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Posted on Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 2:50 p.m.

The gruesome is unveiled in new book 'Wicked Washtenaw County'

By Julia Eussen


The newest book by local historian James Thomas Mann, published by The History Press.

It's Friday the 13th. Superstitions tell me not to travel (misfortune on the road) or change my bed sheets (bad dreams will haunt me). Movies tell me not to be a summer camp counselor. So, I'm safe if I stay home here in Ann Arbor and just lay low - right?

Wicked Washtenaw County tells me I am so wrong.

"Wicked Washtenaw County: Strange Tales of the Grisly and Unexplained," a new book by local author and community contributor James Thomas Mann covers incidents from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. While the writing is awkward at times, it's fun to read about this underside of the region.

Mann provides details to murder between neighbors, murder born out of jealousy, and campus arson, among other crimes. These are some of the more grisly incidents.

There is also the grisly that stemmed from necessity. A lengthy and interesting piece on corpse gathering for students at the University of Michigan Medical School unveils the many aspects to this practice. Often grave robbers were hired, but, for example, Dr. Frothingham did the work himself. Furthermore, he wrote openly to the Regents about it and asked for a raise due to the risks and duress he subjected himself to. In addition, family members and law enforcement went to great lengths to both prevent a theft of someone newly deceased and locate those guilty of the crime.

In addition to reading about murder and unsolved mysteries, the pieces also tell the reader so much more about the life and times of the citizens of the county. The last article revolves around a small group of people in 1926. The crime (robberies), the hideout (barn), the hostages and accomplices (the Barlows), and the femme fatal (Irene, "the Bandit Queen") all seems straight out of a film. And it all seems to convey the 1920s - as if it simply couldn't have occurred any time prior.

These few notorious stories in the history of Wicked Washtenaw County remind me that I am as safe on Friday the 13th as any other day (for better or worse).

Julia Eussen received her B.A. in English from Kansas State University. She is currently a graduate student in Eastern Michigan University's Professional Writing Program. She is also an active member of the Ann Arbor Classics Book Group. She can be reached at jeussen at emich dot com.



Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 5:35 p.m.

To cite The BusBoys, circa 1980: There goes the neighborhood! The whites are moving in, they'll bring their next of kin. Oh boy! If only Washtenaw's Potawatomi had developed a means to set and enforce stringent restrictions on immigration back in the day. As it was, undocumented Far Northwest Asians steadily infiltrated the Huron Valley instead of rightly remaining in their own home territories far away. Without even learning the local languages, they brashly constructed illicit encampments near existing communities of legitimate residents. In this light, sadly, the Washtenaw region's expanding culture of crime over the course of the 19th century — as partly revealed in this insightful book — is just what you'd expect following so much uncontrolled immigration.


Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 3:53 a.m.

He attended medical school at u of m. Nasty individual.


Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 3:53 a.m.

the following websites are only partially correct in describing what Mudgett was up to. There was an old book describing his crimes and times, but it has long since disintegrated. It was a really old book. I looked up a lot of stuff about him after reading that book. And this one I have determined to be the most accurate account of his history of misdeeds. I can only wonder if this story is in the book. If it isn't then someone hasn't done their homework.


Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 3:45 a.m.

He attended medical school at u of m. Nasty individual.


Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 3:44 a.m.

How about Herman Webster Mudgett (May 16, 1861 May 7, 1896, better known under the alias of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, was one of the first documented American serial killers in the modern term. He stole corpses and sold them to U of M laboratories and much more. When the old chemistry building burnt down, they discovered an unknown gravesite where they disposed of stolen corpses after they were done with them. Imagine that!

Ryan Munson

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 10:36 p.m.

Very cool. I think you already sold me to buy the book.