To the Editors:
I learn John J. Lennon’s assessment of Sarah Weinman’s e-book Scoundrel [“Peddling Darkness,” NYR, March 9, 2023] with nice curiosity, being the son of one of many principals within the story, the editor Sophie Wilkins. He states, at one level, that he suspects that I have to now remorse having turned over to the writer the letters from Edgar Smith to my mom. I actually cooperated with Sarah Weinman, considering that it was a narrative that deserved to be informed and feeling that there was no approach I might cease it, however I didn’t give Sarah any letters. I had given all my mom’s letters to Butler Library at Columbia College in 2003 after her dying; she corresponded with a whole lot of individuals within the literary world and her letters have been a treasure trove. I didn’t as soon as take into consideration the folder with Smith’s letters. Had I checked out them, I virtually actually would have eliminated them as an pointless embarrassment to my mom’s reminiscence. She deserves to be remembered for her translations and her editorial presents, not for the folly of the marketing campaign, led by William F. Buckley, on Smith’s behalf.
It’s affordable to ask: Does this outdated story have any curiosity at the moment, aside from its improbability and shock worth? I agree with Lennon that the e-book is just not a critical examination of the issues of the American legal justice system, regardless of the writer’s trace that will probably be. Nor does it assist our understanding of male psychopathic violence towards ladies, which Weinman implies was her chief motivation. That could be a massively vital matter, however the Smith case supplies little illumination.
I really feel that the story’s curiosity lies within the interactions of the three principals, who have been so totally different in persona and background, and I recommend that two components have been central to their cooperation. The primary was their shared intelligence and verbal facility, which was actually a powerful bond between Buckley and my mom, who remained lifelong pals. The second was the actual fact of their variations: it was the equal of three unique animals, every wanting on the different two and considering, Wow! I didn’t know there have been such fascinating creatures but really easy to speak to! I might have been happier with the e-book had it been much less salacious and explored these psychological dynamics extra.
Adam S. Wilkins
To the Editors:
Lennon’s essay caught my consideration as I’m a surviving member of the family of a homicide. Our mom was raped and murdered over fifty years in the past when my three sisters and I have been youngsters. The crime has remained unsolved. Now, with new expertise, it might be solvable. Hair from the homicide package is at present being analyzed. (I’m informed it prices $30,000 and takes as much as six months.) If the assassin in our case is alive and at massive, what has he completed together with his life? Is he able to Lennon’s stage of perception? If that’s the case, ought to I care? Lennon didn’t point out survivors.
Those that revenue from peddling darkness ought to be ashamed of themselves. But inside the tales that embody homicide we would discover concepts that broaden our views and apply to everybody. As an example, how can Lennon be each a killer and an ethical particular person, as he clearly is? Maybe he’ll describe his journey in his forthcoming e-book. I hope he’ll acknowledge his sufferer’s household. Does he know and perceive the type of jail he put them in?
My life modified once I joined the group Journey of Hope—from Violence to Therapeutic. After twenty-five years I discovered to speak about what occurred. Homicide is surprisingly intimate. I discovered learn how to share and the way to not share. One in every of my talking companions was a girl whose son was on dying row. It was simple to develop into pals as a result of we had a lot in frequent. I invited my sisters to hitch the Journey they usually did. We met Sister Helen Prejean and made her an honorary Klassen sister.
For my part, offenders want victims and vice versa. We’re on this collectively.
Ruth Klassen Andrews
To the Editors:
It takes a exceptional chutzpah to assessment a e-book a few man who raped and murdered a fifteen-year-old, sexually assaulted a ten-year-old, and upon leaving jail went on to aim to homicide one other lady, and conclude that the issue is that the person wasn’t given a good shake by the writer. In 4 thousand phrases John J. Lennon devotes all of a paragraph to contemplating the affect on victims. In distinction, part upon part is dedicated to the emotions of Smith, and blaming Weinman for not “listening to his personal account.” Lennon concludes that the depiction of “a proficient and broken” man as a sociopath within the e-book is dangerous as a result of it’d trigger individuals to assume harshly of murderers equivalent to himself. He speculates that the e-book will trigger individuals to assume that “the actual injustice was that Smith wasn’t executed.” Some readers might imagine that; others will come to the affordable conclusion that Smith not solely deserved life in jail, however that it considerably decreased the hurt and struggling he might trigger to others.
