Delve into some of the most infamous, ghastly, and mysterious crimes of the last hundred-odd years in Crimes of the Century: A Selective History of Infamy. Taught by Professor Richard B. Spence of the University of Idaho, this enthralling course gives you a dozen case studies of murders most foul. From an intriguing Irish domestic murder to a world-shaking political assassination, survey some of the most heinous crimes in modern history.
Crimes of the Century: A Selective History of Infamy
Murder, mayhem, and mystery: 12 real-life crimes that capture our imagination.
Dr. Richard B. “Rick” Spence is Professor of History at the University of Idaho, where he has taught since 1986. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara (1981), and taught there as a visiting assistant professor from 1981 to 1985. His primary areas of study are modern Russian, modern European, Middle Eastern, and military history. Professor Spence’s research interests include espionage; occultism; anti-Semitism; and, of course, secret societies. His major published works include Boris Savinkov: Renegade on the Left (1991), Trust No One: The Secret World of Sidney Reilly (2002), Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence and the Occult (2008), and Wall Street and the Russian Revolution, 1905-1925 (2017). He is the author of numerous articles in Revolutionary Russia, Intelligence and National Security, Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism, American Communist History, The Historian, and other journals. He has also contributed to New Dawn and other popular publications. His current projects include a book, American Spies in Revolutionary Russia, and articles on the mysterious literary figure, Arthur Cravan; the smuggling of Russian Imperial Jewels; and the deadly Eddystone munitions plant explosion of 1917. He has been a commentator/consultant for HISTORY®, the International Spy Museum, Radio Liberty, and has consulted for and been interviewed in documentaries produced by the Russian Cultural Foundation, Mamontov Productions, and other Russian media outlets. He is also a popular guest on radio shows and podcasts, having been interviewed more than 30 times since 2015 on such programs as The Other Side of Might, Midnight in the Desert, Leak Project, Esoteric Hollywood, and Truth Be Told. Professor Spence offers a number of special courses at the University of Idaho, including Conspiracies and Secret Societies in History, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, History of Terrorism, and The Occult in History. He has been recognized for his contributions to the University’s Honors, International Studies and Naval ROTC Programs, and has received teaching excellence awards from the university, alumni, and student body.
01: A Murder That Almost Killed Hollywood
Unsolved murders are as compelling as anything you might see in the movies. It is fitting then that our first “crime of the century” is the mysterious murder of a Hollywood director in 1922. William Desmond Taylor was not who he seemed to be, and his death continues to fascinate a century later.
02: The Deadly Irish Fairy Tale of 1895
The ghastly murder of Bridget Cleary in turn-of-the-century Ireland takes us into the mystery of human psychology. On the surface, it seems her husband, Michael, murdered her because he believed she was a “changeling” fairy in disguise. Could he really have believed that? Was he mad? Why else could have driven this murder?
03: The Sarajevo Conspiracy of 1914
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip was one of the most world-shaking events in the 20th century. Although the events are clear and well-known, the motivation behind the murder is rife with conspiracy. Dive into a cycle of mystery and violence in early 20th-century Sarajevo.
04: The Plot to Assassinate the Romanovs
Shift your attention to another political conspiracy—the murder of the Russian Tsar Nicholas and other Romanovs at the hands of the Bolsheviks. For more than a century, the facts of this murder have been dissected and debated. As you will learn, time has added few facts but plenty of speculation and myth.
05: Three Serial Killers of Weimar Germany
Weimar Republic Germany is a wrenching period to read about: a failed state, a political and economic roller coaster, and a psychologically traumatized era suffering a plague of madmen, sex fiends, and serial killers. Here, you will survey three Weimar-era murder cases: the sadistic Peter Kürten, the “butcher” Fritz Haarmann, and the unsolved Hinterkaifeck Murders.
06: American Nightmare: The Lindbergh Kidnapping
Delve into one of the best-known and most debated murder cases in American history. Richard Hauptmann—dubbed “the most hated man in the world”—was executed for kidnapping and killing aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby, but did he act alone? Who received the ransom money? What exactly happened in 1932?
07: Murderous Maids: The Papin Sisters of France
When it comes to murder, “why-dunnit” often can be more captivating than “who-dunnit.” Case in point is the murder of a well-to-do French woman and her daughter at the hands of two maids who were discovered cowering in the attic and covered in blood. What drove the Papin sisters to kill, and to kill so savagely?
08: The Moscow-to-Mexico Mission to Kill Trotsky
As we have seen, political assassinations are rife with conspiracy, and often leave a flashing question mark in the history books. Here, you examine the murder of Leon Trotsky, a Soviet leader exiled in Mexico. What appears on the surface to be a seamless plot to kill a political rival owes much to chance, as well as Trotsky’s own stubborn nature.
09: California’s Zodiac Killer
More than 50 years later, the Zodiac case remains as cold as the chilly night this infamous serial killer slayed the first victims. Like an American Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac killer maintains a grip on our imagination because the killer might still be out there—somewhere. Review what we know about this captivating crime spree.
10: The Charles Manson Crime Family
Despite countless books, films, and documentaries, the Manson murders still have unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries. Like so many crimes of the century, the question isn’t who, but why? Explore the information, and misinformation, about the Helter Skelter murders that ended the 1960s.
11: Son of Sam: New York’s Tabloid Terrorist
Step into the sweltering world of New York City in the 1970s, where social misfit David Berkowitz committed a series of murders, and then claimed he was possessed by an evil spirit and was part of a Satanic cult. Like the Manson murders and the Zodiac killer, the “Son of Sam” spree poses difficult questions about psychology and the nature of evil.
12: Italy’s Search for the Monster of Florence
Round out your course with one final murder spree in the rolling hills of Tuscany. Over 18 years, Il Mostro di Firenze committed eight double homicides that remain unsolved today despite 100,000 men investigating and a dozen arrests over the years. Was this spree the product of one killer or many? What could have been the motivations?