Certain Admissions by well-known Australian cricket journalist and writer Gideon Haigh is one of my favourite true crime reads of recent times.
The book was released in 2015 but I finally got around to reading it last week (too many books, too little time!).
This book is about John Bryan Kerr, who was subject to one of the most high profile murder cases in Melbourne. At the end of 1949, at age 24, sometime radio announcer and dapper young man Kerr was arrested for the murder of young typist, Beth Williams, 20.
A passer-by had stumbled upon Beth’s body at the beach at Albert Park. Her clothes were torn and it appeared as if she’d been strangled.
Controversially, an unsigned confession by Kerr was entered into evidence and he stood before three trials because then, capital crimes (murder) needed unanimous decisions from the jury. Kerr was sentenced to death and went to Pentridge Prison where he seemed to adapt to life behind bars as a debater, actor and avid basketballer.
However Kerr’s death sentence was commuted and he was released in the mid 1960s.
This is where the story, well to me at least, gets really intriguing. On his release Kerr finds it difficult to adjust to life and changes his name to Wallace. Haigh is able to recount, through interviews and research, what life is life for Kerr/Wallace as he tries to hide his past.
The description by Haigh of his research process for this book is also intriguing and the Public Records office of Victoria plays a large part in this story because the author was gained unprecedented access to files to dig into the story of Kerr/Wallace, who always maintained his innocence. But the reader will also wonder whether Kerr could have committed the murder…
The novel, part of the “A Death in Paradise Mystery Series,” resembles Agatha Christie’s mastery of the slight-of-hand-murder. A dead woman at the bottom of a long ancient outdoor staircase leading to the sea, only a few suspects who are all houseguests, a missing cell phone and a sister in a wheelchair are all elements that must be sorted through by Police Chief Richard Poole and his able but humorously quirky staff.
The ‘Chief,” as most on his staff call him, has a secret of his own — his mother is about to come to St. Marie for a vacation without his father. To Richard, his parents are a pair and always should be. What’s going on back home?
The dead woman Polly Carter is a former internationally famous model whose riches bought the home. Her friends are in for a bit of a reunion — with no set date of departure. Her sister is wheelchair bound — or is she?
Digging through the clues and characters to find the killer is a delightful escape laced with romance, secret passages, the down-and-out situations of almost every guest and the basic question “why Polly?” How she was killed, however, is where Thorogood keeps readers turning the pages.
If you wish you were on an island paradise with cool sand at your feet and hot breezes, then take a break from true crime and read The Killing of Polly Carter. The antics, plot twists, lush environs and dysfunctional characters will bring a smile to your face.
These are all cases of where men kill their children to exact the ultimate revenge on their ex-partners. These brutal, emotionally stunted men kill their own children so the mothers will suffer for the rest of their lives.
Norris, who has for many years written about some of the most difficult crimes and the issue of violence against women and children, expertly covers the cases of seven women whose children were murdered by vengeful fathers.
She has previously written the book On Father’s Day about the revenge murders by Robert Farquharson of his three little boys. Norris wrote the book with Cindy Gambino, the mother of the boys and raised awareness of this ultimate form of family violence and punishment to the woman and mother of children. The case is also included in this new book.
There’s the case of Karen Bell, who continually had to flee the isolated New South Wales property she shared with her violent, drunk and drug-addicted husband Gary. The only slight assurance in Karen’s mind every time she had to escape the beatings she endured was that her husband had never hurt their children…until the fateful day he gassed himself and their three kids Jack, 8, Maddie, 7 and baby Bon, 16 months.
There’s also Michelle Steck’s case. In 1993, Michelle’s three-year-old daughter Kelly East was gassed by her father Kevin, who also killed himself. East was a violent control freak who, when he could no longer control his ex-partner, exacted the ultimate form of family violence by murdering their little girl.
Michelle is an inspirational woman. She has advocated for the rights and safety of women and children and entered into local politics in Western Australia. Long before family violence became a topic that is now widely covered in the media and in politics and is a key crime focus for police, Michelle was trying to get prominent people to wake up and see the legal systems in Australia needed a complete overhaul.
Look What You Made Me Do is also a stark reminder that these horrific crimes by vengeful fathers have been happening for years and seems it’s only since the high coverage of the tragic, and very public murder of 11-year-old Luke Batty in 2014 by his father that the message that the anti-violence message has reached Canberra and politicians who have the power to change laws. His mum Rosie has become the public face of family violence.
Norris details how Michelle predicted it would take the murder of the child of a celebrity by its father or a very public murder for anyone to pay attention. Tragically her predictions came true.
As Michelle powerfully states: “The worst of it is there are so many of us mums walking in Rosie Batty’s shoes. And we’ve ben out there campaigning for changes and canvassing these issues for many years without anybody really listening”.
This book is a difficult read. I just have to firstly put that out there. And it’s the subject matter that’s difficult and confronting, rather than deficiencies in the prose. True crime, memoir and social commentary, The Blood On My Hands is a like nothing else I’ve read.
