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Issue Date: May 2004 Issue

Criminal Element

Jennifer Haliburton

Some authors agonize over titles for their books, desperate to find that perfect word — that wonderfully evocative turn of phrase — that will intrigue readers and send their book flying off the shelves.

Fortunately for John Stark Bellamy II, author of five books documenting heinous crimes and calamities from Cleveland's history, his works, well . . . let's just say they tend to name themselves. Hence, "The Corpse in the Cellar," "The Maniac in the Bushes" and "The Killer in the Attic."

The title of Bellamy's latest book, "Death Ride at Euclid Beach" — featuring 26 accounts of Cleveland-area crimes and disasters from 1900 through 1950 — certainly wasn't inspired by your garden-variety villain. The Thriller, a roller coaster at Euclid Beach Park, made it into the collection after Bellamy remembered childhood rumors of the ride's penchant for ejecting unruly children from its cars.

"You'd be standing there in line, waiting for your first ride on the Thriller, and some older kid next to you would invariably lean down and whisper: 'You know, you'd better be really careful because yesterday, a kid stood up while the Thriller was on the big hill — and he was thrown off and killed!' " shouts Bellamy, laughing at the memory.

"I decided to look into it and see if anyone really ever had fallen off the Thriller, much less been killed," he says. "And I was delighted to find that there was some truth to this."

Bellamy, history specialist for the Cuyahoga County Public Library, has mined countless reels of microfilm of old Cleveland newspapers for his personal index of more than 12,000 tales of murder and mayhem. To inspire an eye-catching book title, Bellamy makes sure his collection is devoid of commonplace killers with run-of- the-mill motives.

"I'm interested, for example, not in the kind of woman who shoots her husband because he mistreats her. . . . I'm talking about the kind of woman who suddenly decides one day that she doesn't like that clicking noise he makes with his tongue," he says. "Or he embarrasses her with the way he slurps his soup when they're with company. . . . That's the kind of tic I look for."

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