Category: True Crime Book Reviews

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

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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.

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night Deadly Night

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”.

A Milwaukee protest at the opening of Silent Night, Deadly Night in November 1984.
A Milwaukee protest at the opening of Silent Night, Deadly Night in November 1984.

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.

All the controversy went on to give the film somewhat of a cult status.
All the controversy went on to give the film somewhat of a cult status.

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…”.

There were several sequels made.

I never did end up seeing the original movie…

 

The London Underground Serial Killer

The book claims authorities covered up the killings to avoid public panic.
The book claims authorities covered up the killings to avoid public panic.

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.

The London Underground Serial Killer is published by Pen and Sword Books.

Then no One Can have Her by Caitlin Rother

 

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Review by Ellen D. Wallace

Caitlin Rother proves that a true crime writer must be many things: detective, researcher, legal expert and persuasive interviewer. In relating the case in Then No One Can Have Her Rother uses these skills plus gentle empathy for the victim, her friends and family.

The book is the story surrounding the murder of Carol Kennedy — a mother, artist, spiritual therapist and a wife in love with her husband despite her need to save herself by divorcing him. Just piecing together this case which covers a span of five years and has more ups and downs than the Swiss Alps proves Rother’s expertise and tenacity as a true-crime author.

On July 2, 2008, just 35 days after divorcing her charming stock-trader husband Steve DeMocker, Carol was found in her Prescott, Arizona, home bludgeoned to death. The investigation focuses on two possible suspects: her ex-husband and a male friend who occupied a guest house on Carol’s property.

Caitlin Rother

 

Rother (above) describes the early stop-start and slightly bumbling efforts by local authorities to unravel this crime that was veiled by misrepresentation from the start. To add to the complexity of events, the investigation was hampered at every stage — even the outdoor portion of the crime scene was obliterated by rain shortly after the murder.

By distilling reams of evidence reports that ultimately implicated the killer, Rother describes years of psychological mistreatment endured by the victim. Carol’s dream marriage to her “soulmate,” as she called Steve, began to crumble under the strain of watching him jeopardize their family year after year by his self-centered spending and crass womanizing.

Rother’s investigation reveals that Steve counted on Carol’s loyalty despite his despicable behavior and used her love as the ultimate weapon against her. Steve’s passive-aggressive control over Carol broke like a parched twig in the Arizona desert when she divorced him setting in motion the grizzly events afterward.

But what about the renter in the guest house? Was he really just a friend or a man who wanted more? Peel back the truth as Rother takes you along in this crisscross investigation.

Then No One Can Have Her also examines the challenges of prosecuting an educated, narcissistic suspect. In the hands of a less competent writer, the book could easily have become a tedious list of circumstances, but Rother keeps the story moving at a fast clip using a crisp, clear and detailed writing style she undoubtedly polished in her career as an award-winning journalist.

Rother also dissects a dark side of human behavior rarely seen — even in criminals — a parent who manipulates his children to protect himself. How the killer influences those that he should love and protect before and during his trial will both amaze and repulse readers.

One of the sections of Then No One Can Have Her not to be missed is the “author’s notes” because Rother reveals her personal reason for selecting this particular case for her book and why readers will feel that she was the perfect author to advocate for the victim.

This book, published by Pinnacle, illustrates how one man’s manic lust for control ended in murder. Then No One Can Have Her is a suspenseful read well worth your time.

19th Century Barnsley Murders

Review by Ellen D. Wallace

Pen and Sword Books

19th Century Barnsley Murders is a look back at a town caught in beginnings of economic failure, the Industrial Revolution, and the emergence of working class movements in Britain. All three of these major influences converge in poverty and crime, including murder of the boldest sort in Barnsley, a town located between Sheffield, Leeds and Doncaster.
 
Amid descriptions of rat-ridden slums populated by numerous pubs, author Margaret Drinkall describes the darker side of progress in this small town. She recounts 17 murders or near-misses that occurred during the tempestuous 19th century in Barnsley. Drinkall reveals cases of bodysnatching, an early case of stalking which ended in murder in the street, the loss of a child and murder by pudding.
 
Interspersed in the copy are black and white photos, maps and drawings of places described in each of the cases. These photos and maps help draw the readers into the narrative. One impressively stark photo is that of a jail cell door in Leeds — in an underground jail with ominously thick stone walls.
 
