The return of William Roughead, The Godfather’s 50th, and a strange story from the Sixties: newsletter, March 18, 2022

March 18, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,290) on Friday, March 18, 2022.

This month of March marks the 50th anniversary of the premier of Francis Ford Coppola’s great movie The Godfather. Many critics and many just plain movie-goers (like me) consider that film the greatest piece of cinema that Hollywood has ever produced. In the American Film Institute’s periodic list of the top 100 films, it usually comes in at No. 3, behind Citizen Kane and Casablanca.

However it is ranked, the film has secured a place in cinematic history. It has also changed the language, adding expressions such as “an offer he couldn’t refuse” and “sleeps with the fishes” to our everyday chatter.

I remember seeing the three-hour film at the base theater at Ft. Myer Army Base in Arlington, Virginia, when I was in the Navy. Back then, every base had a movie theater that showed first-run movies, and the price was $1 if you were on active duty. I recall coming out of the theater and being astonished at what I had seen. The script, the actors, the costumes, the settings, the music—everything in that movie worked. I have never seen anything like it before or since.

So, I celebrate The Godfather’s 50th birthday—and look forward to seeing it one more time. I hope that you are celebrating something and having a wonderful weekend.


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Murder Most Criminous (volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing

The father of modern true crime writing is back.

William Roughead, the Scottish barrister who attended and reported on every major British murder trial for nearly six decades and wrote about each of them in detailed and yet interesting accounts, is returning from obscurity. Roughead died in 1952 but not before he built a huge following for his work both in America and Great Britain.

His name and work, unfortunately, have fallen into obscurity. First Inning Press is bringing him back to life.

Murder Most Criminous: The Cases of William Roughead, Father of Modern True Crime Literature (Volume 1) has just been published. It is the first of several anticipated volumes of Roughead’s work. The editors, Jim Stovall and Ed Caudill, have worked not only to reproduce this great writer’s work but also to give it new life for modern audiences.

In addition to attending the trials of his day, Roughead was a lawyer in Edinburgh with an active practice and raised a family. Not only did he attend trials, but he also did meticulous research on famous trials that had happened before he was born.

He wrote about many of these trials in local Scottish journals. As he did so, his audience grew, and his accounts became popular on both sides of the Atlantic. By the 1930s he had a large and enthusiastic following, readers who included Alexander Woollcott and Franklin Roosevelt.

This new series features some of his best and most famous cases, including the trial of Oscar Slater, scheduled for Volume 2, in which he teams up with Arthur Conan Doyle to free a man who was falsely convicted of murder.

The first volume of this series includes four of Roughead’s cases, all from a time before he was able to attend their trials. They include “Mackcoull and the Begbie Mystery,” “The Secret of Ireland’s Eye: A Detective Story,” “The Ghost of Sergeant Davies,” and “The Parson of Spott.” Each case has unique features that Roughead interprets with his unique and fascinating writing style.

“We have done a lot of work with editing these cases and trying to make them presentable to modern readers,” Stovall said.

“We have introduced some typographical innovations that include footnotes, more readable paragraphing, and subheads—all of which we believe will aid the reader. The essential Roughead is still there, and we believe the reader will be captured by his exquisite phrasing and point of view.”

During March and April, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.

Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.


Group giveaways

Murder Most Criminous is part of a group giveaway, Your Lucky Day, facilitated by The giveaway includes more than 35 books of all genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors. The link for this giveaway, which runs from March 17-31 is

Kill the Quarterback is part of another group giveaway, Ominous Omens, which runs from March 15-29. This giveaway is exclusively for mysteries and thrillers. The link for this giveaway is


The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Air, Alderman, Alien, Allah, Allegiance, Alliance

AIR, n. A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for the fattening of the poor.

ALDERMAN, n. An ingenious criminal who covers his secret thieving with a pretence of open marauding.

ALIEN, n. An American sovereign in his probationary state.

ALLAH, n. The Mahometan Supreme Being, as distinguished from the Christian, Jewish, and so forth.

Allah’s good laws I faithfully have kept,

And ever for the sins of man have wept;

And sometimes kneeling in the temple I

Have reverently crossed my hands and slept.

Junker Barlow


This thing Allegiance, as I suppose,

Is a ring fitted in the subject’s nose,

Whereby that organ is kept rightly pointed

To smell the sweetness of the Lord’s anointed.


