Fact or Fiction: A Mostly-True Crime History Podcast

Fact or Fiction: A Mostly-True Crime History Podcast

Welcome to Fact or Fiction, the podcast about historical crimes with one fictional detail added. Listen carefully because it's not easy to know if something is Fact or Fiction. Ready to play?

Episodes

February 6, 2024 57 mins

Today’s guest is author Jeffrey D. Simon, author of several books about terrorism and a former RAND analyst who also taught at UCLA. As a guest on Fact or Fiction, Jeff has agreed to share some of the highlights from his most recent book, The Bulldog Detective: William J. Flynn and America’s First War Against the Mafia, Spies, and Terrorists. Flynn’s career provides a fascinating glimpse into early 20th century crimes and detective...

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St. Louis was a rapidly growing frontier town in 1849. That year, the city experienced a great fire that destroyed the city's business district, an epidemic of cholera that decimated the population, and a steady influx of would-be miners on their way to the California hills. Also, there was a sensational murder and an equally sensational trial.

Christopher Allen Gorden, author of Fire, Pestilence, and Death: St. Louis...

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Nicknamed "Liquor Island," Long Island was a center for bootlegging and rumrunning for the New York metropolitan area during Prohibition. Amy Kasuga Folk's book Rumrunners of Suffolk County: Tales from Liquor Island shares highlights from her book and inserts a fictional detail in her four choices at the end of the episode. Will you identify the fiction? Will I?

Listeners will be astonished by what they lear...

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May 1, 2023 60 mins

In the first half of the twentieth century, John R. Brinkley was a celebrated and successful "doctor" renowned for his ability to use goat organs to help humans with infertility. In addition to his "medical" success, Brinkley was also an early adopter of radio technology, which he used to advertise his hospital and his other medicines.

In this first episode of season 3, which focuses loosely on the KC a...

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In the late nineteenth century, the West was wild all the way back to the Mississippi River. Only a day's walk from the progressive big city of St. Louis, rural Jefferson County citizens were struggling with an outbreak of thefts, arson, and more. Mack Marsden, successful livestock trader and family man, was accused of being involved. After Mack was shot and killed, there remained lingering doubts. Was he a criminal, or was he...

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From 1848 to 1881, a small Utopian colony in upstate New York—the Oneida Community—was known for its shocking sexual practices, from open marriage and free love to the sexual training of young boys by older women. And in 1881, a one-time member of the Oneida Community—Charles Julius Guiteau—assassinated President James Garfield in a brutal crime that shook America to its core.

Susan Wels, author of An Assassin in Utopia, shares this...

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March 22, 2023 52 mins

For this special episode Tracy Marak, member of the Belle Toffee family, is my guest. She shares the Belle Toffee story, and then tries to identify the fiction in the mostly-true story about another candy maker, Forrest E. Mars.

Although this story doesn't fit neatly into the true crime category, Forrest Mars' road to ownership of Mars, Inc. wasn’t a smooth one and it certainly wasn’t sweet. Today,  Mars, Inc. is...

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James Brockman rose from shady character to preeminent defense attorney in Houston, Texas by representing gang leaders, jilted spouses, wealthy storekeepers, drunken on-duty policemen, and more. His career gained national recognition, including his involvement in the most famous American murder case of the young twentieth century, when he himself was murdered leaving a dubious legacy.

Houston historian Mike Vance's bo...

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In this episode, authors Victoria Cosner and Lorelie Shannon share a mostly-true story from their book Missouri's Murderous Matrons.  Emma Heppermann, a black widow killer, and Bertha Gifford, an angel of mercy, used arsenic to murder unsuspecting family and friends for decades. The story of how they managed to evade discovery is unbelievable. As always, these authors insert one fiction into our discussion. Try to identify wha...