Court practices of the period are also described in the book. For instance, often in the 19th century, an inquest was started almost immediately and the body of the victim was not moved from the scene until jurors viewed the body were it was dropped. 
 
Drinkall describes the cases she has selected each in a separate chapter, allowing every case center stage. One thing that is lacking is a character development of the victim and murderer, but this is understandable since Drinkall relies on court records and newspaper accounts to retell these stories.
 
If you are lucky enough to be traveling to Great Britain, based on the intrigue of the this book, you might wish to read this book first and then add Barnsley to your itinerary to soak in the local colour and the sites of murders long ago. 

Published by Pen & Sword Books
 

 

Lingering Doubts: Going inside Brisbane’s Arcade Murder

The authors of Lingering Doubts: Going Inside Brisbane’s Arcade Murder represent the heart of true crime investigative writing.

Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis are the granddaughters of a man named Reginald Brown. Brown, a respected Brisbane accountant, had his world turned upside down in 1947 when he was arrested for the murder of his 19-year-old typist Bronia Armstrong. Bronia’s partly-clad body was found on January 11 in a room of the Brisbane Associated Friendly Society in the Wallace Bishop Arcade building where Brown worked.

Authors Deb Drummond & Janice Teunis. Picture: Lingering-Doubts.com
Authors Deb Drummond & Janice Teunis. Picture: Lingering-Doubts.com

 

The case was a sensation in Australia’s newspapers and his family and friends could not match the loving, moral and community-minded man with who was being portrayed in newspapers and by police.  In March 1947 Brown was sentenced to life imprisonment. Throughout he had maintained his innocence. He spent just nine days in prison before being found in his cell, hanging by his belt.

Brown’s last ever note read: “To Whom it May Concern,“I did not kill Bronia Armstrong. My conscience is clear. RWS Brown”.

Source: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article127074031
Source: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article127074031

The book delves into exhaustive detail about the case and trial and interwoven is family history, interviews with those who knew Brown and Miss Armstrong, people involved at the time and the aftermath of the tragedy on those left behind. The authors never knew their grandfather but this book is a testament to the man who they believe was innocent of the murder.

There is plenty to back up their belief that Brown was framed for the murder – Queensland was a hotbed of police and political corruption for decades during the 20th century (for readers google “The Fitzgerald Inquiry” to start read about Queensland corruption). A senior police officer in the case, a man called Frank Bischof,  looms large as a central figure and as the authors detail, he was named as a key player by The Fitzgerald Inquiry in the “unscrupulous conduct” by Queensland Police. (By the time of the inquiry in 1987, Bischof was deceased.)

The passion and dogged determination of the authors make Lingering Doubts a fascinating read. The memory of Bronia Armstrong is also sensitively dealt with and it is never forgotten that this young woman’s life was cruelly taken.

This is a standout Australian true crime book. My utmost respect to the authors.

Read more at the website Lingering Doubts.

 

 

The Day the Catskills Cried

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The Day the Catskills Cried recounts the 1977 kidnapping and tragic murder of Trudy Resnick Farber in a rural New York town near the Catskill Mountains. Trudy, a young wife, was the daughter of millionaire industrialist Harry Resnick and niece of the former U.S. Representative Joesph Y. Resnick.

She was abducted at gunpoint from her home by a masked intruder then buried alive in a pit while her abductor demanded one million dollars ransom for her return. The crime was devised by the schizophrenic mind of Ronald H. Krom and motivated be greed and revenge. Krom and Trudy knew each other as youngsters because their parents had a business relationship at one time. Krom is revealed as a man who has a grandiose self-image combined with a propensity to demand social respect that resulted in a senseless murder. The slight that starts this bizarre spiral is that Krom is not invited to Trudy’s wedding.

The book describes the arduous process of bringing Trudy’s killer to justice. It’s only after Krom has confessed and brings authorities to Trudy’s  earth-bound cell that they all realize that Trudy died alone and terrified while in captivity. Then the legal circus begins and is drastically slowed down when allowances have to be made due to Krom’s previously diagnosed schizophrenia.

