Vintage Men's Mags #4: The Detective Magazine

In 1924 Bernarr Macfadden launched True Detective Mysteries. It flourished, attracted hosts of imitators, and established a new genre that for many years was one of the mostly widely read categories of American magazines. But as television grew into our main source of crime news, detective magazines went into decline and today are virtually extinct. In their 75-year wake, they left a vast—largely untapped—body of literature.[source]

What good are these old magazines? Considering that they dealt with true criminal cases, they can be of great relevance to scholars who study our criminal heritage and the friends and relatives of crime victims, and to the descendants of criminals themselves. 

Detective magazines were a great source for the public to get information about crimes that newspapers couldn't give them: namely lurid pictures and grisly details.

Not surprisingly, it was only a matter of time before the lurid pictures and grisly details became the magazine's bread and butter, while things like quality writing and top notch investigative journalism took a backseat. It's a story as old as mankind, really. For instance, the Passion plays of the Middle Ages began as reverent Biblically sound reenactments.... but gradually digressed and became almost wholly centered on the Rated R scenes involving Satan.

Thus, by the late 1960's, the expertly crafted prose gave way to poorly written accounts of the most grotesque and misogynistic crimes the writers could dig up. Some would have offended even Jeffrey Dahmer.

The covers from this period haven't really received the accolades that other brands of pulp magazines have received.  This is primarily due to the fact that they were generally not illustrated, and often consisted of a photograph of no artistic merit. Plus, they were more often than not, totally offensive - typically featuring a young woman in the process of being murdered.

However, much like the scenes with Satan in the Passion plays, it's the sick stuff that's the most interesting to look at. Chalk it up to man's inherent disposition to take a bite out of that forbidden fruit. So, before I philosophize my readers right out of this blog, I present to you a gallery of detective magazine covers from the 1960's to the 1980's. I can't really say it's Not Safe For Work, because there's no nudity to speak of. However, there's a good chance that, if you're caught looking at it, you may be sent to mandatory counselling, and your co-workers will suspect that you're moonlighting as a serial killer.

Utilize the slideshow below to view covers or click here to view the photo set in.Flickr. Note: you can expand the image to view full screen by clickig the button with four arrows at the bottom right.

[sidenote 1: I'm experimenting with different ways to present images when I have a lot of them. I don't want to stick them all within a post a bog the page loading down.  I haven't found a way that I'm really happy with yet - one that looks nice and is not a pain to embed.  I'm open to suggestions, and let me know what you think of this one.

[sidenote 2: I think, as the Internet gradually grows its content of vintage periodicals, the complete issues will be available for most every detective magazine printed. It wasn't that long ago when you couldn't get your hands on something as simple as a Tales from the Crypt back issue if your life depended on it.  There was no Ebay, you couldn't find them easily at a flea market or yard sale, and there was no Internet for folks to share stuff.  Give it another ten to fifteen years, and everything ever printed will be online.]


  1. WOW. Having just missed the Detective Magazine era (I was born in '79), I simply can't imagine seeing this stuff on the average magazine rack. Yet I think you're right when you say the most offensive images are also the most fascinating. Thanks for the eyeopening and somewhat disturbing post.

  2. My Wordpress blog lets me upload pics and it puts them in thumbnails for me automatically. I don't use it much, but it is there. There may be a plugin or something you can use with blogger.