Butcher's Work

True Crime Tales of American Murder and Madness

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Amazon Buy on BN.com Buy on Bookshop.org
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add kindle@netgalley.com as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 08 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 08 Nov 2022
University of Iowa Press, University Of Iowa Press

Talking about this book? Use #ButchersWork #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


A Civil War veteran who perpetrated one of the most ghastly mass slaughters in the annals of U.S. crime. A nineteenth-century female serial killer whose victims included three husbands and six of her own children. A Gilded Age “Bluebeard” who did away with as many as fifty wives throughout the country. A decorated World War I hero who orchestrated a murder that stunned Jazz Age America. While other infamous homicides from the same eras—the Lizzie Borden slayings, for example, or the “thrill killing” committed by Leopold and Loeb—have entered into our cultural mythology, these four equally sensational crimes have largely faded from public memory. A quartet of gripping historical true-crime narratives, Butcher’s Work restores these once-notorious cases to vivid, dramatic life.

A Civil War veteran who perpetrated one of the most ghastly mass slaughters in the annals of U.S. crime. A nineteenth-century female serial killer whose victims included three husbands and six of her...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781609388539
PRICE $17.50 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)
Send to Kindle (PDF)
Download (PDF)

Average rating from 29 members

Featured Reviews

I like Harold Schechter's books and this one was no different. It was interesting and told stories I'd not heard before.
I'd recommend this book to add to your true crime library.

Was this review helpful?

My biggest pet peeve with true crime is people not only copy and paste but will totally rewrite the same story over and over again. That is not a problem with this book. Not only of these stories obscure, but they are so interesting. In One of the stories the murder victims preacher sold the case and found the culprit. There were so many stories that I hadn’t heard of and he would only reference popular ones to get to the ones unheard of before. I truly enjoyed this book and although I haven’t finished it yet is it super long I wanted to write this review so others could enjoy Butcher’s Work bye Harold Schechtner. This isn’t the first book I have read by him and I must say I look forward to reading more. I received this book from net Gally and I am leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review but all opinions are definitely my own.

Was this review helpful?

This is a well written body of work packed full of in depth case information. The description of the time the cases take place put you in a front row seat to the mayhem.

I very much enjoyed reading this book. Even tho I knew that cases quite well as is I learned things I didn’t.

A true crime lovers must read!

Was this review helpful?

I've enjoyed Schechter's books in the past and liked this one as well. It's always a good thing when I can find true crime cases that I've never heard about before after reading it for nearly 50 years now. This book tells about some that were new to me, so a bit obscure to the average reader. They made Leopold and Loeb (whom I just finished reading an upcoming new book about) look like rank amateurs. I was especially mesmerized by the "Bluebeard" who got so many women to marry him under so many names. Then he would make off with most or all of their assets.

Was this review helpful?

Wonderfully researched and beautifully written - this true crime book is sublime. Remarkable stories that were all new to me (and I have been reading true crime books since I was a teenager). Each new story starts with a similar tale either before this story or after and is so incredibly interesting. You will find this book hard to put down. First book I have read by this author but definitely not the last. Thank you to Netgalley, the author and publishers for an e-arc in exchange for my honest opinion

Was this review helpful?

This book was amazing. You get to see some of the lives of the people who committed murder and what they went through in court. I recommend this book for those who love history and true crime.

Was this review helpful?

Once again Schechter delivers with four examples of some of the of the least known and vicious killers to have lived. Each is told with great detail from court documents witness testimony, and the killers themselves. Not only are the crimes horrific but the diagnosis of doctors, police interrogations, and media reporting are just a shocking. For true crime fans this is a must read.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an arc of this work! This is a solid entry into the true crime genre. Schecter is a master of telling these tales. It is for the true crime fan who wants more than just the well known stories. I would definitely recommend!

Was this review helpful?

Not all sensational murder cases have maintained notoriety through time. Harold Schechter brings four such cases forward, relating them to modern readers using references to the shocking murders we know. These cases are thoroughly researched and fleshed out, including quotes from source materials (some of which convey people's views when the murders occurred). Many think that public obsession with true crime is a modern trend. Schechter shows that's not true and was possibly even more disturbing in the past.

Was this review helpful?

Very interesting read. I did not know much about this until I read this book. I love that it includes historical true-crime narratives as I'm a fan of true crime. It was well written and you can tell that Harold put a lot of time and research into this book. Highly Recommend.

Was this review helpful?

In Butcher's Work: True Crime Tales of American Murder and Madness, the author presents four killers, their victims and their heinous crimes. Their crimes are not well known as other crimes committed around the same times as their garnered more press and revulsion.

