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Grisly Bared 

The Borowitz True Crime Collection at Kent State

The hood old days.
  • The hood old days.
When the remains of Marilyn Sheppard were exhumed a few weeks ago, macabre press reports describing the condition of the decomposed body added another chapter to an already dramatic case, ensuring that this 45-year-old crime won't be forgotten soon.

Few people have longer memories for crime than Albert Borowitz, a Harvard-educated Cleveland lawyer who donated most of the 5,173 books and artifacts that make up the Kent State University True Crime Collection.

One of the largest of its kind in the world, the collection includes titles that range from The Further Adventures of Fire Bomb Jack (published in 1898) to Act of Treason: The Role of J. Edgar Hoover in the Assassination of President Kennedy (1991). There are also broadsides -- lurid crime stories from the Victorian era that were the predecessors of today's supermarket tabloids -- as well as ceramic figurines that depict famous crime scenes, lithographs, music, prison postcards, and a noose from the last hanging in England.

"The uniqueness of the collection is its focus on the impact of crime and other aberrant activities on literature and the stage," Borowitz explains, noting the well-known fact that Sam Sheppard's case was the basis for The Fugitive television series and movie. "There is something about crime that captures the public's imagination."

In addition to collecting crime-related literature, Borowitz has written six books on the subject, including two novels. He also collaborated with his wife, Helen Borowitz, retired curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art, on a book about 19th-century crime.

When pressed to name a favorite example in true-crime literature, Borowitz cites the Lizzie Borden case, in which five people were hacked to death in the home of a prominent family. A lot of people know the rhyme ("Lizzie Borden took an ax/And gave her mother 40 whacks/And when she saw what she had done/She gave her father 41"). "What most people don't know is that Lizzie Borden was acquitted," says Borowitz. "This is why I am interested in this field." To Borowitz, there are two versions of every crime: the crime itself and the way society remembers it. Each serves as an inkblot test of society. How today's tabloid-intensive crimes will be remembered in a hundred years is anybody's guess. But even without a gruesome rhyme to help matters, the Borowitz True Crime Collection will ensure that they are remembered. -- Mike Hovancsek

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