“In this mesmerizing account, Weinman does a masterly job resurrecting a stranger-than-fiction chapter in American criminal justice…. [An] instant classic.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)


How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free
US edition (hardcover)
February 22, 2022
Knopf Canada
‎ 9780735272767
February 22, 2022
Canadian ebook edition (ebook)
Knopf Canada
February 22, 2022
From the author of The Real Lolita and editor of Unspeakable Acts, the astonishing story of a murderer who conned the people around him—including conservative thinker William F. Buckley—into helping set him free

In the 1960s, Edgar Smith, on New Jersey’s death row for the murder of teenager Victoria Zielinski, struck up a correspondence with William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review. Buckley, who refused to believe that a man who supported the conservative movement could have committed such a heinous crime, began to advocate not only for Smith’s life to be spared but also for his sentence to be overturned.

So begins a bizarre and tragic tale of mid-century America. Sarah Weinman’s Scoundrel leads us through the twists of fate and fortune that brought Smith to freedom, book deals, fame, and eventually to attempting murder again. In Smith, Weinman has uncovered a psychopath who slipped his way into public acclaim and acceptance before crashing down to earth once again.

From the people Smith deceived—Buckley, the book editor who published his work, friends from back home, and the women who loved him—to Americans who were willing to buy into his lies, Weinman explores who in our world is accorded innocence, and how the public becomes complicit in the stories we tell one another.

Scoundrel shows, with clear eyes and sympathy for all those who entered Smith’s orbit, how and why he was able to manipulate, obfuscate, and make a mockery of both well-meaning people and the American criminal justice system. It tells a forgotten part of American history at the nexus of justice, prison reform, and civil rights, and exposes how one man’s ill-conceived plan to set another man free came at the great expense of Edgar Smith’s victims.

Praise for Scoundrel

“[A] strange and compelling tale. . . . [Scoundrel] is a psychologically fascinating must-read for true-crime buffs.” —Booklist (starred review)”
“Wholly compelling reading from an author well versed in the true-crime genre.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In this mesmerizing account, Weinman does a masterly job resurrecting a stranger-than-fiction chapter in American criminal justice…. [An] instant classic.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Enthralling…. The book is a must-read for true crime fans, but it will appeal to nonfiction readers across genres for its thrilling blend of crime, media, and politics in mid-century America…. An immediately absorbing story.” – Library Journal (starred review)”
“Sarah Weinman has taken a minor footnote in American history—conservative icon William F. Buckley’s strange friendship with (and advocacy for) a convicted murderer—and spun a breathtaking narrative about the criminal justice system, betrayal, and our culture of celebrity. Brilliantly reported and immensely readable, Scoundrel is a smart social commentary with all the twisted pleasures of a psychological thriller. I defy you to put it down." —Abbott Kahler, New York Times bestselling author (as Karen Abbott) of Sin and the Second City and The Ghosts of Eden Park
“In the court of public opinion, a woman who devotes herself to freeing an imprisoned murderer, only to regret unleashing a sociopath on society, is often judged a victim of her own desperation as much as a man’s manipulation, but what about the eminent public intellectual who uses his platform to do the same thing? Sarah Weinman defies the genre of true crime in this extraordinary book about a cause célèbre gone terribly wrong.” —Alexis Coe, New York Times bestselling author of You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington and Alice & Freda Forever
“Scoundrel is a thoroughly mesmerizing work of true crime and American history, and Sarah Weinman leaves no stone unturned in this extraordinary story of empathy, betrayal, celebrity, and the criminal justice system.” —Gilbert King, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Devil in the Grove