Review by Clarence Walker
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.
Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at: Newswriter74@yahoo.com