ALLIANCE, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other’s pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


A strange tale from the Sixties: William F. Buckley and Edgar Smith

One of the oddest stories to emerge from the 1960s, a period of many odd tales, is that of Edgar H. Smith, a convicted killer, and William F. Buckley, scion of conservative thought in America.

Smith had been convicted of killing Victoria Zielinski, a 15-year-old high school student, in 1957 in Bergen County, New Jersey. The evidence against him was strong. There seemed to be little doubt about his culpability.

Smith and his attorneys argued that his confession had been coerced. These were the days before the Supreme Court’s Miranda ruling, which stated that police had to inform a suspect of his rights and had to offer the presence of an attorney while the suspect was being questioned. Smith said he had been questioned for hours without a break, and he confessed simply to end the ordeal.

The judge and the jury did not agree, and Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

While on death row, Smith took a number of college courses and learned enough about the law to file a string of appeals that resulted in delays in his execution. He eventually wrote a book, Brief Against Death, that was published in 1968 and that became a selection of the Literary Guild, a nationwide book club at the time. He also wrote to William F. Buckley, the founder of the National Review magazine, a voice of conservatism, and said he had begun reading the magazine in his cell. Buckley took note of the letter and began a back-and-forth correspondence with Smith.

Buckley soon became more than Smith’s correspondent and pen-pal. He turned into an advocate. In 1965, Buckley wrote an article for Esquire magazine in which he outlined what he believed were the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case against Smith. He set up a defense fund and helped enlist prominent attorneys in Smith’s cause.

Smith’s case got back into the appeals court and in 1968 the Supreme Court ordered a review of his case by the Court of Appeals. In 1971 that court ruled that the confession had indeed been coerced and that Smith should be freed if prosecutors did not want to retry him.

Prosecutors concluded that they had a weak case against Smith without the confession. Smith was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to the time served. After leaving prison, he renounced his plea deal and said that he was not guilty of the murder.

Smith then appeared on Buckley’s Firing Line television program as an advocate for criminal justice and prison reform. Buckley said that he firmly believed in Smith’s innocence. His belief, however, was to have near-tragic results.

Smith moved to California, but five years later he was involved in the attempted murder of a woman. He fled, but eventually with Buckley’s assistance, he surrendered to police. He was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison. Buckley then expressed regret that he had backed Smith’s case so fervently.

After he was in the California jail, he finally confessed to murdering Victoria Zielinski in 1957, the crime for which he had been originally convicted. He spent the rest of his life in jail and died at the age of 83 in 2017.

Those who are familiar with the case and with Smith say that he was never able to show any true remorse for what he had done.

This case has come back to life because of a new book that has been recently published about the incident and about Buckley’s involvement with it. The book is titled Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Woman Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free. It is written by Sarah Weinman. It was recently reviewed in the New York Times, and you can read that review at this link.



Check out last week’s newsletter

Vic C.: I’ve already told you of my memories of Shibe Park but, beyond that, I used to go to games at the venerable Franklin Field—home of University of Pennsylvania sports—to watch the Philadelphia Eagles. My clearest memory of that stadium is from 1960, watching the Eagles play the New York Giants. The turf was grass, shortly replaced by mud as the players pounded each other. Those were the days, too, when there were still 60-minute men; if you played, you were there for the entire 60 minutes barring time-outs and injuries. I could tell you the names of some of the players I watched but the one who stood out the most, at least for me, was Chuck Bednarik. When he was in sight, you couldn’t help but watch him. In point of fact, whenever someone was carrying the ball and Bednarik got in his way, the play ended right then and there. Of course, Philadelphia fans have the deserved reputation of being loud and (often) obscenely verbal in their opinions, especially when calling out opponents. That game was no exception and the people around me often left my ears ringing. Still, there was something a lot more visceral and, thus, more engaging about the entire experience when compared to today.

At the mention of Rudolph Fisher’s name, I had to check my library to be sure but, lo and behold, I have a copy of The Conjure-Man Dies—A Harlem Mystery that I’ll have to reread. Surprisingly, I found that none of his works are available at the Gutenberg Project but are, in hardback, at Amazon.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: xxx


Best quote of the week:

A page of history is worth a volume of logic. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1841-1935)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The first African-American mystery writer, “rules of writing” lists, and an amusing baseball memory: newsletter, March 11, 2022



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