Award-Winning True Crime: “Death of an Assassin”

Death of An Assassin:
Winner of the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Award

Bronze, true crime

From bird watching to murder – From murder to Robert E. Lee

Death of an Assassin cover
Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee, courtesy of Kent State University Press.

Who would have thought a 150-year-old forester’s diary could have opened such a door? It was like a key that fit an unused lock, and the rusty old door opened to murder.

keyIt all started with bird watching. I’ve enjoyed birds since childhood, keep a life list, and occasionally publish about them. When I suggested to my local German historical society that I write an article about the history of the town’s birdlife, the chairman handed me the diary. “This might be a good source,” he said. “Surely the forester mentioned birds in here somewhere.”

There, between lamentations over his love life and his hunting escapades for grouse and snipe, the forester detailed how he helped solve a murder – a decades-old cold case. He had found a clue corroborating a newly proposed solution. Incredibly, that solution did not come from Germany. It didn’t even come from Europe. It came from America, and the forester’s clue helped convince the German prosecutor to close the case based on a tip provided in a letter received from Washington, D.C.

Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Both the American connection and the time lapse between the murder and solution mark this case as unique in the annals of 19th-century German crime. As a former American prosecutor, my interest was piqued enough to hunt down the original investigative file in the German archives and start tracking the perpetrator’s escape to America through the American files.

I did not expect the murderer to lead me to Robert E. Lee. But he did. That means that one of Germany’s most unusual murder cases is also American history. And it gives me the opportunity to tell part of Robert E. Lee’s story packaged up as a historical true crime. That’s the topic of my book project.

Kent State University Press will publish Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee in its True Crime History series on September 1, 2017. If you’d like to learn more, sign up for my newsletter below. I’ll be giving you occasional updates leading up to the book’s launch date.

Now available on Amazon,  Kent State University Press, and your local bookstore. You can locate a bookstore through IndieBound.

If you’ll be in Germany any time soon, consider booking a crime scene tour with me.

Praise for Death of an Assassin

[D]ie forensische Ballistik war geboren.

— Uwe Deecke,Man weiß nie, was sich alles ergibt,” Bönnigheimer Zeitung (25 June 2019).

Wie eine historische Mordermittlung in Bönnigheim die ballistische Forschung beflügelte

— Alexander Hettich,Urknall der Kriminalistik,” Heilbronner Stimme (14 June 2019).

Eine unerhört spannende Geschichte, eingewoben in ein Zeitbild von epischer Bedeutung.  [An enormously exciting story, interwoven with a time period of epic importance.]

— Dr. Otfried Kies, “Buchbesprechungen,” Zeitschrift des Zabergäuvereins, Heft 3/4 (2018).

Her recreation of nineteenth-century Bönnigheim and its residents reads like a Jane Austen novel filled with mischievous youths, a beautiful maiden, a dutiful doctor, and even a couple of lovable sots.

— Alice E. Malavasic, Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee by Ann Marie Ackermann (review).Journal of Southern History 84, no. 3 (2018): 740-741.

Death of an Assassin satisfied on many levels. It will be of special interest to true crime and history buffs.

— Robert W. Clore, “Book Reviews: Death of an Assassin,” Germanna Foundation Newsletter (Winter 2018).

Death of an Assassin is a great, fun read, spinning intrigue with historical facts. Ackermann is an excellent writer, who knows how to spin a good tale, and this resulting monograph is the proof.

Ryan Quint, Book review for Emerging Civil War

Death of an Assassin recounts one of the most curious tales in history: a murder committed in Germany but solved in America years later.… Ackmermann does an impressive job of reconstructing the details on both sides of the affair, exhaustively tracking down names and dates through spotty records.

— Glenn Dallas, book review for the San Francisco Book Review

Death of Assassin is an entertaining look at very human characters in a world on the edge of radical change.

— Robert Davis, review for the New York Journal of Books.

Not only is this an engaging piece of history, the former prosecutor uses an appendix to present the compelling evidence and reasoning behind her identification of a 19th century German murderer. Ackerman also makes a strong case that the initial investigation may have seen the first use of forensic ballistics as a law enforcement tool.

— Tim Gebhart, review for the Seattle PI.

Having written Beating the Devil’s Game, a history of forensic science, I enjoy seeing crime historians add new chapters and correct official accounts. With this book, Ackerman establishes her place in this field.

— Katherine Ramsland, Birds, Bullets, and a Bad Guy: A Crime Historican Discovers Origins of Ballistics with a Link to Robert E. Lee, Psychology Today

An Edgar-worthy true crime masterpiece

“An Edgar-worthy true crime masterpiece of astonishing investigative skill and irresistible narrative flow. I know the term “must read” is overused, but I’m going to use it again — Ann Marie Ackermann’s new book is a must read!”

