Posts Tagged ‘Zeo Zoe Wilkins’

The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son

October 28, 2009

Laura James is an attorney, crime historian, and the proprietor of Clews, a well-regarded blog on true crime and its history.  Her book, The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son, published this year by Union Square Press, is an impeccably researched and engagingly written account of the intertwined lives of Zeo Zoe Wilkins and the son of Jesse James.
banner
According to the dust jacket of the book, “she was Zeo Zoe Wilkins, a beautiful, ruthless woman whose rise and fall in love and larceny scandalized the nation.  He was Jesse James Jr., the twisted son of America’s most legendary outlaw. . . . On the night of March 15, 1924, Zeo Zoe Wilkins was brutally murdered . . . The murder was never officially solved. ”

In the interview, below, my questions are in bold, Laura James’ answers are in plain text.

How and when did you first hear of the case?

A tattered 1950s-era Harlequin true crime paperback had a chapter on Zeo Wilkins titled, “Vampire of Kansas City.” The book was The World’s Worst Women by Bernard O’Donnell. Zeo Zoe was the only American in the book.

How did you go about your very thorough research? And how long did the entire project take you?

Eight years of research, all told. I just dug until I couldn’t think of anything else to find or anywhere else to look.

As you wrote, did you develop any sympathy at all for Zeo Zoe? Do you think she was a sociopath from birth?

Yes I agree she was a psychopath (sociopath), from early childhood. What makes psychopaths so interesting is that they have no qualms whatsoever about violating society’s rules (or causing real damage to others). They enjoy a bizarre sort of freedom to do as they please, though some, like Dr. Zeo Wilkins, end up crossing the line into criminality. To be honest it was hard not to envy some of her character traits, like sheer pluck, but the reality check is that she was a classic psychopath.

The phrase “nymphomania” has been attached to her behavior by critics. Do you agree? or is a double standard at work, in which women with extensive erotic lives are “nymphomaniacs” and men with similar interests are simply virile?

Eight to ten known lovers in less than two years qualifies you for nymphomaniac, at least in the American Midwest, dear!

Zeo Zoe could have succeeded at a more conventional line of work, given her intelligence. Was the money the prize for her—or was it the attraction of being really bad?

Osteopathy was a tool for manipulating, dominating, and controlling her friends, family, lovers, and husbands into feeding her material appetites, but she went beyond that pretty often. She destroyed many of those men in the process and harmed many more. That’s what happens when unbridled greed marries wild opportunities.

I believe this is your first book. As a new author, do you find internet shops such as Amazon a help?

Not at all; since my book was published by a Barnes & Noble affiliate, I wasn’t expecting any though.

Do you read your reviews?

Sure. I skimmed the bad one.

Clews, your excellent blog on historic crime, must take a great deal of time. You are also a mother and a lawyer. How do you manage to organize it all?

20 minutes a day times five years gets you somewhere I guess.

In which branch of law do you specialize?

Insurance defense / insurance coverage (civil)

Do you find book signings and similar events energizing or draining? What is the comment from the public you liked best? The funniest?

I gave a speech at the Kansas City Public Library that was a hoot. I didn’t know whether anyone in the audience wanted to hear me talk about the most famous American gold diggers of all time, their mysterious deaths, or true crime in general, but I was determined to have a great time, and I did.

The study of true crime is often denigrated by the misguided. Would you give your views on this matter?

Those who denigrate the true crime genre usually have a very narrow definition of it. Bookstores and libraries are two places to find very narrow definitions of “true crime.”