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Book Review: Lies Told Under Oath by Beth Lane

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Author Beth Lane takes the reader back to Saturday, September 12, 1912 to carefully establish the setting and events leading up to the discovery of the brutal murders of Charles, Mathilda, and Blanche Pfanschmidt, and Emma Kaempen. Twenty-year-old Ray Pfanschmidt is arrested for the murders and the arson attempt to cover up the crime. Lies Told Under Oath: The Puzzling Story of the Pfanschmidt Murders and of the Surviving Son asks the question “Victim or Villain?”

A cast of key players include a large number of relatives of the Pfanschmidt family, their friends, neighbors, local businessmen, doctors, attorneys, the Kaempen family, and numerous additional witnesses. Sensation-starved members of the community are mesmerized by speculation, the plague of rumors, and the mounting public opinion calling for Ray’s conviction, even before the opening day of the trial.

I became engaged in the brilliant oratory of the attorneys, the hundreds of questions asked, the confusing testimony, the possibility of perjury, and the likelihood of tainted evidence. All these factors added to the courtroom spectacle, played to a full house of predisposed citizens. I felt I had a choice seat in a crowd clamoring to get into the courtroom audience each day.

Lane spent hours of tedious research in the basement and sub-basement of the Quincy Illinois County Courthouse as well as at the Illinois State Capitol to find documentation to follow the day-to-day development of the trials. She includes these actual findings drawn from the Coroner’s inquest transcript, and the official trial transcripts. Additional research provided newspaper accounts of the trials.

Bloodhounds, buggy wheels, party line telephones, timing devices, and jailhouse informants all add to the roller coaster of emotions of the trial, the verdict, and the aftereffects.

By presenting a day-by-day account of the trial, the narrative sometimes becomes bogged down with the repetition of evidence, objections from the attorneys, and the sheer number of witnesses. I became as committed as a jury member, not wanting to miss a single important bit of important testimony. Lane’s crucially placed editorial comments add clarity, continuity, and flow to the details of the narrative.

Lies Told Under Oath by Beth Lane is drawn from the real life transcripts of courtroom strategy, procedure, drama and suspense. This is a must read for true crime fans. The account reads like fiction and will also appeal to those who enjoy the genre of courtroom procedural novels. A monumental work!

(Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views)

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