June 14, 2011

"Popular Crime" by Bill James

For a long time, Bill James, the famous baseball statistics analyst, has been promising books on non-baseball subjects. Now, he's delivered one, Popular Crime, on the history of crime stories. I review it in my new column in Taki's Magazine.
It’s a read-250-books-and-write-another-one effort. James summarizes scores of notorious killings from Lizzie Borden through JonBenĂ©t Ramsey. He has a proven record of pattern recognition ability and solid sense, so anything he writes is of some interest. 
For example, did Bruno Hauptmann really kidnap Charles Lindbergh’s baby in 1932? The evidence of his guilt is overwhelming, says James. What about Dr. Sam Sheppard, whose controversial 1954 murder trial inspired The Fugitive? Guilty, although not as charged; James figures he hired a hitman to kill his wife. O.J.? Oh, c’mon … 

Read the whole thing there.

But the real reason to read Bill James is not to watch him recount single events but to watch him draw inferences from masses of data. But there's a structural problem with the whole project: popular crime stories are popular precisely because they are Man Bites Dog stories. James is perfectly aware of that (pp. 36-37), but it seems to get him down because he's always coming up with observations about crime in general that aren't true about popular crime and thus he can't use the stories about criminals in his book to illustrate his observations.

For example, he went on The Colbert Report and mentioned in passing that murderers don't tend to be good looking. A reviewer on Amazon was very offended by that: What about Ted Bundy? What about Robert Chambers, the Central Park Preppie Killer? I think this is a pretty common reaction outside of hardcore baseball statistics fans.

What James needed was to start Popular Crime with a chapter describing Unpopular Crime. He needed to synthesize typical examples of run-of-the-mill crimes that don't get books written about them. For example, the typical acquaintance killing might be a few people are drinking, one guy says something insulting to another guy, the girls laugh at him, so the humiliated guy gets so mad he goes home and gets his gun. What's his plan for getting away with premeditated murder? He kinda hopes the cops don't notice the dead body.

James needs that kind of frame for his book.


Kaz said...

Blacks don't commit interesting murders for the most part.

Also, come on, Nation of Islam is a completely different beast from your standard fare Islam. One preaches complete racial superiority, the other barely mentions it. The distinction is important. Well, at least I think it would be.

rockin' robin said...

Do you read true crime, Sailer, or just the books about the books on true crime?

I don't know about the Boston Strangler but I would've thrown the book at Jon Benet's parents just for the beauty queen thing.

Anonymous said...

I was in a Borders yesterday and looked through James' book, nothing special. He didn't address the high black crime rate at all.

By the way, blacks do "committ interesting murders," if you want to put it that way. There's a trial going on now in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Five people were murdered in a "botched robbery," one of the catch-all terms the MSM uses for black on white murders.

Anonymous said...

One preaches complete racial superiority, the other barely mentions it.

Actually, the Arab Muslims [like the Wahhabists] look down upon non-Arab Muslims as little better than vermin.

agnostic said...

Demonic energies were liberated by the complacent and naive 1950s. That's the time by which the establishment (government and mainstream social science) had decided that psychopaths and other exploiters were just a product of toxic social environments -- domineering mothers like in Psycho, the perennial favorite poverty, etc.

So, don't be so harsh on the wrong-doers themselves. I mean, put yourself in their position -- it wasn't really their fault they grew up that way. We should try to re-educate mothers in the proven psychoanaltic method of rearing children, have large welfare programs to combat poverty, and so on, and that'll take care of the root problem.

Obviously those ideas were amplified many times over during Kennedy's New Frontier and Johnson's Great Society programs, but they were already underway during the clueless Fifties.

And since the crime rate started its steady climb in 1959, the courts of the '60s can't have sowed the seeds for it. Getting back to James' true crime focus -- Ed Gein butchered all those people in 1957 in rural Wisconsin, not in 1969 in a San Francisco ghetto. That was just a harbinger of things to come.

Anonymous said...

Thus, James devotes nine pages to the famous Zodiac Killer, a white man who murdered five whites in Northern California in the late 60s. Like most, James also ignores the forgotten Zebra Killers, Black Muslim racial terrorists who subsequently murdered at least fifteen whites in San Francisco from 1973-4.

Yes, Steve, and you too ignore the racial terrorist who lynch black men in our history.

would you say there are more black racial terrorist than white ones? just tally it all up.

which do you think comes out ahead?

agnostic said...

Studying the more outlandish true crime cases, instead of the run-of-the-mill cases, is justified where we don't have great data about the whole distribution of criminals or even the average, whether because it's too far back in time, or maybe some third world country doesn't keep that good of records.

