CLE Reads: Women Behaving Badly by John Stark Bellamy II

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CLE Reads: Women Behaving Badly by John Stark Bellamy III’ve been looking forward to diving into this month’s CLE Read ever since it was recommended by @bonnjill after my first book review:

John Stark Bellamy II’sWomen Behaving Badly

As I’ve mentioned before, I thrill in piecing together the puzzle of almost anything crime-related. So Jill’s recommendation was right in my wheelhouse.

However, in contrast to the other mystery books that fill my bedside table, Bellamy’s Women Behaving Badly published in 2005 are all real-life crimes – an anthology of ferocious female killers in Cleveland.

Now, I’ve been known to behave badly more than once in my life.  However, I’m happy to know it’s not as badly as some of these ladies.

In total, there are 16 essays ranging in years from 1868 to 1965 and motives from money to sibling rivalries and jilted lovers.

There is the Sarah Victor Scandal of 1868 – the collection’s oldest crime – where Sarah took in her step-brother William after he returned home from war and then was suspected of killing him for his life insurance.

Or the gothic tale of Eula Dortch, a nurse aide who was married with 7 children, killed her husband, hid his body in her house and continued to cash his checks. After all of this, she was granted a second shot at life … but did she use it wisely?

If you’re familiar with Bellamy’s other collections, you’ll see that some of these women have been featured before. However, he includes two new riveting tales in Women Behaving Badly: Bad Cinderella and the Sins of the Father.

Bad Cinderella tells of 16-year-old Catherine Manz, who in 1910 was seen walking out of her family’s home in Massillon wearing her sister Elizabeth’s best outfit – a red dress and enormous feathered hat.  Hours later, Elizabeth was discovered dead in the house, poisoned by strychnine. A far – and vengeful – cry from the Disney version.

In each essay, Bellamy tells more than just the story of the crime. He weaves together a portrait of each woman (sympathetic, even, when warranted) along with an examination of the region’s sociocultural trends at the time each crime was committed.

Bellamy was inspired to write this book when he realized while researching The Maniac in the Bushes all of his favorite Cleveland killers were female. He writes in the forward:

“Stack up virtually any murder committed by a female during those fifteen decades against a homicide authored by any mere male and you will soon discover that – and as the stories I tell indelibly illustrate – there is simply no comparison in cunning, quality, and sheer entertainment value between the shallow, predictable murders of men and the complex,  richly nuaned slayings perpetrated by women.”

Author John Stark Bellamy II. Photo © Jonathan Wayne

While some would be revolted by so much death and destruction, Bellamy’s fascination is in his blood as he’s the third generation of his family to write about Cleveland’s grisliest inhabitants.

Growing up, he was surrounded by stories about Cleveland crime and disaster, written by both his grandfather who was editor of the Plain Dealer and his father who wrote for both the Cleveland News and PD.

The former history specialist for the Cuyahoga County Public Library, Bellamy has now authored six books and two anthologies about the worst that Cleveland has seen on its shores.

Whether it’s natural, honed or both, he has a definite talent for it. While his descriptions are vivid, I enjoyed Bellamy’s straightforward layout of the facts. At the end of each essay he does provide his own speculation of guilt or innocence; however, he leaves it open enough for readers to form their own opinions.

The collection also gives an interesting peek into a Northeast Ohio foreign to most of us, one lost in the history books. As Kimberly commented: “Kind of creepy when I realized some of these things took place in my neighborhood.”

You can purchase Women Behaving Badly: True Tales of Cleveland’s Most Ferocious Female Killers from Cleveland publisher Gray & Company for only $24.95. Or support your favorite Cleveland independent bookstore. I borrowed mine from the Avon Lake Public Library.

This is the latest in my CLE Reads series. Check out my previous installments:

I’ll be back next month with the awesome horror comic The Lake Erie Monster.  And if you have any recommendations of your own, please leave a comment below.

4 thoughts on “CLE Reads: Women Behaving Badly by John Stark Bellamy II

  1. Pingback: Clue Into Cleveland: CLE Reads - The Lake Erie Monster

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