The Story of Twilight Zone’s Real-Life Ax Murderer
No matter how disorienting or even frightening a Twilight Zone episode is, we can always comfort ourselves with a simple thought: It’s not real. The stories are all made up.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter some real-life horror stories via the fifth dimension. Take the homicidal wax figures in “The New Exhibit,” all of whom were modeled on actual killers, as I detailed in this blog post last year.
Since then, I’ve had the chance to learn more about one of those killers: Albert W. Hicks. The hatchet-wielding sailor is the subject of a fascinating new book called “The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, A Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation“. If you like a mix of true crime and a good detective story, I think you’ll enjoy this book.
Mind you, it’s a macabre tale — at least the crime itself. Just reading about how Hicks hacked up his crew mates (and all just to rob them) is bad enough. To have actually seen the aftermath must have been truly horrifying.
Fortunately, most of the book focuses on the aftermath of the murders: the discovery of the boat and how a dogged detective methodically tracked Hicks down through the streets of 1860’s New York City. We meet his wife and child. We’re there throughout his trial, sentencing, and execution.
Author Rich Cohen puts it all into perspective right from the outset:
Even contemporaneous writers knew Albert Hicks was something other than a normal killer. He was a demon. He had that kind of charisma. He put his arm around the town and pulled its people close. In writing about him, reporters of the time were capturing a new kind of terror — the terror of the metropolis, its anonymity, all those tenements and all those windows, all those docks and all those harborside taverns, all those numbered streets and all those mysteries lives.
Albert Hicks personified the free-wheeling city that would have to make way for the modern metropolis. He was Manhattan as it had been when pirates anchored off Fourteenth Street. The hero of the lunatics, a first citizen of a criminal nation, the subject of ancient bloody bedtime tails.
His final spree played out like a ghost story, only it happened to be true.
And if that doesn’t give you a bit of a shiver, either on Halloween or any other day of the year, I don’t know what will.
Happy Halloween, all!
“The New Exhibit” is streaming on Hulu. It’s also available on DVD/Blu-ray. Don’t miss my earlier post about the episode, which asks: Who really did the killings, Martin or the wax figures?
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!