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Killer Colt: Murder, Disgrace, and the Making of an American Legend

3.35  ·  Rating Details  ·  188 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
With such acclaimed works as The Devil’s Gentleman, Harold Schechter has earned renown as the dean of true-crime historians. Now, in this gripping account of driving ambition, doomed love, and brutal murder in an iconic American family, Schechter again casts his gaze into the sinister shadows of gaslit nineteenth-century New York City.

In September 1841, a grisly discovery
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published September 28th 2010 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 2010)
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In Cold Blood by Truman CapoteHelter Skelter by Vincent BugliosiThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann RuleThe Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonTrue Hollywood Noir by Dina Di Mambro
True Crime
367th out of 433 books — 540 voters
In Cold Blood by Truman CapoteHelter Skelter by Vincent BugliosiThe Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann RuleTrue Hollywood Noir by Dina Di Mambro
Best True Crime
475th out of 608 books — 1,053 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jul 28, 2011 Travis rated it liked it
This was a strange book—by turns interesting and exasperating. The major problem with Harold Schechter’s “Killer Colt” is that it is really two books, one fairly good, and one not so good at all. The last half is a (sometimes fascinating) account of the arrest and trial of John Colt, brother of the famous arms inventor, Samuel Colt, for the sensational 1841 Samuel Adams murder that inspired an Edgar Allen Poe story and numerous other publications. But before we get to that point, we’re forced to ...more
Schechter takes us through this fascinating history of John Colt, brother of Sam Colt of the legendary Colt arm manufacturing business. What makes this so interesting is not necessarily the crime itself, which was gruesome enough, but the day to day history of the time. It is a great look into the mid-1800's New York: the people, the places, the reactions of the time.

I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaway.
Sep 30, 2015 Sophie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of John Colt before I picked up this book, but I found his story fascinating and, at times, incredible. In fact, if I had encountered this story in a novel I probably would have quit reading in eye-rolling disbelief. That the story happened in an era we tend to regard as more restrained and straitlaced than our own just proves that the more things change, etc. etc.

I am in awe of the scholarship that must have gone into writing this book, and I admire how the author presented h
Sep 20, 2010 Susan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: American history buffs
In September 1841, the cargo of an outbound ship in New York harbor was searched. As expected, a corpse was found sealed in a crate. And John C. Colt, brother of gun-maker Samuel Colt, was suspected of murder.

Although just a blip in general American history, this story of a 19th century murder is fascinating. If you don't know whether or not John committed murder, if you don't know this story, as I didn't, I'm not going to ruin the surprise.

This book was well researched, with comprehensive end n
Debbie Maskus
Sep 15, 2010 Debbie Maskus rated it liked it
This is an amzing story of the Colt family, one the inventor of a repeating firearm, the revolver. The story centers on the two Colt brothers: Sam and John. John, an author of accounting and finance manuals, plunges the family name into notority by his arrest for murder. The case and various endeavors to free John show the power of the newspaper, which is also a theme in Sharyn McCrumb's The Devil Amonst the Lawyers. That a newspaper has the power to control the outcome of any event is devastati ...more
Bonnie Maier
Oct 15, 2010 Bonnie Maier rated it it was amazing
One of the most sensational trials of the nineteenth century and the media frenzy it created is told in the story Killer Colt. What made this trial a sensation was the very public profile of the defendant's younger brother; Sam Colt - inventor of the first repeating revolver. And also this story has a tragic ending that would be a headliner in today's tabloids.

Harold Schechter is the premier historical true crime writer today. And while Killer Colt was slower going at first then some of Mr. Sch
Sep 17, 2010 Oldroses rated it it was amazing
I really have to start reading the book blurbs more carefully when I enter the Book Giveaways on GoodReads. This is the second book I have received that is not what I thought it was when I signed up. I thought this book was about Samuel Colt and the invention of the Colt Revolver, a nice segue from the previous Giveaway, "They Rode for the Lonestar"; the Texas Rangers having made the Colt Revolver famous.

Instead, this book is about John Colt, Samuel’s brother, and the murder he committed for whi
Sep 11, 2010 Heather rated it really liked it
Firstreads winner.