The author did an impressive amount of research in the writing of this book. I previously another book by the author Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer was impressed by his research in that book as well. In this book, the author details their crimes and what happened to the killers. With each section, the author also details other crimes that were committed using the same means as the killers in this book.

Readers might find themselves asking, how did they get away with their crimes for so long? How many times can someone change their name and get away with it? How many deaths can be associated with one person and people don't get suspicious?

Fans of true crime will find this interesting.

Was this review helpful?

My thanks to both NetGalley and the University of Iowa Press for an advanced copy of this true crime collection detailing acts from the turn of the 20th century.

People love the bad guy. Not just the antihero, but murderers and serial killers have fans and groupies who can tell more about the life of the Green River Killer than their own lives. Podcasts like Serial or Last Podcast on the Left never seem to lack stories to tells about gruesome murders and stories of savagery, nor seem to lack listeners to hear them. Women declare their love of murderous husbands, or line up for hours just to get a thrill out of seeing them in court. This is not new, or because of the Internet, or lack of church in people's lives, as certain segments of society might claim. This has been going on for a long time, as long as America has been a country, and before that. Butcher's Work: True Crime Tales of American Murder and Madness by the master of macabre and mass murders Harold Schechter, details 4 cases of American murder from the end of the Civil War to the end of the Jazz age.

A man missing a thumb is hired to work at a lonely farmstead, over the feelings of the farmer's wife, who does not trust the man. Soon he leaves but memories of the farmer's wealth bring him back, with horrific results. A women who has the worst luck of having both children and husband die with horrific regularity takes a job in Connecticut as a companion for a sick woman, where she meets her final husband, whose health suddenly turns. A World War I veteran engages in shootout outside his apartment with a robber who threatens the veteran and his wife. Both the villain and the wife are dead, but what really happened in that dark hallway? A German gentleman looking for love places ads in papers all over America, while leaving broken hearts, emptied bank accounts and sometimes bodies in his wake.

Harold Schechter has a real gift for writing these kind of stories with care, ability and not even a trace of exploitation. That would be easy, and Schechter has never taken the easy way, even with books whose ghoulishness practically writes itself. These stories look at the crime, society, even American and world history to give an idea of why these people might be motivated to kill and what was going on around them which made them difficult to spot. No one is really innocent here. The police who might try to find their man, or woman, but prefer to do nothing. Juries who don't prosecute. Reporters who lie to victims families, make up false stories for newspapers, and worse blocking chimney's to get photos of dead people out of evacuated houses. Even the people who travel to murder scenes and take souvenirs, dripping them in the blood of victims as mementos. No one is spared and this is quite refreshing. The writing is plain, honest, and yes gross in spots while detailing crimes, but again not exploitive, again proving why he is one of the best scholars of true crime writing today.

Not for fans of the breathless writing, that seems to be most true crime, and true crime podcasts. This is a very well written collection on crime in America, and just as good as some of Schechter's other works. For fans of good true crime writing, or for mystery writers and historical fiction writers to get an idea of what little has changed in murder and for story ideas.

Was this review helpful?

Interested, well researched, informative, and gripping, An excellent historical true crime that tells stories about less known or forgotten massacres.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine

Was this review helpful?

4/5 stars

This book is exactly what it claims to be. If you pick this up you will find yourself learning about four different American crimes that, while infamous back then, are now mostly forgotten and unknown. Very well researched, this book focused a lot on the history of the crimes. This isn't a thriller, nor is it written to keep you at the edge of your seat. If you enjoy a more fast paced narrative with foreshadowing and intrigue this won't be the book for you.

I quite enjoyed it. I had never heard of any of the cases and was shocked to learn some of the details. I really like history so I appreciated all the research the author did for this. I will say that some of the writing was a bit dry, which I didn't particularly dislike but some readers might find boring. I'll also add that I do feel like some extra details could have been cut from the narration. Overall this was an enjoyable read.

Was this review helpful?

Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my humble review.

This interesting work posits that serial killers have always been a part of American history and that many have fallen off the radar for one reason or another. I enjoy reading old true crime and this book does fairly exhaustive research into the particular killers that Schechter felt exemplified his statement.

The most interesting thing that I found about the killers in this book was how they all seemed to "repent" their crimes or accept punishment, only to change their minds when faced with actual consequences. I think it truly speaks to the megalomania that serial killers seem to all share - they are confident in their ability to convince others that they are either innocent or that they do not deserve the death penalty. When they are thus faced with their true mortality, that confidence wavers, causing them to throw hail marys in the hopes of landing some reprieve.

A well-written and researched addition to any true crime fan.

Was this review helpful?

