The Enigma Woman

9780803224506: Paperback
Release Date: 1st April 2009

16 photographs

Dimensions: 140 x 216

Number of Pages: 328

Series Women in the West

UNP - Nebraska

The Enigma Woman

The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison

Paperback / £13.99

“Crack shot.” “Enigma woman.” “Good with ponies and pistols.” “A much-married woman.”
What if such an unconventional woman—and the press unanimously agreed that Nellie May Madison was indeed unconventional—were to get away with murder? Shortly after her husband’s bullet-riddled body was found in the couple’s Burbank apartment, police issued an all-points bulletin for the “beautiful, dark-haired widow.” The ensuing drama unfolded with all the strange twists and turns of a noir crime novel.      
In this intriguing cultural history, Kathleen A. Cairns tells the true tale of the first woman sentenced to death in California, Nellie May Madison. Her story offers a glimpse into law and disorder in 1930s Los Angeles while bringing to life a remarkable character whose plight reflects on the status of woman, the workings of the media and the judiciary system, and the stratification of society in her time. An intriguing cultural history, Cairns’s re-creation of the case from murder to trial to aftermath casts an eye forward to our own love-hate affair with celebrity crimes and our abiding ambivalence about domestic violence abuse as a defense for murder.

List of Illustrations
1. A Girl from Montana
2. Midnight Alibi
3. Outlaw Woman
4. Enigma Woman
5. The Ultimate Penalty
6. The People v. Nellie Madison
7. The Defense
8. Lady Macbeth
9. The Verdict
10. A Condemned Woman
11. An Abused Woman
12. The Reprieve
13. Life in Prison
14. A Traditional Woman
Bibliographic Essay

Kathleen A. Cairns is a lecturer in the Department of History at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She is the author of Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920–1950 (Nebraska 2003).

“Nellie was pegged by the media as a femme fatale, a character out of a noir tale. The author has done considerable research in this well-written true crime chronicle, but what happened in Nellie’s bedroom in 1934 still remains an enigma.”—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

“A new book out this month finally tells us the entire tale of Nellie Madison for the first time, and it is so terrifically researched, so well put together, you might forget the story took place in 1934. . . . It’s a physically lovely, beautifully produced book. . . . The Enigma Woman is top-shelf stuff for votaries of high quality historic crime stories. Professor Cairns will keep you mesmerized in contemplation of a most curious murder case, one in which our recalcitrant heroine could not speak until she was within the shadows of the gallows, one in which the victim may well have had it coming in spades and by golly got it.”—Laura James, CLEWS, The Historic Crime Blog

CLEWS, Historic Crime Blog

“By charting Madison’s experiences from the 1910s to the 1940s, Cairns offers critical insight on the deeds and misdeeds of one remarkable woman, who in many regards was a victim herself. By framing events the way she does, Cairns gives Madison’s story the context it needs and deserves.”—Christina Eng, San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Chronicle

“Cairns tells her story with considerable sociological and psychological acuity. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this tale is how the cut-and-dried, seemingly heartless justice system of the 1930s ultimately produced a punishment that was just and enlightened and would generally satisfy today’s more liberal attitudes toward spousal abuse and homicide.”—The Atlantic Monthly

The Atlantic Monthly

"[The Enigma Woman] is a well-written account that will appeal to readers in history, women’s studies, journalism, and law."—Barbara G. Friedman, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Barbara G. Friedman
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

“This is an outstanding biography of a woman who challenged societal norms. . . . In this splendidly crafted narrative of Nellie’s life, Cairns explores the West as geography and a place of reinvention, the rise of mass popular culture and its impact upon the individual, Los Angeles as myth and reality, criminal prosecution as a force in social control, the media’s ability to elevate or destroy individuals, and intimate abuse as a legal defense to murder. . . . This book is a major contribution to our knowledge of women in the American West.”—Gordon Morris Bakken, Western Historical Quarterly

Gordon Morris Bakken
Western Historical Quarterly