By looking at those who exceed some extreme threshold, we can infer back to the average. This is La Griffe du Lion's "method of thresholds."

Say we have no good crime rate data, but we do have decent population estimates and at least a solid qualitative picture of how many weirdo serial killer crimes there were. Compare those to population size to get a rate.

If the rate seems much higher in era A than in era B, it is probably because A was a more violent time on average. Because more of its distribution exceeded the threshold of "violent enough to see lots of serial killings," its mean was probably shifted in the more-violent direction, compared to the mean in era B.

So we found out, in the absence of fine-grained crime data, that era A was on average more violent than era B, and it did not require hard work to get there. That's a pretty efficient way of investigating things, and must be why the human mind is wired to pay attention to man-bites-dog events rather than survey the whole mass of goings-on.

Anonymous said...

You may not be interested in black crime, but you would do well to remember Lenin's aphorism.
Gilbert P.

Giant Attitude said...

If the parents of JonBenet Ramsey weren't responsible for their daughter's death -- or at least accessories after the fact -- the world isn't round, that's all.

A demerit to James for exculpating them.

But props to Steve for accurately describing what the average murder looks like -- that's one scenario anyway out of a few basic patterns.

Steve Sailer said...


I imagine I stole that "hope the cops don't notice" line from you.

Anonymous said...

Other interesting black murders: Donald Young, Larry Bland, Nate Spencer...
Gilbert P.

Bumbling American said...

Steve, great review of a problematic book. I'd be curious to know what you thought of James's assertion (in passing) that the immigration cutoff of the '20s caused the Great Depression.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know anything about Pinker's new book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined?"

Chicago said...

Murderers don't, on average, look very appealing. That's even truer when it comes to sex offenders. Just check the local sex offender registry and look at all the mugshots. It's a creepy experience looking at all the freakish and unpalatable appearing people on there.

Veracitor said...

Writer Florence King persuaded me that Lizzie Borden did probably did kill her parents.

AMac said...

A personal and grim discussion of ordinary, run-of-the-mill violent street crime, offered as advice to potential victims who'd rather not be. Are You Asking To Get Killed?

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Arab Muslims [like the Wahhabists] look down upon non-Arab Muslims as little better than vermin.

And [of interest to HBD-sters] within the hierarchy of Arab Muslims, if you can't trace your genealogy to Mohammed himself, then you're a decidedly second-class citizen.

blinky said...

Actually, the Arab Muslims [like the Wahhabists] look down upon non-Arab Muslims as little better than vermin.

That's funny, we Persian muslims look down on Arab muslims as little better than vermin. Who's right?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: "would you say there are more black racial terrorist than white ones? just tally it all up."


Fascinating question, Anonymous. Let's tally it all up.

Let's limit the discussion to the post-Civil War American experience. We'll assume that there was no black-on-white racist violence before 1950. The total number of blacks ever lynched comes out to about 3,500 (about 1,300 whites were also lynched during this period.) If we accept the [questionable] proposition that lynching was never vigilante justice and always racial terrorism, that gives us 3,500 racially motivated white-on-black murders over the 80-year period from 1870 to 1950, or on average fewer than 44 per year.

The Color of Crime helpfully informs us that "[o]f the nearly 770,000 violent interracial crimes committed every year involving blacks and whites, blacks commit 85 percent and whites commit 15 percent." If we assume that 1% of interracial crime is racially motivated, this gives us about 6,600 black-on-white violent race-motivated crimes every year (and about 1,160 white-on-black race-motivated crimes.) So assuming constant population and no repeat offenders, every year, there is a comparative net increase of 5,440 black racial terrorists over white ones in America. Obviously it doesn't take long, at that rate, for black-on-white race terrorism to outstrip white-on-black race terrorism.

Of course, these absolute numbers look even more unflattering to blacks in light of each race's comparative share of the population. Since (per my assumptions) blacks commit 6,600 race-motivated crimes at 12% of the population, while whites commit 1,160 at 60% of the population, blacks are, overall, 28 times as likely to commit racially motivated violent crimes.

I hope this tallying up has answered some of your questions about racist terrorism, Anonymous!

By the way, I have introduced a deliberate methodological mistake somewhere above. It magnifies black culpability even beyond the disparity existing in fact. Let's see if Anonymous can find it. Hint: this mistake is addressed somewhere between pages 8 and 18 of the 2005 edition of The Color of Crime.


alexis said...

Those he said/she said black murders are pretty interesting. When my father interviews a client, the sheer familial/geographic confusion of what happened requires a map, a family tree, a timeline, and a spreadsheet. When he interviews witnesses, you have this bewildering set of nicknames, sometimes three or four for one person, with each person knowing a perp or victim as a different name. Throw in babymama drama, gang affiliations, blood feuds, and the assorted "on the down low" relationships, and you've got a book. Nobody writes books about these incidents, though.