Shannon O’Leary’s story is harrowing. Set in 1960s and 1970s Australia, Shannon’s childhood was full of depravity. It was so horrific it’s often hard to believe this book is an autobiography.
O’Leary used pseudonyms for herself and family. It’s understandable because the terror and abuse she suffered is unbelievable. The fact that the author has been able to survive, let alone write, quite eloquently, about a life that is straight out of the worst horror film you could imagine is amazing. And O’Leary’s tone throughout is consistent and engaging…if that’s even the right word to use in this context.
In the prologue. Shannon mentions how she first wanted to commit suicide at age 4. She went on, in her words, to become a nationally recognised children’s entertainer. (I keep wondering who she is.)
The true crime writer in me became instantly hooked on the claims by O’Leary that her depraved father was a serial killer, probably responsible for the disappearances of many Australian girls. In fact the author describe how she and her mother witnesses her father murder a young woman. They did not know who she was or where her body was disposed of. I wanted to know more.
Her father died in 2009, never facing justice for the crimes, the dreadful abuse, described in this book.
I’ve read several other reviews of this book that say similar to what I will say here: I can’t say I enjoyed this book but I read it with intrigue and commend Shannon O’Leary for writing this with such candour.
Colm Wallace has written a book “Sentenced to Death: Saved from the Gallows” about thirty Irish men and women who had the death penalty imposed on them between 1922 and 1985.
Here’s his guest blog post on one of the cases:
By February William O’Shea had been married to his wife Maureen for three years, although he was aged just 24 and she was 21. At this point the couple were blessed with a baby girl, the young family living together in a nice cottage in Ballyhane, outside Cappoquin. Instead of being at the start of a happy matrimony and enjoying parenthood however, O’Shea seemed to resent his wife. She, in turn, was afraid of him.
William O’Shea may not have been a devoted husband but he did earn a living by working for Waterford County Council doing odd jobs and was also considered good at trapping rabbits. It was early 1943 that he had begun to spend a lot of time with a 17-year old local youth by the name of Thomas White, despite the significant age gap. White, who it would be later ascertained was mentally subnormal, frequented the O’Shea household and Maureen did not approve of the amount of time he and her husband spent together.
On 22February, Thomas White came to the O’Shea household to enquire about a pair of shoes. William was absent from the house so White conversed with his wife, before leaving several minutes later. The young mother then went to bed with her young infant and was on the verge of sleep when she smelled the unmistakable odour of smoke. The thatch of the cottage had suddenly gone up in flames and the occupants made a hasty exit.
Maureen and the child were fortunate to escape with their lives. The young bride’s family did not, however, believe that the fire was a terrible accident. Maureen had already begun to think that O’Shea and White had ideas about killing her and had informed her family of her suspicions. Maureen’s stepfather even accosted William O’Shea, insisting that the fire had not been accidental. O’Shea did not respond but his wife tellingly remarked “Oh well, they want to get rid of me, and the baby, and I suppose they will get me yet.”
William O’Shea and his wife were forced to live in O’Shea’s mother’s house after the fire had made their cottage uninhabitable. On 15March, three weeks after the blaze, O’Shea returned home from work at 6pm as was his normal routine.
After dinner, he uncharacteristically invited his wife on an evening stroll. She agreed and the pair left the house. As they were walking arm-in-arm in Knockyoolahan, a townland close to their home, a shot rang out without warning.
Maureen slumped to the ground. The gun, a firearms expert would later testify, was only a couple of inches behind the unfortunate woman when the shot had been fired. Instead of staying with his dying wife, William O’Shea left her lying on the road and ran to his mother’s house. He was in the house for several minutes without mentioning the horrific incident that had just occurred.
Finally when his mother inquired as to Maureen’s whereabouts he told her that his wife had been shot. When asked why by his panicked mother he hadn’t stayed by her side, O’Shea replied “I couldn’t bear it.”
By the time she was discovered it was too late, the Maureen O’Shea having died from the shotgun wound. When the deceased woman’s family were informed about the tragedy they were far from being sympathetic, the stepfather openly voicing his suspicions. He said accusingly to O’Shea “You were after spilling blood tonight, my boy,” O’Shea reacted by jumping from his chair and saying “Do you think I shot her?” He made no denial of the charge, however. The Gardaí were quick to act on the suspicion. Later that night, they went to the house were Thomas White was staying and discovered a shotgun under the bed.
On 16th March O’Shea was summoned to the station in Cappoquin. Almost immediately he complained bitterly about his recently deceased betrothed: “My wife has been at me since about the first week of our marriage. Anybody that used to come in she used to be fighting with them”.
Later in the statement he admitted that White burned his house. “White said that he would do it, but I was not sure he would. He told me he set fire to the back of the thatch…he was disappointed she had not been caught in it.” O’Shea also knew that White had fired the fatal shot. He said in his statement that White had said “If we could get a cartridge we could shoot her…I knew it was Tommy White that had fired the shot because we had arranged that he do it.” O’Shea went on to confess that when he felt his wife going down he whispered an act of contrition gently in her ear. In a later statement, O’Shea admitted that White had told him that the signal he was about to shoot Maureen would be a tap on the shoulder.
