BOOK REVIEW: Son of a Bandit: Jesse James & The Leeds Gang, by Ralph A. Monaco II, (Monaco Publishing, LLC, 2012), 268 pp, soft cover, $20.95.
The author is a practicing attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, a former member of the Missouri House of Representatives. He also has a passion for living history and historical presentations. He is well grounded in the history and political scene of 19th century Missouri and Kansas City. He has produced a thoughtful and insightful book about Jesse James Jr. that is a welcome addition to James gang literature.
The early part of the book recounts the early life of Jesse Jr., the death of Jesse James and the trials and tribulations of Zee James and her children after the Jesse’s death. Jesse Jr. became the provider for his family and had held a number of jobs and was at the time of the Leeds robbery, the owner of a Cigar Store in the Jackson County, Missouri court house. Jesse Jr. was well liked and respected and the Kansas City community was very shocked when he was accused of involvement in the Leeds train robbery. There is also a chapter, “K.C. at the Twilight of the 19th Century” that gives the reader a good feel for the political and social conditions that prevailed at this time.
The book continues with a chapter on the Leeds robbery and moves on to the investigation of that robbery. Jesse Jr. was soon accused as leader of the Leeds gang. Several chapters are devoted to all aspects of the trial and the acquittal. There are extensive footnotes throughout the book and these are used to provide good information about the political background, the motivation, and the methods of operation that are used by the key players throughout the legal process. It becomes very clear that the treatment of suspects, approaches to jury members by railroad detectives and other similar questionable practices would not be permitted in today’s legal environment. Times were different then!
Jesse Jr. is acquitted at the trial and the charges against all other suspects were dropped. The Prosecuting Attorney felt his strongest case was against James. When he lost that battle he dropped all other charges. Toward the end of the book it is also brought out that W. W. Lowe who had been the man who most strongly accused Jesse Jr. some years later recanted his story. Lowe claimed he had been pressured by railroad detectives to accuse Jesse Jr. of the Leeds robbery.
The final section of the book is an epilogue titled, “What Happened Next?” This part of the book summarizes the remaining years of the life of Jesse Jr. and several other members of the family. The final comment in the book is, “THE END? THE STORY OF JESSE JAMES AND HIS FAMILY WILL NEVER END.”
The book is well written and thought provoking. There are extensive footnotes, a bibliography, and index and a list of illustrations. There are a number of good photos throughout the book. There are a lot of typos in the book; someone relied on spell check a little too much. Highly recommended.