Category: True Crime Book Reviews

Australian True Crime podcast


I’m really proud to plug my new podcast with you. Well, it’s not solely MY podcast but a project with Meshel Laurie who as well as being a true crime fanatic is also a comedian, author, radio and tv  presenter.

Together we are the Australian True Crime podcast, brought to you by Mamamia Netwiek and we released theee episodes this week. 
Meshel and I take you beyond the headlines and probe the underbelly of Australia’s suburbs and towns, talking to crime experts, victims, and others affected by crime. 

Our first episode is an in-depth interview with author and journalist Megan Norris about her book On Father’s Day that is the story of what happened when Victorian dad Robert Farquharson drove his car into a dam and killed his theee little sons. You’ll hear the inside story on who he was, the devastating impact on the boys’ mother Cindy Gambino and the other people  in the case like witnesses and the police. You won’t have heard some of the things Megan reveals. It’s really quite an insight. 

We also have an episode with the indomitable Janine Greening whose mother was killed in the most horrific way and the killers walk feee today. Hear about Janine’s tireless advocacy for victims of crime and people with disabilities. Not only was her mother killed but her disabled brother Peter’s life was destroyed too. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating. 

Then there’s an episode with the fascinating Charlie Bezzina, former head of Victoria Police’s Homicide Squad who has been in the company of some of the most dangerous prowl in Australia. 

Please subscribe, listen and review! There will be many more episodes coming…

The Brain Defense

 

In 1991 Manhattan man Herbert Weinstein killed his wife.  Weinstein confessed to the murder – the couple were having a heated argument and he dropped his wife Barbara from their apartment window. A shocking crime that left Weinstein’s family stunned. Weinstein had no history of violent behaviour.

Enter medicine and brain science. An MRI revealed that Weinstein had a tumour on the frontal lobe of his brain, the area that governs decision-making and impulse control. Could this be the reason Weinstein acted out in murderous rage? His defence used this argument, marking the entry into America’s courtrooms of neuroscience to explain criminal behaviour.

Author Kevin Davis uses the Weinstein case as the anchor of his book The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America’s Courtrooms. The book also explores the history of brain science in criminal trials and the scientific links between brain injuries and anti-social and criminal behaviour.

You’ll be intrigued to find out more (if you don’t already know) about the University of Texas mass shooter Charles Whitman and whether the tumour detected in his brain post-mortem could have contributed to his killing rampage of 13 people (31 others were injured). He was shot dead by the police and that’s the only thing that stopped him killing more people. The correlation between Whitman’s dreadful crime, his mental health and the pecan-sized brain tumour found is still subject to debate.

The Brain Defense posed a lot of questions and issues. Can science and medical conditions really be a rock-solid explanation for crimes, especially murder. There’s some really stark evidence about how early-life stress and violence affects the developing brain of children. I found this so interesting and disturbing because it seems that children who have stressful or abusive homes and upbringings are really at such dire risk of stunted health and development.

Davis speaks to experts in the field of neuroscience and psychiatry, including Dr Martin H. Teicher, a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard.

“Society reaps what it sows in nurturing it’s children,” says Teicher.

Davis writes: While abused children may know right from wrong, their brains are so irritable and the connections between hemispheres so tangled that they lack the ability to use logic and reason to control their aggressive impulses…”

The Brain Defense is published by Penguin Random House.

The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj

 

Sobhraj pictured with Canadian girlfriend Marie Andree.

Meet Charles Sobhraj – conman, escape artist, expert manipulator and serial killer.

His story is unbelievable. Except it happened and authors Richard Neville and Julie Clarke documented the extraordinary and frightening life and crimes of Sobhraj. in 1977 Neville and Clarke were invited to interview Sobhraj to tell his life story. They did this and more, investigating the murders by Sobhraj of the western tourists in Bangkok and Kathmandu. The result is The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj.

Sobhraj was able to expertly seduce women, con tourists (some of whom had very lucky escapes with their lives), and escape jails.For instance one young man, a French tourist in Bangkok, found himself seriously ill with what he thought was dysentery, and unable to care for himself. he was virtually help captive in Sohraj’s apartment, and though he thought Sobhraj and his girlfriend Marie were taking care of him, they were actually poisoning him. The apartment attracted many travellers and this is where Sobhraj lured some of his victims.

