SHuSH: The tabloid edition

Murderous heiresses, K-pop readers, poisoned publishers, and more

It’s the last week of summer. It’s difficult to take anything seriously. Welcome to the first annual SHuSH tabloid edition!

Earlier this year, crime writer Peter Lance published Homicide at Rough Point, which argues that tobacco heiress Doris Duke deliberately killed her companion/interior designer Eduardo Tirella at her estate in Newport, Rhode Island in 1966.

Doris Duke is an interesting study. She inherited more than $50 million at the age of twelve and became famous for doing whatever the hell she wanted, including playing piano in nightclubs, studying dance with choreographer Katherine Dunham, serving with an intelligence agency in WW2, participating in séances, surfing, making friends with Elvis and Albert Einstein, marrying a series of fortune-hunting losers and exotic playboys, and trysting with Lebanese antiquities dealers and young jazz musicians.

When she ran her Dodge Polara station wagon over Tirella, twice, police called it “an unfortunate accident.” Lance believes the notoriously vindictive Duke, who had stabbed her common-law husband with a butcher knife three years before this incident (similarly without consequences), bought off most of Newport to escape prosecution. The victim, in Lance’s telling, was “a gay Renaissance man and war hero.”

Welcome to the 114th edition of SHuSH, the weekly newsletter of Sutherland House Books. If you’re new here, hit the button—it’s free:

Lance’s book was well-received, but the story wasn’t over. “On July 3, 2021,” he writes in Vanity Fair, “something unexpected happened. I was doing a book signing at the Brenton Hotel, on Newport’s waterfront. A heavyset 68-year-old man with a walrus mustache came up to me and said, ‘I just read your book. Not only was your account of the murder 100% consistent with what Fred Newton [a dissident accident investigator] concluded, but I was there. I heard the entire lead-up to the crash and I confronted Doris Duke seconds after it, when she jumped out of the car and was staring down at it.”

The heavyset man, Bob Walker, was Duke’s paperboy. Lance interviewed Walker. The updated account of Duke’s attack on Tirella runs as follows:

…as Tirella stood at the gates to unchain them, Duke got behind the wheel. She disengaged the parking brake by hand, shifted into drive, and pressed down so hard on the accelerator that she left tire-wide gouge marks in the gravel. Then she roared forward. Tirella went up on the hood of the wagon, possibly staring at Duke through the windshield as the [Dodge] Polara [station wagon] burst through the gates.

At that moment, as Bob Walker was getting closer, he heard the man scream yet again. “That proceeded for a couple of seconds,” he says, “and then there was a deceleration of the motor and a slight skid.” That’s when, for unknown reasons, Duke… had tapped the brakes and Tirella rolled off onto Bellevue Avenue, having sustained a broken right hip, but still alive.

Walker, by now, was pedaling furiously, closing in on the Rough Point service gate when he heard the man “scream again and the roar of the motor,” at which point, he says, the man’s wail “turned to horror. ‘Nooooo…’”

It was then… that Doris Duke hit the accelerator and drove forward, crushing Tirella under the wheels of the wagon and dragging him across the street. The Polara jumped the opposite curb, knocked down a section of post-and-rail fence, and ended up against a tree. Tirella, officials later determined, was killed instantly.

You can buy the book here, but this article will suffice for most.

The K-pop bookseller

It used to be that the best thing that could happen to a book was that it be seen in the hands of someone boarding Air Force One. Then Oprah took over. Then Reece. Now it’s RM of K-pop’s BTS.

RM is a rapper. K-pop is Korean pop music. BTS is a sensational boy band run by the publicly traded record label, HYBE, founded by the billionaire “Hitman Bang” Si-hyuk.

Twenty-six years old and already in the second decade of his career, RM was recently spotted by a photographer eating a bowl of noodles and reading Early Death, which has been out of print for a decade. The book deals with a bunch of Korean artists who died young.

The rapper’s aggressively online fans, who go by the name of ARMY, demanded copies from the publisher, Hyohyung Books, and within three days it was back in print. It is now a bestseller at South Korea’s largest chain, Kyobo Book Centre.

This wasn’t a one-off for RM. Another book by a conceptual artist sold out across Korea a day after he shared photos of it online.

Sutherland House is sending its entire fall list to RM.

There was no closure

Joe Soldwedel, 69, who owns a bunch of little Arizona newspapers, married an employee, Felice Aspiranti, 66, in 2010. She filed for divorce in 2017. That’s when the fun started.

