Book Review: List of 10: The True Story of Serial Killer Joseph Naso by C.L. Swinney

Title: List of 10: The True Story of Serial Killer Joseph Naso
Author: C.L. Swinney
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 2,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Gritty. True. Compulsively readable. This is his best book.”— Gregg Olsen, NY Times Best Selling Author
A narcissistic professional photographer lived a dangerous double life as a serial killer. He’d focus his rage on prostitutes mostly. It wasn’t uncommon for him to bring them home then try to explain why they were there to his wife.
Sexual urges met, either via rape or after paying for kinky sex, the killer would strangle his victims and dump their bodies in places he knew the police would eventually find them. The evil murderer needed the world to know that he was smarter than the police and women meant nothing to him but a necessary sexual inconvenience.
Then, by a stroke of chance and aggressive police work, the wheels of justice stumbled upon a lead. It was nothing more than a lined sheet of paper that read, “List of 10,” but shortly after its discovery, a task force was created and a serial killer was nabbed.
This book is about the victims he left behind, not the person who took their lives. I will never condone such actions, nor will I try to rationalize his behavior. He will go to the grave, hopefully sooner rather than later, knowing the identity of four women from his fabled List of 10. It’s his sick way of showing people he’s still in charge.
His name is Joseph Naso, and this book will grip you from the beginning and won’t let you go until the final word.

List of 10 is narrative nonfiction about Joseph Naso, a deranged serial killer with narcisstic tendencies. Joseph Naso was married once and even had two sons (one of which suffered from schizophrenia, and who Naso apparently took good care of), worked as a freelance photographer and in his spare time… he killed prostitutes. Well, mostly prostitutes. He had a pretty normal childhood, nothing that would indicate he was capable of doing this, and his wife of several years never suspected anything. Yet, DNA doesn’t lie, and he now awaits the death sentence in death row.

The book is narrative nonfiction, and while I’m sometimes a fan of that (rather than in just general nonfiction, in narrative nonfiction the author sometimes crawls in the mind of the people who play a role in the book, imagining what they must’ve been thinking at the moment) it doesn’t work quite as well here. I found that the author often jumped to conclusions and even made contradictory remarks while pretending to be in the mind of the victims or the perpetrator himself, Joseph Naso. This threw me off a little and made me not enjoy the book as much. The thoughts of the victims didn’t always seem plausible either, and sometimes took wild turns with a victim thinking something one moment then something else the next. It also comes across to me as slightly disrespectful to assume to know what they were thinking. Do that for the murderer, sure, I have no respect for murderers anyway. But the victims deserve more.

The author is also condescending at times, both toward the readers and the victims. For example, he likes to mention often how a victim couldn’t have known the man they were talking to was a serial murderer. Duh. It’s not like he had the words written on his forehead. I don’t think any reader anywhere would assume the victim could just guess this.

I also felt evidence was lacking. Sure, we get a run down of what happened to the victims, how they first met Naso, how he killed them and what is then from the police investigation. We get a little background info on both the victims and Naso, and in the end, we do get a look into the trial and the supposed “list of 10” the book is based upon, of which six have been identified as people murdered by Naso (four he was convicted of, two they didn’t have sufficient evidence of).

For a short case book on the murderer that’s not too bad, but it still feels lacking. You can easily decipher this from police reports and the trial. I wanted to see additional research: the author talking to the victim’s families, talking to Naso’s family members, or at least trying to if they didn’t want to. Talking to officers who worked on the case, the D.A., and so on. And then, I also wanted to know more about the list of 10. I was hoping the author would at least have suggestions as to who the remaining four victims were, and a lead on at least one of them.

What also bothered me is that for about a decade, if the years are correct, Naso lived in Sacramento and supposedly didn’t kill anyone. Now I know serial killers can be dormant, but this usually has a reason – they’ve found a wife or steady girlfriend, they have young children they need to take care of, and so on. For Naso, he just didn’t do anything in Sacramento despite no life-changing circumstances, and then picked right up when he moved again. Right. Something doesn’t strike right.

About the list of 10, rather than do a search for missing people in the area, and running it through the missing persons database… why not look for the location itself? The list obviously states the dumping grounds of these victims. Naso, being a narcisstic bastard, didn’t even bother to write down their names. But he did write: “girl on mt. tam” and “girl near heldsburg mendocino co.” and so on. So how about, rather than to find missing people in the area, just go look for the bodies? Or better yet, look for bodies that have not yet been identified in the area or murders yet unsolved, and see if it matches Naso’s modus operandi.