I applied for this book on a whim, but I'm really glad I won it. It's a very engaging read, suspenseful and exiting. The beginning was a little uneven, as Schechter bounces back and forth between the various Colt siblings and goes off on tangents that don't always hold interest, but once he gets to depictions of the murder, the trial, and it's aftermath, I could barely put the book down. This is one of those instances where the truth is stranger than fiction, and while the cri
Sep 24, 2010 Athena rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: History buffs, true crime enthusiasts and anyone who wants a good read.
Shelves: first-reads
An exciting, gripping book: Killer Colt is the very well-written true story of John C. Colt's trial for murder.
Most people have heard of his brother, Samuel, inventor of the Colt pistol. But John Colt was as infamous in his day as Samuel would be famous. This book brings to life the scandals surrounding John's trial--an event as widely publicized and debated as our most famous modern trials.
Schechter draws a complete picture of the political and social atmosphere that influenced (and was influen
Russell Grant
Mar 24, 2014 Russell Grant rated it liked it
I've fallen off my "True Crime" wagon as far as reading goes. Taht said, "True Crime" or not, Harold Schechter has always been one of my favourite authors, and the only author to give me nightmares. This one is from 2010, and despite being more tame crime wise compared to his earlier works, it's no less fascinating. This tells the story of James and Sam Colt. Sam will event the first revolver, and change the world. James will kill a man over money. The story and trial are one of the first to be ...more
Rick F.
Jul 20, 2011 Rick F. rated it it was amazing
superb writing- gripping- captures period so very well!!!
Aaron Poorman
Sep 14, 2010 Aaron Poorman rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won this through a goodreads giveaway. As a history nerd I was really excited by the premise. Harold Sschecter's name seemed familiar to me when I entered the giveaway. When I got the book and read about him I realized I had seen him on Investigation Discovery or The History Channel. As an expert on serial killers. Let me also say here that I do have possibly morbid interest in serial killers. My favorite show running now is Showtime's Dexter which was adapted from a book series by Jeff Lindsa ...more
Jayalalita devi dasi
I won this book through the Goodreads First Reads program. It's the story of two brothers: Samuel Colt, whose passion in life was firearms, and John Colt, whose passion in life was bookkeeping. Sam's claim to fame was his invention of iconic weaponry. John's claim to fame was murder.

Told with a swift pace and an edge of subtle humor (I couldn't help chuckling at some of the examples of Sam Colt's curious spelling), the stage is set for the crime and its resulting sensation in the press and publi
Feb 07, 2011 Nicholle rated it it was ok
I have to say I found this book to be rather tedious, and it took me an exceptionally long time to finish not because it was difficult to get read but simply because it did not hold my interest enough to make me want to keep picking it up to read.

From a historical perspective this book is incredibly thorough and offers a great glimpse into the life and times of the Colt brothers and their home and work environments. I found the historical information offered in the book the most interesting part
Apr 30, 2013 Caroline rated it it was ok
I have to confess to being disappointed with this book. I have read a number of Harold Schechter's books, and he has a real talent for bringing a time and a place to life via the retelling of historical murder cases. However, the problem I found with this book is that the murder was really not all that remarkable, and to my mind all that elevated this case above other such run-of-the-mill cases was the identity of the murderer's brother, the famous Samuel Colt of the Colt pistol fame. If John Co ...more
Oct 02, 2010 Jon rated it liked it
Extensively researched non-fiction story about the Colt family, one brother Samuel Colt who namesake is still present on handguns and was the inventor of the revolver; the other his infamous older brother John C. Colt convicted of murder. I found the book informative and interesting in parts, but just a little disjointed as to who the book was truly focused on. If it was John Colt, then the name of the book certainly makes sense, however there were large sections of the book devoted to Sam. In t ...more
The story was interesting - and one I had never heard before.

I knew of Sam Colt in relation to the guns and it was definitely interesting to hear more about his family. I wasn't aware he had a brother who had committed a crime much less had a trial that can only be compared to OJ Simpson, Scott Peterson, etc.

However, the book was so difficult to get through. I had to reread many passages more than once. Now, I have talked before about how I struggle to read nonfiction since going through chemo
Oct 24, 2010 Donna rated it liked it
Schechter's book was well-researched and contained a wealth of interesting information, but the presentation was very dry. As a research volume, the book was excellent, but in terms of entertainment it came up a bit short. The period details were fascinating and meticulously reported right down to the clothing worn by the key figures. The book examines the role of the media in influencing the outcome of a criminal trial in the mid-1800s, an issue which remains relevant today in spite of more rig ...more
Oct 17, 2010 Tessa rated it it was ok
I won this book from Goodreads. True crime is not my genre of choice, and I haven't read any of Schechter's other novels, but I found this book to be moderately enjoyable. I hadn't realized Samuel Colt's brother, John, was well known as a murderer, or that his trial was such a public spectacle. The novel is full of interesting facts about the time period, all of which are well documented. For those who enjoy learning about history and true crime, I would definitely recommend this book. However, ...more
Sep 15, 2010 Doreen rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Enjoyed this. The author's writing style is quite dry, but that suits the lurid subject matter. Most importantly, this book is rather timely in its examination of the role of the press, sensationalist or otherwise, in shaping the public's view of criminal trials. I also found fascinating the way in which the different degrees of homicide were determined, as well as the legal language employed in that era.