"A Civil War veteran who perpetrated one of the most ghastly mass slaughters in the annals of U.S. crime. A nineteenth-century female serial killer whose victims included three husbands and six of her own children. A Gilded Age "Bluebeard" who did away with as many as fifty wives throughout the country. A decorated World War I hero who orchestrated a murder that stunned Jazz Age America. While other infamous homicides from the same eras - the Lizzie Borden slayings, for example, or the "thrill killing" committed by Leopold and Loeb - have entered into our cultural mythology, these four equally sensational crimes have largely faded from public memory. A quartet of gripping historical true-crime narratives, Butcher's Work restores these once-notorious cases to vivid, dramatic life."

Yes, let's bring to light all the crazy killers of America's past! But first, can we talk about the perfection of the cover design with the blood drop being the apostrophe?

Was this review helpful?

The premise of Schechter’s Butcher’s Work is intriguing enough to entice any fan of true crime to pick it up: Serial killers and murder are nothing new, why have we forgotten some crimes and remembered others? And, more curiously, what are those cases which we have forgotten? The easy answer is that they weren’t horrendous enough, disgusting enough, criminal enough to earn a place in our long, collective memory. But the cases in Butcher’s Work dismisses that possibility quickly; the crimes highlighted in this work are all that and more chilling. The fact that they have disappeared from our remembrance is itself quite a horrific notion.

Butcher’s Work is divided into four sections: Butcher’s Work, The Poison Fiend, Lady-Killer, and The Ragged Stranger. As their titles suggest, each one focuses on a particular method or victim of murder. There is a featured case of each, but interspersed within the pages of the chapters are cameos of other criminals employing the same method. Collectively they form a creepy landscape of crime, where trusting another human being is something to fear. Lady-Killer was one of my favorite sections. Marriage and murder form the central focus here, a gendered violence perpetrated by men against women. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but DANG, how did these men get away with this? Oh, right, but still!

Schechter is a marvelous story-teller. The prose flows, as compellingly as the stories and characters. And, as a researcher myself, I deeply appreciate the depth and details Schechter has excavated in this work. The result is not only a focused, historically rich, and keen archival piece of work; Butcher’s Work is also a nuanced landscape of American life in the 19th century. Schechter brings to the reader’s attention how it is not only the ambition of the criminal, but also the systems and structures of society that permit and foster these crimes. How else might a man such as Hoch in Lady Killer commit bigamy and murder so successfully and remain for so long undetected? What gave him the confidence to believe in his own acquittal? Of course, the criminals here were apprehended, so there is a more optimistic ending. We can rest knowing the authorities — police, witnesses, lawyers, courts, etc — did succeed in forcing them to confront their crimes. But, I could not help but wonder how many others got away with it altogether? The idea is spine-chilling.

Butcher’s Work is a fantastic read for any fan of true crime and 19th century American history.

Was this review helpful?

Had a few interesting tapes of history I was not aware of until reading. Schecther is still the king of American True Crime.

Was this review helpful?

Very in-depth look at four historical true crimes.

This book takes a look at four specific criminals, all of which were new to me:
- Anton Probst, who murdered an entire family
- Lidiya Sherman, who murdered family members with arsenic
- Johan Schmidt (went by many names), who conned and murdered widowed women
- Carl Wanderer, who staged a robbery to murder his wife

Schechter does a very good job of telling the stories. There is a TON of detail and SO many direct quotes. Although the stories were horrifying and some parts were very graphic (especially the first story), the writing was excellent and the research was done so well.

If you enjoy podcasts or audiobooks, I would recommend you listen to this book instead of reading it. I am not too big into audiobooks but enjoy podcasts, and the writing style felt very much like a podcast to me.

Thank you to University of Iowa Press and NetGalley for an eARC of this book.

Was this review helpful?

Previous to requesting this book I picked up a new Jack the Ripper non-fiction and that reignited my love for reading about these things. This book helped keep that going. Really enjoyed reading about killers I already knew of and some I didn't.

Was this review helpful?

Dive into the world of murder and mayhem with this fabulous book!
Harold Schechter takes you through a handful of cases, giving you as much information as possible, and drawing an account of the victims, the perpetrator, and the grisly facts surrounding each case. There were some cases that I was familiar with, and some that I was not, so it was the absolute perfect read!

This book will horrify and delight you in turn, as you are reading through cases of bygone eras, and learning about some of the criminal masterminds, or those that wanted to be criminal masterminds.
A fabulous and interesting read!

Was this review helpful?

Of course it's excellent. It's written by Harold Schechter. All about a difficult case. Highly recommended for those who study true crime.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: