‘He was determined, deliberate, canny, and manipulative.’ – Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free, by Sarah Weinman

March 18, 2022 at 12:29 am (Uncategorized)

That was Edgar Smith, all right. He was also a husband, a son, and a father.

You’d think he’d know better, wouldn’t you?

In the year 1957, Edgar Smith of Bergen County, New Jersey, was arrested for the murder of 15-year-old Vickie Zielinsky. He was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death. Their followed a fourteen year struggle to escape the snares of the death penalty, all the while steadfastly maintaining his innocence. Ultimately he managed not only to avoid execution but to gain release from prison entirely. This was by way of entering a plea of non vult, or no contest, in regard to the murder. In 1971, he admitted before a judge that he in fact did commit the crime. This should have resulted in a further prison sentence, but the judge gave Edgar credit for the over fourteen years he had already served, took into account his good behavior while behind bars, and suspended the remainder of his sentence. (Part of this ‘good behavior’ consisted in the writing of several books, the first of which, Brief Against Death, won him considerable acclaim.)

Thus Edgar Smith, although on probation for several more years, walked out of court and into the wide world a free man, still maintaining his innocence. ( The terms of the plea stipulated that before the judge, he had to confess his guilt.)

Sarah Weinman acquaints us with the numerous individuals who believed in Smith’s innocence and fought alongside him for exoneration. The best known of these was William F. Buckley. His role in this drama is fascinating to read about, especially for those of us who vividly remember his dominating presence on the scene as a conservative spokesman in mid twentieth century America.

Upon his release, Edgar Smith appeared with Buckley on his TV show Firing Line:

Sarah Weinman has been involved in the crime fiction scene in this country for quite some time. I was a fan of her blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. She left off blogging for other activities in the field, most notably working on anthologies such as Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives and he two-volume set, Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 1950s. In these endeavors, one of her goals has been to bring some of the excellent women crime writers from that era back before the reading public. In this, she has succeeded admirably. (And I can’t resist extolling the virtues of one particular novel to be found in the 1940s volume. It’s called The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. It is both a vivid portrait of wartime America and a gripping crime story. Above all, it’s the story of one woman’s struggle to raise her two teen-agers alone while her husband is fighting abroad.)

Sarah Weinman has now turned to writing true crime. The Real Lolita (2018) was a revelation and an enjoyable read. Scoundrel is, in my opinion, even better. For a while now, I’ve been looking for a true crime narrative as compelling and as memorable as I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

Found it!

Sarah Weinman

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