Book Review: Wicked Erie
Justin Dombrowski takes another dip into Erie's dark side
If you are wondering how Erie author Justin Dombrowski has the time, you are not alone. In the span of a little over a year, he has published Murder & Mayhem in Erie, Pennsylvania (June 2022), Erie's Backyard Strangler: Terror in the 1960s (February 2023), and on Oct. 9, his third local true crime history, titled Wicked Erie, hits bookstores.
As with Dombrowski's previous two books, Wicked Erie is published by The History Press (a subsidiary of Arcadia Publishing) and from its first chapter, it is quite clear that the speed in which he researches and writes does not negatively affect the quality of his storytelling. The seven stories within the book cover the "not always pleasant" side of Erie's past, including "stories of scandal, robbery, murder, suicide, the mob, and more" — or as the book's epigraph suitably proclaims: "Hell is empty and the devils are here."
Whether it's the story of Ferdinand Fischer and his 1911 escape from the State Hospital for the Insane, the Phantom Burglar and his "reign of terror" across Erie in the 1920s, or the gruesome mass murder of a family by a deranged father, Dombrowski weaves together stories into thrilling, detailed, and sometimes disturbing narratives, shifting between descriptions and direct quotes that serve the account as dialogue.
At just over 200 pages, the narrative is also broken up with dozens of photographs from historical archives as well as simple, yet elegantly crafted maps designed by the author's father. Of course, as always, Dombrowski has the receipts too in the form of a detailed bibliography.
"Historical true crime often walks a fine line between passion and obsession," writes Dombrowski in Wicked Erie's introduction. In his hands though, these stories are told with passion, but not with sensationalization. They are tales of Erie itself, stories about people, about families and the long-term effects of these crimes, and they remind us that there is both wickedness and goodness to be found everywhere.
You can purchase a copy of Wicked Erie from your favorite local book retailer or online. Books signings will take place at Barnes & Noble on Saturday, Oct. 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. and Werner Books on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. A Wicked Erie tour in collaboration with the Hagen History Center will also take place on Friday, Oct. 13.
The History Press // 208 pages // True Crime, History