So if you like true crime stories, especially ones that rocked the nation, then Harold Schecther‘s The Mad Sculptor – The Maniac, The Model and the Murder that Shook the Nation is the book for you, it was for me! The Mad Sculptor is one Robert Irwin, he is also The Maniac. The Model is Veronica Gedeon and the Murder was the grisly slaying of Veronica, her mother and their English boarder on Easter Sunday morning in 1937 in a New York City apartment at Beekman Place.
Author Schecther does not only a fine job of telling the tale of madman/artist Robert Irwin, but in also detailing the way that his crime fits into the history of Beekman Tower and Beeckman Place, where prior murders, that captured the attention had occurred. These murders included, the shooting of Fritz Gebhardt by his long-time mistress Vera Stretz, and the murder of Nancy Titterton. Schechter opens the book describing these murders, their investigations and trials, setting the stage for the Gedeon murders.
Schechter moves on to tell the tale of the “Mad Sculptor” Robert Irwin, son of a philandering, evangelical preacher and an equally religiously zealot mother, who hailed from a dysfunctional family! Irwin, born Fenelon, along with his older brother Vidalin and Pember, were delinquents right from the start! Both Vidalin and Pember ended up in the Oregon State Penitentiary. Robert though went in and out of madness, when he was sane, he was well read, articulate and a very good sculptor, who studied with some of the masters of the day, but sooner or later wherever, he went, whatever job he held, a violent outburst and subsequent fight would cause him to move on! Irwin finally ended up, a border with the Gedeon’s, where he became infatuated with the Gedeon daughter’s first Ronnie then Ethel. But when he attempted to control his sexual urges by self-emulation Irwin set himself on the road to Bellevue and other mental institutes, along, the way he met prominent psyschiatrist Fredric Wertham who would treat and befriend him.
After his final descent into madness, and the murders, the author leads the reader through the manhunt to find Irwin. Accompanying the search was the coverage of the murder and manhunt by the New York tabloids. i.e the forreunners of Fox News, The National Enquirer and World News. Finally, the selection of Samuel Leibowiz as his defense attorney completes the cycle, because Leibowitz, the attorney for the Scottsboro Boys and Al Capone was also the defense attorney for Vera Stretz, whose murder of Fritz Gebhardt was written about in the opening chapters of the book.
All in all ,it was a terrific read and Schechter does a great job of presenting Robert Irwin, in all his madness, as well as capturing the atmosphere of New York in the 193os. Samual Baatz, author of For the Thrill of It: Leopold Loch, and the Murder that Shocked Jazz Age Chicago writes…..(note to self – check that book out)
“Harold Schechter has unveiled another sensational murder with a cast of characters that might have stepped from a novel by Dostoyevsky. Schechter’s absorbing narrative will fascinate everyone with an interest in New York City in the twentieth century”
So check out the tale of The Mad Sculptor as told by Harold Schechter……
P.S. The mention of Fredric Wertham and his attacks on the comic book industry served as the basis of a post at Socialstudious.….. and the mention of Irwin’s fascination with the hypnotism of Franz Mesmer led me to Wikipedia to find out more about the man who is the origin of the world mesmerized!!
(Book 17 0f 2014)
- Blog Tour: An Exciting New Book: The Mad Sculptor by Harold Schechter (mylifeofcrime.wordpress.com)
- Three Sensational Deaths and Two Notable Lives (nytimes.com)