True crime with a side of dessert

Cakes are a natural accompaniment to murders most foul.

Robert Stroud, who killed a man for underpaying a sex worker in Juneau in 1909, is the subject of the first “Death, With Dessert” lecture held by a pair of retired Juneau reporters. (Courtesy photo / Betsey Longenbaugh and Ed Schoenfeld)

Robert Stroud, who killed a man for underpaying a sex worker in Juneau in 1909, is the subject of the first “Death, With Dessert” lecture held by a pair of retired Juneau reporters. (Courtesy photo / Betsey Longenbaugh and Ed Schoenfeld)

Beginning on Jan. 22, a pair of former Juneau journalists will help guests time travel back to 1909 – with the help of delicious cake.

Ed Schoenfeld and Betsy Longenbaugh are restarting their series of true crime discussions, called “Death, with Dessert,” similar to a series they hosted before the pandemic.

“We did three ‘Death by Chocolate’ shows at the (Juneau-Douglas) City Museum,” Longenbaugh said in a phone interview. “That last one was about two weeks before the city shut down for COVID.”

[Jury selection begins in Yakutat killing trial]

The series will begin with a presentation on Robert Stroud, otherwise known as the Birdman of Alcatraz for his ornithology habit. Stroud, in his capacity as a pimp, murdered a client who had shorted one of his employees on recompense for her services.

“We were really interested in the gap between reality and myth,” Longenbaugh said. “He was really a despicable person. But Thomas Gaddis wrote a very sympathetic portrait.

In “Death by Chocolate,” Longenbaugh and Schoenfeld exhaustively researched three murders that occurred in Juneau in the early 1900s. For “Death, with Dessert,” they’ve branched out slightly, covering two Juneau murders and a dismemberment in Sitka.

“It was a woman who chopped up her husband and threw him out the window not really understanding tides. This was in 1957,” Longenbaugh said. “I grew up in Sitka. I knew there had been a dismemberment, Actually, there’s been a couple. This is the old one.”

The third will focus on the killing of a sex worker in Douglas in 1916, Longenbaugh said, which led to the closing of what was termed “The Restricted District,” where sex workers habitually plied their trade.

“A lot of prostitutes were killed in Juneau. But they often weren’t sex crimes. They were killed for their wealth. People would steal from them. And sometimes kill them,” Schoenfeld said. “Most of them weren’t under the thumb of a pimp. Most of them were independent business women.”

Longenbaugh and Schoenfeld say they research their topics exhaustively, spending hours gathering data and preparing their presentation.

“It takes 200 hours per show, maybe more,” Schoenfeld laughed. “This is not how you make money.”

[A walk down murderous memory lane]

They pull from sources like the Alaska State Archives, genealogy sites, newspapers preserved in the Library of Congress, court documents, and the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Longenbaugh said it’s easier to research those long dead than killings where the wound, so to speak, is still fresh.

“I find it very difficult to look at too-contemporaneous stories because there are still people who are deeply affected by it. We look at stories where everybody would be dead anyway,” Longenbaugh said. “It’s sometimes just a little too raw. It became too small a town to be talking about these contemporaneous stories. What I find really interesting about these older stories the puzzle: what happened, and why.”

This series of lectures, along with the accompanying desserts and question and answer session, is being held to benefit Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, just as the last series benefited the city museum, Schoenfeld said. There will be an option for ticket-buyers to video in; Longenbaugh said they may go that way for the entire presentation based on the COVID-19 numbers in the community.

“We’re going to offer it as an option for sure,” Longenbaugh said. “We may decide to go that way for the whole route. It’ll be a takeout desert; you’ll still get your cake.”

The cakes are made by their daughter Maggie Schoenfeld under the auspices of her business Treadwell Kitchen. No matter if the presentation is in-person or distanced, there will be cakes, Ed Schoenfeld said.

“We’re still only going to sell 30 tickets because we only have 30 cakes,” Ed Schoenfeld said.

The first show will be held at McPhetres Hall on Jan. 22 from 3-5 p.m. Tickets for all three presentations are available at http://trinityjuneau.org/dessert.php

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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