“The Wicked Wives” is a story made for Hollywood, combining murder, corruption, treachery, love, lust and phenomenal detail as it vividly captures Depression-era Philadelphia.
The novel gleefully explores the sins of lust and greed, and the disappointments that love affairs often bring.
The cast of characters, although they commit murder and adultery, are likable and often amusing.
Read about the novel’s cast of characters.
Read an interview with author Gus Pelagatti.
Buy the book on Amazon.
About the Author:
About the Author:
I’m a practicing trial lawyer with over 47 years of experience trying civil and criminal cases, including homicide.
I’m a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, limited to attorneys who have been recognized as achieving a standard of excellence as a trial expert.
I’ve spent years researching the true story of the 1938 insurance scam murders, interviewing judges, lawyers, police and neighbors involved in the trials.
I was born and raised within blocks of the main conspirator’s tailor shop and the homes of many of the wives convicted of murdering their husbands.
When I was an eight year old boy I overheard adults in my South Philadelphia neighborhood discussing 17 disenchanted and unfaithful neighborhood wives who murdered their husbands for insurance money, love and lust. This was a fascinating topic for an eight year old boy eavesdropping on adult conversation. The adults were discussing the true story of Philadelphia’s infamous 1938 murder scandals. My fascination led to obsession. I knew that I had to write about these wicked wives someday.
After I became a trial lawyer in 1964, I researched the poison murder cases in the law library and obtained newspaper accounts of the scandals dating back to October, 1938. Thereafter I conducted interviews with judges, lawyers, police, witnesses, sheriff deputies and neighbors who knew the defendants.
One of the chief conspirators was a tailor who seduced, then persuaded at least twelve wives to poison their husbands for insurance. The setting for his seductions was the couch in the rear of his tailor shop, located two blocks from our family home.
A fascinating conspiracy unfolded in these murder cases. The poison gang’s colorful and hilarious characters helped to deep-six a minimum of 20 husbands. The supporting cast includes Giorgio, “The Don Juan of Passyunk Avenue. ” Aside from scheming Lillian, “the society wife”, the wives include Rose, the “Kiss of Death Widow, ” Eva “the nymphomaniac” and the “hopelessly in love, ” Joanna.
After many comical episodes, intriguing detective work and two suspense filled high profile trials, 12 wives plead or are found guilty of murdering their husbands. Two male conspirators were executed in the electric chair.
“The Wicked Wives” gleefully explores the sins of lust and greed, and the disappointments that love often brings. The characters, although they commit murder and adultery, are extremely likable, and often amusing. Writing “The Wicked Wives” was a true labor of love.
You can visit his website at www.guspelagatti.com.
Philadelphia, September. 1937
After nine years, I’m bored and he’s anxious.
Her husband Reggie normally took her to dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on her birthday, the scene of their first date. But, this year’s celebration was strained. Sitting at their usual table, they sipped their gin martinis and stared at each other.
Reggie smiled, “You know, when I met you, your lifestyle was so affluent: maids, servants, gardeners and a chauffeur.”
“I was the belle of the ball,” she said, looking into his eyes. “Young society beaus became breathless whenever I came near. Heads turned on any street I set foot on.”
She paused. “And then, I married you.”
Reggie managed to smile. “I admit our marriage hasn’t been a happy one thus far. I’d like to turn it around.” His eyes pleaded with her, but she ignored him.
“I remember bragging that I’d eloped with the man who controlled an insurance brokerage business. My brother claimed you were too old for me. Then I made the worst mistake of my life. I told him I didn’t need Daddy’s money anymore.”
“I know. I know,” he whispered.
When Lillian’s father had died, he was still bitter over Lillian’s decision to renounce Catholicism and marry Reggie, a White Anglo Saxon Protestant. He left her only $30,000, and her brother the bulk of the estate, estimated at a million dollars. She used her inheritance to buy their home and Reggie’s cement business in an effort to increase their assets. But her decision backfired. People weren’t building or renovating houses in the middle of the Depression.
And there was the infidelity.
Ten months before her birthday dinner, Reggie’s mother found Lillian naked in a bathtub with an old high school boyfriend; they were both high on opium.
Reggie had demurred when his mother insisted he divorce Lillian. “For a marriage to survive, a husband and wife must forgive one another,” he said.
His mother wasn’t as sure.
Several weeks after their trip to the Ritz Carlton, Lillian climbed the curved marble staircase of her stately Chestnut Hill home, her hands shaking, clutching a glass of brandy. As she approached the master suite, she could hear her husband’s relentless coughing. When will this be over? With a deep sigh she pushed open the cherry wood doors careful not to spill the brandy. Sitting up with his head propped on two pillows in a king sized bed, Reggie Stoner looked like death. His once tanned skin was jaundiced and his athletic body was skin and bones. The Stoner’s family physician, Dr. Masters, thought the prognosis was grim. Reggie had one of the most persistent cases of pneumonia the doctor had seen in years, yet he refused to be admitted to Chestnut Hill Hospital. “If I die, it’ll be in the privacy of my home.”
Though pneumonia was a vicious killer in Depression-era Philadelphia, Masters was baffled by the course Reggie’s illness had taken. Accompanied by bouts of weakness and numbness in his extremities, Reggie’s pneumonia sapped his strength rapidly. Some days it seemed he would pull through; he acted more alert and the symptoms subsided. But tonight his coughing was worse than ever and he appeared alarmingly weak.
“I brought you your brandy,” Lillian said.
“I can’t…I can’t drink…any more,” Reggie’s voice was halting
“It will help you sleep and Dr. Masters said it’ll relax your muscles.”
As Reggie struggled to lift his head off the pillow, she reached over and helped prop him up as she placed the glass to his lips. It seemed to take all his effort as he swallowed from the glass. Reggie lay back down as his breathing became slower. Lillian placed her hand on his chest and felt Reggie’s heartbeat becoming erratic. She watched his eyes roll toward the back of his head.
“My legs…are cold,” he said.
“I know,” she said. “The brandy will warm you up.”
Suddenly Reggie’s body shook violently as he gasped for air. Her own breathing grew faster as she waited for the fit to pass.
Reggie’s body went still. Lillian placed her hand on his neck and felt for a pulse as she had done every night for weeks on end. Nothing. She leaned in toward his face and listened for any signs of breathing. Again, nothing. Lillian slumped to the floor and cried. But her tears were not for Reggie and they weren’t tears of sadness. They were the release of the relentless stress and fear she had been harboring for months. She smiled at Reggie’s corpse. You fought the good fight Reggie. But as always, you lost the war. Lillian rose and walked back down the carpeted steps of her home to her living room where a handsome dark-skinned man was waiting puffing on a cigar.
“Finally, it’s over,” she said. ”First thing tomorrow morning, I’ll call the doctor.”
He smiled, nodded and then looked at his watch. “I gotta get goin’. It’s past midnight.”
Lillian wrapped her arms around her lover. The attractive 30 year old laughed with a release that surprised even her. Her mind filled with thoughts of a brighter and happier future. And, of course, all that money.
I had never heard of these murders before I read this book. It’s fascinating, even more so because it is based on a true story. Wow, what a story. You know they saying, “The Truth is Stranger than Fiction?” Well it certainly holds true in this story. You couldn’t make this stuff up and be as creepy as this book is.
I definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes murder mysteries or suspense tales. It was fascinating. I give this book 5 out of 5 clouds.
This product or book may have been distributed for review; this in no way affects my opinions or reviews.