Title: The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, The Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation
Author: Harold Schechter
Release Date: February 18, 2014
Order Here: Amazon
As part of The Mad Sculptor (Of True Crime) Blog Tour, Harold will answer questions about the book, his writing process, and the MADNESS in his topics of study as a preeminent true crime writer: murderers and the media.
Beekman Place, once one of the most exclusive addresses in Manhattan, had a curious way of making it into the tabloids in the 1930s: “SKYSCRAPER SLAYER,” “BEAUTY SLAIN IN BATHTUB” read the headlines. On Easter Sunday in 1937, the discovery of a grisly triple homicide at Beekman Place would rock the neighborhood yet again—and enthrall the nation. The young man who committed the murders would come to be known in the annals of American crime as the Mad Sculptor.
Caught up in the Easter Sunday slayings was a bizarre and sensationalistic cast of characters, seemingly cooked up in a tabloid editor’s overheated imagination. The charismatic perpetrator, Roger Irwin, was a brilliant young sculptor who had studied with some of the masters of the era. But with his genius also came a deeply disturbed psyche; Irwin was obsessed with sexual self-mutilation and was frequently overcome by outbursts of violent rage.
Irwin’s primary victim, Veronica Gedeon, was a figure from the world of pulp fantasy—a stunning photographer's model whose scandalous seminude pinups would titillate the public for weeks after her death. Irwin’s defense attorney, Samuel Leibowitz, was a courtroom celebrity with an unmatched record of acquittals and clients ranging from Al Capone to the Scottsboro Boys. And Dr. Fredric Wertham, psychiatrist and forensic scientist, befriended Irwin years before the murders and had predicted them in a public lecture months before the crime.
Based on extensive research and archival records, The Mad Sculptor recounts the chilling story of the Easter Sunday murders—a case that sparked a nationwide manhunt and endures as one of the most engrossing American crime dramas of the twentieth century. Harold Schechter’s prose evokes the faded glory of post-depression New York and the singular madness of a brilliant mind turned against itself.
About the Author
Harold Schechter is an American true crime writer who specializes in serial killers. He attended the State University of New York in Buffalo where his PhD director was Leslie Fiedler. He is professor of American literature and popular culture at Queens College of the City University of New York. Schechter is married to poet Kimiko Hahn. He has two daughters from a previous marriage: the writer Lauren Oliver and professor of philosophy Elizabeth Schechter.
QUESTION: How would you describe the main “cast of characters” of The Mad Sculptor- Robert Irwin, Veronica Gideon, Samuel Leibowitz and Frederic Wertham? What made this case the spectacle of the 20th Century?
Answer from Harold: Let me answer those in reverse order. I wouldn't describe the case as "the spectacle of the 20th century." But it was certainly one of the great tabloid sensations of the 20th century, thanks to its irresistible combination of grotesque violence and lurid sex. Here's a brief cast of characters:
Robert Irwin. A brilliant, wildly unstable young sculptor who believed he could achieving godlike power through self-castration and ultimately mass murder.
Benjamin Hardin Irwin. A fiery, frontier evangelist, Robert Irwin father attracted thousands of followers until his secret life of bigamy, whoring, and heavy drinking brought him down in disgrace.
Ronnie Gedeon. The beautiful, promiscuous artist’s model whose poses for true detective magazines seemed to portend her own horrific end.
Ethel Gedeon. Ronnie’s demure older sister, the true object of Robert Irwin’s obsession and intended victim.
Joseph Gedeon. Veronica and Ethel’s father, whose bizarrely indifferent reactions to the murder of his wife and younger daughter and supposedly unnatural sexual interests made him, for a while, the leading suspect in the case.
Fredric Wertham. As senior psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital and a leading forensic expert, Wertham treated some of America's most extravagantly deranged psychos, including Robert Irwin.
Samuel Leibowitz. Famed as a consummate courtroom performer, Leibowitz had defended everyone from Al Capone to the Scottsboro boys when he agreed to represent Robert Irwin.
Lorado Taft. Recognizing Bob Irwin's talent, this famed Chicago artist took the young sculptor under his wing until Irwin's violently erratic behavior led to a permanent rift.
Harold will be appearing February 23rd at the Flagler Museum in Florida
February 25th at Powerhouse Arena in NYC
February 27th at Mysterious Bookshop in NYC