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Friday, August 17, 2012

The Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti (Author Guest Post / Book Review)

In association with Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Publicity Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews welcomes Gus Pelagatti, author of The Wicked Wives!

Author Guest Post

The Wicked Wives is a noir suspense thriller of historical fiction: murder, betrayal, court room drama, love and lust based on the true story of the 1938 poison scandals in Philadelphia.

When I was eight years old, I overheard adults in our South Philadelphia neighborhood discussing seventeen disenchanted and unfaithful neighborhood wives who allegedly murdered their husbands for insurance money. This was a fascinating topic for an eight year old boy eavesdropping on adult conversation. People were discussing the true story of Philadelphia's infamous 1938 poison murder conspiracy scandals. My fascination led to obsession as I grew older, and I knew that I had to write about these women, their lovers and their husbands. 

The setting of The Wicked Wives takes place when the times were marred by the Great Depression and the  prelude to World War II, and is largely confined to the City of Philadelphia. At 293 pages, the novel is equal parts murder, suspense, love, lust, corruption, treachery and intriguing court room suspense leading to a dynamic ending. 

The protagonist, First Assistant D.A., Tom Rossi is placed on the horns of a dilemma. He wants the party's nomination for District Attorney but powerful Deputy Mayor Bill Evans refuses to back him; unless Tom prevents the arrest of the deputy's niece, Lillian Stoner, for the homicide of her husband, Reggie. Evans demands that Tom not order an autopsy on the body. He give Tom 24 hours to decide or threatens to have him disbarred, defeated in his campaign to win the nomination for D.A. and to have his girl, Hope, fired as a nurse from her city job. Hope is part African American, but can pass for white.

Tom's anger at Evans outweighs his logic. Before an autopsy confirms a homicide, he orders arrests of Lillian and her lover, Giorgio DiSipio, for the murder of Reggie Stoner. Their arrests make headline news. Homicide is deluged with phone tipsters accusing Giorgio of being involved in many other similar suspicious deaths involving adulterous wives and insurance. Many of the wives live within a few blocks of Giorgio's tailor shop. But, the medical examiner concludes that pneumonia caused the death, not homicide. Infuriated, Evans has Hope fired, damages Tom's political future, begins disbarment proceedings against him and causes a breakup of his love affair with Hope. The Globe Newspaper headline reads: "D.A. Candidate's Girlfriend Fired From PGH For Lying About Colored Background." 

A fascinating conspiracy unfolds. the poison gang's colorful and hilarious characters help to deep-six a minimum of twenty husbands. The supporting cast includes Giorgio, "The Don Juan of Passyunk Avenue." Aside from Lillian, "the society wife," the wives include Rose, the "Kiss of Death Widow," Eva "the nymphomaniac" and the "hopelessly in love" Joanna.

The gang's ring leaders, the mysterious Lady in Black and her companion, the Giant, continually elude arrest and systematically execute state witnesses prior to the wives' trials. 

After many comical episodes, intriguing detective work and two suspense filled high profile trials, ten wives plead or are found guilty of murdering their husbands. Tom concludes that a life without the love of his girlfriend is a life without pleasure. He goes to her with hat in hand to propose marriage. But Hope coldly rejects him.

The Wicked Wives is a story made for Hollywood, combining murder, corruption, treachery, lust and phenomenal detail as it vividly captures Depression-era Philadelphia.

I'm a practicing trial lawyer with offices in center city Philadelphia. I began my law career as a criminal lawyer, and have more than forty-seven years of criminal and civil court room trial experience. It is from this experience and personal interviews with judges, lawyers, and witnesses that were involved in these cases, that the novel is based upon. 

About The Author:

Gus Pelagatti is a practicing trial lawyer with over 47 years of experience trying civil and criminal cases including homicide. He’s a member of the Million Dollar Advocate Forum, limited to attorneys who have been recognized as achieving a standard of excellence as a trial expert. He has spent years researching the true story of the 1938 insurance scam murders, interviewing judges, lawyers, police and neighbors involved in the trials.

Gus was born and raised within blocks of the main conspirator’s tailor shop and the homes of many of the wives convicted of murdering their husbands.

His latest book is The Wicked Wives.

Gus Pelagatti's The Wicked Wives Virtual Book Tour Page On Pump Up Your Book!

The Wicked Wives Book Trailer

Book Review

The Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti
Published By: Mill City Press, Inc.
Release Date: June 20, 2011
Format: Paperback - 304 pages / Kindle - 408 KB / Nook - 408 KB
ISBN: 1936780631
ASIN: B005784LB4
Genre: Historical Fiction / Murder - Mystery - Suspense - Thriller

BUY THE BOOK: The Wicked Wives

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Publicity Tours.