Throughout the book, Beyea, a former state investigator for New York, shows his respect for authorities and prosecutors involved in the case by highlighting the nature of the exacting work done by the team. He also shows his compassion toward for the victim’s family as they restrained their emotions and focused only on bringing Trudy’s killer to justice despite endless delays.

There is a distraction in the book, however, that is created by choppy writing and insertion of the author into the story via “notes” to the reader. Meaningful character development is lacking and the author characterizes those involved are clearly all good or all evil. Bringing the courtroom drama alive at the trial of Ronald Krom is where Beyea’s grit and skill as an author shines.

The book makes two strong points: evil exists in this world, and the American system of justice protects the rights of everyone — even those who are accused of unthinkable criminal acts until proven guilty, despite how long that process takes.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

http://www.amazon.com/Fruit-Poisonous-Tree- ebook/dp/B008BKNRFG

 

For more details go to Richard W. Carson’s website. The book is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble

This true crime case has a lot of elements that make it an extremely intriguing tale – a missing and murdered Michigan teen, witchcraft, a defence lawyer who also happened to be a priest, other tragedies that befell people with links to the case.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, The True Story of Murder in a Small Town, is an eBook version of the traditionally published, Murder in the Thumb, which came out in 2012.

The victim was Robin Adams, a 17-year-old high school girl. She vanished in 1976 and her disappearance was unsolved for eight years until a brother and sister were in the frame for her murder. (The sister, Nora Garza, cooperated with police to lead them to Robin’s body in exchange for the murder charge against her being dropped.)

At the time of the prosecution of the siblings, Robin’s body had not yet been found. The case was a legal first for Michigan because the prosecutors charged the accused with murder without a body. It was the first time this had ever been done.

Author Richard W. Carson is a journalist with decades of experience who has worked on newspapers, including The Columbus Dispatch (the major daily newspaper for Ohio’s capital city). Putting this intriguing story into a book has been a long project for Carson. As a journo and true crime author myself, the story seems mind-boggling and Carson has done a fantastic job. It’s a great read. It is detailed and painstakingly researched.

Audacity: Jodie Arias 18 Days on the Stand

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This book is about the sensational trial of a woman called Jodi Arias who was convicted of the brutal murder of her boyfriend Travis Alexander in 2008. He was stabbed around 30 times, had his throat slit and his body lay undiscovered for days.

This case has gripped America. In fact, Arias will be sentenced in April to either life in prison or a life term with the possibility of release after 25 years. The death penalty was taken “off the table” after the jury could not reach a decision on her punishment.

California-based court blogger and author Lisa Wilson teamed up with South African photojournalist Nick Van Der Leek to write about the Arias crime and trial. This book covers the background, investigation and trial of Arias, who displayed bizarre behaviour in the wake of her boyfriend’s murder. She did headstands in the police interview room just minutes before she was charged with Travis’s murder.

 

Jodi Arias doing a headstand in the police interview room.
Jodi Arias doing a headstand in the police interview room.

Jodie Arias has fascinated people because her behaviour plays into the public’s intrigue and fears about evil women. The motive for the murder is believed to be Arias’s fury that Travis wanted to end their relationship, which was volatile. (The couple’s phone sex conversations were sensationally played in court, among other things.)

For someone like me who knew only scant details about the Arias, Audacity was a decent read that gave me a comprehensive look at the case.

Being based in Australia where our criminal justice system is very different to that in America, I can find coverage of cases a bit overwhelming…and that’s coming from someone who is very interested in true crime.

For instance, jurors are never allowed to speak to the press. Only details in open court are allowed to be reported and the media must wait until a conviction to reveal certain details of police investigations and an offender’s background. (I still can’t get my head around how in the US it is open slather to report on every little detail of a crime, the accused and the victim. how does that not influence a jury?)

That is why books and media coverage about US cases are so tantalising for true crime readers.

Audacity was quite a gripping read. Arias is certainly a very dangerous woman. I really feel for the family of Travis Alexander.

Audacity is available from Amazon.

 

Blood Aces by Doug J. Swanson

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Blood Aces: The Wild Ride Of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker REVIEWED by By Investigative Crime Journalist Clarence Walker: truecrimewriter83@mail.com

Texas outlaw Benny Binion was an amazing character.