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On Christmas Eve of 1900, someone got away with murder. Frank Richardson, wealthy business owner and family man, was shot as he entered his home. Although many people may have wanted him dead, the crime has remained unsolved to this day. Kimberly Tilley, author of Has it Come to This? The Mysterious, Unsolved Murder of Frank Richardson tells us the mostly-true story about Frank Richardson and his murder. She inserts one fiction int...

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Litigator and author Cecil Kuhne shares a mostly-true story about Rudolph Ivanovich Abel, the subject of his book KGB Man: The Cold War's Most Notorious Soviet Agent and the First to be Exchanged at the Bridge of Spies. Abel was captured by the FBI in 1957 after an inept colleague betrayed him to the US.  Abel's trial, his conviction, and his eventual exchange across the Glienicker Brücke (the "Bridge of Spies")...

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Today’s guest, Connie Yen, is the author of Sinner and Savior: Emma Molloy and the Graham Murder, the true story of an 1886 murder in Greene County known as “The Graham Tragedy.” In 1886, the nude body of Sarah Graham was found in a well on the Molloy property. Subsequent investigations uncovered a bigamous marriage and other allegedly scandalous happenings in the home of temperance advocate Emma Molloy.  Listen carefully because i...

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H. H. Holmes is one of the most infamous killers in the history of Chicago and the United States.  In late 1894, when authorities arrested Holmes on a warrant for horse theft in Texas, they learned Holmes, the architect and former owner of the “murder castle” in Chicago not only looked like the villain from a melodrama but acted the part, too.  Although he confessed to killing 27 people in April 1896, historians still find it nearl...

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In this episode of Fact or Fiction: Author Series, Bryan Johnston, author of Deep in the Woods shares the story of the 1935 kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser, but he adds one fictional detail.  Will I guess it?  Will you?

Play along with me and then order a copy of Deep in the Woods to learn all the stranger-than-fiction details about the kidnapping, the kidnappers, and the rest of the story.

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This is the first episode in what I’m calling the Fact or Fiction: Author Series.  Owen Pataki, co-author of Where the Light Falls and author of Searchers in Winter is my guest.  Searchers in Winter brings events of the Napoleonic Wars to life with its compelling plot, engaging characters, and exciting action sequences.  In this show I have a brief chat with Owen about his book, and then he tells me a mostly-true story related to o...

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This episode focuses on the tragic murder of railroad clerk Clarence D. Hiller; the man accused of committing the crime, Thomas Jennings; and the advanced forensic technique of fingerprint identification used successfully for the first time in a murder trial in the United States. Please note that, while I've researched this entire story, I have included one fictional element. That element will be revealed at the end of the epi...

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In late December of 1903, the beautiful new Iroquois Theater in Chicago performed a matinee of the family-friendly musical Mr. Bluebeard to a sold-out audience.  Midway through the performance, an overloaded stage light caught fire, and what happened is stranger than fiction.  Listen carefully because it's tricky to know what's Fact or Fiction!

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Images and resources used in this episode can be found at facto...

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In April of 1924, Beulah Annan shot her lover in the bedroom she shared with her husband Al.  She rested next to the dead man and played one song over and over on her phonograph until Al arrived home.  What followed is such a sensational story, that reporter Maureen Watkins used it as the basis for her successful play, Chicago.  That play was the basis for the hit musical and later Oscar-winning movie of the same name.  Listen care...

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May 24, 2021 10 mins

In this week's Fiblett episode, Laura shares a story of Western criminals in the big city, a train robbery, a bank robbery, and butter heist.  Three are published stories, but one is fictional.  Listen carefully because it's tough to know if what you hear is Fact or Fiction!

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Images and resources used in this episode can be found at factorfictionpodcast.com. If you enjoyed this show, please support...

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May 17, 2021 34 mins

Bluebeard is a French folk-tale about a villainous man who married and then killed multiple wives.  The American version of this story isn't a folk tale--it's real.  Today's episode of Fact or Fiction examines the story of Johann Hoch, a man accused of marrying scores of women, absconding with their fortunes, and even murdering a few.  Listen carefully because it's never easy to tell which parts of the story are...

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