Murder on the River of Gold

Bruce Schuler enjoyed the lifestyle of gold fossicking. It gave the retired builder a sense of purpose, of comradeship with like-minded mates, and the thrill of the chase for gold.

He was doing just that, prospecting with his metal detector in a dry gully on the Palmer River, on that day in July 2012.

Then two shots rang out and he was never seen again.”

This is the gripping premise of Queensland author Robert Reid’s newest true crime book.

In Murder on the River of Gold Reid covers the 2012 murder of Bruce Schuler who was gold fossicking in the remote Palmerville Station area in Cape York, Australia.

Bruce’s body has never been found and a rogue, outback couple Stephen and Dianne Struber were convicted of his murder.

Reid takes the listener into the world of life in the remote region of Queensland, he calls in “Australia’s Badlands”, the fascinating world of gold fossickers and the dangerous and lawless lifestyle of the Strubers who for more than 20 years would roam the vast Palmerville Station (the couple held the lease on this self-styled outback kingdom) and River with a gun, threatening anyone who they perceived was trespassing on their land.

A real hero of this story, and it’s a position she’d trade in an instant to have her husband back alive, is Bruce Schuler’s widow Fiona Splitt. Fiona started an intense advocacy campaign in Queensland to have the “no body, no parole” legislation introduced. As a consequence the Strubers will never be released from prison because they deny they murdered Bruce. Fiona still holds hope Bruce’s remains will be found.

Robert Reid is a journalist and author who I admire a lot because of his exhaustive research and passion for the cases he covers. As part of this research for this book Reid even visited Dianne Struber in prison several times.

For the podcast I co-host called Australian True Crime I interviewed Robert about his book in an episode Australia’s Badlands: The Palmerville Station Murder.

We’ve also spoken to Robert Reid before about his coverage of another Queensland case, the deaths of best friends Vicki Arnold and Julie-Anne Leahy.

You can find out more about Robert Reid’s books at his website Murder and Mystery.

Angels of Death Updated and Rereleased

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been busy updating my second book Angels of Death, which had been out of print for a few years.

It’s now available again and features two new cases and updates.

The book is about healthcare serial killers and as if that topic isn’t chilling enough, I could have written many more cases. The vulnerability of these killers’ victims and the ease and callousness at which these doctors and nurses committed their crimes horrified me. These killers also expose the deficiencies in governance of healthcare and the cracks in the system, especially aged care.

Cases include Canadian Elizabeth Wettlaufer, Genene Jones, English GP Harold Shipman, Aussie Serial Killer nurse Megan Haines, Donald Harvey and Michael Swango.

Published by Clan Destine Press and available at good book stores and online (Amazon, Booktopia etc).

The Court Reporter by Jamelle Wells

When I was working as a newspaper reporter I did some court reporting and found it terrifying, intriguing and exhilarating. I wished I could have done more and honestly, if I could spend my days reporting on court matters I would be thrilled.

This is why I found the memoir The Court Reporter (Harper Collins) by Australian journalist Jamelle Wells such a superb read.

Court reporter Jamelle has covered some of Australia’s highest profile cases. The book opens with the awful case of Robert Xie who murdered five of his wife’s family – Min Lin; his wife, Yun Lin, their children Henry and Terry and Yun Lin’s sister, Irene Lin. Brenda Lin, 15 was the sole survivor. The family were bludgeoned to death as they slept.

It’s not only the high profile cases (Keli Lane, the Independent Commission into Corruption, The Skaef Brothers gang rape case) that have impacted Jamelle but the day-to-day dramas that unfold each day in the courts.

In an interview with her employer, the ABC, about her book, Jamelle said “I was immediately drawn to the intensity and theatre of a court environment…”.

Jamelle‘s book combines the professional and the personal and gives us the inside track of what goes on in the courts as well as the process of how she works and the day-to-day challenges of being a reporter.

She even writes about court watcherspeople who attend court to watch the drama unfold, whether it’s a high profile case or not, as well as her own day in court. Jamelle had a stalker, a man who started as what she though was a harmless pest but ended up becoming quite threatening and was once found by another resident of her apartment block swinging around two samurai swords!

Another case some readers may not know about (but others will because it was high profile for several years) is the Gordon Wood trial. Wood was charged with the murder of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne, who was found dead in 1995 at the bottom of Sydney’s The Gap. Wood was found guilty of Caroline’s murder in 2008 and then acquitted on appeal in 2012. Jamelle said this case showed her that the public has an insasible interest in murder cases and she’d often be asked about aspects of it by interested people.

I really enjoyed this book. You’ll definitely find yourself turning the pages quickly.

Hard Cuddles by James ‘The Hammer’ Harding

This is the life story of a man who’s now devoting his life to helping men navigate their inner selves and understand

It was great to meet James in person and interview him for my podcast Australian True Crime. It was a candid chat and James has unique experience to help men in crisis and understand some of the underlying factors for male aggression and violence.

James grew up in a pretty normal suburban Melbourne home but as he describes in the book he was drawn to the underworld and wanted to be a “hard man” when he left school. And he did it successfully. He was an enforcer who moved with Melbourne’s underworld.

Addiction was ever present amid this life of violence and then there was the moment of clarity when James knew he was “done” with the life.

The skills that saw him a successful standover man are the same ones he now uses to work with men in crisis.

Hard Cuddles is a really raw read. It’s not every day you read a story like this. You can follow James on Facebook to find out more about his work.

The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre: Murder, Arson and the Crime of the Century

Get ready for an extraordinary read with this in-depth account of the 1973 fire know as the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub massacre where 15 people were murdered.

