Richard Hammer, an award-winning author who in more than a dozen books explored crimes ranging from the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War to a securities fraud case involving the Vatican Bank, died on Oct. 17 in a hospice facility in the Bronx. He was 93.
The cause was heart failure, his son Joshua said.
Mr. Hammer’s account of the My Lai slaughter in 1968, “One Morning in the War: The Tragedy of Son My” (1970), was frequently reviewed alongside one by Seymour M. Hersh, who had broken the story — “My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath.” (The village of Son My included the hamlet of My Lai.)
“Richard Hammer — knowing perhaps that Hersh had the jump on him — tried to put the incident in perspective and thereby ended up writing the better book,” the book critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in The New York Times.
“He took the time,” he added, “to explain the gradual depersonalization of the Vietnamese in American soldiers’ eyes — to make us understand how even women and children begin to seem hated and dangerous.”
Mr. Hammer followed up that book with another centered on the massacre, “The Court-Martial of Lt. Calley,” which John Leonard of The Times numbered among “a handful of public-affairs books published in 1971 that people will be reading a generation from now.” William Styron, writing in The Times Book Review, called it “an honest, penetrating account of a crucially significant military trial.”
William L. Calley Jr. was convicted of the premeditated killings of several hundred unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in 1968. He served three years of house arrest.
Reviewing the Calley book for Life magazine, Tom Mayer wrote that Mr. Hammer had made “a strong case for the contention that insofar as the factual truth is knowable, the trial revealed it, that insofar as justice is possible in this complicated and imperfect world, Calley received it.”
Mr. Hammer also wrote and narrated the film “Interviews With My-Lai Veterans” (1970), which won an Oscar for best documentary (short subject).
A former reporter and editor for The Times, he won two Edgar Allan Poe Awards from the Mystery Writers of America for “best fact crime” book.
One was for “The Vatican Connection: The Astonishing Account of a Billion Dollar Counterfeit Stock Deal Between the Mafia and the Church” (1982), which focused on a New York City detective who cracked the case, which involved fraud and money laundering.
The other, “The CBS Murders: A True Account of Greed and Violence in New York’s Diamond District” (1987), reconstructed the investigation into the killing in 1982 of three eyewitnesses, all employees of CBS in Manhattan, to the shooting of a 37-year-old accountant who had agreed to testify against her former boss, a diamond dealer accused of fraud.
Among his other books were “The Helmsleys: The Rise and Fall of Harry and Leona Helmsley” (1990), about the New York real estate and hotel moguls.
Richard George Hammer was born on March 22, 1928, in Hartford, Conn. His father, Morris, was a newspaperman and an advertising executive. His mother, Mildred (Chaimson) Hammer, was a homemaker.
After graduating from what is now the Northfield Mount Hermon boarding school in Massachusetts, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Syracuse University in 1950 and a master’s in English literature from Trinity College in Hartford in 1952.
He did graduate work at Columbia University toward a doctoral degree and was an editor at Barron’s Weekly and Fortune before joining The Times in 1963. After a decade working in the Week in Review and Sunday magazine sections, Mr. Hammer left The Times in 1972 to collaborate with Martin Gosch on a biography of the gangster Charles (Lucky) Luciano.
Mr. Gosch claimed to have notes from some 30 interviews he had conducted with Mr. Luciano, who was imprisoned for running a prostitution racket but whose sentence was commuted after World War II in return for his providing the American government with naval intelligence about activities in the port of New York. (The government was concerned in part about enemy sympathizers working on the docks there.) Mr. Luciano was deported to Italy.
Mr. Hammer and Mr. Gosch’s resulting book, “The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano” (1975), was generally lauded as a compelling saga about organized crime but greeted skeptically as biography by many critics because it included purported firsthand accounts by Mr. Luciano of events that occurred while he was incarcerated or after he died in 1962.
Victor S. Navasky concluded in The Times Book Review that Mr. Hammer was the victim of “a possibly paranoid collaborator and of the pressures and practices (not unusual, but not uncommon) of publishing.” He added: “I believe that, whatever Gosch’s deceptions, Hammer was not a party to them.”
Mr. Hammer, who died in hospice care at Calvary Hospital, lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
In addition to his sonJoshua, a journalist and author, he is survived by his wife, Arlene (Nadel) Hammer, whom he married in 1970; another son, Anthony, who like Joshua is from his first marriage, to Nina Carol Ullman, which ended in divorce; a daughter, Emily Hammer, from his second marriage; and 13 grandchildren.