Evil Called at School: Revisiting an infamous kidnapping in the Midwest
In the 1950s, Kansas City had changed from a wide-open circus ruled by the machine of “Boss” Tom Pendergast into a sedate, somewhat unexciting Midwestern town. The mold was shattered on Sept. 28, 1953, when news of a sensational kidnapping broke.
Bobby Greenlease, 6-year-old son of a wealthy Kansas City Cadillac dealer, was abducted from his school. A ransom note demanded $600,000 in return for his life. John Heidenry retells the gruesome tale in “Zero at the Bone.” It’s a murder without much mystery. The perpetrators were caught almost at once. But there’s considerable fascination in watching two losers bungle their way to the gas chamber, with the help of a cast of shady, double-crossing characters.
Almost 20 years ago, George Steiner made an arresting admission in a New Yorker essay. Having "stumbled across" John Cowper Powys's novel "Wolf Solent" in late adolescence, Mr. Steiner wrote, "I felt my inward existence to be changed, felt myself to be in the intoxicating grip of a master."
Mr. Steiner isn't the only distinguished Powys admirer. Henry Miller, Iris Murdoch, Martin Amis and Margaret Drabble have all praised his work. Writing last year, Ms. Drabble compared Powys's fictional world to J.R.R. Tolkien's, calling it "less visited than Tolkien's" but "as compelling, and it has more air." A descendant of John Donne and the poet William Cowper, John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) certainly had a distinguished literary pedigree. Still, his books remain little known. The Canadian novelist Robertson Davies blamed Powys's low profile on the fact that he was never welcomed by the academic world, which scorned his fervent literary lectures as "un-scholarly."