One site I highly recommend for access to older and FREE reading material is the Internet Archive. Declaring itself to be 'Universal Access to Human Knowledge', it has thousands of books available for download or online viewing. Most material published in the United States prior to 1923 is now in the public domain, and the Internet Archive is a virtual library of these older treasures. (According to attorney Stephen Fishman, the U.S. Copyright Office estimates that 85% of all works published between 1923 and 1963 ever had their copyrights renewed, so there are plenty of good books, magazines, photos, etc from this later period that have no restrictions on reproduction and distribution.) Among the books that I have downloaded from this site and enjoyed are:
- Apaches of New York, by Alfred Henry Lewis. Originally published in 1911, this series of portraits of Lower East Side crimes and criminals is more entertaining and accurate. But for those who are looking for a good 'feel' of the period, it's a winner.
- Crime of the Century, or the Assassination of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin, by Henry M. Hunt. Published in 1889, this book was the first and only serious investigation of the disappearance and murder of Chicago physician Dr. Cronin. It's probable that he fell victim to the Irish terrorist element that he was known to despise. Some of the illustrations are unsettling even by today's standards, especially an artist's sketch of Cronon's bloated corpse after it was retrieved from a water resevoir.
- The Trial of the Reverend Mr. Avery. In 1833, a Methodist minister was tried for the murder of pregnant factory worker Sarah M. Cornell, with whom he'd been having an affair. The case received national attention and was one of the longest murder trials in Rhode Island history. This volume is a trial transcript as opposed to a book-length treatment of the case, but absorbing nonetheless.
- Darkness and Daylight, or the Lights and Shadows of New York. Published in 1886, this 740 page book has three authors- a female missionary, a journalist, and a police captain. It's a grim and eye-opening series of essays, commentaries, and sketches of Manhattan low life.
If true crime researchers ever had a Holy Grail, this site is it. Happy hunting!