In fact, he was many characters all wrapped up into one – A Texas cowboy, famous casino owner, a poker pioneer, gambler, a smooth-talking businessman, a ruthless gangster with organized crime connections, a killer…and the founder of the World’s Poker Series, a series held each year in Las Vegas that showcases the best players from around the globe.

The life story of Benny Binion had to be told in all its splendid glory and spellbinding details.

Douglas Swanson has written a highly remarkable book about the life of Benny Binion Blood Aces: The Wild Ride Of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.

Blood Aces is the definitive biography of a Texas outlaw who played important roles in making Las Vegas the world’s most famous gambling empire. Blood Aces may sound like a fiction novel, but it is a true-life book, which comes compellingly alive.

People are fascinated by the Sopranos, Mafia dons, hit men, drug kingpins and flashy criminals.

But meet Benny “Cowboy” Binion, a real-life Texas gangster.

Swanson, a Dallas Morning News Investigative Project Editor, writes in Blood Aces. “The nation’s history is packed with legendary outlaws. But none of them can match Binion’s wild, bloody, and American journey.”

“As much as anyone,” says Swanson, “Binion made Vegas a mecca for high rollers”.

Binion’s poker games became a big hit when Binion and close friends played a few rounds in 1970. A shrewd money-maker, Binion figured out that poker games could make money at his Horseshoe Casino.

Benny Binion At His Horseshoe Casino.
Benny Binion At His Horseshoe Casino.

Showing deep affection for gangsters, Benny Binion, the man known as “Cowboy” once hired an airplane pilot in 1934 to drop a floral wreath at the gravesite of outlaw Clyde Barrow (the second half of Bonnie Parker, as in “Bonnie & Clyde”).

Benny Binion was a modern day Billy “the” Kid. As a killer, Binion’s oft-remarks were, “I ain’t killed nobody that didn’t deserve it”. Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong

As a killer, Binion’s oft-remarks were, “I ain’t killed nobody that didn’t deserve it”. Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong…and my enemies can do no right. Do your enemies, before they do you.”

Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong, and my enemies can do no right. Do your enemies, before they do you.”

When FBI agents pursued Binion for his involvement in the murder of Bill Coulter, a former FBI agent, and a Russian guy named Louie Strauss, Binion, in a moment of rage, told a reporter: “Tell them FBIs’…I am still capable of doing my own killing!”.

When Herbert “the Cat” Noble refused to give Binion 40 per cent of his gambling operation, Binion tried to kill Noble 11 times!

Binion’s crew finally succeeded by killing Noble…on the eleventh try. Previous attempts to kill “Cat Noble” included bombs that didn’t go off, shots that either hit Noble (but he survived) or multiple shots that missed Noble. On one attempt, the killers blowed up Noble’s car, then went back to Binion to claim a $25,000 reward, but Binion broke the sad news, that they killed Noble’s wife, not Noble.

It took eleven attempts, but old Cowboy Benny finally killed the “Cat.”

Benny “Cowboy” Binion was a modern day Billy “the kid” or Jessie James, but Binion had much more money. Much more.

Binion was dangerous as a rattlesnake, but also he became a “super rich” gangster, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Inside Binion’s Horsehoe Casino he allowed regular customers and tourists to take pictures standing outside a glass-plated showcase filled up with a million dollars.

Binion’s wealth influence and power connections led him into the circle of some of America’s most notorious and prominent people, as well as those abroad. Blood Aces retrace Binion’s footsteps all the way from the back woods of Texas to the West Coast, where he settled in Las Vegas.

Arriving in Vegas from Texas during 1940s’, Binion, as a southern style gambling boss, forged close relationships with Mafia players like Meyer Lanksy, Bugsy Siegel, Tony “the Ant” Spilotro, Mickey Cohen, and billionaire Howard Hughes. He surrounded himself with a host of well-connected people with political power, capable of making things happen. Or make things not happen.

Gifted with razor-sharp intelligence, boldness, folksy charm, and having the heart of a cold-bloodied killer, Benny Binion opened Las Vegas Horseshoe Casino & Hotel on Freemont street in 1951. And he became the most revered figure in the history of Las Vegas gambling.

Benny Binion was a true pioneer who understood the makings of a successful casino by offering patrons a better deal for their money – good food, fine whisky, lovely-looking women, private rooms, and beautiful central air suites to sleep in. If customers so desired, Binion had limousine service to drive customers to and from the airport.