Maybe that’s been done. I don’t know – the author never mentions it. The way he mentions it, police hardly did anything with this evidence despite working on the case for a year before it going to court, which I find highly unlikely. He apparently did some investigating too, but never found any of the girls mentioned on the list, or their possible dumping ground, or even a missing person who could match one of the girls on the list.

Six of the locations on the list match up with Naso’s victims, so it’s probably safe to assume the other four do too. It breaks my heart to think those victims may never be found, or if they’re found, their remains may never be matched and their identity may remain unknown. Naso himself isn’t talking either – he agreed to talked to the author, then refused to, so there’s not even an interview with Naso himself included in the book which I thought was another show of lack of research. I had at least expected an interview with Naso.

The author mentions the book is about the victims, not the murderer. I agree – I detest men like Naso as much as anyone else does. However, if we wish to understand what compells people to do these despicable things, if we wish to take a look under the veil and discover what brings people to kill another human being, then it’s necessary to talk to people like Naso, at least interview them once and get it over with. If you’re writing a book about his horrible killings, at least try to interview him and see if he’s willing to open up about anything. That would make the book’s research look far more complete, in my opinion.

So, while I picked up the book because I wanted to know more baout Naso and his victims and the book definitely accomplished that, I disliked the speculation on behalf of Naso and especially his victims, the lack of research, and also how repetitive the book was. The author mentioned five times (that I counted) that Naso’s son had schizophrenia. I can remember that after two mentions, thank you. The inconsistencies annoyed me too, especially the ones present when the author crawls into the victim’s minds.

Anyway, if you want to know more about Naso and his victims, the book does give more insight, not much more than what you can find online but if you wan’t to go look for it, it’s all nicely bundled up in this book. Not that bad, but not that great either.


Book Review: Multiple-Victims Murder by Arnon Edelstein

Title: Multiple-Victims Murder
Author: Arnon Edelstein
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
Age Group: Adult
Rating: 4,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for an honest review.

Mass murder and serial murder: An integrative look

The term “Multiple-victims murder” refers to the murder of several people at the same time, or one after another, by the same killer, in a repetitive pattern. Usually these incidents count a high toll of victims and create significant anxiety increase in the public. Yet, the rate of finding murderers in these cases is relatively very low, especially in serial murders; that is if they are ever caught at all.

A comprehensive and critical overview of contemporary research on Multiple-Victims Murder

Multiple-Victims Murder examines the various categories of mass murder and serial murder and suggests a new category: “mass-serial murder”. It presents and criticizes the most up-to-date research and theoretical literature in this field, and suggests an integrative theoretical model. This groundbreaking volume is intended for criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, students and readers who are interested in truly understanding the complicated aspects of this fascinating field of investigation.

As a criminologist, I can’t pass up a book written by a professor in criminology, especially not when it focuses on serial murder, one of the areas I researched the most during my studies. Multiple-Victims murder, what this book is about, refers to the murder of several people – this can be all at the same time, or one after the other but by the same killer. So we have one person killing several people, either all at once, or at different times: the mass murderer and the serial murderer.

Multiple-Victims Murder refers a lot to other theories and other authors that criminologists will certainly be familiar with. As such, it seems to be written primarily for criminologists, psychologists and sociologists. You can’t compare it to a regular “true crime book” that is written for anyone who wants to know more about a certain crime, this book is clearly more academic in its nature.

However, I really enjoyed that part of it. It felt familiar to come across many of the names I’d seen in my studies, and to look at what their view is in regards to multiple-victims murder. The author suggests some innovating, groundbreaking ideas, including an integrative theoretical model that definitely seems to have its merits, although further research of the underlying theory, in particular empirical research, would be necessary.

Book Review: The Scholl Case by Anja Reich-Osang

31944612Title: The Scholl Case
Author: Anja Reich-Osang
Genre: True Crime, Nonfiction
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 3,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In December 2011, a corpse was found in a forest in Ludwigsfelde, a small and peaceful town south of Berlin. The body was hidden between pine trees, covered with leaves. The victim was Brigitte Scholl, sixty-seven, cosmetician and wife of Ludwigsfelde’s former mayor Heinrich Scholl. There were rumours that Brigitte was raped and killed by a serial killer. While the police hunted for the murderer, parents kept their children indoors, and joggers avoided the forest. Three weeks later, the police arrested the victim’s husband.
The residents were shocked. Heinrich Scholl was well-respected in his community, regarded as the most successful mayor of East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This charming man had it all: a successful career, influential friends and a marriage of almost fifty years. But behind closed doors, it was a very different story. Friends and family were staggered at the picture that emerged during the trial.
In 2012, Heinrich Scholl was pronounced guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. To this day, he pleads not guilty. Journalist and author Anja Reich-Osang followed the trial and talked to family, friends and Heinrich Scholl himself. She tells a gripping story about marriage, sex and politics, where nothing is as it seems.

