Book Review: All That Is Wicked by Kate Winkler Dawson

Edward Rulloff was a brilliant yet utterly amoral murderer—some have called him a “Victorian-era Hannibal Lecter”—whose crimes spanned decades and whose victims were chosen out of revenge, out of envy, and sometimes out of necessity. From his humble beginnings in upstate New York to the dazzling salons and social life he established in New York City, at every turn Rulloff used his intelligence and regal bearing to evade detection and avoid punishment. He could talk his way out of any crime…until one day, Rulloff’s luck ran out.

By 1871 Rulloff sat chained in his cell—a psychopath holding court while curious 19th-century “mindhunters” tried to understand what made him tick. From alienists (early psychiatrists who tried to analyze the source of his madness) to neurologists (who wanted to dissect his brain) to phrenologists (who analyzed the bumps on his head to determine his character), each one thought he held the key to understanding the essential question: is evil born or made? Eventually, Rulloff’s brain would be placed in a jar at Cornell University as the prize specimen of their anatomy collection…where it still sits today, slowly moldering in a dusty jar. But his story—and its implications for the emerging field of criminal psychology—were just beginning.

Expanded from season one of her hit podcast on the Exactly Right network (7 million downloads and growing), in All That Is Wicked Kate Winkler Dawson draws on hundreds of source materials and never-before-shared historical documents to present one of the first glimpses into the mind of a serial killer—a century before the term was coined—through the scientists whose work would come to influence criminal justice for decades to come.


With the new Dahmer show on Netflix, true crime is taking the limelight once again – and not in the most positive way. Understandable, as these shows do often set out to sensationalise and glorify the killer. If you are looking for some true crime that is interesting, well done, and inoffensive, All That Is Wicked is a great choice.

The best part of this book for me was that I had never heard of Edward Rulloff before. Everything was new to me. While he may not have been as shocking with some others true crime fans are more aware of, the book gives a wonderful look into the criminal psyche.

Another thing that I loved about this book was its setting in the mid-to-late 1800s. It was fascinating to read the similarities between police work today and then, but even more so the differences. Imagine lunch mobs sitting outside various prisons today!

If this sounds like something you might be interested in, you can purchase All That Is Wicked here.

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