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Release: Dec. 9, 1999

Author, UI Professor Margolin to autograph true crime book Dec. 11

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- "Murderess! The Chilling True Story of the Most Infamous Woman Ever Electrocuted" may not sound like your typical academic fare. Then again, University of Iowa Professor Leslie Margolin says it isn't meant to be.

Margolin, who teaches writing through the UI's Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry and a course in human sexuality for the College of Education's Counseling and Rehabilitation Division, says he hopes people read the book for the very reason he wrote it: because it's an interesting story. Margolin will sign copies of the Pinnacle "true crime" paperback ($6.50) at the Iowa Book & Supply, 8 S. Capitol St., from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11.

"Murderess!" examines the 1927 murder of Albert Snyder by his wife, Ruth, in their Queens, N.Y. home, and the trial that led to the conviction and execution of Ruth and her lover and accomplice, H. Judd Gray. Ruth claimed an intruder had tied her up and murdered her husband, but the facts didn't add up and police quickly learned she carried a lucrative life insurance policy on Albert. If the case is remembered today, it is probably due in large part to the infamous, blurry newspaper photograph of Ruth snapped surreptitiously at the moment of her execution.

"It's just a basic adultery and murder story," Margolin says. "What made it different was the woman was having an adulterous relationship, but she wasn't glamorous, she wasn't some oddball -- everybody could identify with her. She seemed remarkably common. Her husband was common. The guy she was having an affair with was in the Elks Club and was a door-to-door salesman.

"It's similar to the movie 'Fargo,' where you have a car salesman, an ordinary guy, who committed this cruel crime," he adds. "If it's possible, there's a lot of comedy in the Snyder murder in the same way that 'Fargo' was funny."

While the book took Margolin two years to research, he leaves the analysis for the final chapter, titled "Resurrection." In the chapter, he says the case was the basis of two films -- "Double Indemnity" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice" -- and launched the true-crime genre in Hollywood. Margolin says writer James Cain, who penned the book on which "The Postman" was based, admitted as much.

"Double Indemnity," produced in 1944, starred Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwick. "The Postman Always Rings Twice," released two years later, starred John Garfield and Lana Turner.

"It was unique for the time for fiction to follow crime, a time of rapid, rapid social change," Margolin says. "Newspapers didn't have anything about adultery. This may be the story about adultery in the '20s. As soon as 'Double Indemnity' came out, a string of movies followed."

Margolin's previous books include "A Goodness Personified," a 1994 critique of gifted education, and "Under the Cover of Kindness," a 1997 critique of social work.