Slaughter on a Snowy Morn PBK – press release
SLAUGHTER on a SNOWY MORN
A Tale of Murder, Corruption and the Death Penalty Case that Shocked America
Pub Date: 13 January 2011
£8.99 ● Paperback ●
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.
It is 1915 and Charlie Stielow – a semi-literate, German immigrant in upstate New York – is desperate for work. After months of hardship for him and his family, he lands a job working for an elderly farmer. Eight days after beginning, Charlie wakes up one snowy morning to discover the housekeeper has been shot dead and his employer is lying mortally wounded.
The local sheriff and DA rush to the crime scene seeking a fast conviction. And so begins one of the most ham-fisted investigations ever brought to sentence. Under immediate suspicion, Charlie is brutally interrogated and deprived of sleep and food. Under duress, he confesses but adamantly refuses to sign a statement. He stands trial for double murder against the backdrop of the sinking of the Lusitania, with the media baying for foreign blood and against scientific evidence given by an infamous shyster forensic expert. The court returns the verdict of guilty and Charlie is sentenced to death by electrocution.
The action moves to Sing-Sing where Charlie’s team of supporters, convinced of his innocence, work tirelessly on his behalf for an appeal. Evans presents portraits of some of Charlie’s fellow death-row inmates who were amongst the most notorious criminals of the day. They included Hans Schmidt, the German-born Catholic priest who had butchered his clandestine girlfriend; Oresto Shilitano, a psychotic 23-year-old Italian, dubbed the ‘Paper Box Kid’; and by far the most famous at the time, a former New York police lieutenant, Charles Becker.
For three years, Charlie is the hapless pawn in a political chess game that plays out across New York State. Prosecutors in Orleans County want him dead, local voters, fuelled by anti-German hysteria and infuriated by tax-hikes caused by Stielow’s expensive conviction, also want to see him fry. Governor Charles Whitman can’t make up his mind – wrestling between a shaky conscience and plummeting approval ratings. On the other side is a committed band of New York based lawyers and political activists, Sing-Sing staff united in their determination to keep Charlie Stielow alive.
A colourful cast of characters are truly brought to life in Evans’ fascinating tale. They include New York state Governor, Charles Whitman; his nemesis, the warden of Sing Sing, Thomas Mott Osborne, who was a passionate opponent of the death penalty; Grace Humiston, America’s most celebrated female lawyer; Inez Milholland Boissevain, a darling of the media and campaigner for women’s rights; and the real hero of the story, the obsessively secretive, quietly spoken Charles E. Waite – the great mystery man of American forensic science – whose experts revealed the truth about who had fired those fateful shots.
SLAUGHTER ON A SNOWY MORN is the thrilling account of wrongful conviction and redemption in an age of bare-knuckle politics and cynical courtroom manoeuvring. Drama rises from the page to a climax that is more unbelievable than fiction. Jam-packed with magnetic personalities and memorable characters, what sets this multi-layered story apart is not only its historical significance but its relevance to modern courtrooms. The book reveals a living, breathing cast of characters who embody the whole range of human emotions: heartbreak, rage, unbearable tension, xenophobia, corruption, loyalty and faith. And at its heart, it is a story about belief in the justice system and the unwavering belief of a few people in the innocence of one man.
COLIN EVANS is a veteran writer specialising in forensics. 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 and is available for interview.
To request a review copy or interview please contact Najma Finlay, Publicity Director
Icon Books (firstname.lastname@example.org/ D/L 020 7700 9962)