This book is investigative journalism with the pace of a novel. I was gripped and quietly terrified reading it. Married couple Neville and Clarke (Neville passed away in 2016) chart the odyssey of Sobhraj’s crimes and the people caught up in his web – the victims, girlfriends, wives and the people who started to piece it all together (your heart will be in your throat when you read about the married couple, neighbours of Sobhraj and the diplomat went with their suspicions).

This is absolutely one of my top crime reads. An extraordinary book that deserves to be a true crime classic.

Greed: The ‘Mr Asia’ Connection

 

This is a great read about a notorious drugs syndicate that spanned Australia, New Zealand, the UK and beyond.

The drugs syndicate, known as ‘The Organisation’ was spearheaded by a Kiwi-born criminal called Terrence ‘Terry’ Clarke, who started selling cannabis known as ‘Thai Sticks’ and graduated to trafficking heroin using his network of associates.

The stakes were high and the rewards were big.

New Zealander Terry Clark was the head of global drugs syndicate called ‘The Organisation’.

Author Richard Hall paints a comprehensive picture of this crime saga, starting with the murder of Kiwi man Martin Johnstone, the one dubbed ‘Mr Asia’ because he was The Organisation’s Singapore contact. Johnstone’s body, sans his hands, was thrown into a flooded Lancashire Quarry.

This book, which I picked up at an op shop (a great way to find hard-to-get and out-of-print true crime reads) was published in 1981, after five men, including Terry Clark, tried under the name Terry Sinclair) were convicted for their part in Johnstone’s murder.

The book details the court trial, the movements of the syndicate and how they smuggled drugs to various countries and the luxury lives these people led. As the title of the book suggests, it was greed that led to the downfall of Terry Clark/Sinclair.

Highly recommend this read. (I love that this copy is a Pan Original paperback.) It had been republished in the wake of the Underbelly: A Take of Two Cities series.

Incest, Murder and a Miracle 


This is quite a read. This book is disturbing, sad and also inspiring in terms of the strength and dignity of Cheryl Pierson, who endured shocking abuse at the hands of her father at their home in Long Island. 
In 1986, Cheryl was arrested for hiring a fellow high school student to murder her father. The case made national headlines and, as stated in the book: “The reason my case attracted so much national attention was because of the disturbing moral and social issues it raised…”


The book is told from both Cheryl and her husband Rob Cuccio’s perspectives and co-written with author Morgan St James. The narrative is quite raw, which I liked. As a reader you feel like you are sitting in a room with Cheryl and Rob and them telling you their story. Cheryl met Rob when she was a teen and he vowed to protect her and stick by her no matter what. 

The fact Cheryl survived and went on to raise her own cherished family is really a testament to love. Truly. Her husband Rob, whom she met in high school, really does fit the description of “guardian angel”. 

This book intersects the personal story of Cheryl and Rob with the overarching subject of sexual abuse and the extreme damage it does to victims. It’s sickening what Cheryl’s father did and it’s hard to believe that people questioned the truthfulness of her story. 

Cheryl was desperate to keep her sister safe and traumatised from years of being raped and beaten by her father, the one man meant to protect and love her. 

The sexual abuse is simply shocking and does make for very uncomfortable reading, as it should. Cheryl suffered for so many years and many people had suspicions of what was happening:

“During my hearing I discovered more than twenty adults apparently suspected what was happening to me, but nobody did anything to help me!”…”

Cheryl’s mother died of kidney disease when she was a teen, just one year before she was arrested for her father’s murder and Cheryl talks about how much she loved her mum and her vow to protect her little sister. I did find it shocking that clearly the mother knew what was going on and did nothing but I realise there is complicated psychology and issues surrounding abuse victims. 

Despite this case being in the national headlines for several years, Cheryl had only done one interview in 30 years. So this book really does represent “her story”. I was chatting to an author friend of mine recently and we were discussing how sometimes, often, there’s needs to be time between a case and a book being written – often there needs to be years so that a greater understanding of what happened.

