The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son: Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James - Laura James

Sparks flew when gold digger Dr. Zeo Zoe Wilkins and Jesse James, Jr.—the son of America’s most legendary outlaw—crossed paths. The result: a tale of sex, deceit, money, and murder, grippingly told by noted true-crime blogger Laura James.

The beautiful Wilkins—a scheming and oft-married osteopath—was no shrinking violet; she married and probably buried five husbands (or six, according to some reports), some decades older, and all much wealthier, than she. But she was no match for the nefarious Jesse Jr., whom the author argues stabbed Zeo to death in her Kansas City home in 1924. (The murder was never officially solved.) Laura James maps out the childhood, career, and marital machinations of this ravishing “love pirate” before charting the promising but invariably disappointing life of the bandit’s only son. In the book’s third section, the two indelible characters collide, with lethal consequences for Wilkins.

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I've had this book on my shelves for awhile now and recently decided to pick it up because I was heading out on a roadtrip that included a stop in Bardstown, KY, once a hang-out place for famed bank-robber Jesse James, Sr and thought it might be fun to brush up on some history about the family. Originally when I got the book, I mistakenly thought it involved James Sr, but in fact this is a true-crime book about the relationship, working and romantic, between the bank robber's son, Jesse James JR (who grew up to be an attorney, of all things!) and professional golddigger, Dr. Zeo Zoe Wilkins and the role he may or may not have played in her murder. The case remains unsolved. 

 

It's a pretty interesting story examining the details of the murder of well-known (in her day, anyway -- through newspaper stories chronicling her monetarily influenced marriages and the crimes & court dates that followed) Wilkins in the 1920s and how it was linked to Jesse James Jr. I had never heard of this woman or her murder before but I found the book, particularly Zeo's brazen, unapologetic ways, largely fascinating. It also goes back a bit in history to talk about the murder of Jesse James Sr, and how that financially and socially affected his wife and surviving son for the rest of their lives. SO much sadness there! (though my empathy died out when the story reveals James Sr.'s widow as a racist and James Jr going so far as to join the KKK). My interest waned some near the end when it gets into the politics that came into the Wilkins murder trial, but overall a pretty fun read.