Patricia Highsmith is born

On this day, crime novelist Patricia Highsmith is born in Forth Worth, Texas. Highsmith, who wrote some 20 novels and seven short story collections, examined the darkest sides of human nature and frequently portrayed a world chillingly free of morality or consequences.

Highsmith had an unhappy childhood. Her parents separated several months before her birth, and she spent her earliest years with her maternal grandmother, who taught her to read before Highsmith was two years old. Highsmith’s mother remarried and brought Highsmith to New York when the girl was about six. Her mother and stepfather frequently fought bitterly, and Highsmith developed a strong dislike for both.

Highsmith began writing chilling stories in high school: One story, about a murderous nanny, was rejected by her high school’s literary magazine. She studied English at Barnard College, then took a job writing comic book scripts. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, was rejected by six publishers before appearing in print in 1950. Alfred Hitchcock directed a 1951 film version of the movie, scripted by Raymond Chandler. Although Highsmith was paid only $7,000 for the film rights, it was enough to support her writing full time.

As a writer, Highsmith was far more interested in the psychology of her characters than she was in writing typical detective stories. In fact, her favorite character, charming murderer Tom Ripley, is never caught and indeed finds fortune and prosperity from his string of murders. Ripley first appeared in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1957) and starred in four more novels, the last of which, Ripley Under Water, was published in 1991.

Highsmith spent most of her adult life living abroad, eventually settling in Switzerland after stints in the United Kingdom, Italy, and France. She never married and lived alone, except for her many cats. An animal lover, she wrote an entire short story collection, The Animal Lover’s Book of Beastly Murders (1975), in which animals avenge themselves on their human owners. Highsmith died in Switzerland at age 74.


First air raid on Britain

During World War I, Britain suffers its first casualties from an air attack when two German zeppelins drop bombs on Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn on the eastern coast of England. The zeppelin, a motor-driven rigid airship, was developed by German inventor Ferdinand Graf von more

Butcher of Lyons arrested in Bolivia

Klaus Barbie, the Nazi Gestapo chief of Lyons, France, during the German occupation, is arrested in Bolivia for his crimes against humanity four decades earlier. As chief of Nazi Germany’s secret police in occupied France, Barbie sent thousands of French Jews and French more

Edgar Allan Poe is born

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Operation McLain is launched

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Eisenhower cautions successor about Laos

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Ford pardons Tokyo Rose

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Mexican rebels kill Charles Bent

Angered by the abusive behavior of American soldiers occupying the city, Mexicans in Taos strike back by murdering the American-born New Mexican governor Charles Bent. The eldest of four brothers who all became prominent frontiersmen, Charles Bent began his involvement with the more

Production begins on Toy Story

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Fog leads to deadly collision in North Sea

Heavy fog in the North Sea causes the collision of two steamers and the death of 357 people on this day in 1883. The Cimbria was a 330-foot, 3,000-ton steamship built in 1867 and operated by the Hamburg-Amerika Line. It left Hamburg, Germany, on January 18 with 302 passengers and more

Man charged in California cyberstalking case

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Communist China recognizes North Vietnam

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Robert E. Lee born

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Battle of Logan’s Crossroads

On this day in 1862, at the Battle of Logan’s Cross Roads, Union General George Thomas defeats Confederates commanded by George Crittenden in southern Kentucky. The battle, also called Mill Springs or Beech Grove, secured Union control of the region and resulted in the death of more