Svigor said...

would you say there are more black racial terrorist than white ones? just tally it all up.

I certainly would, if you're asking about rates. If you mean your question as stated, then my answer is "who cares? We doing a census or a crime report?"

Anonymous said...

"What's his plan for getting away with premeditated murder? He kinda hopes the cops don't notice the dead body."

Lol. Exactly.

Anonymous said...

"Also, come on, Nation of Islam is a completely different beast from your standard fare Islam."

I don't know. I think Islam was originally Arab ultra-nationalism wrapped up in a tribal religion but had to change quite rapidly after its sudden, rapid expansion and conquest of much larger numbers of non-Arabs. I think Nazism was very similar and Hitler would have become a Mohamed figure if he'd won.

James Kabala said...

The serial killer theory about Lizzie Borden is an interesting one. I suspect for it to be proved or disproved would require more research than James is willing to put in. Were there any other unexplained murders in southeast Mass. or R.I. around the same time?

It's interesting that Florence King considered himself and Lizzie Borden to be fellow WASPs - very different from the rigid Dixie/Yankee dichotomy in vogue in some areas of the right these days.

Marc B said...

"Guilty, although not as charged; James figures he hired a hitman to kill his wife. O.J.? Oh, c’mon … "

I thought that might have been a possibility until the civil trial. It seemed likely that two or more people may have been involved in that violent double murder. But a photographer for the Buffalo Bills had individual pictures of the Juice with each Bill player before a game in 1993, and in most of those photos he was shown wearing Bruno Magli shoes with the same sole design left the imprint at the murder scene. As soon as the defense argued that each and every photo taken by the photographer had been altered to include those shoes, it was case closed for all but the most obstinate OJ supporters.

ben tillman said...

Yes, Steve, and you too ignore the racial terrorist who lynch black men in our history.

Most of those black men were guilty of capital crimes. It wasn't terrorism; it was punishment.

And it was rare. It happened about 40 times a year, and maybe 5 or 10 of those were innocent or guilty of something minor. That's nothing compared to the 1,000+ innocent whites killed by blacks every year in this country.

Anonymous said...

Anybody who listened to the OJ trial and still thought he was not guilty was an idiot or wanted him free (like the Jury).

Yep, Nicole and Goldman's blood on OJ's socks just flew there via Unicorns and tooth faeries.

Or maybe the entire LAPD wanted to frame OJ and risk going to Jail - for absolutely NO REASON.

Anonymous said...

I stopped taking James seriously when he started making excuses for the BB steroid users.

"There are no steroids in baseball, people are hitting 80 Hrs a year because of modern weight training. Oh, and even if they are taking steroids it doesn't make any difference. Oh, and if even it does make a difference, its OK because only right-wing Fundies dislike drugs".

James = No credibility.

Anonymous said...

Salt Lake City's Most Wanted? 78% Non-white and/or immigrants...



Lucy said...

"And it was rare. It happened about 40 times a year, and maybe 5 or 10 of those were innocent or guilty of something minor."

Back up there, Tillman, 40 lynchings a year isn't rare; it's excessive.

Truth must be on vacation.

Truth said...

"Truth must be on vacation."

Nah just bored, but since I'm awake now, why is it that you compare 19th century lynchings (which means death, BTW), with 21st century "race motivated crimes" (which could be spitting on someone's shoes.)


First of all those are the "official" lynching numbers, meaning the one's the mayor, Newspaper editor, and Chief of police took part in. Secondly, in this day and age, black folks murder about 200-500 white folks a year, now go ahead and do your extrapolations...keeping in mind more efficient weapons, population growth, etc....proper like.

James Kabala said...

Lynching statistics:

By year:


(The peak year was 1892 - 230 recorded lynchings, 169 black and 61 white. Last year in triple digits was 1901 - last year in double digits was 1935 - first year with none recorded was 1952 - last year with any recorded was 1964.)

By state:


By alleged offense:


Yes, about two thirds were accused of murder or rape or attempted rape. Were they all guilty? Well, that's what a trial is supposed to be for. It also still leaves a third accused of lesser crimes or none at all.

PN said...

The question was, are there more black than white racial terrorists and the answer is yes.

http://www.colorofcrime.com/colorofcrime2005.pdf -- p.16:

"any given black person was 2.25 times more likely to commit a hate crime against W[hites]&H[ispanics] than the reverse." (see also the FBI's "Hate Crime Statistics" 2002)

Out of 770,000 violent interracial crimes committed yearly, blacks commit 85% and whites 15%.