O’Shea and White were tried jointly, the case beginning in Green Street, Dublin, on 7 June. Thomas White’s counsel immediately asked if the jury could rule on the sanity of their client, the judge granting their request.
Dr. John Dunne of Grangegorman Mental Hospital told the court that he been examining White in Mountjoy. His conclusion was that the prisoner was suffering from a mental deficiency and that he would be unable to follow the proceedings of the court. The jury retired for ten minutes before returning with a verdict of “not sane.” White was not fit to face the court and instead would be detained at the government’s pleasure. O’Shea thus faced trial for the murder of his wife alone.
O’Shea had already confessed to conspiracy to murder. However, he sensationally withdrew his statement before the court case, complaining, “I never arranged to have my wife shot. I don’t even remember saying that. That is all I have to say”.
The defence Solicitor Mr Nolan-Whelan said that there was no evidence to suggest a conspiracy between O’Shea and White. O’Shea had no drinking problem and no motive. “A man does not murder his wife without a motive, unless he is insane,” continued the solicitor. He also declared that the statement made by his client was involuntary and made under duress. They also stated that there was a case for an insanity, one doctor declaring that O’Shea’s mental age was about seven years. The prosecution disagreed and contended that he was acting simply to fool the jury into declaring him unfit to stand trial.
After the evidence the jury were given their chance to decide the truth. They needed fifty-five minutes to decide that the defendant was guilty of murder. O’Shea was visibly trembling and did not reply when asked if he anything to say. The judge told the jury he agreed thoroughly with their verdict before donning the black cap and sentencing O’Shea to be hanged. Several appeals were mounted against the sentence and the government cabinet of the day met to discuss a possible reprieve. In this case however, they chose to let justice run its course. Despite not firing a shot, William O’Shea was hanged in Mountjoy Prison on 12 August, 1943. He would be the only Waterford man to climb the scaffold in the history of Ireland’s independence.
Author Kate Summerscale investigates one of the Victorian England’s most disturbing murder cases in her latest book The Wicked Boy.
The book recounts the 1895 murder trial, conviction and subsequent life of Robert Coombes. At 13, Robert stabbed his mother to death while she was sleeping.
Summerscale provides a restrained but detailed picture of England’s Victorian era, its penal system and the redemption of a disturbed boy. The author is not shy about exposing the failure of England’s educational system for the lower classes or its prison system that merely warehoused criminals.
There were contributing factors to the murder. Robert’s youth was, to say the least, shaped by domestic violence, a dysfunctional family and the lack of a strong father figure.
Although Robert never tells the court the reason why he killed his mother, the spark may have been the repeated beatings Mrs. Coombes dealt her sons. These beatings occurred while she was left alone with them with little money while her husband eked out a living as a seafaring deck hand on some of the British ships.
After one of the more violent, bloody beatings of his younger brother, Robert hatched his plan to murder his mother.
The crime is discovered only after the stench of death seeped out of the bedroom windows as Mrs. Coombes’ corpse decomposes on her bed. Robert readily admits the killing, is tried for murder but never tells the court why he did it. Left with little choice, he was found guilty but insane. Not really knowing what to do with the child murderer, he is sent to Broadmoor, a lunatic prison.
Unexpectedly, Robert flourishes at Broadmoor soaking up an education in books, music, sports and more that he would have never received if he had remained with his family.
While her writing style is unemotional and measured, Summerscale’s research carries the story and enables readers to travel back the to the Victorian era seeing the failures of a country led by a minority of aristocrats who steadfastly ignored how their cultural system treated the majority of British subjects — the poor.
This is a solid, meticulously researched book on a notorious 19th century British female killer.
Christina Edmunds was a poisoner who laced chocolates with strychnine. She was tried for the murder of a little boy and she poisoned many others. Her murderous impulses were sparked by unrequited love she had for a married man.
Christina was found to be criminally insane and lived for the rest of her life at Broadmoor Hopsital (home of serial killers Peter Sutcliffe and Moors Murderer Ian Brady) , dying in 1907.
The author Kaye Jones knew the case was a sensation of its time, garnering national press coverage. However the book is also a social history of life in Brighton in the late 1800s and a detailed account of Christina Edmunds’ family history. The epilogue is also fascinating as it applies a diagnosis to what Edmunds was suffering, which was not a recognised condition at the time of her crimes.
Kaye Jones gave an interview to her local newspaper Andover Advertiser, which is a good background read if, like me, you are fascinated by the research and writing processes of authors.
When I saw this book on the shelf of an op shop near my work I grabbed it.
I had long been intrigued and horrified with the tragedy known as Jonestown ever since I saw photos of the hundred of dead bodies in the compound in an old Life magazine I’d bought from a second hand book store. I was in my early teens and I remember thinking “how could something like this happen?”.