Binion’s formula for running a business was simple: cultivate the big boys, own the cops, and kill your enemies.

For decades, Benny Binion’s name and hellish reputation has echoed throughout Texas and Las Vegas history like old ghost stories and never-ending gangster lore, but author Douglas Swanson may be the first writer to cobble together all the nitty-gritty exclusive details together.

Blood Aces captures the essence of Benny Binion’s dirt-poor childhood life growing up in Texas, all the way to his gigantic rise as boss of the “numbers rackets” in and around Dallas Texas. “He came from nothing,” writes Swanson, “or the nearest thing to it”.

VERDICT: Blood Aces is a page burner. It’s hard to put it down without going back to it.

Blood Aces: The Wild Ride Of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker is published by Viking Press.

The Innocent Killer by Michael Griesbach

The Innocent Killer

The Innocent Killer is an in-depth look at a very important case in Wisconsin criminal law. It is the story of violent crimes against women, police investigations and the vital importance of evidence.

The author is Michael Griesbach who is a prosecutor in Wisconsin in the same country where the central crime that is featured in this book took place.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers because this book has an incredible twist but here’s the basic outline: In 1985 a woman called Penny Beernsten raped and assaulted in an extremely violent attack as she took a run along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

A man called Steven Avery was convicted of the crime and spent 18 years in prison. The thing is, he didn’t do it. A serial sex offender called Gregory Allen was the man who attacked Penny.

Avery (who was by no means a man who lived a crime-free life), is freed, however that’s not the end of the story. What happens next is shocking. There is no clear black or white, good or bad here. Griesbach became involved in the case during the process to exonerate Avery so his first-hand knowledge is the strength of this book.

Griesbach has written an incredibly detailed story that is a must-read if you are interested in crime and legal books. The book is not a quick and dirty read. It is one where the reader needs to absorb the detail and they will certainly learn much about Wisconsin, the law, DNA and the devastating impact of slack…even corrupt police practices on people involved in and affected by crime.

In the press release for this book is said of Griesbach: “…He hopes to leave readers better informed about the inner workings of the criminal justice system and more concerned about those whose lives it deeply affects…”.

This book certainly achieves those aims.

To order The Innocent Killer go HERE.

The Skeleton Crew

 

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For someone interested in true crime the new book The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving Some of America’s Coldest Cases is one of the most anticipated titles you could hope to read.

I really enjoyed this book. I often scan through missing persons websites and am endlessly intrigued by how someone could go missing or someone’s body could be discovered and their identity is a mystery. How does that happen? What happened? Why does nobody care about them?

Author and journalist Deborah Halber takes the reader on a journey of these databases of missing and unidentified bodies and the people who try and solve these mysteries. And it’s increasingly people doing amateur detective work from behind their computer screen who are giving closure to some cases that are often decades old.

There are currently 40,000unidentified dead stowed away in mortuaries, evidence rooms and potter’s fields around America. That is unbelievable and terribly sad.

Halber delves into the world of these people who spend their lives searching for clues on the web to try and identify these unidentified people with profiles of missing persons. It becomes somewhat of an obsession for many of these armchair detectives, as you’ll discover.

Halber covers details of cold cases, successful identifications and some of the lives of these amateur sleuths. There is also plenty of information about technology to help identify human remains and reconstruct what a person looked like from their skull. It is gripping stuff.

Skeleton Crew is published by Simon and Schuster. For Aussie and Kiwi readers it’s available on ebook.

The Time of Eddie Noel by Allie Povall

Reviewed by Clarence Walker (truecrimewriter83@mail.com)

As a true crime writer, research specialist, historian and freelance investigative journalist, what piqued my deep interest in The Time Of Eddie Noel by Allie Povall was the location where the crime happened – the state of Mississippi in the 1950s.

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I’ve always been fascinated with the history of Mississippi and its culture, notwithstanding the fact that my paternal grandfather Walter Walker was from Natchez, Mississippi and my paternal grandmother, Olivia Walker, was from Arcola. I was born in a small town in Southeast rural Arkansas near Greenville, Mississippi where my deceased father Clarence Walker Sr. and my mother Thelma aka “Nellie” got married in Greenville in 1960.

