Marie Reviews "The Wicked Wives" By Gus Pelagatti

The Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti

Amazon Book Description:
June 20, 2011

When I was an eight year old boy I overheard adults in my South Philadelphia neighborhood discussing 17 disenchanted and unfaithful neighborhood wives who murdered their husbands for insurance money, love and lust. This was a fascinating topic for an eight year old boy eavesdropping on adult conversation. The adults were discussing the true story of Philadelphia’s infamous 1938 murder scandals. My fascination led to obsession. I knew that I had to write about these wicked wives someday. After I became a trial lawyer in 1964, I researched the poison murder cases in the law library and obtained newspaper accounts of the scandals dating back to October, 1938. Thereafter I conducted interviews with judges, lawyers, police, witnesses, sheriff deputies and neighbors who knew the defendants. One of the chief conspirators was a tailor who seduced, then persuaded at least twelve wives to poison their husbands for insurance. The setting for his seductions was the couch in the rear of his tailor shop, located two blocks from our family home. A fascinating conspiracy unfolded in these murder cases. The poison gang’s colorful and hilarious characters helped to deep-six a minimum of 20 husbands. The supporting cast includes Giorgio, “The Don Juan of Passyunk Avenue. ” Aside from scheming Lillian, “the society wife”, the wives include Rose, the “Kiss of Death Widow, ” Eva “the nymphomaniac” and the “hopelessly in love, ” Joanna. After many comical episodes, intriguing detective work and two suspense filled high profile trials, 12 wives plead or are found guilty of murdering their husbands. Two male conspirators were executed in the electric chair. "The Wicked Wives" gleefully explores the sins of lust and greed, and the disappointments that love often brings. The characters, although they commit murder and adultery, are extremely likable, and often amusing. Writing “The Wicked Wives” was a true labor of love.


The Wicked Wives is an interesting journey through a seedy crime story based on a true story of insurance fraud and murder in Southern Philadelphia in the 1930's. Assistant District Attorney and true blue good guy, Tom Rossi, investigates a suspected murder of Reggie Stoner by his wife Lillian. This brings him into the cross hairs of Mayor Bill Evans, Lillian's rich uncle, whom she has been involved in a scandalous affair with, trading sex for money and protection against prosecution. Evans battles it out with Tom using any defamatory information he can dig up, and threats against his future in the D.A.'s office to dissuade Tom from continuing with the investigation. He even goes as far as getting Tom's girlfriend fired from her job because she is of colored descent.
Tom refuses to bend to the will of the crooked members of the political system and forges ahead. The line of suspected wives keeps getting longer, and number of deaths suspected for fraudulent insurance claims steadily increases. This leads Tom to wonder how large a conspiracy he is dealing with, and who is the Lady in Black and her giant that he believes are the leaders of the whole sordid operation.

I did enjoy this book. The fact that it was based on a true story fascinated me. I couldn't believe how many men and women were engaging in sexual affairs with each other, and that most were involved in murder plots. I found it very disturbing how easy it was to insure someone, claim you were their relative to benefit from the insurance policy, and actually get away with it.
I found some of the characters quite funny, like Bertha, the neighbor who testifies against Lillian about the games of "squirrel" played in the car in front of her house. It was a little hard to believe how many women fell in love with Giorgio, even when they knew he was with so many other women, and had caught him red handed doing the deed, not to mention he was not the brightest crayon in the box. I know it was based on a true story, but either those women were really stupid, or Giorgio's charm may have been embellished.

The ending was a real twist, that I don't think you'll see coming.
I enjoyed this book more as a reference to that era, and learning about something that actually happened. Parts of it did read like a gritty crime novel, but others were jam packed with information about the gangsters, mob leaders, and how they arrived in America and the succession of people who came in and out of power.

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