Author Tim Reiterman Reiterman was one of a handful of journalists who travelled with the Congressman Leo Ryan on a fact-finding mission to Jonestown, Guyana. There had been many pleas and pressure on authorities from concerned families of People’s Temple members finally a contingent headed to the compound. On November 18, 1978, after meeting with Jones and his followers, the small party was ambushed by Peoples Temple gunmen as they were leaving. Leo Ryan and four others were killed. Reiterman himself was wounded and managed to grab the camera of his murdered photographer colleague and snapped the only photos of the aftermath.
Soon after the mass suicide – or mass murders – occurred at the compound with few survivors.
Reiterman spent four years researching and writing this definitive account of Jim Jones and the tragedy called Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People. The book is mammoth – 624-pages and is one to take your time with. It delves deep and is compelling.
The reader will become intrigued by the personal stories of the members of The Peoples Temple, which seemed to start with the best intentions (although Jones appears to have been deeply flawed from a young age) but turned sinister under the control of the ego-driven and paranoid Jones.
For more information on Reiterman’s experience here’s a Time q&a with the author.
I highly recommend this book as the must-read on Jim Jones and how Jonestown came to its terrifying end.
This is a sassy little read that features some of the most popular and sensational true crime stories published in the 1940s and 1950s in an Australian pulp magazine called Famous Detective Stories.
From National Library of Australia’s NLA Publishing, Famous Detective Stories: True Tales of Australian Crime is a tribute to a part of Aussie literary history. While nowhere near the Miles Franklin Award, the pulp mag Famous Detective Stories was wildly popular and publishing entrepreneur Frank Johnson had a pool of moonlighting journalists, crime enthusiasts and former detectives who wrote the lurid crime tales from newspaper clippings. Pulp magazines were thin volumes printed on cheap paper – hence the moniker.
Despite some blaming pulp mags for contributing to the moral and cultural decay of society at the time, the public lapped up the tales and the magazine was a monthly publication from 1946 to early 1954.
The book is illustrated by the newspaper clippings to accompany the stories, which is fascinating for readers and gives them a sense of the tone of crime reporting of the time.
The titles of the stories are intriguing and explicit – Murder in Secret, Cattle Stealers of the Black Country, See You in Church and hell on High Seas (among others).
A must-read for true crime buffs or anyone interested interested in Australian social history.
“Out of all the people suspected of the Whitechapel crimes, it would be hard to imagine anyone less likely to fit the image of a rough and strong armed assassin, like the paper’s described, than this mild mannered poet…,” Patterson writes.
The book is an interesting read full of the history of London’s East End, the background about the Ripper theories and investigations and of course, meticulous research (the teacher from New South Wales has spent more than 20 years researching his theory) about Francis Thompson, his poems and why the author believes he is strong contender to be Jack the Ripper.
His theory came about in 1997 when he read a book of Thompson’s poetry. Then there was the fact that Thompson also trained as a doctor that led Patterson (pictured middle) on his research journey.
Not surprisingly Patterson’s book, which he self published in 2015, has received press attention from around the world.
“I’m grateful to have played some part in helping people understand Thompson, and why he might have been the Ripper,” Patterson told UK’s The Mirror newspaper.
“Thompson kept a dissecting knife under his coat, and he was taught a rare surgical procedure that was found in the mutilations of more than one of the Ripper victims.”
For those interested in Jack the Ripper, and the more ardent “Ripperologists”, Patterson’s book is a compelling read.
I have nothing but respect for people who research as passionately as Patterson has for this book.
Verdict: “A Novel That Rings True to the Raw Reality of Addiction”
I don’t read fiction often and the only way I’m able to review a novel is to see if it resonates with me. That is to say, after I’ve finished reading it, does the story leave footprints on my spirit?
I purposely waited to write my review after completing An Acre of Fools by Aden James to see what my reaction would be after the book settled a bit in my mind. A week after completing it, I know I’ve just read an outstanding, important novel.
The novel is beautifully written and engages the reader early and easily. The foundation of the novel poses supremely human characters facing the conflict of their actions versus spiritual teachings, the struggles of parenthood, and the manipulative devil of addiction.
The larger message of this book is to define how the addiction of one family member takes down not only the addict, but also every member of the family.
James crafts his message through a beguiling tale of an upper-class family in crisis. The format of the book is brilliant — using a literary vehicle of a family vacation home, writing the story in installments of annual vacations spent by the Stewart family at River Soul (the name they give their second home) on the Okatie River in South Carolina. The restful retreat welcomes readers just as it becomes a touchstone for the Stewart family and the stage for much of the story.
The Stewarts could be any family (and that’s somewhat the point) – Peter, the father who is a driven man who builds his career not to obtain wealth but to provide for and protect his family as he feels is his Christian duty; Mimi, Peter’s wife and the love of his life who is a Southern lady; Grace Elisabeth, the sensible older daughter; and Austin, the youngest daughter plagued with a critical illnesses who and then gets sucked into the vortex of drug addiction.