My precious mother, Thelma Walker has recalled over the years that her paternal grandmother Mary Minor was from a small town in Mississippi called Port Gibson, a town once ruled by the French during the 1700s. Following the civil war, Mississippi became the battleground of the historic civil rights movement – its past represented deep bias segregation and white people hating blacks based on skin colour. Mississippi once epitomized vicious racism toward blacks as a way to keep white supremacy forever in power.

Times have changed now. Mississippi is a much better place to live these days.

Delta Mississippi is known worldwide for its rich music of blues, soul, country, rock and roll, and mixture of rhythm and blues heritage sung by popular artists like Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Tyrone Davis, Little Milton and the geriatric B.B. King.

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Povall’s book The Time Of Eddie Noel is a well-written, compelling book about a young black man who killed three white men in Holmes County, Mississippi and got off scot-free at a time when blacks were lynched by whites at the drop of a hat.

For example, Emmett Till was murdered in 1955, allegedly because he “whistled” at a white woman. History shows that blacks were killed in Mississippi simply for defying a white person.

Prior to Till’s murder, in January 1954, a young Eddie Noel shot and killed a white man identified as Willie Ramon Dickard, the owner of a honky-tonk joint in Holmes County, Mississippi. The murder of Dickard triggered an outrage from the white community.

Angry white men swiftly formed a mob to hunt down Noel, to shoot him, cut his tongue out, lynch him, then burn the dark hide off his smouldering body. It was the largest manhunt in Mississippi history. Incredibly, Noel engaged in two separate gunfights with the mob and killed two more white men, one a deputy sheriff and wounding three others!

Povall’s superb narrative retells the night when Noel went on his shooting rampage by storming into the honky-tonk joint owned by Willie Ramon Dickard, a place where moonshine was sold unabatedly and interracial sex between customers was the norm.

Noel’s jealous heart led him to suspect that his wife, a hefty, sexy, “country soul sister” named Lou Ethel, had been tricking with Dickard in exchange for the old green mighty dollar. An argument ensued over whether Noel could take his own wife back home.

Dickard decided to teach Noel a lesson (to stay in his place and not interrupt business) by beating Noel bloody. Noel retaliated. He quickly fetched his rifle out of his vehicle and shot Dickard twice in the chest, killing him instantly. Echoes of revenge reverberated throughout Homes County over the harsh reality that a black man had killed a white man.

The hunt, led by Sheriff Richard Byrd and Deputy John Pat Malone, was on. Positioned in the dark cold woods, Noel fired a .22 rifle and struck Deputy Malone, killing him, too.

A few days later just when the mob thought they had the elusive killer cornered, Noel fired a shot wounding two and killed one more white man in Mississippi.

Here’s what make the book so fascinating – Noel was never caught by the mob or law enforcement, never put on trial for his life, and he never went to prison. The background about this entire case is so captivating until the world’s best Hollywood scriptwriter, nor a great fiction writer could have created the multitude of bizarre facts that collided amidst this true life drama of how a black man miraculously survive in the dark hateful era of Jim Crow Mississippi after killing three men.

One mesmerising point about Eddie Noel’s ancestors will blow your mind.

Eddie Noel (actually Edmond Noel) is a direct descendant of Edmund Faver Noel, Mississippi’s governor from 1909 to 1913. As the story unfold in Povall’s book, it illustrate that the killer Eddie Noel was named after the one-time popular governor, although Eddie’s first name is a variation of the governor’s first name. (Read this list of Mississippi Governors.)

The book provokes mind-boggling questions – how could a negro man kill three white men then elude an armed mob in the woods for several days during a frigid cold winter without incurring illnesses or starvation? And why has the history of Eddie Noel ‘s amazing story has not been well documented as part of Black History nor included into the annals of American Civil Rights? The author thoroughly explores and explains the dynamics behind this incredible story.

Eddie Noel’s story of never being tried for killing three white people in Mississippi at a time when blacks had no civil rights, unable to properly vote, and subjected to inhumane treatment is a story that will keep you turning the pages. The Time Of Eddie Noel is the story of a time and place whereby a young black man defied incredible odds of a criminal justice system that poised to send him to the electric chair for crossing the line to kill a white man.