There have been three outstanding murderers who have been launched after high-profile interventions by the well-meaning literati, whether or not conservative or liberal. Jack Henry Abbott went on to homicide a person six weeks after being launched, Edgar Smith kidnapped and tried to kill a girl, Jack Unterweger went on to kill 9 ladies. (Different circumstances have merely concerned perpetrators mendacity about their crimes, equivalent to Jimmy Lerner, writer of You Acquired Nothing Coming, who depicted the thin, 5’4″ man he killed in a drug-induced rage as a hulking large of 6’4″ who threatened his life.) Whereas murderers as a complete have a decrease recidivism charge—at a mere 41 %, in response to one research from 2002—than launched prisoners typically, thanks not less than partly to being a lot older than different prisoners upon the tip of their lengthy sentences, literary murderers seem like an uncommonly harmful lot.
Understandably from his perspective, Lennon is upset by the concept this story is being informed in any respect, due to the hazard it poses to individuals trusting the great religion of different murderers. However maybe—simply maybe—the tales of these murdered and assaulted additionally should be informed?
Deputy Editor Overseas Coverage
To the Editors:
I appreciated John J. Lennon’s essay. Lennon’s perception, as an incarcerated particular person, into legal justice issues and the jail system is effective and mandatory. He additionally shares my very own long-standing issues concerning the true crime style, that it too usually veers into exploitation and prioritizes leisure over the therapy of systemic points.
Which is why I used to be puzzled at his characterization of Scoundrel as “conventional true crime that exploits true innocence” and his conclusion that it “will make individuals rethink the subset of true crime tales…that heart on claims of wrongful convictions.” Lennon locations a heavy burden on the shoulders of Edgar Smith, an anomalous determine whose supposed literary expertise garnered consideration and advocacy from well-known pals like William F. Buckley, and whose persuasive manipulations triggered important hurt to the ladies and ladies in his orbit, above all Victoria Zielinski, the fifteen-year-old woman Smith murdered in 1957, and Lisa Ozbun, the lady he almost murdered in 1976.
Lennon expresses overt dismay that Scoundrel didn’t correctly think about Edgar Smith’s humanity, particularly throughout his lengthy incarceration within the final a long time of his life. However Lennon doesn’t bear in mind the various cases during which Smith’s humanity was prioritized, championed, and celebrated, and that the basis of his inevitable (and tragic) recidivism was his rage towards and hatred of ladies, by no means adequately handled each inside and out of doors of jail. Smith’s humanity, in all its ugly glory, was precisely depicted.
The legal justice system has unquestionably tilted towards punishment and retribution, and have to be ameliorated to shift the stability towards rehabilitation and reintegration into society. A e-book of narrative nonfiction, one most involved with the machinations of perception, a sample of violence in opposition to ladies and ladies, and whose voices get to matter most, can’t, and mustn’t, remedy these issues.
New York Metropolis
John J. Lennon replies:
When the Edgar Smith saga resulted in 1976 and he went away for good, Sarah Weinman and I weren’t but born. Quick ahead to at the moment. We’re each writers on this period of mass incarceration, me from the within and her from the surface. In her letter, Weinman is true when she writes about my actuality—“The legal justice system has unquestionably tilted towards punishment and retribution”—and she or he’s additionally proper that her e-book “can’t, and mustn’t, remedy these issues.”
What she fails to acknowledge is that the e-book compounds these issues. It appears to me like Weinman wrote Scoundrel as a result of it was a superb story, entertaining. And that’s tremendous. But it surely makes the priority for our punishing legal justice system sound disingenuous.
If Weinman goes to maintain positioning herself because the ethical umpire of true crime, voicing her issues concerning the injustices in our authorized system, then possibly she ought to write about an offender who doesn’t disgust her. And whereas I’m always reckoning with what I did, possibly I actually ought to write a few sufferer’s story and attempt to immerse myself of their ache. To be honest, Weinman does this nicely.