The book presents the ageless struggle of good versus evil without delivering a patronizing sermon. An Acre of Fools simultaneously softens and hardens readers to the raw debris of addiction by weaving a story about characters whose brutal choices are those that many of us fantasize about taking, but do not because we hold ourselves to society’s standards of lawful conduct.
Aden James, a pen name, Is an author of talent and conviction. Don’t skip this book. Buy it, savor it and let it crawl through your soul. I promise it will.
In a valiant gesture rarely seen in the publishing world, James is donating 90 percent of the sale proceeds from the book to causes focusing on addiction, human trafficking and family restoration.
An Acre of Fools is published by Elevate Publishing and available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
On Feb. 12, 2008, at E. O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, CA, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney shot and killed his classmate, Larry King, who had recently begun to call himself “Leticia” and wear makeup and jewelry to school.
New York Author and psychologist Ken Corbett was disturbed and intrigued by the case. So much so he delved deep into the issues of gender norms and traveled to California to follow the case and attend the court appearances of King. Larry King was also black and his killer was from an extremely violent background and had emerging Neo-nazi ideas.
The issues facing LGBTI people have never been more in th public arena. People who may never have had any reason – or care – to know about issues of gender are now able to know about the human rights and violence issues facing people who identify as LGBTI.
This book was interesting and disturbing. It’s a blend of true crime and a look at how society creates the breeding ground for a crime like this to happen.
I’d recommend reading this article and interview with the author published in The Atlantic for more background.
A Murder Over a Girl is published by Henry Holt and Company.
This is an important book. It’s a collection of 65 stories of murdered sex workers in Australia.
Written by Kylie Fox and Ruth Wylie, Invisible Women: Powerful and Disturbing Stories of Murdered Sex Workers gives some voice to these victims who were voiceless in life.
Many of the stories are short – some only a few paragraphs and that is the stark reality of the lack of attention the murders of prostitutes rate in the media.
There are cases that were well publicised like the murder of grandmother Johanna Martin, whose working name was “Jazzy O”.
Johanna’s murder got a lot of coverage because she was a wealthy woman from her stripping and sex work (it was reported she would do things that many other strippers would not and was a popular footy club performer). Outside of her work, Johanna was a devoted mother and grandmother who lived a quiet life.
There’s the story of the horrific 2004 killings of Darwin women Phuangsri Kroksamrang and Somjai Insamban, Thai nationals who were bound and dumped in crocodile infested waters. Two young men, 19 at the time, who murdered the women in what the prosecutor believed was a thrill killing.
Then there’s the women you’ve most probably never heard of – Lisa Moy, Zanita Green, Colleen Moore, Michelle Copping…there’s so many more I could list from the book.
Page after page of this book is a gruelling reminder that these women are treated like they are not worth much.
I’m glad the authors wrote this book. I urge people to read it.
Crime often mingles with the well-to-do. The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess and a Family Secret by Catherine Bailey is a story of pride, valor, ciphers and deceit in a British family of nobility during the years surrounding World War I.
The setting is the majestic Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire owned by one of the richest men in Britain — John Henry Montagu Manners (1886-1940), the 9th Duke of Rutland. The book begins with his death and how he spent his last hours — destroying family letters to protect his reputation for history.
What would possess an English Duke to face his death holed up in a windowless room full of family records and letters? What would haunt him so much that he wanted to alter the record of his life and that of his family?
Historian and author Catherine Bailey’s original intent for gaining access to the archives which had been sealed since the Duke’s death in 1940 and kept in a series of rooms wedged into the servants quarters at Belvoir was an idea for a book she wanted to write chronicling the humble soldiers who volunteered for service in World War I from the villages encompassed by the holdings of the 8th Duke of Rutland. Of the men who went to war from the estate, 249 did not return.
While digging through the fastidiously kept records, Bailey uncovers a crime which the 9th Duke of Rutland tried unsuccessfully to blot from the records.
The story has complex subplots (as most wealthy families mange to create) mingling the mysterious death of the first born son, the rightful heir; a mother who sends her surviving son away from home immediately after his brother’s death; and the affect of her actions on her son in adulthood.
The book is not cops and robbers true crime, but rather a look at how the rich are different and their crimes more subtle but all the same crimes.
Bailey’s writing style is that of a measured historian whose excitement grows as she realizes what she’s uncovered and takes readers along in the labyrinth of clues buried in dusty boxes to find out what the Duke was hiding. Bailey also provides delicious details of how the very wealthy lived in the years just prior to World War I up through the 1940s.
The unfolding plot and the author’s effort to unravel the mystery buried in the Duke’s private rooms keep you engaged and wanting more with each subsequent page. The Secret Rooms is glimpse back in time and into the eternal struggle of duty to one’s country verses duty to one’s family.
Deadly Triangle author Fran Parker writes a page-turning saga about love, sex, jealousy, race, and Southern justice in a small town involving two young college students who were star athletes.