Book Description:

When I was an eight year old boy I overheard adults in my South Philadelphia neighborhood discussing 17 disenchanted and unfaithful neighborhood wives who murdered their husbands for insurance money, love and lust. This was a fascinating topic for an eight year old boy eavesdropping on adult conversation. The adults were discussing the true story of Philadelphia’s infamous 1938 murder scandals. My fascination led to obsession. I knew that I had to write about these wicked wives someday.

After I became a trial lawyer in 1964, I researched the poison murder cases in the law library and obtained newspaper accounts of the scandals dating back to October, 1938. Thereafter I conducted interviews with judges, lawyers, police, witnesses, sheriff deputies and neighbors who knew the defendants.

One of the chief conspirators was a tailor who seduced, then persuaded at least twelve wives to poison their husbands for insurance. The setting for his seductions was the couch in the rear of his tailor shop, located two blocks from our family home.

A fascinating conspiracy unfolded in these murder cases. The poison gang’s colorful and hilarious characters helped to deep-six a minimum of 20 husbands. The supporting cast includes Giorgio, “The Don Juan of Passyunk Avenue. ” Aside from scheming Lillian, “the society wife”, the wives include Rose, the “Kiss of Death Widow, ” Eva “the nymphomaniac” and the “hopelessly in love, ” Joanna.

After many comical episodes, intriguing detective work and two suspense filled high profile trials, 12 wives plead or are found guilty of murdering their husbands. Two male conspirators were executed in the electric chair.

The Wicked Wives gleefully explores the sins of lust and greed, and the disappointments that love often brings. The characters, although they commit murder and adultery, are extremely likable, and often amusing. Writing The Wicked Wives was a true labor of love.

Book Excerpt:

Philadelphia, September. 1937

After nine years, I’m bored and he’s anxious.

Her husband Reggie normally took her to dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on her birthday, the scene of their first date. But, this year’s celebration was strained. Sitting at their usual table, they sipped their gin martinis and stared at each other.

Reggie smiled,”You know, when I met you, your lifestyle was so affluent: maids, servants, gardeners and a chauffeur.”

“I was the belle of the ball,” she said, looking into his eyes. ”Young society beaus became breathless whenever I came near. Heads turned on any street I set foot on.” She paused.”And then, I married you.”

Reggie managed to smile.”I admit our marriage hasn’t been a happy one thus far. I’d like to turn it around.” His eyes pleaded with her, but she ignored him.

“I remember bragging that I’d eloped with the man who controlled an insurance brokerage business. My brother claimed you were too old for me. Then I made the worst mistake of my life. I told him I didn’t need Daddy’s money anymore.”

“I know. I know,” he whispered.

When Lillian’s father had died, he was still bitter over Lillian’s decision to renounce Catholicism and marry Reggie, a White Anglo Saxon Protestant. He left her only $30,000, and her brother the bulk of the estate, estimated at a million dollars. She used her inheritance to buy their home and Reggie’s cement business in an effort to increase their assets. But her decision backfired. People weren’t building or renovating houses in the middle of the Depression.

And there was the infidelity.

Ten months before her birthday dinner, Reggie’s mother found Lillian naked in a bathtub with an old high school boyfriend; they were both high on opium.

Reggie had demurred when his mother insisted he divorce Lillian. ”For a marriage to survive, a husband and wife must forgive one another,” he said.

His mother wasn’t as sure.

Several weeks after their trip to the Ritz Carlton, Lillian climbed the curved marble staircase of her stately Chestnut Hill home, her hands shaking, clutching a glass of brandy. As she approached the master suite, she could hear her husband’s relentless coughing. When will this be over? With a deep sigh she pushed open the cherry wood doors careful not to spill the brandy. Sitting up with his head propped on two pillows in a king sized bed, Reggie Stoner looked like death. His once tanned skin was jaundiced and his athletic body was skin and bones. The Stoner’s family physician, Dr. Masters, thought the prognosis was grim. Reggie had one of the most persistent cases of pneumonia the doctor had seen in years, yet he refused to be admitted to Chestnut Hill Hospital.”If I die, it’ll be in the privacy of my home.”

Though pneumonia was a vicious killer in Depression-era Philadelphia, Masters was baffled by the course Reggie’s illness had taken. Accompanied by bouts of weakness and numbness in his extremities, Reggie’s pneumonia sapped his strength rapidly. Some days it seemed he would pull through; he acted more alert and the symptoms subsided. But tonight his coughing was worse than ever and he appeared alarmingly weak.

