Helltown: The Untold Story of a Cape Cod Serial Killer by Casey Sherman (Sourcebooks)
True crime is on everyone’s lips these days. Books, movies, documentaries, streaming series, podcasts — even streaming series about podcasts — are ubiquitous as Americans continue to obsess over the genre.
Author Casey Sherman is no stranger to true crime, having written books about mobster Whitey Bulger, the Boston Strangler and the assassination of John Lennon.
Raised on Cape Cod, Sherman returns to both his true criminal roots and his hometown in his latest work.
Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod focuses on the case of Antone “Tony” Costa, a counterculture figure convicted of the 1969 murder of two women from Providence, Rhode Island and in At least two other murders are suspected in the tourist hotspot of Massachusetts.
The Costa case was sensational at the time due to the grotesque nature of the murders, which took place in such an idyllic setting – authorities say Costa had sex with the bodies, cut them up and buried the remains in holes he dug in a wooded area would have . But it was quickly eclipsed later that year when followers of another counterculture guru, Charles Manson, butchered pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in Southern California.
While much has been written about Manson and his “family,” Sherman sheds light on the lesser-known Costa murders, and he does so in a unique and compelling way.
“‘Helltown’ is a work of fact told with elements of fictional storytelling,” Sherman writes in the author’s note, adding that he “never married journalism to narrative storytelling.”
And he does so to great effect. “Helltown” – the nickname given to the Cape Cod community of Provincetown in the 17th century for drinking, gambling and other vices common at the time – reads like a novel.
Sherman not only places readers before, during, and after the Cape murders, but also places them inside Costa’s troubled mind. And he beautifully develops a variety of characters beyond the killer, including Costa’s “students,” the police who eventually discover his wrongdoing, and the attorneys who fight it out during the 1970 murder trial. Not to mention American literary icons Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, both Cape Cod residents, who are mesmerized by Costa’s brutality.
The whodunit portion of the book is perhaps the most impactful. First, law enforcement is trying to find out what happened to missing 23-year-old friends Patricia Walsh and Mary Ann Wysocki, an elementary school teacher and college student respectively, who were visiting Provincetown over the weekend. And later the game of cat and mouse between the police and Costa after the gruesome discovery of their bodies.
Helltown is an immersive and captivating journey into the mind of a serial killer. Sherman relied in part on an unpublished manuscript by Costa, who hanged himself in a Massachusetts prison in 1974.
“Unfortunately, most of what you read here actually happened,” Sherman writes.
And is designed in such a way that most true crime fans should be satisfied.
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