Year
1956

Best-selling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell is born

On this day in 1956, one of the world’s top-selling crime novelists, Patricia Cornwell, best known for her forensic pathologist character Dr. Kay Scarpetta, is born in Miami, Florida.

Cornwell, whose maiden name is Daniels, had a difficult childhood: When she was 5, her father, a lawyer, left the family. Afterward, Cornwell moved with her mother and two brothers to Montreat, North Carolina. There, her mother was hospitalized for mental illness, forcing Cornwell and her brothers to spend time in foster care. Cornwell graduated from Davidson College in 1979, married her college professor and became a reporter for the Charlotte Observer, eventually covering the police beat. She went on to work for six years as a technical writer and computer analyst in the chief medical examiner’s office in Richmond, Virginia.

After multiple rejections from publishers, Cornwell’s first novel, “Postmortem,” was released in 1990. The book features Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the brainy, murder-solving medical examiner. “Postmortem” was a hit, and Cornwell has since penned 18 other top sellers starring Scarpetta. Known for meticulous research and grisly detail in her writing, Cornwell attends autopsies and interviews forensic scientists and law-enforcement professionals to keep up with the latest procedures and technology. She’s also learned to pilot helicopters, shoot guns and scuba dive because her characters do. Her books have been credited with helping to inspire such TV shows as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Cold Case.”

In addition to the Scarpetta series, Cornwell has written novels featuring journalist-turned-cop Andy Brazil and state police investigator Win Garano, along with several cookbooks and a children’s book. In 2002, the blockbuster author published “Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed,” based on her own intensive investigation into the notorious, never-captured 19th century London serial killer, who she believes was the British artist Walter Sickert.

Cornwell’s personal life has occasionally read like the pages of a crime thriller. In 1992, the writer, then divorced, had a brief affair with married FBI agent Margo Bennett. Four years later, Bennett’s estranged husband Eugene, an ex-FBI agent who blamed the affair for the breakup of his marriage, launched an (ultimately unsuccessful) plot to murder his wife. Today, Cornwell, whose crime fiction has earned her an estimated $100 million, travels with bodyguards and is known for her philanthropy, donating millions to forensic research and animal rescue, among other causes.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Cartier discovers St. Lawrence River

French navigator Jacques Cartier becomes the first European explorer to discover the St. Lawrence River in present-day Quebec, Canada. In 1534, Cartier was commissioned by King Francis I of France to explore the northern American lands in search of riches and the rumored ...read more

Secretariat wins Triple Crown

With a spectacular victory at the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat becomes the first horse since Citation in 1948 to win America’s coveted Triple Crown–the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. In one of the finest performances in ...read more

South Vietnamese soldiers reach An Loc

Part of a relief column composed mainly of South Vietnamese 21st Division troops finally arrives in the outskirts of An Loc. The division had been trying to reach the besieged city since April 9, when it had been moved from its normal station in the Mekong Delta and ordered to ...read more

CIA report challenges “domino theory”

In reply to a formal question submitted by President Lyndon B. Johnson–“Would the rest of Southeast Asia necessarily fall if Laos and South Vietnam came under North Vietnamese control?”–the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) submits a memo that effectively challenges the “domino ...read more

Secretariat wins Triple Crown

On this day in 1973, Secretariat wins the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. Secretariat ran the mile-and-a-half race in 2:24, a world record that many believe will never be broken. Secretariat, the son of Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal, ...read more

Patricia Cornwell is born

Bestselling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, creator of crime-solving medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, is born on this day in Miami, Florida. Cornwell’s family moved to North Carolina when she was seven, shortly after her parents divorced. Her mother had a nervous breakdown when ...read more

Cole Porter is born

On this day in 1891, the great composer and lyricist Cole Porter—one of the most important American songwriters of the 20th century—is born in Peru, Indiana. Cole Porter’s legal birth certificate actually gives 1893 as the year of his birth rather than 1891, but that was a change ...read more

“Hollywood madam” arrested

On this day in 1993, the now-infamous madam-to-the-stars Heidi Fleiss is arrested as part of a sting operation run by the Los Angeles Police and Beverly Hills Police Departments and the U.S. Justice Department. In the 1980s, Fleiss’ then-boyfriend introduced her to the leading ...read more

Flash flood hits Rapid City

A flash flood in Rapid City, South Dakota, kills more than 200 people on this day in 1972. This flood demonstrated the danger of building homes and businesses in a floodplain region. The native Sioux called the river Minnelusa when European settlers overtook the Black Hills ...read more

Joseph McCarthy meets his match

In a dramatic confrontation, Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, lashes out at Senator Joseph McCarthy during hearings on whether communism has infiltrated the U.S. armed forces. Welch’s verbal assault marked the end of McCarthy’s power during the anticommunist ...read more

“Cars” released

On this day in 2006, the animated feature film “Cars,” produced by Pixar Animation Studios, roars into theaters across the United States. For “Cars,” which won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Pixar’s animators created an alternate America inhabited by ...read more