Killer Colt: Murder, Disgrace, and the Making of an American Legend

Killer Colt Paperback

An in-the-room account of John Colt’s scandalous nineteenth-century murder trial from “America’s principal chronicler of its greatest psychopathic killers” (Boston Review). 

In this masterful account, renowned true-crime historian Harold Schechter takes you into the life and crimes of convicted murderer John Caldwell Colt, drawing parallels between John’s rise to notoriety and his brother Samuel Colt’s rise to fame as the inventor of the legendary revolver. With a killing that made headlines around the nation, John Colt became a cultural touchstone whose shocking villainy inspired and provoked such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Herman Melville. 

Unlike his brother, John lived a nomadic existence, bouncing from one job to another. His one distinction, writing a reference accounting book, would play a part in his fall from grace. For in New York City, on September 17, 1841, John murdered printer Samuel Adams with a hatchet during a heated argument over proceeds from book sales. 

A media circus ensued, galvanizing the penny press, which printed lurid headlines and gruesome woodcut illustrations. The standing-room-only trial created unforgettable moments in legal history, including such dramatic evidence as Samuel Adams’s decomposed head. The verdict and its aftermath would reverberate throughout the country and beyond, giving John Colt lasting infamy. 

“[Schechter] leads us through Colt’s trial with such precision that you can smell the cigar smoke in the courtroom. . . . Killer Colt succeeds in making us care about this story now by showing why it mattered to so many people then.” —HistoryNet

Open Road Media