Mary Jane’s Ghost: The Legacy of a Murder in Small Town America

Mary Jane's Ghost

Scattershot book about a real 1948 double murder.

Supposedly about a double murder in 1948 in a small town in Illinois, this book diverges from its topic about 2/3 of the time.  The author is obviously trying to make the fourteen newspaper articles that he wrote in the Chicago Tribune on the murders into a full size book. The side issues are usually other newspaper stories the author wrote that share geographic similarities but little else with the main topic.   They include the history of various statues in nearby small towns and the results of accidentally allowing Asian Carp to infest various rivers that feed the Great Lakes.  The statues side issue occupied at least 50 pages of this short book and may be interesting to someone from Illinois but it didn’t relate to the murder plot at all.  The Asian Carp issue was actually interesting but again was not connected to the main plot.

The murder plot is fascinating.  One person, a former mayor of the small town of Oregon Illinois, is obsessed about who killed Mary Jane Reed and Stanley Skridla.  Stanley and Mary Jane were sitting in his car on a lover’s lane following a cruise of the local nightclubs.  Stanley was shot multiple times in the chest and abdomen while standing outside his car.  However, Mary Jane was not found until several days later after a countywide search.  She was located by a trucker in a roadside ditch about two miles away shot once in the head. Contemporaneous investigators never discover the killer’s identity.  Can the former mayor solve the crime seventy years later?  He is willing to spend the money, a reported $100,000, to try over seventeen years. Could the murderer have been a local deputy sheriff reportedly thrown over by Mary Jane?  Could the murder just be a case of a robbery gone horribly wrong?  There are many theories discussed in this book but the ending is rather disappointing.

If Mary Jane’s Ghost was a 80 page novella, it would rate 4 stars.  As it is, the amount of skim reading that must be used to get to each portion of the murder plot makes it a 2 star read.

Thanks to the publisher, University of Iowa Press, and netgalley for an advanced review copy in exchange for my honest review. Mary Jane’s Ghost will be published on October 1, 2017.

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