This horrific event happened in Brisbane, Australia and has remained one of the country’s most talked about and shocking crimes.

For many years Queensland was a corrupt police state. There was fraud, organised crime and injustices on a large scale.

What was always known and reported was that two men were arrested and convicted for that arson attack and mass murder.

(What’s interesting is that the trial happened in September 1972, six months after the incident. Quick justice so to speak.)

Author Geoff Plunkett is the first person to view the files created by the lead detectives in this extraordinary case. Plunkett is a noted researcher and historian for Australia’s Department of Defence.

This book details never-before-revealed aspects of the investigation and transcripts of interviews. There’s also details about that innocent 15 people who died at the nightclub, building the picture of the absolute tragedy and outrage of this crime.

The inquest into this crime could still be reopened.

Published by Big Sky Publishing.

Martha Needle

I’ll say it straight out – this book Martha Needle: The Spellbinding Story of Australia’s Most Infamous Femme Fatale is one of my top true crime reads of 2018.

This book is meticulously researched by author Dr Brian Williams and is an exhaustive story of the life of poisoner Martha Needle, who was hanged in Melbourne, Australia in October 1894 for the murder of her Louis Juncken, who was her prospective brother-in-law.

Martha’s case hit worldwide attention and she was dubbed a ‘black widow’ as her husband had died earlier. Martha elicited great sympathy before it was revealed she was a murderer because her three little daughters had also died from ill-health. Turns out Martha had poisoned them all. So Martha was a serial killer with five, probably six victims and to this day is still one of Australia’s most prolific female murderers.

Williams’s research is extraordinary. I have so much respect for the process and the passion that’s gone into this book.

There’s more to this story than Martha’s awful, cruel crimes. Williams delves into her childhood and it is horrific. Martha was neglected, raped by her stepfather and a product of extreme poverty.

If you want the hear the author talk more about his book I spoke to him for the podcast I co-host called Australian True Crime. It’s a fascinating chat.

In Australia at the time of the 1890s and her crimes there was the worst economic depression the world had seen. As Williams says “you couldn’t give children away” – there was abject poverty and parents unable or unwilling to care for their kids literally left them on the street. Martha and her family lived in the inner-city of Melbourne, Richmond Ave the living conditions were hard. This great blog post of the slums of Melbourne in the 1800s will give you historical context too.

Martha learned that to get what she needed and wanted she had to manipulate people. There’s also drug addiction in the mix as Martha was hooked on the strong over-the-counter remedies that were available during that time.

Get your hands on this book. Support the research and passion that’s gone into this story. Martha Needle is a chilling, fascinating character.

Martha Needle: The Spellbinding Story of Australia’s Most Infamous Femme Fatale is published by New Holland.

The Family

The Family was a cult that operated in Australia from the 1970s.

Led by the bewitching Anne Hamilton-Byrne The Family was able to infiltrate areas of Government and the healthcare system in Victoria, Australia whereby group members were able to “adopt” (in fact steal) children, with little scrutiny, and raise them in this strange and allegedly abusive environment. This was made possible because there were social workers, doctors and midwives who were cult members.

This book by Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones is an in-depth investigation of the origins of a this cult and how Anne Hamilton-Byrne evolved into a cult leader.

For the true crime podcast I co-host we spoke to Chris Johnston and it’s a chilling chat about how Hamilton-Byrne manipulated so many people to gain riches and access to children.

The book also details the heroic, relentless work of a Victoria Police detective Lex De Man who pursued Hamilton-Byrne and tried to shed light on the cult and their fraudulent activities and tracked her to a farmhouse in upstate New York.

If you grew up in Melbourne’s outer east in the 1980s and 1990s you’ll know the stories of the Family cult who lives in some seclusion in The Dandenongs.

Australia hasn’t had many cults. The Family is the best known one that has left a trail of devastation for many involved who were ensnared by the manipulative Hamilton-Byrne who is now in her nineties with dementia and living in a nursing home.

The Family by Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones is published by Scribe.

There is also a documentary by Rosie Jones on The Family sect.

The Dominici Affair: Murder and Mystery in Provence

In the depths of Provence, rural France in 1952, distinguished British Scientist Sir Jack Drummond, his wife Lady Anne and 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth were murdered at their makeshift campsite.

These murders remain one of the most notorious in European modern history. The case was a sensation and it was a farmer, the proprietor of the farm near where the Drummond family were camping, who was convicted of the murders.

But that wasn’t the end of the story…that’s why this book by Martin Kitchen is so gripping. Kitchen’s The Dominici Affair is a true deep dive into this case and what happened in 1960 and after ( the convicted killer was released from jail on the order of then President Charles De Gaulle).

This isn’t just a true crime book. There’s the fascinating social history of France, that cracks open for people to learn about after the terrible murders. Crime and society intersect so naturally so that’s why I found this book to be such a rich read.

I found this book a very satisfying read. I’m a 40-something woman in Australia and Kitchen’s book allowed me to learn about the way that French rural communities lived and the post World War II changes that posed great challenges to the way of life for these communities. (I’ve actually been to France several times and spent time in rut stunning Dordogne region but at the time I didn’t really appreciate the whole experience in terms of history as much as I would now.)

Definitely recommend this to read.

Back from a long break

Hi everyone. It’s been quite a number of months since we posted here. There’s been a few reasons for that – overseas holiday, work and life commitments and I’ve been working on a podcast this year that’s going really well called Australian True Crime.

I’ve still been reading lots of true crime and Crime fiction and as part of the podcast my co-host Meshel and I have interviewed several authors.

So stay tuned for more posts. I share lots of true crime news on Twitter so follow the account if you’re interested.

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


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



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.