Book Review: Star Spangled Scandal; Sex, Murder, and the Trial That Changed America

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Regnery History

Editor’s Note: This is a true story of murder and a trial that changed America. Yes, this brought us the “insanity defense.”  America was just on the brink of the Civil War and political tension was growing. Treated in the current typical newspaper fashion, all reporting was designed to titillate and America began the modern media frenzy of reporting with all realms of gossip and true crime addressed.  The headline of ” A Member of Congress Kills the Seducer of his Wife” rang out during this time and the surprising verdict of the trial shocked all…Carol

Star Spangled Scandal: Sex, Murder, and the Trial That Changed America. By Chris DeRose (Regnery History; June 25, 2019; $29.99).

Excerpt from the book:

“It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon in Washington. Two gentlemen in top hats encountered one another. “How do you do?” asked Barton Key, extending his hand. “Villain, you have defiled my bed,” said Daniel Sickles. He pointed a pistol at Key and fired. “Murder!” cried Key, United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. “Don’t shoot me. Don’t murder me.” Key’s cries went unheeded. There was another shot. Key fell to the ground. Sickles advanced on him slowly and fired again. Key lay mortally wounded on his back. His killer stood triumphantly over his body.”   Applause!

Star Spangled Scandal:Sex, Murder, and the Trial that Changed America

This is the true story of the murder and trial that sparked a national debate on madness, male honor, female virtue, fidelity, and the rule of law. It is two years before the Civil War, and Congressman Daniel Sickles and his lovely wife Teresa are popular fixtures in Washington, D.C. society. Their house sits on Lafayette Square across from White House grounds, and the president himself is godfather to the Sickles’ six-year-old daughter. Because Congressman Sickles is frequently out of town, he trusts his friend, U.S. Attorney Philip Barton Key—son of Francis Scott Key—to escort the beautiful Mrs. Sickles to parties in his absence. Revelers in D.C. are accustomed to the sight of the congressman’s wife with the tall, Apollo-like Philip Barton Key, who is considered “the handsomest man in all Washington society… foremost among the popular men of the capital.”

…Then one day an anonymous note sets into motion a tragic course of events that culminates in a shocking murder in broad daylight in Lafayette Square…

Star Spangled Scandal Explores:

  • Why the “insanity defense” changed America
  • Who sent the mysterious letter
  • Why the story invented the 24/7 news cycle
  • The shocking firsthand diary and journal entries which impacted the case

About the author: Chris DeRose is the national bestselling author of The President’s War. Congressman Lincoln, and Founding Rivals. He was formerly senior litigation counsel to the Arizona attorney general, a professor of Constitutional and International Law, and clerk of the Supreme Court of Maricopa County. DeRose sits on the board of director’s for the Abraham Lincoln Association and the board of scholarly advisors for President Lincoln’s Cottage. He and his wife, Dr. Hannah Derose, live in Phoenix.


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