Book 14 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from January 31 - February 7
Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America's Heartland
by Patricia Bryan & Thomas Wolf
Summary (via the book jacket)
On a moonlit night in December 1900, a prosperous Iowa farmer was murdered in his bed - killed by two blows of an ax to his head. Four days later, the victim's wife, Margaret Hossack, was arrested and charged with the crime.
The vicious assault stunned and divided the close-knit rural community. The accused woman claimed to be innocent, and some in the community supported her, refusing to believe that a woman could be capable of such a violent act. Others thought she was guilty, because she didn't cry or show emotion - her overall lack of femininity suggested to many that she was capable of violent murder. And when neighbors spoke of abuse within the Hossack home, the prosecutors had what they needed: evidence that Margaret Hossack had a motive to kill her husband.
Midnight Assassin takes us back in time - to the murder, the investigation, and the trials of Margaret Hossack. The book introduces us to Susan Glaspell, a young journalist who reported the story for the Des Moines Daily News and, fifteen years later, transformed the events into the acclaimed short story "A Jury of Her Peers."
Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf researched the Hossack case for almost a decade, combing through the legal record, newspaper accounts, government documents, and unpublished memoirs. The result is a vivid portrait of life in rural America at the turn of the century and a chilling step-by-step account of the crime and its aftermath.
Midnight Assassin is about the ways that prejudice and fear can influence justice and how people's preconceptions inform the legal process. It is about a woman tried for a crime but punished for her character.
Although the authors were clear from the beginning when they said, "To the extent possible, we have tried to keep our authorial perspective in the background," and "Ultimately, the purpose of our inquiry was not to solve the murder of John Hossack. Our goal was to write a book that allows readers to form their own opinions about the crime and its consequences.", I was surprised when they really didn't add anything to the telling of the story. It was a good compilation of the sources and I appreciated them not inserting their opinions as the trial was progressing but to not have a recap or summary made me wonder why they wrote the book.
Reading about the old-time methods of solving a crime and presenting a trial drives me nuts; it really was a crapshoot based solely on people's opinions. For example, the prosecutor cast doubt on her version that she had slept through the attack by saying that as a mother she should've awoken immediately so "either she was lying or not a proper caretaker to her family." Barf.
I had no more than passing knowledge of this case but as a native Iowan I recognized a lot of the places mentioned and after looking at their source material I have another couple of books to add to my reading list.
Quote from the Book
"An old woman on trial for the murder of her husband is far from an every-day sight...The Hossack murder trial will be a story long told in the state of Iowa." ~ Des Moines Daily Capital, April 11, 1901