The Hunting Accident tells the story of Matt Rizzo, a man blinded as a result of a robbery, who shared a prison cell with notorious murderer Nathan Leopold, Jr. who teaches Rizzo about literature. After his release, Rizzo forms a family and informs them that his blindness is a result of a hunting accident. This decision leads to complications and the book delves deeply into the relationship between Rizzo and his son.
Carlson spoke with Paste about a number of aspects of the book, including its origin:
I was out for breakfast with my friend Charlie and he started telling me about his father Matt Rizzo. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I had heard about the Leopold [and] Loeb murder that was known as the Crime of the Century. It was fascinating enough that Charlie’s dad was Leopold’s cellmate in Stateville prison. But the more Charlie talked, the further my jaw dropped. His father was 22-years-old, no education, newly blind and suicidal. I couldn’t imagine a darker place than that 8×12-foot prison cell. So I think what drew me in was the fact in his darkest moment, the tiniest bit of light that came to him, was through the darkest criminal in the entire country at that time in history, a thrill-killer named Nathan Leopold.
And the sheer deluge of research required to delve into this material:
The writings of Matt Rizzo are housed in the archives of the Newberry Library in Chicago. And of course Charlie (Rizzo) has been a huge resource of information. We spent about six months talking about his father’s life. I also read a book Charlie gave me called The Jack-Roller. It was written by a sociologist [Clifford Shaw] in 1930 and it describes very clearly the milieu Matt grew up in on the west side of Chicago. The Leopold [and] Loeb trial happens to be one of the most documented murders in history. In 1924, newspapers were booming and reporters came to Chicago from all over the world to report about these two wealthy, educated young men who had kidnapped and murdered a 14-year-old boy in an effort to prove they could commit the perfect crime. They had been reading Nietzsche and thought they could prove to be his Ubermensch (Superman). As details came out about the two boys’ sex-for-crime pact, the salacious nature of their relationship brought worldwide attention. There were six alienists (precursor to psychologists) that examined them as part of the trial record. Three for the defense and three for the prosecution. Northwestern University houses a massive archive that includes the entire transcript of the trial. The Chicago History Museum houses an extensive collection of Leopold’s personal artifacts. Everything from the glasses he dropped at the crime scene to boxes stuffed with personal correspondence and handwritten notebooks detailing his language studies during his 33 years in prison.