All too often, writers dealing with the history of crime in the Old West neglect California once they are done covering Joaquin Murrieta and Tiburcio Vasquez. Secrest’s 40-odd years of research bolster and authenticate this sampling of California ruffians who would have been right at home in Abilene or Tombstone. Billy Mulligan was typical of the hoodlums who took over San Francisco after the Gold Rush—until the vigilance committee swung into action.
My favorite chapters cover the real-life murderer from Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, Ramona, and the bizarre 1887 manhunt for Napa Valley murderer Pete Olsen. The statewide pursuit was unsuccessful because the killer was already dead, promptly (but secretly) shot by Napa deer hunters! Yet not even Secrest can explain the mystery behind why the hunters would have passed up a $2,000 reward. —Richard H. Dillon