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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Big Midget Murders

cover image By: Rice, Craig (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) (female)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (528)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 360: PS3535 .I2217 B54 1948
Contributor: K. Quinlivan


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Craig Rice Geographic Locale: Chicago, Illinois Date of Publication: 1948  |  Original Date: 1942 Setting: urban; nightclub casino, bars, upscale hotels and apartments Motives: revenge, hatred, murder

Plot Summary

Jay Otto, better known as the Big Midget, is the star of the show at Jake Justus's new nightclub until the night Otto is found dead in his dressing room, strangled by someone who used eleven silk stockings for a noose. Jake, his wife Helene, and their lawyer friend John J. Malone discover Otto's body and decide to temporarily conceal his corpse in a bass fiddle case, hoping to avoid any adverse publicity for their nightclub. When they return to remove Otto's body, it has mysteriously disappeared, only to resurface several hours later in the midget's own bed with the empty fiddle case parked outside the door to the Justus's apartment. Operating on very little sleep, but plenty of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, Jake, Helene and Malone use their best amateur detective skills to determine who murdered Jay Otto and two additional murder victims whose deaths also feature silk stockings.

Major Characters

John J. Malone adult male, middle-aged, black hair, clever, witty, permanently short of cash, criminal lawyer

Jake Justus adult male, tall, red hair, freckles, former journalist and press agent turned nightclub owner

Helene Brand Justus adult female, beautiful, blonde, socialite, wife of Jake Justus, enjoys playing amateur detective

Daniel von Flanagan adult male, police captain who never really wanted to be a cop, dreams of retiring to a pecan grove

Jay Otto adult male, midget, ill-tempered stage performer and expert mimic, masterminded a phony marriage-annulment racket

Mildred Goldsmith adult female, blonde hair, blue-violet eyes, chorus girl married to slot-machine king

Johnny Oscar adult male, gambler, involved in a marriage-annulment scheme

Allswell McJackson adult male, ugly, huge, Jay Otto's personal assistant, amateur magician

Max Hook adult male, tall, fat, bald, gambling boss with a financial interest in the casino

Al Omega adult male, handsome, orchestra leader

Ruth Rawlson adult female, tall, thin, once beautiful Follies showgirl now a middle-aged alcoholic

Betty Royal adolescent female, 17 years old, brown hair, pale complexion, beautiful debutante

Annette Ginnis adult female, blonde hair, brown eyes, small heart-shaped face, 21 years old, chorus showgirl

Ned Royal adult male, slender, light brown hair, watery blue eyes, Betty's older brother, wealthy, obnoxious

Pen Reddick adult male, dark eyes, square jaw, serious, heir to a large family fortune

Artie Clute adult male, short, chubby, curly yellow hair, musician at the casino, likes to gamble

Angela Doll adult female, brown hair, temperamental, strip tease artist


silk stockings (hanging), poison

Level of Violence

three people are strangled with silk stockings, but the murders occur off-stage and are described with a minimum of detail. In one scene, Jake is knocked unconscious after getting hit on the head; in another, Helene is trapped briefly in a basement.


since the action occurs during a period of just two days, there is little time for sexual activity of any kind, other than a few brief references to holding hands and dreaming about what might happen later. Malone secretly fantasizes about reviving the youthful charms of his old flame, Ruth Rawlson.

Gender Roles

traditional; the only careers for women are related to the nightclub. Most female characters are described as strong and intelligent, particularly Helene Justus. The men frequently display physical strength but seem to lack a solid emotional core.


all of the characters are presumably European-Americans; Malone's Irish heritage lends itself to several references related to leprechauns and legends. Detective von Flanagan deliberately added the "von" to his surname so that it would sound less like that of a stereotypical Irish cop.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

everyone drinks alcohol and smokes frequently. Malone is especially fond of whiskey and cigars. Despite his drinking, Malone is relatively unaffected by the vast quantities of alcohol he consumes. Years of heavy drinking have turned Ruth Rawlson into an alcoholic, but Malone understands and is tolerant of her condition. Victims are rendered unconscious by mixing knockout drops with alcohol.

Law Enforcement

the Chicago police, represented by von Flanagan, are depicted as honest and well-intentioned, if somewhat cynical and bumbling. Although he complains loudly and often about fate having handed him a raw deal, von Flanagan likes both the Justuses and Malone, and he is willing to cut the amateur detectives some slack in order to solve the case.

Added Features

humor is evident in the snappy dialogue, and Malone's mixed aphorisms (e.g. "You can go jump off a kite.") are scattered throughout the text.

Subject Headings

Illinois - Chicago/ Murder/ Revenge/ Law and Lawyers/ Dwarfs

Psychological Elements

born into a wealthy family, the midget was sent to a farm while still a small child to avoid a scandal to the family name. He grew up angry and resentful that he had been hidden away, hating the fact that he was different and hating what his family had done to him. Malone plans to use an insanity plea as his defense, claiming that the murderer suffered from a persecution complex.