The complications of the insanity defense are considered in William L. Tabac’s “The Insanity Defense and the Mad Murderess of Shaker Heights: Examining the Trial of Mariann Colby,” the story of a seemingly average housewife who, on an August morning in 1965, shot to death an 8-year-old neighbor boy, John Cremer Young Jr.

Colby also had a son, Dane, who had some kind of developmental disability, and the two boys had been playmates, although the Youngs had been limiting their contact. Mariann Colby was known to be severe with the neighborhood children, once slapping Cremer’s older sister and knocking another girl from her bicycle.

On that August morning, Mariann Colby called the Young home about a jacket Cremer had lost. Mariann had found a jacket, she said, and Cremer’s father sent him to the Colby house to look. His body was discovered hours later in Gates Mills by a Case Western Reserve University student walking his dogs.

When questioned, Mariann first claimed that her son Dane had shot Cremer; then she admitted that she had done it, but it was an accident. She hid the gun in a package of hamburger in a basement freezer, and wrapped the body in a coat and deposited it in a wooded area. The lawyer Colby’s husband had engaged had not been present, which made the confession unusable.

Colby faced a panel of three judges, who listened to the testimony of psychiatrists who described her, variously, as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and psychosis. One witness stated that she had bought the gun, under an assumed name, to kill a man who had resisted her romantic advances.

Tabac uses other examples of the insanity defense to illustrate how perplexing it was to the judges, beginning with the 1843 M’Naghten rule, which was based on the defendant’s ability to distinguish right from wrong. The 1844 Ohio version of the rule included the defendant’s ability to restrain himself from doing something he knew was wrong. For many years, some remained confused on which version to use and “[h]aving wrested it away from the judges, mental health experts would take control of the insanity defense in the state’s courtrooms.”

“The Insanity Defense” (171 pages, softcover) costs $19.99 from Kent State University Press. Tabac is emeritus professor of law at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Marshall College of Law.

More killer tales

Mariann Colby isn’t one of the women whom Jane Ann Turzillo profiles in “Wicked Women of Ohio,” but she’s found seven other femmes fatales who deserve the dishonor. Four of them are madams (not “passing judgment,” she says), six murderesses and one traitor.

The most diligent madam was Lizzie Rogers, whose great-granddaughter chronicled the story in her 2014 “Looking for Lizzie: The True Story of an Ohio Madam, Her Sporting Life and Hidden Legacy.” Lizzie married eight times and ran a “house of ill fame” in Marion. In 1890, she was operating in Cuyahoga Falls and Akron, and at Cliff House, a 10-acre resort hotel in Stow.

One of the murderesses was Martha Wise, who lived in a Medina County village with the unlikely name of Hardscrabble. In late 1924, she apparently poisoned 17 members of her family with arsenic, and three of them died. It was known that Wise had an obsession with funerals and walked long distances to attend all she could. Another entry is about Anna Maria Hahn, the last woman executed in Ohio, who worked as a “housekeeper” for nice older men and then poisoned them, also with arsenic.

The traitor is Mildred Gillars, the notorious Axis Sally, who moved from Maine to Conneaut as a teen when her mother remarried. She attended Ohio Wesleyan University and drama school in Cleveland. After finding her way to Europe, she taught English in Berlin and then turned to radio. Her broadcasts were aimed at demoralizing American troops, leading them to believe they were losing the war and their families and girlfriends had forgotten them.

Each chapter is well researched and the book contains citations from court records and published works. “Wicked Women of Ohio” (160 pages, softcover) costs $23.99 from Arcadia Publishing. Turzillo is an alumna of the University of Akron. Her “Unsolved Murders & Disappearances in Northeast Ohio” was nominated for an Agatha Award.”

Book talks

Barnes & Noble (4015 Medina Road): Tom Levenick, author of “Buckeyes for Life: Insider Views of the Most Elite Program in College Athletics”, Robert J. Roman (“Ohio State Football”) and Jack Park and Maureen Zappala (“Buckeye Reflections: Legendary Moments from Ohio State Football”) talk about and sign their books at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Cuyahoga County Public Library (Beachwood branch, 25501 Shaker Blvd.): Cleveland native Evan Fallenberg, whose 2008 debut novel “Light Fell” won the Stonewall Book Award, discusses his new novel “The Parting Gift,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday. Register at 216-831-6868.

Canton Palace Theatre (605 Market Ave. N.): Eric Litwin, author of the “Pete the Cat,” “Nuts” and “Groovy Joe” picture book series, sings and talks about his children’s books, 10 to 11 a.m. Friday. Register at events.starklibrary.org.

Akron-Summit County Public Library (60 S.High St.): Eric Litwin sings and talks about his children’s books, 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Hudson Library & Historical Society (96 Library St.): Eric Litwin gives two performances, 10 to 10:45 and 11 to 11:45 a.m. Saturday. Register at 330-653-6658.

Cuyahoga County Public Library (Parma Heights branch, 6206 Pearl Road): Mark Dawidziak talks about “Shades of Blue and Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War” and signs his books including “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone,” 7 p.m. Thursday. Register at 216-382-4880.

Visible Voice Books (2258 Professor Ave., Cleveland): Writers Mary Biddinger, Diane Kendig and Juliet Cook, who contributed to “They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing,” talk about and sign the collection of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Cuyahoga County Public Library (Parma-Snow branch, 2121 Snow Road): Eric Litwin appears from 5:15 to 6 p.m. Friday. Also, register to see Mitch Albom, author of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 15. The $25 ticket includes a copy of “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven.” Register at 216-661-4240.

Cuyahoga County Public Library South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch, 1876 S.Green Road, South Euclid): Mark Dawidziak gives “The Vampire Talk,” an abridgement of his “Vampires on Film and Television” class at Kent State University, and signs books including “The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Dracula,” 3 p.m, Saturday. Also, register to see author and former Beacon Journal writer Thrity Umrigar talk with Ben Fountain about 2016 in politics and his nonfiction book “Beautiful Country Burn Again” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 8. Call 216-382-4880.

 

Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or lsherwin@thebeaconjournal.com. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.