Poison Widows cover





Poison Widows: A True Story of Witchcraft, Arsenic and Murder
by George Cooper






Cover Illustration of Hardcover Edition

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George Cooper's first book, Lost Love, won acclaim for its riveting portrayal of tender passions and sensational murder in old Manhattan. It was history rendered in a page-turning narrative style, a style that Cooper now applies to the 1930s and the infamous poison murder ring that infected the superstitious Italian immigrant community of South Philadelphia.

Poison Widows describes a world where the evil eye could bring ruin upon a family, where malevolent spirits stalked the living, and where the only relief lay in the fattuchiere, the witch doctors of the Old Country. It tells the story of a self-proclaimed sorcerer, Morris "Louie the Rabbi" Bolber, who claimed he could cure cancer with a magic butter knife given to him by a Chinese witch; Paul Petrillo, who discovered that the Rabbi's love potion, while useless as an agent of romance, was quite a handy and seemingly untraceable poison; and the dozens of "poison widows"--women who, some as willing accomplices and others just foolish dupes, sent their husbands to an excruciatingly painful death. When the scheme was eventually uncovered, a protracted battle was waged upon the widows in the courts, urged on by a frenzied press and an ambitious district attorney.

Drawing on trial transcripts, press reports, and interviews with participants, Cooper paints a vibrant, darkly comic portrait of this sordid chapter in the history of crime. The parallels to recent trials, including the impact of media coverage and the awesome powers of a skilled lawyer to redefine "justice" on his own terms, gives Poison Widows the timeliness of a story sprung right from the headlines, mingled with the morbid timelessness of mankind's darkest nature.

From Library Journal

Former Columbia law professor Cooper (Lost Love: A True Story of Passion, Murder and Justice in Old New York, LJ 8/93) re-creates a sensational but forgotten crime of the 1930s. Working from newspapers, archival records, and interviews, he reconstructs the story of three men in Philadelphia who convinced Italian immigrant wives to solve their domestic problems in drastic fashion.

After taking out life insurance policies on their husbands, the women were provided with a special "white powder." The mystery powder turned out to be arsenic or antimony, and the ringleaders, two cousins named Herman and Paul Petrillo and their partner Morris Bolber (a.k.a. Louie the Rabbi), received a healthy cut of the insurance.

Cooper focuses on the two attorneys who rose to fame during the trials: Vincent McDevitt, an up-and-coming assistant district attorney, and Raymond Pace Alexander, the first black lawyer to defend a white client successfully. Their stories are as remarkable as the crime itself. Recommended for large true crime collections. - A. Michael Sawyer, Northwestern Regional Lib., Elkin, NC Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

D.A. McDevitt Millie Giacobbe Louie the Rabbi Rakish Rose