I will not reveal how Eddie Noel escaped the electric chair or how he avoided prosecution altogether. Only the book can give you all the details to form a sensible, objective conclusion for a reader to get the complete picture.

This book is a rich history filled with explicit, colourful details of a time and place when the Deep South stood at the threshold of the civil rights movement, a legacy that would forever change both the landscape and the social system, which would govern the lives of its people, both black and white.

The Time Of Eddie Noel rivals John Grisham’s best-selling novel A Time to Kill.

The book is published by Comfort Publishing.

Clarence Walker can be contacted at truecrimewriter83@mail.com

 

Mothers Who Murder by Xanthe Mallett

Mothers who murder

This book covers a topic that is deeply distressing and uncomfortable to consider. Women who kill their son or daughter, known as filicide, challenge our deeply ingrained notion of what we think a woman, and a mother in particular, should be and how she should act.

The author, Dr Xanthe Mallett covers many of the well-known cases in Australian criminal history of mother who have murdered their children , including Keli Lane, Kathleen Folbigg and most recently Kristi Abrahams. Mallett, who was a presenter on the recent Channel Ten show Wanted, is also a forensic anthropologist and draws on her expertise to review each case and also add her opinion on the facts, evidence and investigation. However, there’s not much new in the case chapters to draw on. There’s no new insights revealed, which dedicated true crime readers would probably be looking for from this book.

Mallett also details some well-known miscarriages of justice, including Australia’s most notorious case of Lindy Chamberlain as well as shocking cases from her native United Kingdom and Europe.

Mothers Who Murder paints a shocking picture of the cruelty (and evil as Mallett concluded) that women can inflict. To do so on their own flesh and blood is mystifying and perhaps, this is why the topic of mothers who kill their children will always be heavily covered by the media and disseminated by experts and pundits.

This is Mallett’s first book and it is thorough and well-written.

Mothers Who Murder is published by Ebury Press, an imprint of Random House Australia.

 

The Yoga Store Murder by Dan Morse

 

YSMCover3D1I remember reading about this strange and shocking murder when it happened. It stood out in my mind because of where the crime happened – a Lululemon Athletica store.

I’m no stranger to the brand, we have it in Australia where it has gained serious popularity in the past few years. The clothes are pricey and the staff – usually always Canadians on working holidays – are really friendly and very chilled out. It is the last place you’d expect to see a murder.

So this crime, which happened in a retail store in Bethesda, Maryland (America’s most educated small town according to Forbes. This is due to its proximity to Washington DC) was certainly at odds with its zen backdrop.

On March 12, 2011, two young saleswomen were found brutally attacked in the store. One, 30-year-old Jayna Murray, was dead. Her colleague, Brittany Norwood, 28 was found tied up on the bathroom floor.  Norwood told a disturbing story of two masked men coming into the store after the women had closed.  The wanted money but then things turned violent.

“I just remember there being so much blood,” Norwood told investigators.

A terrifying incident…if it was true. Why would masked men want to rob a yoga store? Of course, there was more to the story and police didn’t have to look far for the culprit, despite fears there were two maniacs on the loose in the affluent town. Forensics don’t lie and days later it was revealed that Norwood had brutally murdered Jayna.

The author, Dan Morse, is a crime reporter at the venerable Washington Post and covered this case. From the outset, you know Morse has real journalistic authority of this strange crime. As a journalist myself, this certainly appealed to me and as a true crime reader, I knew I was in for a good read…and I was not disappointed.

The book is exhaustive in its research. It’s really hard work to write a crime book (I wrote one that was published this year and it was a case file book. I am in awe of writers who cover a WHOLE case in one book) and Morse has really written a cracker of a story.

What is most interesting to me is why? What makes a young woman launch such an act of brutality…Jayna had hundreds of wounds on her body. (The case reminds me a bit of that of South Australian teen Jason Downie, who had no previous history of violence yet stabbed to death a 16-year-old girl and her parents that left one of the most bloody scenes police in that state had ever encountered.) And acts of violence by women are always more perplexing as they defy our stereotype of femininity. Morse goes into the “why”, as well as the “how”.

A strange and very sad case.

You follow Dan Morse at:

Twitter: @morsedan AND Facebook: facebook.com/danmorsewriter

Website: theyogastoremurder.com