Burl Barer, NYT bestselling author of Murder in the Family and Man Overboard

A great story, bolstered by solid research

Death of an Assassin is not only a startling historical discovery but a poignant tale of heroism and redemption. With a marvelous eye for detail, Ann Marie Ackermann has navigated through long-forgotten records on both sides of the Atlantic to unearth a new and complex kind of hero — a brutish, vengful man who, perhaps out of remorse, was anxious to start a new life and redeem himself in his adopted home. It’s a great story, bolstered by solid research and told by one who is uniquely qualified to bring it to the public.”

Michael W. Kauffman, author of American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies

A story of high interest and adventure

“Ann Marie Ackermann has marvelously weaved a story of diverse themes into a single fabric of historical research and investigation. Written in a conversational style and drawing the reader into the web of mystery produces a story of high interest and adventure.”

Anthony Waskie, assistant professor, Temple University, author of Philadelphia and the Civil War

Ann Marie Ackermann has penned a fascinating account of a long-ago murder

“In her excellent work, Death of an Assassin, Ann Marie Ackermann has penned a fascinating account of a long-ago murder; a murder that should have remained tucked away somewhere in the dark archived files of history, never again to see the light of day. Thankfully for us, however, the author has not only rescued this strange tale from obscurity, but has brought to light a story that begins with the murder in Germany, and ends up in the pre-Civil War America of Robert E. Lee, where the killer begins an eventful new life.

“With a sharp eye for detail, Ackermann painstakingly reconstructs the lives of the participants from long-hidden facts, and then, having breathed life back into them, paints a vivid literary picture throughout the pages of her riveting book. It’s a tale that will pull you in from the very first page.”

Kevin M. Sullivan, author of The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History and Custer’s Road to Disaster: The Path to Little Bighorn

This is a brief, exciting, and above all unusual murder story

“The murder of the former mayor of Bönnigheim, Johann Heinrich Rieber, is one of the most spectacular criminal cases in the history of Württemberg….This is a brief, exciting, and above all unusual murder story that the former American prosecutor Ann Marie Ackermann has written for the new Ganerbenblätter of the Historical Society of Bönnigheim (vol. 37, 2014). It’s a story in which disappointment, murder, homicide, and heroism are intricately connected and nevertheless separated by a 37-year time span…. The author … has written a concise case history that illuminates an uncomfortable period of Bönnigheim history and bridges the gap to the present day.”

She recounts a fascinating and long-forgotten story from history and transforms it into a spellbinding narrative made rich with its investigative detail and extensive research.

— Jenni Herrick,  “Death of an Assassin Uncovers Strange Episode in U.S. History, Shepherd Express, October 10, 2017

The most spectacular murder case in Bönnigheim and its connection to American history

Jörg Palitzsch, Südwest Presse, Mörder flüchtet nach Amerika: Bönnigheimer Ganerbenblätter dokumentieren einen ungewöhnlichen Kriminalfall [Murderer flees to America: Bönnigheims Ganerbenblätter document an unusual criminal case], December 17, 2014

The numerous members of the Historical Society and Booster Club for the Museum in the Steinhaus felt like they were transported to a murder mystery reading when Ann Marie Ackermann gave a lecture about the most spectacular murder case in Bönnigheim and its connection to American history…. Almost exciting as her description of the crime and the attempts to solve it was [Ackermann’s] report of her detailed research and the facts she discovered. The participants thanked the speaker with a huge applause for her talk, which in the words of Kurt Sartorius, was a “carefully researched and vividly presented report of this extraordinary criminal case that made history, all the way out to America.”

— Ludwigsburger Kreiszeitung, Versammlung ist spannend wie ein Krimi [Meeting is as exciting as a murder mystery], March 20, 2015.

[An] 1835 assassination … solved 37 years later in America

“She actually wanted to write about Bönnigheim’s birdlife, but suddenly she found herself in the middle of a murder case: The former U.S.-American prosecutor Ann Marie Ackermann is researching the 1835 assassination of Bönnigheim’s mayor Johann Heinrich Rieber, which was solved 37 years later in America.”

Dorothee Kauer, Ludwigsburger Kreiszeitung, Historischer Kriminalfall: Ex-Staatsanwältin forscht über Mord an Schultheiß [Historical Criminal Case: Former Prosecutor Researches Murder of Mayor] October 10, 2014

A mysterious murder

Stone memorializes a mysterious murder: Ann Marie Ackermann guides a tour to the crime scene of Bönnigheim’s 1835 criminal case. What exactly happened on the night of October 23, 1835? [Based on] her lengthy research on the murder of former mayor Johann Heinrich Rieber, former [American] prosecutor Ann Marie Ackermann presented her results.”

— Uwe Deecke, Bietigheimer Zeitung,”Stein erinnert an mysteriösen Mordfall,”  September 29, 2015.

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You’ll find interviews with archivists, virtual crime scene tours, book reviews of my favorite books on true crime and American history. I’ll be posting YouTube videos featuring interviews with experts of me presenting the crime scene and my research. People on my Email list will have access to those videos before I make them public.


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