by John Marr
True Detective, the original fact crime magazine, ceased publication in the summer of 1995 after Rees Communications sold it to Globe Communications, publisher of tabloids The Globe and The National Examiner. Few people noticed.
As True Detective Mysteries, True Detective initiated the fact crime magazine genre in 1924. It was the unlikely brainchild of eccentric publisher Benarr Macfadden, pioneering health faddist and founder of numerous magazines including Physical Culture and True Story. The magazine initially published fictionalized accounts, but abandoned these in favor of a winning formula of factual, no-nonsense accounts of crime and detection. Its success spawned dozens of imitators: during the 1930s and 1940s, some 200 titles flooded the stands, titillating the public with stories like "Crimson Pursuit of Missouri's Mad Terrorists," "The Mutilation Monster," and "Tragedy of the Passionate Paramour." At one point, True Detective alone was selling two million copies a month.
While it never had any literary pretensions, in its golden age True Detective published early work from many now-famous writers, including Dashiell Hammett and Jim Thompson. In the layout department, a young artist named Charles Addams toiled away, retouching gory photos. Addams later said he found the task distasteful: "A lot of those corpses were kind of interesting the way they were."
Though widely praised by law enforcement (J. Edgar Hoover claimed to be a charter subscriber), True Detective never shied from controversy. Its 1931 serialization of "I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang," a scathing indictment of Georgia's convict labor system, led to nationwide reforms of the penal system.
After the war, things were never the same. Both the number of magazine titles and total sales figures diminished through the 1950s and 1960s as competition from paperbacks and television steadily ate away at the fact crime magazine audience. Although True Detective continued to launch successful careersveterans of the 1970s include true crime writers Ann Rule and Gary King and mystery writer Joseph Koenigthe golden age was over.
By the mid 1980s, Rees and Globe had the pale remnants of a once great genre to themselves. As former True Detective managing editor Marc Gerald sadly recalls, "...our readership of blue hairs, shut-ins, Greyhound bus riders, cops and ax murderers was old and dying fast." And so was the quality of the magazine itself. Ann Rule, probably the most successful True Detective alumnus, regretfully notes that the magazines "...had become tame and lackluster. There are, tragically, still horrific and psychologically interesting murders, but True Detective just didn't seem to cover them any longer."
It may have been profitable right up to the end, but True Detective had long since vanished from the national consciousness. True Detective's absence may be felt, but few people will even know what they're missing. </end>
John Marr is the editor of Murder Can Be Fun and a frequent contributor to STIM. He lives in San Francisco.