As soon as the news got out, gawkers arrived to view the house from the outside and chat up the crime among themselves and the neighbors.
Of course, many of them also attended the trial. When something "shocking" was testified, there were common gasps.
And, of course, members of the media around the world pontificated. They blamed the crime on everything from the pulp fiction of that day to human evolution going in reverse.
As Kate Summerscale tells that true story in the 2016 book "The Wicked Boy," what screams out is this: It's nothing new that murder is a source of great entertainment as well as a platform for half-baked theories. Somehow the presence of tragedy doesn't hover over the event. There's too much fun to be had and platitudes to spout.
But, in addition to capturing the giddiness of the crowd and the certitude of journalists, Summerscale records a tale of redemption. Robert is found guilty but insane. In those days, insanity was a popular and effective defense. Also, at that time, the insane asylum - Broadmoor - was a humane institution.
Eventually Robert regains his hold on reality and is released. Yes, that is possible, even in severe cases like that of attempted presidential assassin John Hinckley. The latter has also been released from a U.S. mental facility. But not everyone believes recovery from mental illness is possible and this decision about Hinckley has been controversial.
As for Robert, he goes on to not only serve in the military as a type of medic. He also becomes the guardian for an abused child. Summerscale's research led her to conclude that the murder was a confused mind's way of trying to protect an abused younger brother.
"The Wicked Boy" is a useful read for those struggling to understand murder, motivation, madness, recovery, and self-forgiveness.
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