The city of Washington, D. C. seems like it would be a ripe, if not overripe, resource or tales of of mysteries, murder and mayhem as the title of Troy Taylor's book Wicked Washington: Mysteries, Murder & Mayhem in America's Capital (2007, The History Press) promises but, ultimately disappoints.
Wicked Washington largely focuses predominantly on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. There are earlier chapters that include the "code duello," most notably the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr which cost the former his life and the latter his reputation, assaults by politicians upon other politicians and the occasional newspaperman and a particularly unengaging report on the murder of Phillip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key, by Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York.
Fully 45 pages of this 127 page book deals with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There are moments of interest here; the belief, found in narratives as diverse as Jesse James to Elvis Presley, that somehow the person in question, in this case John Wilkes Booth, somehow survived his presumed death and went on to live out his life in obscurity, and conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination including rumors that Secretary of War William Stanton was somehow involved.
Author Taylor also includes a chapter on the assassination of Presidents James A. Garfield, which the author terms "The Forgotten Assassination," while completely ignoring the assassinations of William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. The author also does not include assassination attempts made against Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan though he does cover the controversial death of Warren G. Harding in a chapter titled "Presidential Scandals."
Chapter Six, the last chapter of Wicked Washington, moves away from politics and is titled "Bloody Washington: Tales of Crime, Murder & Death." This chapter contains three different stories, two mildly interesting and one totally ridiculous. The reporting on the death of Clover Adams, wife of Henry Adams and a Washington connection to the murder of New York personality Dot King are interesting while a story from 1923 about a vampire that had been stalking Washington since about 1850 is not.
Perhaps no better illustration of how ill-equipped the author is to tackle his subject comes early on page 27 when he makes the astonishing claim that in 1908 someone tried to kill Senator Robert M. Lafollette on the Senate floor. Back then, to implement a filibuster, the politician had to actually stay on the Floor and keep speaking just like we may have seen in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Senator Lafollette had filibustered against the Aldrich-Vreeland currency bill, which established the National Monetary Commission, for two days fortifying himself with concoctions of milk and raw eggs in order to keep his stamina up. After sixteen hours Senator Lafollette became so ill that he had to leave the floor leading our Author to breathlessly report, "a laboratory reported on the mixture that made the senator sick. According to chemical analysis, the egg and milk drink also contained a poison called ptomaine -- and there was enough in it to kill a man. Someone had tried to kill a filibuster by murdering the senator who started it. The figurative phrase that had been used up to that point, "kill a filibuster," took on a haunting, literal meaning."
Did I already mention ridiculous?
Wicked Washington is a book of missed opportunities. No where with its covers will you find the unsettling death of biowarfare specialist Frank Olsen in 1953, the Capital Hill shootings carried out by Puerto Rican nationalists in 1954, Marilyn Monroe's Washington connections, the 1964 murder of Mary Meyer and her mysterious missing diary, the Watergate burglary of 1972 which led to the resignation of President Nixon, the 1980s era Franklin scandal, Iran Contra, the Gallaudet student murders of 2000 or the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy. Instead the Reader will find a book very similar to ones they may have ordered as schoolchildren from Scholastic Books and for these reasons I can give Wicked Washington only the most tepid of recommendations.