Maniac by Harold Schechter

‘On 18 May 1927, Andrew P Kehoe dynamited the Bath Consolidated School in Bath, Michigan.’

I had never heard of this mass killing, which resulted in the murder of thirty-eight children and six adults.  Who was Andrew Kehoe, and why did he do this?

Mr Schechter’s exhaustive research takes the reader through the history of the area and the history of the town of Bath before chronicling these events.

Andrew Kehoe was, I read, a local farmer and the school board treasurer.  He had been a respected member of the community.  But a bad year on the farm, followed by a tax for the support of the school led Andrew Kehoe to be elected to the school’s board where he was both disruptive to management and helpful in that his handyman skills saved the school money.

In addition to planting explosives under the school, he set the building on his farm ablaze after killing his wife.  He also destroyed the farm equipment and prevented his horses from escaping the fire.

Andrew Kehoe was behind on his mortgage payments and resentful when his re-election to the school board was not supported.  He had stockpiled explosives and used them to deadly effect.

How does a town recover from such atrocity? In addition to those murdered, many were injured.

I read this account, understood the ‘how’ but never the ‘why’.

The book also discusses other mass murders, and how such events are viewed by the public.  In the case of Bath, this horrific event was overshadowed by the news of Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight:

‘The Bath School Disaster might be described as a “seven-day horror,” although—thanks to the mania surrounding Lindbergh’s flight—its grip on the public imagination didn’t even last a full week.’

Except, of course for those directly affected.

I have read a couple of Mr Schechter’s books because of my interest in true crime.  I have mixed feelings about this book.  While I appreciated the research, the context setting and the account of events, I wanted answers that neither Mr Schechter nor anyone else can provide.  We know what Andrew Kehoe did, and how, but I do not fully understand ‘why’.  Perhaps that is a good thing.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Little A for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith