Monday, July 1, 2013

"Echoes of My Soul" by Robert K. Tanenbaum (2013)

This case is one of the very first crimes committed when I was about 9 years old of which I was fully aware. The case involves 2 of 3 young female roommates living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the summer of 1963. One of the young women was lucky that day; she left before the killer arrived. The other two; whom the press dubbed “career girls”; were brutally murdered by a 24 year old drug addict, and the press promptly dubbed the case as “The Career Girl Murders.” It was still the age of Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies, and the case of three young women living in the big city, working, and then being murdered was sure to grab headlines.

Through a series of mistakes and deliberate coercion, the police question, and then charge a young black man named George Whitmore; who has an IQ “south” of 70; with the crime. Then, over a period of 18 hours they manage to gain a confession from him by “feeding” him bits of information about the crime which only the killer can possibly know. After that, having worn him down like the nub of a pencil, they draft a “confession”, which he readily signs, if only to end the horror of the ordeal.

Meantime, in Brooklyn, two women have been sexually assaulted; and the police in Brooklyn mistakenly decide that Whitmore is their man. When the Manhattan police learn of him and a photograph is found in his possession which resembles one of the murdered women, he is also charged with that crime by detectives in Manhattan who are desperate to close the ‘career Girl Murders.” The photograph, of a white girl sitting on the back of a convertible, was inscribed on the back “To George from Louise.” He claimed to have found it in a garbage dump in Wildwood, New Jersey and then inscribed it to himself as a way of showing off to his friends. This photo becomes one of the most crucial pieces of evidence used to try him for the double homicide, officially known as the “Wylie- Hoffert Murders.”

Only the entry into the case by a diligent Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan; Mel Glass; who does not think the facts add up to the conclusions being made by the detectives involved, begins to turn the case around. When a young man named Delaney is charged with killing a man in self-defense over a drug deal claims to know who the real killer is; Mr. Glass seems to have been the only one willing to listen. Acting with the full authority of legendary District Attorney Frank Hogan, he begins a one man quest to bring the real killer to justice in the Manhattan double homicide, as well as the crimes committed in Brooklyn.

In the final trial setting of the real killer, the Prosecutor finds himself in an awkward position. To prove Whitmore’s innocence the Prosecution is called upon to destroy the integrity of the very Police Force upon which it normally relies for evidence.. And then to convict the real killer, they must do it again.

Relying on the “bugs” planted in the apartment of the young heroin addicted Delaney couple from whom the real killer “scores”, the prosecution is able to prove both the innocence of Whitmore, and the guilt of  Richard Robles, who was a small time burglar who liked to enter apartments when someone was at home. In the Wylie-Hoffert crime, things had escalated way past what even Robles thought he was capable of.

Written in a gripping style by Mr. Tannenbaum; who is also the author of over 20 mysteries, as well as being a top notch prosecutor himself; this book reads like a crime novel, the only difference being that the horror of the crime is real. And to someone, like myself, who recalls the case, the book rings as true as a bell.

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