true crime

Writing in the dark

True-crime author Harold Schechter talks murder and 'The Mad Sculptor'

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LIT True-crime fans will know the name Harold Schechter: the prolific author and Queens College professor has written books on such nefarious characters as H.H. Holmes, Albert Fish, and Ed Gein, as well as mystery novels centered around Edgar Allan Poe. His latest is The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, The Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation (Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, 386 pp., $24 hardcover, $9.99 eBook). Read more »

Brutal murder, wrenching trial: HBO's must-see doc "The Cheshire Murders"

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It was, people said, Connecticut's version of the In Cold Blood murders. In July 2007, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, were murdered by a pair of strangers — Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, who'd picked the family at random — while patriarch William Petit lay bound and beaten in the basement of their suburban home. He survived; the women perished either at the hands of their attackers or in the fire the men set to cover their tracks.

Clearly, the bare facts of the case — which took place in Cheshire, Conn., a bedroom community near New York City — are horrific enough, without considering any of its other elements. But The Cheshire Murders, created for HBO's Summer Documentary Series by married filmmaking team Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (2010's Stonewall Uprising), reveals that the deaths may have been preventable if only police had intervened; a frantic bank teller dialed 911 after observing a frightened Jennifer Petit withdrawing a large sum of money for the waiting Hayes. Or, perhaps the family would have been spared if Komisarjevsky and Hayes, men with long rap sheets, had been more closely monitored by their parole officers and drug counselors — or had received better mental-health care during their respective troubled childhoods.

But all the "what if" scenarios in the world can't restore three lives — or fill the void felt by those they left behind. Using revealing interviews that explore the many facets of the case, deft editing, and a sensitive yet questioning tone, The Cheshire Murders is a both thought-provoking and disturbing viewing experience. I spoke with Davis and Heilbroner ahead of the film's Mon/22 HBO debut. Read more »