Crimes of Passion : An Unblinking Look at Murderous Love

 
9781861056436: Crimes of Passion : An Unblinking Look at Murderous Love
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The very term "crimes of passion" can evoke deep-seated, primitive responses. We are fascinated, yet repelled by the thought of such overwhelming rage and passion. This book examines some of history's most infamous cases, from Ruth Ellis and Lord Broughton to OJ Simpson and Lorena Bobbit.

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About the Author:

Howard Engel is the author of the best-selling Lord High Executioner: An Unashamed Look at the Hangman, Headsmen and Their Kind and the celebrated Benny Cooperman mysteries. He has received the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Crime Fiction and the Crime Writers of Canada Derrick Murdoch Award. As well as being an accomplished author, Engel is a regular contributor to the book pages of several journals. He lives in Toronto.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

In all of the annals of criminal law, there is no record more fascinating, more intriguing, than that of crimes of passion. They are interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that crimes of passion are offenses not normally committed by criminals, but by ordinary people, who are criminalized only by these acts. Both sexes and all classes and races commit these crimes. Their perpetrators are nonentities and celebrities, laborers and socialites, school-dropouts and Ph.D.'s. By ordinary people, I mean not some political abstraction, but rather all the rich and wide variety that people come in. The full diapason of mankind.

The study of crime offers a special tool to the social historian. Through a study of the offenses that societies, throughout history, have chosen to criminalize, prosecute and, at the end of the process, punish, we get some notion of how people behave in extremis. When the heat is on. Here is society caught at a disadvantage, with its hair in curlers, still in its bathrobe at eleven o'clock in the morning. The study of crime cuts a trench into the tumulus of human existence. While interesting enough in its own right, such a study allows a unique look at changing behavior. Here we can learn about the structure of the society, the classes, the power base and the mentality of not only the offenders, but also of those who judge them. just as the archaeologist digs a trench into a mound to turn up a slice of an ancient civilization, the study of a particular crime allows the criminologist and anyone else interested in looking to see a slice of a micro-civilization that existed surrounding a peculiar group of circumstances. It's like lifting up a single rock and studying the insect life beneath it. Such an investigation interrupts a series of events and exposes a drama that would otherwise be hidden from us.

Further, such a study crosses the barriers between disciplines. Crimes of passion have inspired not only legends and literature, including the plays of great playwrights, but also novels, symphonic works, operas and the graphic arts. Think of the murder of the king that fuels the action in Hamlet. Think of Carmen. Remember Agamemnon. In fact, it is difficult to imagine art, literature or music without the violent outpouring of passion and the stories of human struggles that gave them birth. Without crimes of passion, grand opera would be impossible, and the great art galleries of the world impoverished.

Anna Freud said "a crime of passion is an action committed without the benefit of ego activity. The term means that the passion, the impulse, is of such magnitude that every other consideration apart from its fulfillment is disregarded." In other words, a large part of what is regarded as normal mental functioning shuts down, becoming unavailable to the perpetrator.

The very term "crimes of passion" evokes deep-seated, atavistic responses in every reader's heart. These are the crimes that are born in the emotional core of men and women pushed to do the unthinkable. They are at the end of their tether, au bout de souffle. There is hardly ever any crass consideration of financial gain here, no taint of the marketplace, of reward: only release. These crimes are direct responses to unbearable betrayal, broken hearts, destroyed characters, ruined lives and injured pride. Jealousy, envy and the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins enter through this door, and, like as not, if you are looking at older records, end on the scaffold.

The passionate love of Francesca da Rimini and her tragic end have inspired artists as great as Dante, Leigh Hunt, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Ingres, George Frederick Watts, Riccardo Zandonai and Tchaikovsky to new creative heights. Shed of its thirteenth-century trapping, its aristocratic setting and well-born characters, it is story for the law courts: a murder case.

Francesca was the daughter of Guido da Polenta, lord of Ravenna, and the wife of Giovanni Malatesta, called Giovanni the Lame, an heir of Verruchio, the lord of Rimini. An arranged marriage, it quickly went sour, for Francesca was already in love with Paolo, called Paolo the Handsome, younger brother of her husband. Giovanni trusted his wife and brother to spend time in one another's company. At last Francesca and her brother-in-law betrayed that confidence. When Giovanni discovered the young couple in flagrante delicto, he killed both of them on the spot. Dante, who knew some of the people in this tale, wove the tragic story into his Inferno. The shades of the lovers whisper to the poet as he wanders down and around the circles of Hell with his guide, the Roman poet Virgil. After a fashion, Paolo and Francesca bless Dante because he pities their perversity. He pities their present suffering, their eternal torment:

... if you have such a desire to know
The first root of our love, then I will tell you ...

One day, when we were reading, for distraction,
How Lancelot was overcome by love --
We were alone, without any suspicion;

Several times, what we were reading forced
Our eyes to meet ...

That day we got no further with our reading ...

The story might be taken as a paradigm of all crimes-of-passion cases. The love that they had fallen into was, in the cant phrase, "bigger than both of them." It undermined their sense of duty, loyalty and propriety. Passion undid their marriage vows and they threw caution to the winds. Dante sees their tragedy partly as the crime of allowing passion to override the dictates of reason. In the story of the opera Carmen, the gypsy girl goes to her doom relentlessly as she continues to spurn the love of the man she has ruined. Again, reason is the enemy. It is passion that fires and determines her short, violent life. A little more rational thought would have saved Carmen, but destroyed the story. It was passion in the loins of Paris for Helen, the wife of Menelaus, that fed the flames of the Trojan War. And while he and his brother Agamemnon were away on the battlefields of windy Troy, Agamemnon's wife succumbed to the blandishments of Aegisthus. When the warrior returned, victorious, to Argos, Aegisthus and Clytemnestra murdered him in order to continue their torrid affair.

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.

Clytemnestra should have been wary of taking up with the murderer of Atreus, her father-in-law. And he, Aegisthus, should have thought twice about bedding anyone whose father was a bird.

We are all of us to a greater or lesser degree fascinated by crimes of passion. Our interest feeds the media, which produce prodigious amounts of material to satisfy our insatiable need to know more and more. The case of 0. J. Simpson is still fresh in our minds. This was a sensational glimpse of the lives of the rich and famous. Millions of people sat glued to their television sets watching a slow-speed chase: a white Bronco moving sedately down the freeway as though it were the Grand Prix. Such an ecstasy of power, abuse and control is rarely seen. But sensationalism was not invented with television and the Internet: in 1849, on a cold November morning, a crowd of over thirty thousand people stayed up all night as the gallows was built on the roof of the jail, waiting to see Marie and Frederick Manning hanged at Horsemongers' Lane Gaol for the murder of Marie's lover. The hanging of a husband and wife was a novelty not to be missed, especially when it was the ending to a sensational crime of passion that had been widely covered in the newspapers. During the 1920s, hundreds of thousands of words were written about the Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray case in which a pair of lovers murdered the spouse of one of them. Crimes of passion gave birth to and fed the tabloid newspapers that arose in the 1800s, just as more recent crimes nourish the e

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