The story delves into the drama of the inner workings of, a three-way affair that ended in cold blood murder.
Monroe Louisiana: Joel Tillis future appeared bright and promising as a star athlete. Tillis, a 22-year-old African American woman, was highly respected as a crack-smart college student and outstanding Basketball Player at (NLU) – the prestigious Northeast Louisiana University College located in Monroe, Louisiana, the eighth largest city in the state. A tough, ambitious, student, Tillis played on the NCAA Lady Indians Women’s Basketball Team at NLU. NLU women’s basketball team was once the second best college team in the nation.
While attending NLU college, Tillis met and fell in love with a tall, curly-haired, handsome, African American, pre-med student named Irvin Bolden. The whirlwind courtship between Tillis and Bolden blossomed into an engagement to marry upon graduation.
Problems and sporadic discord entered the picture between Bolden and Tillis after Bolden discovered that Tillis spent too much quality time with a classmate and teammate named Brenda Spicer.
Bolden thought Spicer, blonde and pretty with sparkling blue eyes, was infatuated with his girlfriend Tillis. In Deadly Triangle, Fran Parker retell the incidents of how Spicer affectionately gave Tillis expensive brand name clothes and stuffed animals.
Rumours spread like wildfire throughout NLU campus indicating Tillis and Spicer were secret lovers, although both women denied and dismissed the rumours as untrue, and further, Joel Tillis defended her closeness with Brenda Spicer as a “sister-to-sister” type relationship.
But Tillis denials failed to soothe Irvin Bolden’s jealousy over the thought that whenever he sought to spend leisure time with Tillis, the white girl Brenda Spicer tagged along.
During a heated confrontation, Bolden, as he’d previously done, questioned Tillis about her close relationship with Spicer. Tillis swelling with anger, rebuked Bolden for trying “to dictate my life”. Feeling a degree of distance between himself and Tillis, Bolden reached out in desperation and contacted the NLU women’s team coach, imploring the sympathetic woman , “to help me get Joel back”.
Then Bolden wrote and sent a threaten letter to Spicer that said, “Stay away from Joel or I’ll handle it“.
When asked what motivated her to write a 304 page book about one of Louisiana’s most infamous crimes, author Fran Parker, an English graduate from Louisiana State University, said, in a email sent to True Crime Reader, “I’ve been asked numerous times why I chose murder to write about”.
“I knew that sports ranked higher in priority than academics, and that NLU would do anything to keep the lid on lesbian scandals involving coaches and players,” the author explained.
Previously, according to news media reports, the NLU Female Basketball Team had been placed on probation over questionable recruiting and evidence of a female coach having a lesbian affair with another female player.
Deadly Triangle details how Brenda Spicer’s lifeless, partially nude body, was found in a dumpster on NLU College campus on March 5, 1988. Spicer’s murder sent shockwaves of terror among NLU students and faculty members. Evidence showed the victim suffered strangulation.
Following Spicer’s brutal murder an outpouring of grief and fear engulfed Monroe residents. Newspaper headlines asked a chilling question: “Who Murdered Brenda Spicer?” As Monroe’s widespread communities teetered on edge, majority African American citizens feared the police would arrest the first African American who may appear guilty because the victim was white.
Investigators targeted Irvin Bolden. Joel Tillis boyfriend, due to reports of his suspicious behaviour including peculiar unanswered questions surrounding the case:
What Irvin Bolden actually knew about Joel Tillis and Brenda Spicer’s relationship that nobody else knew about?
Was it true that a NLU coach once discovered Spicer in Tillis private hotel room under suspicious circumstances?
And when Bolden heard about the bedroom incident involving Tillis and Spicer:did Bolden go into a rage in the lobby of a Beaumont Texas hotel?
Did jealousy turn Irvin Bolden into a ticking time bomb that set him off to rape and murder his lover’s best friend?
Fears of the African American community came true when Monroe homicide investigators charged Mr. Bolden with Brenda Spicer’s murder.
Deadly Triangle explores heavily how the conclusion of Bolden’s murder trial was as shocking as the murder itself.
Parker’s amazing true crime book further delve into what many eyes don’t see: that Southern Justice don’t always go astray to convict a Black person accused of committing crime against whites.
“Another deterrent to justice was that so many involved had their own inside agenda for lying to help the defense,” the author said in her email to True Crime Reader.
From a critical viewpoint, the only downside with Deadly Triangle is that the author occasionally shifted from one scenario to another without making the appropriate transition, but this is minor when compared to the totality of the superb writing.,
At Irvin Bolden’s trial for the murder of Brenda Spicer, the infectious and charming Joel Tillis betrayed her loving friend in death and stood by her man, contributing false testimony that contributed to Bolden’s freedom.
Now the couple would start over again. But the nightmare wasn’t over yet.
