Eric Godtland and Dian Hanson have lovingly compiled a picture book about crime magazines from the mid-20th century called True Crime Detective Magazines 1924-1969. It's loaded with exceedingly lurid, attention-grabbing magazine covers and illustrations.
At the height of the Jazz Age, when Prohibition was turning ordinary citizens into criminals and ordinary criminals into celebrities, America’s true crime detective magazines were born. True Detective came first in 1924, and by 1934, when the Great Depression had produced colorful outlaws like Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger, the magazines were so popular cops and robbers alike vied to see themselves on the pages. Even FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover wrote regularly for what came to be called the “Dickbooks,” referring to a popular slang term for a detective.
As the decades rolled on, the magazines went through a curious metamorphosis, however. When liquor was once more legal, the Depression over and all the flashy criminals dead or imprisoned, the “detectives” turned to sin to make sales. Sexy bad girls in tight sweaters, slit skirts, and stiletto heels adorned every cover. Cover lines shouted “I Was a Girl Burglar—For Kicks,” “Sex Habits of Women Killers,” “Bride of Sin!,” “She Played Me for a Sucker,” and most succinctly, “Bad Woman.”
True Crime Detective Magazines follows the evolution and devolution of this distinctly American genre from 1924 to 1969. Hundreds of covers and interior images from dozens of magazine titles tell the story, not just of the “detectives,” but also of America’s attitudes towards sex, sin, crime and punishment over five decades. With texts by magazine collector Eric Godtland, George Hagenauer and True Detective editor Marc Gerald, True Crime Detective Magazines is an informative and entertaining look at one of the strangest publishing niches of all time.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects