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The Rope

A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP

About The Book

From New York Times bestselling author Alex Tresniowski comes a “compelling” (The Guardian) and “riveting” (The New York Times Book Review) true-crime thriller recounting the 1910 murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith, the dawn of modern criminal detection, and the launch of the NAACP.

In the tranquil seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, ten-year-old schoolgirl Marie Smith is brutally murdered. Small town officials, unable to find the culprit, call upon the young manager of a New York detective agency for help. It is the detective’s first murder case, and now, the specifics of the investigation and daring sting operation that caught the killer is captured in all its rich detail for the first time.

Occurring exactly halfway between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the formal beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1954, the brutal murder and its highly-covered investigation sits at the historic intersection of sweeping national forces—religious extremism, class struggle, the infancy of criminal forensics, and America’s Jim Crow racial violence.

History and true crime collide in this “compelling and timely” (Vanity Fair) murder mystery featuring characters as complex and colorful as those found in the best psychological thrillers—the unconventional truth-seeking detective Ray Schindler; the sinister pedophile Frank Heidemann; the ambitious Asbury Park Sheriff Clarence Hetrick; the mysterious “sting artist,” Carl Neumeister; the indomitable crusader Ida Wells; and the victim, Marie Smith, who represented all the innocent and vulnerable children living in turn-of-the-century America.

“Brisk and cinematic” (The Wall Street Journal), The Rope is an important piece of history that gives a voice to the voiceless and resurrects a long-forgotten true crime story that speaks to the very divisions tearing at the nation’s fabric today.

About The Author

Photograph by Lorraine Stundis

Alex Tresniowski is a writer and bestselling author who lives and works in New York. He was a writer for both Time and People magazines, handling mostly human-interest stories. He is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. For more about this story and the author, please visit

Product Details

  • Publisher: 37 Ink (February 9, 2021)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982114046

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Raves and Reviews

"Brisk and cinematic writing...the stories are so vividly told, so filled with velocity."Wall Street Journal

"[A] riveting read" – New York Times Book Review

"Compelling" – The Guardian

“This thrilling true crime story documents a critical chapter in the crusade against racial violence in America.” – Publisher’s Weekly

"Gripping and powerful, The Rope is an important piece of history that gives a voice to the voiceless and resurrects a long-forgotten true crime story that speaks to the very divisions tearing at the nation’s fabric today." — Book Reporter

"This suspenseful, well-written true-crime tale will be an eye-opener for anyone who assumes that after Reconstruction, lynching remained a serious threat only in the South. High-velocity historical true crime." — Kirkus Reviews

"Journalist and author Tresniowski details[s] the life and career of anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, and her work with the newly formed NAACP as they launched their first legal battles to defend wrongly-accused victims... The parallel stories are engrossing, and the action continues apace as the two strands come together. The satisfying conclusion describes the trial and its aftermath, and fills in the later lives of Williams, Tarbell, and Schindler. An indictment of lynching on a stark, personal level." — Booklist

“Tresniowski breathes life into a largely forgotten murder mystery in this gripping true crime story… An important reminder of the many layers of injustice still present in the United States… Timely, relevant.”—Library Journal

"In this riveting true story, Alex Tresniowski tells the intertwined stories of a crusading reporter, an innovative detective, and a man unjustly imprisoned... You’ll read this in a night, I promise!" —Crime Reads, 2021 Most Anticipated Books of the Year

"There are some parts here that’ll make you gasp with cliff-hanging movie-worthiness, and reach for more.. Why you’ll devour The Rope should be no mystery." The Philadelphia Tribune

“Fascinating, important and colorfully reported. When a white detective and a former slave work separately but toward the same goal in an unspeakable murder case in 1910– justice is served. Their moral audacity and persistence highlight a question relevant to today: what kind of America do we want to live in?” - Walter Isaacson, author of New York Times bestsellers Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci

"In Alex Tresniowski’s brilliant and kaleidoscopic retelling of the infamous Marie Smith murder investigation, we see crack detectives, the bravery of anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, and a civil rights organization gaining its footing, all linked in an effort to bend justice unto a white child - and a black man. Asbury Park is riveting and quite relevant for the society which we inhabit today." - Wil Haygood, author of Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America

“This book is a timely and powerful history lesson wrapped inside a compelling true crime thriller. It examines the persistent and devastating inequalities between races in America, but also highlights the heroism of activists who fought to bend the country away from hate and toward justice. It takes a unique look at the early days of the NAACP by drilling into the courageous and often unheralded efforts of Ida B. Wells, a writer turned revolutionary who believed mere protests were not enough to challenge entrenched racist practices like Jim Crow, Black Codes and lynching, and whose bold actions laid the groundwork for a century of black American activism. Vividly and dramatically told, this story of two ordinary citizens who refused to buckle under the weight of systemic racism and instead struggled mightily to spare a single black life, is especially relevant and powerful in today’s regressive political times.” – Ben Jealous, former NAACP President

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