On June 11, 1989, Joel Tillis’s decomposing strangled body was found in a grassy field in Arkansas, 25 miles from Memphis, Tennesse. After Bolden’s acquittal in Spicer’s murder, Tillis and Bolden had packed up and moved to Memphis to pursue dreams of marriage and success in the business world, and possibly have children. Again, Irvin Bolden drew immediate attention from police once they discovered Bolden filed a bogus missing person report on Tillis. Investigators subsequently charged Bolden with the Joel Tillis murder. In a bizarre twist, the murderer that Tillis had gave her love and loyalty, had now turned on her like a Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde and murdered Tillis in the same manner he’d murdered Brenda Spicer.
Deadly Triangle is a must read for true crime fans who savor to probe into darkest deeds within human nature. This compelling story exemplifies an unstable love affair, filled to the brim with jealousy, unbridled passion, lesbianism, shattered manhood, and betrayed loyalty; the kind of toxic ingredients that ends in a deadly twist of double murders, the murders of two precious lives; Joel Tillis and Brenda Spicer extinguished forever.
Ace crime writer Fran Parker rips apart complex layers of a tragic story to finally expose the naked soul of a depraved mind. The book reveals how the search for true justice in America’s criminal justice system can go awry. And for the families of Joel Tillis and Brenda Spicer, many years have passed since the tragedies but they finally came to realise there would never be a peaceful closure and no real justice for some murderers.
Editor’s Note: Although Book Review Author and true crime journalist Clarence Walker resides in Houston Texas, Mr. Walker is a native of Southeast Arkansas located near Monroe Louisiana. Mesmerized by this sensational case down through the years this journalist followed the twists-and-turns of the Tillis-Spicer murders.
The 1977 murder of NSW business man, political candidate and anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay is one of Australia’s most notorious crimes. Mr Mackay’s body has never been found but what is known is that he was killed on the orders of the Mafia in Australia.
This book by prominent Melbourne journalist Keith Moor is an incredibly researched book on Mafia figure Robert Trimbole, the notorious “Mr Asia” drug syndicate and Donald Mackay’s disappearance.
If you want the definitive look at Australia’s organised crime world then this book is a must-read.
Moor physically tracked down key figures – including one player who was in hiding in Italy and was so impressed with the lengths the reporter went to that he granted his only interview.
“While it concerns me that you were able to find me, I will talk to you because you went to so much trouble,” the man told Moor.
Moor, who is a veteran journo, covered this case from the start and included first hand interviews, police transcripts and excerpts from a Royal Commission to tell the true story of the influence Robert Trimbole (pictured below) and the Mafia in Australia.
Donald Mackay’s widow Barbara died without ever knowing where her husband’s body was buried.
Crims in Grass Castles is published by Penguin and available from bookstores and iBooks (review copy purchased by reviewer on iBooks)
Australia Day 2016 (January 26) marks 50 years since the disappearance of three children from a beach in Adelaide.
The mystery of the missing Beaumont Children is probably this country’s greatest and most tragic unsolved crime. The case is burned into the psyche of a generation.
On January 26, 1966, the Beaumont children Jane, 9, Arnna, 7 and Grant, 4 caught a bus to Glenelg beach from their home (only a short trip) for a bit of sun and fun. It wasn’t unusual for children that young to go off by themselves back then and eldest Jane was a responsible girl. (My mum, who was a teenager at the time, remembers that she and her siblings and cousins would often go down to the beach without adults and be there all day). The children never returned home. Vanished without a trace.
The book The Missing Beaumont Children by Michael Madigan is a very thorough overview of the mystery and details the investigation, the suspects, the leads, the dead ends…
It’s fascinating and disturbing reading. My heart broke during the book as I kept thinking about the parents of the children, Grant (known as Jim) and Nancy, and how they survived this tragedy…this evil.
I recommend this book. It’s a well-paced read that covers the twists and turns of the case and is also told with great compassion for the children and parents Nancy and Grant who are now 88 and 90 respectively. Madigan manages a fine balance of detailing the “mystery” of the case that people around Australia have been transfixed by but also the “misery” that has affected Nancy and Jim for the rest of their lives.
I’ve long been fascinated (and horrified) by the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. The pair is often referred to as the “Ken and Barbie Killers” because they were young and attractive.
This is probably the Canadian case that I know best, (apart from Robert Picton the pig farmer serial killer) and this book by Peter Vronsky, volume three in the Crimes Canada series, is a very interesting read. It’s not too long but is packed with lots of detail that will give a thorough overview of the case of the married couple who raped and killed three young women (including Homolka’s little sister Tammy. There is distressing detail about what happened to Tammy. You just cannot believe that anyone, let alone a sister could do that. it’s utterly sickening). in the early 1990s.
I knew a bit about the case but just from news reports and some tv shows.
Homolka and Bernardo were arrested in 1993 for the murders and rapes of two teens and the death and rape of Homolka’s sister. Bernardo was also a serial rapist known as the Scarborough Rapist who had been attacking women since the the mid 1980s.
