Marilyn Stasio: Review of Ginger Strand's "Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate"

Marilyn Stasio is the Crime columnist for the Book Review.

What would highway killers do without highways?

In 1956, Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, authorizing the construction of 42,795 miles of an interstate road system. In 1958, while the first stretch of highway (I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.) was still under construction, America’s first highway killer, 19-year-old Charles Starkweather — who already had one murder under his belt — jumped into his ­secondhand Ford with his 14-year-old girlfriend and hit the road on a killing spree that began in Nebraska, ended in Wyoming and left 10 people dead.

Coincidence? Ginger Strand thinks not. In “Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate,” Strand, the author of “Inventing Niagara,” draws startling parallels between the inexorable advance of the Interstate System and the proliferation of killers who were pathologically stimulated by that long, open road. By transforming established travel habits, the new highways certainly enabled the swift and anonymous mobility conducive to criminal behavior. But speed and anonymity are precisely the features that make highway travel attractive, so it was inevitable that the nation should have reservations about its new roads....

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