair at 15 with a married woman. In his 20’s he seduced a 13 yr old child. He was rumored to have tried Opium while slumming in a hop house. Even so, I just did not get the sense of deviance that Schechter accuses Molineaux. But maybe that is Schechter’s device. Molineaux is convicted and sentenced to death largely because of circumstantial evidence and evidence that he was a degenerate. In the world of Victorian America degenerate evidently was used as a euphemism for homosexual. Molineaux, although no evidence was ever introduced that he was homosexual, was not manly enough. A century and change before the term “metro-sexual” was employed, Molineaux grooming, bearing, and choice of stationary condemned him in the eyes of the prosecution. Was he guilty? Most likely. Would they have convicted him on the same evidence today? No. But they did have sufficient evidence to charge Molineaux for the murder of his romantic rival, but never pursued the case. Why? Read the book and tell me what you think