In September 1922, as America plunged into an era of dizzying innovation, brazen extravagance, and sordid crime, two artfully posed corpses were found beneath a crabapple tree on a notorious lover’s lane in the shadow of Jazz Age Manhattan.
The murder of Reverend Edward Hall, a prominent clergyman whose wife, Frances Hall, was a proud heiress with illustrious ancestors and ties to the Johnson & Johnson dynasty, would have made headlines on its own. But when authorities identified Eleanor Mills as a choir singer from Hall’s church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, married to the church sexton while carrying on a steamy affair with the reverend, the story swelled to epic proportions. A scandal-hungry nation was immediately captivated, devouring copious newspaper coverage day after day.
What followed was a perplexing murder mystery full of eccentric characters: a feisty flapper; a slippery private eye; a pipe-smoking, oddball savant; and a theatrical female pig farmer who came forward with an alleged eye-witness account of the murders. The so-called Pig Woman’s moonlight tale pointed to the widow and her brothers, but the authorities bumbled through their tortured homicide probe.
Meanwhile, a trio of warring New York papers—America’s first tabloids, forged in the clamor of the Roaring Twenties—were bent on cracking the case. The madcap tabloid editor Phil Payne, who jumped from the Daily News to Hearst’s Daily Mirror, embarked on a swashbuckling, circulation-crazed crusade to solve the mystery. Payne’s obsessive antics, from an elaborately staged seance, to a cloak-and-dagger newspaper investigation, to an alliance with New Jersey’s powerful Democratic machine, eventually brought the Hall-Mills saga to its dramatic climax, showcasing the birth of American tabloid culture along the way.
Assiduously researched and bursting with 1920s flair, a story of dark secrets and burning ambition, Blood & Ink freshly chronicles one of the most electrifying but forgotten homicides in U.S. history.