Following the brutal murders of two children in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1954, police, in an attempt to quell public hysteria, arrested 20 men whom the authorities never claimed had anything to do with the crimes. Labeled as sexual psychopaths under an Iowa law that lumped homosexuals together with child molesters and murderers, the men were sentenced to a mental institution until cured. Their shocking story is brought to light for the first time by award-winning journalist Neil Miller, author of Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. Shedding a harsh light on 1950s attitudes toward homosexuality, Miller's carefully researched account shows how the paranoia of the McCarthy era destroyed the lives of gay men in the American heartland. Interviews with the formerly incarcerated men, law enforcement officials, lawyers, mental hospital staff, and relatives of the murder victims provides a vivid and disturbing glimpse of a town that betrayed its own sons and a mental institution where patients provided cheap labor and shock treatment was the therapy of choice. A gripping story of murder and antigay hysteria, Sex-Crime Panic presents a dark chapter in the history of postwar America.
Advance reader copies.
Major media targets: NPR: Morning Edition, All Things Considered.
Regional media, including Des Moines Register, Sioux City Journal, Iowa City Press Citizen, Quad City Times and others.
Neil Miller is the author of Out in the World: Gay and Lesbian Life From Buenos Aires to Bangkok, Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present, and In Search of Gay America, the winner of the 1990 American Library Association prize for gay and lesbian nonfiction as well as the Lambda Literary Award. As a freelance journalist, his writing has appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Advocate, and Out. He teaches journalism and nonfiction writing at Tufts University in Medford, Massachussetts.
Hysteria blazes in the heartland, exposing gay men to the worst of their communities, in this examination of two mid-20th-century murders. In the early 1950s, two young children, Jimmy Bremmers and Donna Sue Davis, were brutally killed in Sioux City, Iowa. The ensuing mania provoked the groundless incarceration of dozens of gay men. Miller (Journalism/Tufts Univ.; "Out in the World", 1992) sifts through the murder investigations, the roundups of innocent men, and the repercussions of these events on the lives of all concerned in the 50-plus years since then. Within this complex web of narrative, he captures a range of memorable personalities: the ostensibly liberal district attorney who prosecuted the gay men; the chief suspect in the case, a traveling salesman convicted of the Bremmers murder but freed many years later; and the all-American high-school English teacher who fought to clear his name and record after being arrested in a bathroom. By opening this painful chapter in American history, Miller showcases yet another example of panic ripping apart neighbors and neighborhoods, providing a timely reminder (given the current international situation) that hysteria destroys the freedoms Americans hold most dear. Unfortunately, it's all related in pedestrian prose that lumbers along with little spring in its galumphing steps. What should be a true-crime-based expose with a gay slant on mental institutions' cruelties deflates into a sequential narrative offering little insight beyond the obvious, little style beyond the prosaic. One of the footnotes of history that demands a full accounting. (Kirkus Reviews)