The Wicked Wives is a noir suspense thriller of historical fiction: murder, betrayal, court room drama, love and lust based on the true story of the 1938 poison scandals in Philadelphia.
When I was eight years old, I overheard adults in our South Philadelphia neighborhood discussing seventeen disenchanted and unfaithful neighborhood wives who allegedly murdered their husbands for insurance money. This was a fascinating topic for an 8 year- old boy eavesdropping on adult conversation. People were discussing the true story of Philadelphia’s infamous 1938 poison murder conspiracy scandals. My fascination led to obsession as I grew older, and I knew that I had to write about these women, their lovers and their husbands.
The setting of The Wicked Wives takes place when the times were marred by the Great Depression and the prelude to World War II, and is largely confined to the City of Philadelphia. At 293 pages, the novel is equal parts murder, suspense, love, lust, corruption, treachery and intriguing court suspense leading to a dynamic ending.
The protagonist, First Assistant D.A., Tom Rossi is placed on the horns of a dilemma. He wants the party’s nomination for District Attorney but powerful Deputy Mayor Bill Evans refuses to back him; unless Tom prevents the arrest of the deputy’s niece, Lillian Stoner, for the homicide of her husband, Reggie. Evans demands that Tom not order an autopsy on the body. He gives Tom 24 hours to decide or threatens to have him disbarred, defeated in his campaign to win the nomination for D.A. and to have his girl, Hope, fired as a nurse from her city job. Hope is part African American, but can pass for white.
Tom’s anger at Evans outweighs his logic. Before an autopsy confirms a homicide, he orders arrests of Lillian and her lover, Giorgio DiSipio, for the murder of Reggie Stoner. Their arrests make headline news. Homicide is deluged with phone tipsters accusing Giorgio of being involved in many other similar suspicious deaths involving adulterous wives and insurance. Many of the wives live within a few blocks of Giorgio’s tailor shop. But, the medical examiner concludes that pneumonia caused death, not homicide. Infuriated, Evans has Hope fired, damages Tom’s political future, begins disbarment proceedings against him and causes a break-up of his love affair with Hope. The Globe Newspaper headline reads: “D.A. Candidate’s Girl-friend Fired From PGH for Lying About Colored Background.”
A fascinating conspiracy unfolds. The poison gang’s colorful and hilarious characters help to deep-six a minimum of 20 husbands. The supporting cast includes Giorgio, “The Don Juan of Passyunk Avenue.” Aside from Lillian, “the society wife”, the wives include Rose, the “Kiss of Death Widow,” Eva “the nymphomaniac” and the “hopelessly in love” Joanna.
The gang’s ring leaders, the mysterious Lady in Black and her companion, the Giant, continually elude arrest and systematically execute key state witnesses prior to the wives’ trials. After many comical episodes, intriguing detective work and two suspense filled high profile trials, 10 wives plead or are found guilty of murdering their husbands. Tom concludes that a life without the love of his girl-friend is a life without pleasure. He goes to her with hat in hand to propose marriage. But Hope coldly rejects him.
The Wicked Wives is a story made for Hollywood, combining murder, corruption, treachery, lust and phenomenal detail as it vividly captures Depression-era Philadelphia.