I was most interested to know about the details of the plea bargain deal Homolka did with authorities to secure a lesser jail term. The pair videoed their horror crimes against their victims and before these were known to exist, Homolka cut a deal and gave evidence against Bernardo, (it was dubbed by Canadian media as “The deal with the devil”). I won’t post any spoilers if you’re not familiar with the case but basically Homolka got off very lightly…her true involvement in the rapes and murders were revealed in those video tapes. Vronsky delivers the details on this well. I felt like I was really up-to-speed with it from this book.
Vronsky does a really good job of telling the story of these crimes. If you want a good overview then I’d recommend it as a read. it’s not for the faint of heart…but then again not many true crime readers are of that ilk anyway!
And you’ll be shocked that Homolka was released from prison in 2005 and now has her own children. Does she deserve privacy? well she’s served her jail time but she is so notorious and the people of Canada were scandalised by her seeming light punishment. There’s more detail on that in the book too.
I was gifted this e-book by publisher RJ Parker for a fair and honest review.
Being Christmas I had a thought about the controversial 1984 film Silent Night, Deadly Night.
I was eight years old in 1984 and I remember some new reports about the furore the film’s release caused in the United States, Australia (where I’m from) and other countries.
We were frequent visitors to our local video store and I remember as a kid glancing at the horror movie covers, including Silent Night, Deadly Night and wishing I could watch them. (May sound weird but I do like a decent horror film.)
This slasher film is about a young man, who after witnessing his parents murdered by a criminal donning a Santa Suit and surviving childhood in an orphanage turns into a spree killer.
The film’s advertising was what causes the worldwide outrage. The film poster depicted a hand of Santa emerging from a chimney and clutching an axe. The tagline was: “You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas”.
The R-rated film was released in the United States on November 9 1984 and immediately the public was in uproar. By the end of November, the film’s distributor Tri Star Picturs dropped plans for a wider release. The film had performed poorly in the selected markets it was shown (The Northeast and Midwest of America) due to the media attention on the protests and complaints. An article “Christmas horror film dropped from distribution” (Gadsden Times, November 24, 1984) stated the film’s earnings declined after Tri Star stopped the controversial television ads for the movie. The commercials had shown a man in a Santa suit swinging an axe and shooting a gun.
But according to Box Office Mojo on the film’s opening weekend it screened in 398 theatres in the US and made USD$1,432,800. The film’s budget was reportedly USD$750,000. The opening weekend takings actually more than the now legendary horror film Nightmare on Elm Street, which opened the same weekend and made USD$1,271,000 (it played in 165 theatres).
Local television stations were reportedly bombarded with complaints from parents who said the commercials for the film were too scary for children who could not discern the fact that the person in the film was not actually Santa.
Tri Star marketing vice president Steve Randell (who would have truly earned his money doing issues crisis management) told The Pittsburgh Press (November 16, 1984) “The picture doesn’t present Santa as a killer. It’s the story of of a man who dresses as Santa Claus who is the murderer”.
A pressure group called Citizens Against Movie Madness picketed the film’s opening and were vocal in the local media about their objections to the movie. Their campaign was picked up nationally. The founder of the group, Kathleen Eberhardt said of their efforts: “I guess all of my griping did some good”. Ms Eberhardt told a reporter from Los Angeles Times said she did not believe the group was practising censorship but would lobby any future sequels to the original film.
The film went on to get a cult status, mostly due to the controversy around the film’s marketing. But according to reviews, it was really a storm in a teacup. The movie wasn’t actually that scary or more violent than any other of its ilk.
A review in the Schenectady Gazette called it “cinematic garbage”. The Boston Phoenix said: “…it’s not a particularly gory film, or even a particularly suspenseful one…”.
The Toledo Blade’s film critic at large said “To say ‘Deadly Night is blasphemous would be an understatement. It’s an absolute travesty…”.
This book released in mid-2015 certainly boasts one of the most intriguing and explosive storyline of any book released this year.
In The London underground Serial Killer author Geoff Platt claims Irish-born vagrant Kiernan Kelly told police he murdered 18 people by pushing them in from of trains on London’s Northern line but it was ‘covered up’ due to fears it would cause chaos among the public.
Kelly was convicted of murdering a fellow vagrant in 1975 and the killed a cellmate in 1983. It was during a 1984 interview with then-detective Platt about this jailhouse murder that Kelly allegedly confessed to killing the people on the train lines.
On further investigation of Kelly’s seemingly wild claims, Platt discovered there were many seeming suicides on the Northern Line and Kelly was a witness to a lot of them.
The revelations prompted much media coverage and newspapers in London reported the British Transport Police would investigate the allegations and invited more information from the public.
The book is a decent read, although I found there was a lot of padding to the story with general background about the London Underground. I felt this detracted from the explosive story Platt presented and it was a bit laborious in parts. I was keen to know more about the alleged murders.
I personally think this story would have worked better as a long form article or mini-book of around 4000-6,000 words.
But for sheer “I need to read this” the premise of The London Underground Serial killer is hard to beat.