It was nearly the end of the school year in Bath, Michigan, on May 18, 1927. Some lucky seniors were already finished with school while others were practicing for graduation exercises or taking exams. All were unaware that local farmer Andrew Kehoe, disgruntled from paying property tax for the school, had wired surplus explosives from WW I in the school basement. He set the crude timer for 9:45am and walked away into history as the perpetrator of America’s worst school massacre.
I first learned about the Bath School Disaster while reading about another school explosion, Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History. (If you ever want to know why natural gas is rotten egg-scented, this is the book for you.) I remember thinking, how could I not know about a Michigan farmer, unhinged about paying property taxes, blowing up a school with children in it?! But I had never heard of Andrew Kehoe and his deadly act of bitterness and revenge.
Learning the facts
Let’s face it, Wikipedia doesn’t always satisfy, so I was genuinely excited that one of my favorite true crime authors, Harold Schechter, was coming out with Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer. At last I’d be getting the definitive account of a jaw dropping crime I’ve long been curious about. I’ll be frank, this book did not live up to my expectations. Not only does it feel padded but worse, it feels soulless. I felt little emotional connection with Kehoe’s dozens of victims and still feel complete bewilderment as to why Kehoe committed this heinous act.
Why, then, am I recommending Maniac? First, the Bath School Disaster deserves to be more well-known and despite its shortcomings, Schechter reliably gives the facts of the crime. Second, what I did find fascinating was Schechter’s own thoughts on why some crimes become overblown CRIME OF THE CENTURY tabloid fodder and other equally terrible crimes like the Bath School Disaster, fade into obscurity. Finally, Schechter is correct that we have entered the age of mass killings and Andrew Kehoe’s unthinkable act of mass murder in 1927 seems sadly relevant today.