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The Belle of Bedford AvenueThe Belle of Bedford Avenue

The Sensational Brooks-Burns Murder in Turn-of-the-Century New York

Virginia A. McConnell

Narrated by Lee Ann Howlett

Available from Audible

Book published by The Kent State University Press

At the turn of the 20th century, many affluent Brooklyn teens and young adults were bucking the constraints of their immigrant parents and behaving badly: drinking, having sex, staying out all night, stealing, scamming local businesses—and even more serious activities. The culmination for twenty-year-old Walter Brooks was being murdered in a seedy Manhattan hotel in 1902.

The ensuing court case was front-page news throughout the country. The hearings featured testimony about these young people’s secret lives, which shocked parents and inspired much editorial commentary in the newspapers. From start to finish, the case was viewed as a cautionary tale for parents, for boys who could be led astray, and for girls who risked their reputations to be popular.

Set against the colorful backdrop of Coney Island, roadhouses, forbidden dance halls, and vaudeville, The Belle of Bedford Avenue follows the young woman at the heart of the case from her trial for the murder of Walter Brooks to her adulthood.

The crime itself, interestingly, occurred in the location of Ground Zero and today’s September 11 memorial. The trial was conducted by William Travers Jerome, who went on to become a legendary New York City prosecutor.

Virginia A. McConnell is an acclaimed writer of historical true crime books, including Arsenic under the Elms: Murder in Victorian New Haven, Sympathy for the Devil: The Emmanuel Baptist Murders of Old San Francisco, and The Adventuress: Murder, Blackmail, and Confidence Games in the Gilded Age.


“Everybody loves a bad girl ― in crime stories, if not in life. One person who meets that description is Florence Burns, the subject of Virginia A. McConnell’s juicy biography, The Belle of Bedford Avenue: The Sensational Brooks-Burns Murder in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Coming of age at the turn of the 20th century, the American-born sons and daughters of immigrants were not so keen on living by the austere moral codes their parents brought over from the home countries. There were so many amusing enticements in New York City: dance halls, gin mills and roadhouses for the adventures, the amusements at Coney Island for excitement, and fast cars with darkened back seats for sex.... McConnell’s droll speculation offers a fair example of her extremely readable writing style, which is often sharp, but never nasty. She doesn’t even make a big deal out of Florence’s habit of carrying a gun in her muff ― maybe not to the trial, but years later, she drew a piece from her muff and challenged the officer who was trying to arrest her: 'One false move and there’ll be one less cop.' Spoken like a true lady.”

The New York Times Book Review

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University Press Audiobooks