Cover image for Tailspin : the strange case of Major Call
Tailspin : the strange case of Major Call
Publication Information:
Latham, N.Y. : British American Pub., c2002.
Physical Description:
506 p.


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book 364.1523 CON 1

On Order



Written by former FBI agent and best-selling author Bernard F. Conners, TAILSPIN is a suspenseful true crime narrative which contains stunning revelations regarding Major James Call's role as Marilyn Sheppard's killer. It has received glowing endorsements from some of the top law enforcement and literary figures in America.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

James Arlon Call was a distinguished Air Force major whose life veered off course after his wife's unexpected death in 1952: he went from career military man to career criminal. Drunk, drifting from city to city, using the spoils of his crimes to cover his gambling debts, Call committed serial burglary in the suburbs of Cleveland and upstate New York that culminated two years later in a deadly shootout with police. With his temerity and survival training, Call slipped through the East Coast dragnet (a newspaper termed him "the phantom killer of the Adirondacks") and was finally captured several months later in a Reno pawnshop. But this crime spree is not the bombshell here: tracing Call's fugitive days, Conners (Dancehall), a former FBI agent, posits that Call was in fact the notorious "bushy-haired intruder" wanted in connection with the death of Marilyn Sheppard, better known as the wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard. Marilyn's murder (and her husband's avowed innocence) provided the basis for the television show The Fugitive and its spinoff film franchise, and was recently reexamined brilliantly so and toward a different conclusion in The Wrong Man by James Neff. Part of the problem with Conners's account lies in his narration, a liberal dramatization based on the facts garnished with re-created conversations. Moreover, the Sheppard theory's evidence occurs not in the narrative but in an exhausting 150-page addendum compiled of largely circumstantial evidence, and the decision as to whether Call was involved in the murders is left to the reader's discretion. The result is a two-part book whose conclusions are far from satisfactory. 150 b&w photos. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Nearly half a century ago, in a case that still grabs headlines, Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of killing his wife, Marilyn. Sheppard steadfastly proclaimed his innocence, but even after his conviction was reversed (in 1966), the mystery lingered on: Who really killed Marilyn Sheppard? Last year, in The Wrong Man, journalist James Neff claimed to have fingered the culprit, the Sheppards' window washer, who, Neff claimed, nearly confessed to the crime while serving time for another homicide. Now comes this detailed, well-presented book by novelist and former FBI agent Conners, who points his finger at an entirely different fellow: Major James Call, the air force up-and-comer who, after his wife's death and a series of gambling losses, went AWOL, embarked on a life of crime, and--or so Conners suggests--murdered Mrs. Sheppard. Conners' case is every bit as well argued as Neff's. He amasses a persuasive array of documentary and anecdotal evidence (key reports and photographs are reproduced at the conclusion of the book), and by the end of the story, he has us thoroughly convinced. Scholarly and exciting, told with dramatic flair, this story of a good man who apparently made a conscious decision to turn bad is downright mesmerizing. Continuing interest in the Sheppard case, and ongoing debate over the Neff book, should guarantee that this latest version of a crime we can't seem to forget will be much discussed and much requested. A must for true-crime fans. --David Pitt

Library Journal Review

Major Call had it all: he was a war hero with a beautiful wife, a new baby, and a promising aviation career ahead of him. But when his wife died in 1954, Call's life went into a tailspin. Always a gambler and a risk taker, he went AWOL and began a crime spree that would end in the murder of a policeman in Lake Placid, NY. But novelist and former FBI agent Conners thinks that Call was involved in another murder and shows evidence that he was the "bushy-haired stranger" in the notorious Sheppard murder in Bay Village, OH. The book is split rather awkwardly into two parts, the first narrating Call's life from 1949 (when he met his wife) to his death in 1974 and the second offering circumstantial evidence that links him to Marilyn Sheppard's murder. Possibly, this should have been two books. But Call's life is interesting even without the speculation about the Sheppard case, and this should be considered for regional libraries and large true-crime collections. Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.