Convinced that Aspiranti married him for his money, Soldwedel sought to annul their marriage and kill a prenup that guaranteed she would get $900,000 if they split. He also made repeated claims that Aspiranti was trying to kill him by slipping into his food a heavy metal sometimes used as an ingredient in rat poison. He sent hair and nail samples to a Colorado lab that found six to fifteen times the normal level of thallium in his body.

Police checked Aspiranti’s computer and phone and interviewed her and found no evidence of a poisoning plot. They collected hair samples from Soldwedel and found no signs of thallium. Soldwedel says he had undergone therapy and had mostly recovered by the time the police did their work.

The authorities note that thallium is often an impurity in illegal drugs. They suggested that if traces of the element were present in Soldwedel’s body, methamphetamine was the likely culprit.

Much to Soldwedel’s disappointment, local prosecutors would not lay charges against Aspiranti for poisoning him.

He tried to introduce the poisoning allegations in his divorce proceedings but had no luck there, either.

So Soldwedel sued Aspiranti for $18 million over the “poisoning” and used one of his newspapers, the Prescott Daily Courier, to tell the world, or at least a corner of Arizona, that his ex (unnamed in the stories) had been trying to kill him.

The same paper ran ads naming Aspiranti (and nicknaming her as “The Iceberg”). It showed her photograph (bordered with skulls and rats), and offering a reward of up to $10,000 for useful information forwarded to “Joe’s Poison Tip Line” at 1-833-BIG REWARD.

This is SHuSH, so there has to be a book angle. Leaving no stone unturned, Soldwedel wrote and self-published a book repeating his claims, and distributed more than 30,000 copies of an abridged version free to his newspaper subscribers.

A court upheld the Soldwedel-Aspiranti prenup and the divorce was finalized last year.

Soldwedel’s $18-million lawsuit was to go to trial this month. Unfortunately for the reading public, he dropped the suit this week, along with a $2-million defamation claim. “I convinced myself a few years ago that such a lawsuit, I could achieve closure,” he said. “But I realized probably within the last year, there's no such thing no matter how it turned out.”

Aspiranti dropped her countersuit: “We’re all glad it’s gone and done.”

A quick recommendation

This is an incongruously serious note for SHuSH’s tabloid edition, but Anne Applebaum’s latest in The Atlantic is highly recommended. We’ve all read a ton on woke attacks, cancel culture, people getting their lives ruined for breaking (or being accused of breaking) new social codes enforced by mobs, but few writers have managed to be as balanced and thoughtful as Applebaum with “The New Puritans.”

An election update

We mentioned in our last edition what the Conservatives and New Democrats had to say to say about book publishing in their platforms. This week the Liberals released their platform and consistent with Team Trudeau’s free-spending ways, it promises the following:

Invest $43 million per year to support Canadian authors and books publishers by increasing, by 50%, funding through the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Public Lending Right Program.

That’s a big promise. It makes thin gruel of the Conservative platform—“Conduct a review of federal book publishing policy to enhance the commercial viability of Canada’s independent publishing sector.” What’s your pleasure: a cash windfall or a policy review?

Most independent publishers in Canada would take the money and run. And you can’t blame them (although I hope they don’t bank on this new cash because platform promises are not government policy, and at some point we’re due for a fiscal reckoning).

The big problem with the Liberal promise is that it would increase the dependence of independent publishers on a broken public support system that over the years has left them small, irrelevant, and commercially unviable, and subjected them to the overbearing editorial guidance of the Canada Council.

More money, especially from the Canada Council, is like giving bigger rocks to crack whores. They’ll be grateful, but they’ll die sooner.

Far better to give any additional funds to the Public Lending Right, where they would have a transformative effect on the lives of starving Canadian authors, and meanwhile conduct a review of book publishing policy to enhance the commercial viability of the sector.

Our Newsletter Roll (suggestions welcome)

Lydia Perovic’s Long Play: literature and music.

Tim Carmody’s Amazon Chronicles: an eye on the monster.

Jason Logan’s Urban Color Report: adventures in ink (sign-up at bottom of page)

Anne Trubek’s Notes from a Small Press: like SHuSH, but different

Art Canada Institute: reliable source of Canadian arts info/opinion

Kate McKean’s Agents & Books: an interesting angle on the literary world

Rebecca Eckler’s Re:Book: unpretentious recommendations

Anna Sproul Latimer’s How to Glow in the Dark: interesting advice

John Biggs Great Reads: strong recommendations


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