I think the strength of this book is that it’s Cheryl’s story and she could write from a place of maturity and experience. There’s also the added thread of the story with Rob’s near death experience later in his life that threatened their family unit that was so hard-fought for and cherished. 

Another aspect of the book I found intriguing was when Cheryl would mentioned a book written about her just a few years after her court case. This book is clearly something that still upsets Cheryl and she details some of the preconceptions detailed in it by the NY Times reporter who wrote the book. As a crime author myself this gave me real pause about the nature of true crime writing and reporting and the ethical questions that arise when you write about other people’s lives. 

I definitely recommend reading Incest, Murder  and a Miracle. 

The Coroner: Investigating Sudden Death

L to r: The Coffee Pot cafe, Strathfield Plaza; The Coroner book cover; Derrick Hand speaks to Wauchope Library book club in 2009.

Derrick Hand was the New South Wales State Coroner for five years and had served as a magistrate and deputy state coroner for many years before that. In fact, at the time of his retirement he’d worked 47 years in the court system.

This book is a fascinating look into his career and the many cases – some of Australia’s most high profile – that Hand worked.

Police shootings, the death of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, the Threadbo disaster and many murders including that of Anita Cobby – Derrick Hand writes from his unique perspective.

Having seen so many deaths and complex cases, Hand details the case that affected him the most – 1991’s Strathfield Plaza massacre in Sydney by taxi driver Wade Frankum.

On the massacre, Hand writes: “People ask what was my most harrowing experience. This was it. Six bodies lay where they had fallen”.

Hand was the magistrate when Sydney’s “Granny Killer” first appeared in court. Hand recounts the case of John Glover who murdered six elderly women from Sydney’s North Shore, an exclusive enclave of the harbour city.

Co-written with journalist Janet Fife Yeomans, The Coroner is a gripping read. I Highly recommend you get your hands on a copy.

Fathers Who Kill

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If there was any book I’d recommend for people to understand the gravity of violence against women and children then this book is the one.

in Look What You made Me Do: Fathers Who Kill, Megan Norris (On Father’s Day, Love You to Death) has gathered together some of the most shocking crimes in Australia – and many of them you may not have heard about.

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.

Megan Norris pictured with Cindy Gambino at the dam where Cindy's ex-husband  purposely drove into and drowned their sons. PICTURE: Lisa Saad
Megan Norris pictured with Cindy Gambino at the dam where Cindy’s ex-husband purposely drove into and drowned their sons. PICTURE: Lisa Saad

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”.

 

The Blood on my Hands

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. 

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

Poverty on trial in Kate Summerscale’s New Book

Review by Ellen Wallace

 

The Wicked Boy

 

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.

The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer

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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.

The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer is published by Pen & Sword Books.

Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People


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. 

Famous detective Stories – True Tales of Australian Crime

Famous Detective Stories

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.

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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.

The book is released on July 1 from NLA Publishing.

Background information from ‘A world of fancy fiction and fact’: The Frank C. Johnson Archive at the State Library of New South Wales, by Rachel Franks, State Library of New South Wales. (Definitely worth a read.)

A new theory on Jack the Ripper

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Melbourne author Richard Patterson has presented another theory to the mystery of Jack the Ripper – and he thinks he’s found the real culprit.

Patterson’s book Francis Thompson – A Ripper Suspect puts forward the theory that a poet was the infamous killer.

“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.

An Acre of Fools by Aden James

By Ellen Wallace, True Crime Reader reviewer

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.

A Murder over a Girl: Justice, Gender and Junior High

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.

Invisible Women

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.

Invisible Women: Powerful and Disturbing Stories of Murdered Sex Workers is published by Echo Publishing.

The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey

 Review by Ellen Wallace

  
 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.

 Published by Penguin Books. 

 

DEADLY TRIANGLE: A True Story of Lies, Sports and Murder

 

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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.

FIRST MURDER

Brenda Spicer
Brenda Spicer

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.,

SECOND MURDER

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

Crims in Grass Castles by Keith Moor

  
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) 

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka: The Ken & Barbie Killers

homolka

 

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.

The book is available via Amazon.