As to the subject of the Colt family itself, I was greatly impressed by Samuel Colt's persev
Oct 02, 2010 Nancy rated it liked it
This book is about a murder and subsequent trial involving Sam Colt's brother John. (Sam Colt invented the revolver.) There is no doubt that John Colt murdered Samuel Adams. The trial was only to determine if the murder was premeditated. The book covers Sam Colt's life and explores the role of the press in trials. Like today, with the popularity of "if it bleeds it leads" television, celebrity murder in the 1840's provided a way to drive newspaper and pamphlet sales. Did it also influence the ju ...more
Sep 12, 2010 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
A well written account of the lives of Samuel And John Colt. The story is laid out in facts, quotes and myths from the era. All information contained and cited is well documented in the back of the book. The material seamlessly flows with an incredible amount of detail. Does not lack in any piece of substantial information. A must read for all true crime enthusiasts, especially of the victorian era. A well written account of the lives of Samuel And John Colt. The story is laid out in facts, quot ...more
Sep 25, 2010 Sean rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, c, 1900, american, to, 1800
Killer Colt is a great non-fiction crime story about the brother of the famous Sam Colt and a grisly murder. The book does a great job of showing how this murder interweaves with the tragic and triumphant Colt family and also paints a great picture of the times (early to mid 1800s), showing all too well that our current blood lust and love of a media frenzy are nothing new.

For me this is 4 stars instead of 5 because it tends to get a bit bogged down in details and wordiness, which sometimes les
Derek Davis
Mar 17, 2012 Derek Davis rated it liked it
An intriguing bit of hack work, it covers a murder in 1841 New York, perpetrated by John Colt, brother of arms revolutionary Samuel Colt, whose 45 helped kill many thousands more.

The mix of gore and society is interesting, and the details and presentation are good, but it's basically a quick run through the newspapers of the times with extensive quotes from articles, bad peotry and letters, along with tangential side-issues, all obviously inserted to take up space.

The final revelation, which do
Alfredo González
Mar 13, 2016 Alfredo González rated it liked it
It is a great look into the mid-1800's New York: the people, the places, the reactions of the time, its prejudices, asumptions and, yes how religion was always a force in the minds of the time.

Nice read!!
Sep 27, 2012 Jim rated it liked it
Very interesting non fiction story about the Colt family. Samuel Colt (yes, he patented the revolver pistol in 1839) was 8 years younger than his brother John Colt. When John was accused of murder in 1841 the trial and subsequent theories captivated the New York residents. The gruesome deed was foder for the journalists at the time who speculated and sensationalized the events as they unfolded.
Sam stood by his brother through the trial and aftermath. Years later he became very wealthy as his pis
Alison Sumprer
May 27, 2014 Alison Sumprer rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book but I just couldn't get into it. It was definitely informative and had the potential to be great, but the writing style fell short for me.
May 13, 2011 Lucy rated it really liked it
I had heard that this book was not as "strong" as Schechter's other historical true crime books and after reading it I don't understand why. I've enjoyed all of Schecter's books but this one strikes me as the most scholarly. Maybe readers disliked the fact that this book focused less on the crime than on the court case that followed. I enjoy Schechter's masterful mingling of historical research and storytelling. He has a keen eye for period details (although I thought he was a bit hard on 19th c ...more
Oct 26, 2010 Bill rated it it was amazing
Fantastic, amazing, I loved it. The book would be especially interesting to anyone from New England, those interested in local history, influence of the media, crime/suspense novels and early nineteenth century America. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, it was a wholly pleasurable experience and I would definitely check out other books by Mr. Schechter. I've lived in the Hartford CT area for six years, and this book has really inspired me to go search out some of the sites where t ...more
Richard Gunning
Mar 02, 2015 Richard Gunning rated it it was ok
More about the murderer John Colt than his brother inventor
Samuel Colt.
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Aka Jon A. Harrald (joint pseudonym with Jonna Gormley Semeiks)

Harold Schechter is a true crime writer who specializes in serial killers. He attended the State University of New York in Buffalo, where he obtained a Ph.D. A resident of New York City, Schechter is professor of American literature and popular culture at Queens College of the City University of New York.

Among his nonfiction works are
More about Harold Schechter...

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