When blacks commit violent crime, 45% of their victims are white; when whites do the same, 3% of their victims are black.

Remember that the white population is over five times the size of the black population, and that when these statistics are compiled they count hispanics as hispanics only when they are victims (thus, "perpetrators" are counted as white, even if they are hispanic).

I could give a shit what poor white folks did to blacks (and other poor whites) 60 years ago. What is the current reality - the reality we have to live in and deal with? The current reality is: blacks are vastly more likely to be "racial terrorists" - by any reasonable definition of the term.

As for "popular crime" - perhaps Prof. Kanazawa's recent dustup tells us something about why certain crimes are popular.

Anonymous said...

Fact is probably 95% of those lynched were guilty. Further, most of them were lynched for murder. Finally, lynchings pretty died out in this country after WW II, which was 65 years ago.

Meanwhile, AA commit about 10,000 murders a year. 2000-3000 are white victims.

Truth said...

According to the department of justice there were about 13,000 murders in 2009. blacks committed about 52%, whites 48%. Of the 6,500 white victims, 86% were murdered by whites, that makes blacks responsible for roughly 1000 murders of whites. (and Whites responsible for roughly 325 murders of blacks.)


If you have more resources to compile research than the DOJ and the FBI please let me know.

sherlock said...

"...persuaded me that Lizzie Borden did kill her parents..."

a well researched book in the 80s, made a good case for Lizzie's older sister having done the deeds. I still sort of go with that.

Gene Berman said...

I think that, as a general thing, lynching involved an outlet for racial animosity by whites against blacks. But it's difficult to know the extent to which it was simply animosity: lynching were almost entirely matters of extrajudicial action: there was nearly always a serious crime involved in which the lynchee was the presumptive guilty party. But what cannot be dismissed as simply "frontier justice" is the frequency with which many of the victims--and especially black victims--were subjected to horrific tortures and mutilations.

My interest was piqued by a Mark Steyn reference to Billie Holliday and her song, "Strange Fruit," (which would convey that only blacks (or at least, especially blacks) were subject to such injustice.

But, in investigating some numbers (as others here have done), a far more nuanced view must emerge. In the heyday of lynching, many whites were also lynched (by white lynch mobs, in the overwhelming majority of instances).

There were still, on balance, at most times (though not in all places), more black victims of lynching. But, if one were to apply the relatively somewhat greater frequency with which blacks tend to commit crimes for which death might be a routine penalty (from modern stats and frequencies as compiled by LaGriffe du Lion) and takes into consideration the typically larger population fraction (in certain areas) constituted by blacks, the numbers begin to appear far more "even-handed."

I found an essay or paper (I think the guy's name was Murphey) which suggested a similar conclusion. He also mentioned two particular cases strongly suggesting that, whatever motivations may have been involved, simple hatred of blacks wasn't primary. In one case, 3 white men broke into a jail, removed a black murder suspect awaiting trial, and lynched him.
The men were caught, tried for murder, and all three were hanged for the offense. This occurred in Tennessee and all the jurors were white men. Another case from Tennessee involved two black men who "busted out" a white suspect awaiting trial for killing one of their relatives and hanged him. In that case, again with a jury of white men, the black men were freed. Presumably, the rationale seems to have been that, in the first case, the guilt of the accused was not beyond question, while in the second, there seemed to have been no doubt.

I might mention also that the founder of the Klu Klux Klan was one Nathaniel Bedford Forrest and the presumptive reason founding the organzation was the growing prevalence of black crime--particularly violent crime directed against whites. It bears mentioning that Forrest had been a well-regarded general officer of the Confederacy, that in the war, he'd commanded black troops, and had stated (in a news article of the time) that "the Confederacy has no finer fighting men."

It is a simple fact that we never know the past as it actually was without being there (Chauncey Gardener?). And it's a sad fact, though not so simple, that we never suffer from a lack of those anxious to "spin" whatever was that history to suit their present aims.

When I was 12, I shit-canned entirely the reading of fiction; I'd become convinced that it was, as entertainment, a painless "catheter into the brain" for the propagandization of the authors' prejudices. I guess that was naive, even stupid; it took me more than another 30 years to recognize that journalism--news magazines, newspapers, and news TV were even worse.

In the universe we inhabit, the most common element is propaganda. That's your Chemistry lesson for today.

Anonymous said...

Anybody who listened to the OJ trial and still thought he was not guilty was an idiot or wanted him free (like the Jury).

Anybody who saw it saw how Darden and Clark did not have a clue what they were doing and could not have proved that OJ's name was OJ.