The Case of the Vanishing Blonde and Other True Crime Stories, by Mark Bowden

Journalist Mark Bowden pulls articles he has written over the years for newspapers and magazines to create The Case of the Vanishing Blonde and Other True Crime Stories. Most of the stories are from the last fifteen years; one was originally published in 1983. I inhaled these stories on Sunday afternoon, pleased by Bowden’s humanizing touches to a series of complicated cases that involve murder, rape, and some very puzzling deaths that are only solved by the careful work of private investigator Ken Brennan.

The book opens with the oldest story, “The Incident at Alpha Tau Omega.” Because this one was published in 1983, I was initially worried how this rape case would be depicted. Feminism was growing but it was well before #MeToo. But my concerns disappeared within a few pages. Bowden presents a variety of perspectives on the case. He talks to a young woman who helped bring the case of a gang rape to the attention of administrators at Penn State University. The victim of the rape was high on a large dose of LSD and quite drunk. Anyone who saw her should have known that she wasn’t capable of consenting to sex, but several young men at the Alpha Tau Omega house near campus took advantage of her. The case, sadly, shows a lot of similarities to the way that rape cases are investigated and prosecuted now. The ATO brothers allege that they are the victims of a feminist witch hunt and that, besides, she seduced them. Thankfully, the victim is believed and there are real consequences for the perpetrators.

Another case in this collection that really grabbed my attention was Bowden’s exploration of the way that potential child molesters are entrapped by undercover police in online chat rooms in “why don’t u tell me wht ur into.” Entrapment is a touchy subject in criminal justice. On the one hand, no one wants sexual predators hurting anyone, especially children. On the other, is it ethical and just to trick people into committing a crime? Bowden uses a transcript between an undercover officer and a potential criminal to reveal how good intentions can mix with hysteria to send innocent people to prison for crimes that never really happened.

The other cases presented in The Case of the Vanishing Blonde feature Ken Brennan, a private investigator who is called in when the police have run out of leads. Brennan has a brilliant mind and I loved his blunt way of speaking.I don’t want to say anything about these other cases because they are so intricate that they could have come out of the pages of Golden Age detective novels. The way that Brennan figures these cases out made me think of a more profane Sherlock Holmes.

The Case of the Vanishing Blonde is a perfect collection of stories for true crime fans who need something to tide them over until the next episode of My Favorite Murder or Cold Case Files drops.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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