“I brought you your brandy,” Lillian said.

“I can’t…I can’t drink…any more,” Reggie’s voice was halting

“It will help you sleep and Dr. Masters said it’ll relax your muscles.”

As Reggie struggled to lift his head off the pillow, she reached over and helped prop him up as she placed the glass to his lips. It seemed to take all his effort as he swallowed from the glass. Reggie lay back down as his breathing became slower. Lillian placed her hand on his chest and felt Reggie’s heartbeat becoming erratic. She watched his eyes roll toward the back of his head.

“My legs…are cold,” he said.

“I know,” she said.”The brandy will warm you up.”

Suddenly Reggie’s body shook violently as he gasped for air. Her own breathing grew faster as she waited for the fit to pass.

Reggie’s body went still. Lillian placed her hand on his neck and felt for a pulse as she had done every night for weeks on end. Nothing. She leaned in toward his face and listened for any signs of breathing. Again, nothing. Lillian slumped to the floor and cried. But her tears were not for Reggie and they weren’t tears of sadness. They were the release of the relentless stress and fear she had been harboring for months. She smiled at Reggie’s corpse. You fought the good fight Reggie. But as always, you lost the war. Lillian rose and walked back down the carpeted steps of her home to her living room where a handsome dark-skinned man was waiting puffing on a cigar.

“Finally, it’s over,” she said.”First thing tomorrow morning, I’ll call the doctor.”

He smiled, nodded and then looked at his watch.”I gotta get goin’. It’s past midnight.”

Lillian wrapped her arms around her lover. The attractive 30 year old laughed with a release that surprised even her. Her mind filled with thoughts of a brighter and happier future. And, of course, all that money.

My Book Review:

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave ... when first we practice to deceive" ...

Philadelphia in 1938 ... in the shadow of the Great Depression and the prelude to World War II is a murder conspiracy scandal that would rock the nation's birthplace of the Declaration of Independence. Seventeen dissatisfied, unfaithful, greedy wives and their male conspirators use poison to murder their husbands for the insurance money.

Based on a true story, author Gus Pelagatti weaves a tale of deceit, lust, adultery, conspiracy and murder in a highly publicized sensational poison murder scandal involving seventeen Wicked Wives, with a sizzling courtroom drama that rocked the citizens of Philadelphia!

Assistant D.A. Tom Rossi investigates the suspicious murder of Reggie Stoner, despite opposition and threats to his political career. What starts out as a murder investigation quickly spirals into one that uncovers an elaborate plan that included adultery, drugs, murder, blackmail and insurance fraud. Seventeen disgruntled wives are manipulated by a charismatic womanizing tailor, Giorgio DiSipio, who seduces the women and convinces them to take out life insurance policies on their husbands, and poison them for the insurance money. Giorgio is aided in the murder plot by a "friend" who is an undertaker, who performs autopsies on the victims, claiming that they all died from various forms of pneumonia. Can Assistant D.A. Rossi bring these devious murderers to justice, or will The Wicked Wives and their conspirators get away with the perfect murder?

The Wicked Wives is an intriguing historical fiction based on a true story of the scandalous 1938 poison murder case in Philadelphia. The author has cleverly weaved a fascinating tale of deceit, lust, conspiracy and murder that keeps the reader sitting on the edge of their seat. The reader is transported back to the Depression era of 1938 Philadelphia, a time period of flappers, gangsters, corruption and hard times. Rich in detail and vivid descriptions, the reader goes along for a captivating thrill ride as the scandalous conspiracy unfolds and what could have been a perfect murder culminates in a riveting courtroom drama that will keep you guessing and holding your breath until the conclusion.

The author has created an intriguingly complex cast of characters who are a fascinating study of different personalities. The interweaving of the characters is seamless with clever dialogue and interactions that make this a powerful and compelling story. I have to admit that I was fascinated by these clever women and by the mastermind, Giorgio, but I absolutely loved following Assistant D.A. Rossi's investigation. As a diehard fan of legal thrillers, I think that the author's professional experience as a trial attorney enabled him to masterfully weave a tale that packs a powerful punch.

The Wicked Wives is a fascinating story that is a must read for true crime fans. This tangled web of deceit, conspiracy, adultery, murder and courtroom drama would make one hell of a Hollywood movie!



  1. Wow thanks for the wonderful review today, Kathleen!

    1. Loved the book! Thank you for the opportunity to read, review and host the virtual book tour event. :)