The Scholl Case is the true story of the murder on Brigitte Scholl, a sixty-seven-year-old cosmetician and wife of former mayor Heinrich Scholl. One day, Brigitte took her dog for an afternoon stroll in the woods and never returned home. Her husband, son and police officers searching the area found her body and that of her dog. In the weeks after the murder, Heinrich Scholl showed behavior police classified as bizarre, and was later apprehended for the murder and put on trial. He was convicted, but still pleads his innocence to this day.

In this book, author Anja Reich-Osang investigates the Scholl family, their past, their present, their relationship with each other, friends and neighbors. I enjoyed reading about small time life, and was particularly impressed with the way Heinrich Scholl, despite having a horrible childhood, managed to climb the ranks and become mayor, and very succesful in practically everything he did. Marriage seemed like his least succesful endavor, although going from there to suggesting he killed his wife is a far stretch.

Based on this account, I certainly wouldn’t classify the Scholl marriage as a happy one, but just because you’re unhappy about the state of affairs, you don’t just go and kill your wife and dog. Despite reading the book and getting to know Heinrich and his wife, even if just a little, I’m nowhere closer to deciding whether he’s guilty or not – often at the end of true crime I can make up my own mind about what I think is the truth, but here I’m still in the dark. That’s nothing bad on the author’s side, though, the research was well-done and very detailed.

I also enjoyed the writing style, which was fluent and practically swept me through the events and life history of Heinrich and his wife.

What I will say is that the case left me kind of perplexed: I could not believe they’d convicted this man on such flimsy evidence, and conflicting testimonies.

Book Review: Vile by Benjamin S. Jeffries

27507455Title: Vile: Peeking Under the Skin of Murderers
Author: Benjamin S. Jeffries
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 4 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Experience 42 horrific stories about the world’s more extreme killers in this comprehensive tome of grisly lusts and depraved pleasures of people who started out human and became something else. Read not only what they did, but why they did it often from the killer’s own words. Meet legendary murderers Jack The Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Henry Lee Lucas, and Ed Gein. Become intimate with lesser knowns, such as Edmund Kemper, Louis Wagner, and Carl Panzram. Bear witness to depraved sexual sadists Albert Fish, Gary Heidnik, and Richard Ramirez. Discover the insanity of Joseph Kallinger, The Shoemaker, Tsutomu Miyazaki, Japan’s demented child killer, and Gordon Stewart Northcott, twisted ax murderer and pedophile. Take a sinister trip to where violence is the beginning and death is a welcome release.”

In Vile: Peeking Under the Skin of Murderers, author Benjamin S. Jeffries investigates 21 serial murderers throughout history, from Jack the Ripper to Albert Fish. There seems to be no real reason why some murderers get included and others are left out, except perhaps the gruesome nature of their crimes – only the most vile killers get their case featured in this book.

Each chapter focuses on a different murder. Despite only being a few pages long, the chapters do pack the most interesting info about the case, and quickly dives into the murderer’s past, their psychology, the people they targeted, and how they eventually got caught and were tried. Most of the cases were familiar to me, but I did learn some new facts, and for the ones I already knew, the book refreshened my memory.

Some chapters were stronger than others. I wasn’t particularly fond of the Jack the Ripper chapter – the author did a far better job describing the crimes in which the murderer was actually caught than he did with this unsolved case.

The quick one-paragraph profiles of murders of the past at the end of the chapter were a nice addition, but I didn’t always see the link between that murderer and the case presented, and some paragraphs didn’t really say much while others summed up events nicely. Overall, a good read if you want to know more about these horrible serial murderers, and it inspired me to look up more about some of the cases I wasn’t familiar with.

Book Review: Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder

21706Title: Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder

Author: Steve Hodel

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon

In 1947, California’s infamous Black Dahlia murder inspired the largest manhunt in Los Angeles history. Despite an unprecedented allocation of money and manpower, police investigators failed to identify the psychopath responsible for the sadistic murder and mutilation of beautiful twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Short. Decades later, former LAPD homicide detective-turned-private investigator Steve Hodel launched his own investigation into the grisly unsolved crime — and it led him to a shockingly unexpected perpetrator: Hodel’s own father.
A spellbinding tour de force of true-crime writing, this newly revised edition includes never-before-published forensic evidence, photos, and previously unreleased documents, definitively closing the case that has often been called “the most notorious unsolved murder of the twentieth century.”

Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder is a difficult book to rate. In the book, retired LAPD homicide detective, now private investigator, Steve Hodel launches an investigation into the unsolved murder of the Black Dahlia. After his father passed away, Steve had the opportunity to look into one of his father’s personal photography albums and discovered a picture in there of a woman he recognizes as the Black Dahlia. At first, he believes his father probably just met her at some point. Yet, he’s determined to find out more about the connection between his father and Elizabeth Short.

However, the deeper he starts digging into the past, the more he comes to realize his father might be involved in the Dahlia’s murder. And not just in her murder, but in the murder of other young females too.

It must be horrible to find out your father is a murderer. Although I’m not one hundred percent convinced of Mr. Hodel’s guilt, I do feel sorry for Steve, and how it must make him feel. It must take courage and a special kind of integrity to keep digging, though. Regardless, if George Hodel is the murderer of Elizabeth Short or not, he was not a loveable man – as the reader discovers through Steve’s recollections of the past, George Hodel was once put on trial for raping his own daughter, he was quite tyrannical, had four wives and over a dozen girlfriends, and was very much into sadism.

However, if that makes him the murderer of Elizabeth Short remains to be seen. The book is part memoir of Steve’s childhood with his father, his father’s life and the trial regarding his raping of his own daughter, and I thought I wouldn’t like those parts. However, I did like them. They’re writing with an easy flowing style, more so than the rest of the book, and George Hodel, despite being a rather cruel, self-absorbed man, does make an interesting person to read about.

The evidence linking George Hodel to the Dahlia crime is circumstancial at best. At least, for the first 90% of the book. The handwriting analysis didn’t convince me (handwriting analysis has often been debunked, and I’m quite skeptical about it), nor did the military-watch near the crime scene that matched Hodel’s watch, and to be honest, I found most of the evidence rather flimsy.

He also talks a lot about an LAPD cover-up. I skipped that chapter for the most part. For one, I don’t believe in cover-ups. They might happen, but they’re rare, and when someone isn’t convicted or even tried as a suspect, I choose to believe it’s because of lack of evidence rather than a cover-up. I find that it’s a sensationalized reaction given too often just for cases where there’s simple not enough evidence to do anything. The theory that George Hodel committed the crime with another man involved too, a friend of his, doesn’t persuade me either. Killers are solitary beings, and the Dahlia murderer doesn’t strike me as the kind of murder you’d commit with two people – it seems the work of a solitary predator.

Either way, by the end of the book I was nowhere near convinced. Then, however, comes some of the new evidence released by the LAPD, and what convinced me of the strong possibility of George Hodel’s guilt there was the phone conversation he had at some point at his home residence (the LAPD wired his house, they too considered him a strong suspect). You don’t say those things unless you’re guilty. I don’t want to give away more, in case you want to read the book, but this convinced me at least of the strong possibility of George Hodel being the murderer of Elizabeth Short.

However, I don’t follow Steve Hodel’s other claims in regards to the other murders. There’s simply not enough evidence to link Hodel to any of those cases. The cases don’t even have the same M.O. (victims differ too much in age, murder method differs a lot). What I can believe, is that Hodel killed Elizabeth Short – the link with sadism is rather evident, the staging of the body relates to surreal art, and Hodel was a fan of both surreal art, and of Marquis de Sade’s writing. Based on the LAPD-gathered evidence, combined with Steve Hodel’s claims, George Hodel seems a strong suspect.

Book Review: The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank

30845340Title: The Boston Strangler

Author: Gerold Frank

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

New York Times Bestseller and Winner of the Edgar Award: The definitive true crime account of Boston’s most notorious serial killer—and the exhaustive manhunt that ensued in the wake of his rampage.
On June 14, 1962, twenty-five-year-old Juris Slesers arrived at his mother’s apartment to drive her to church. But there was no answer at the door. After waiting a half hour, Juris shoved his way inside. He found fifty-five-year-old Anna Slesers lying on the kitchen floor, dead, the cord of her housecoat knotted tightly around her neck and turned up in a bow.
Between 1962 and 1964, twelve more bodies were discovered in and around Boston: all women, all sexually assaulted, and all strangled—often with their own pantyhose. None of the victims exhibited any signs of struggle, nothing was stolen from their homes, and there were no signs of forcible entry. The police could find no discernable motive or clues. Who was this insane killer? How was he entering women’s homes? And why were they letting him in?
More than a gripping chronicle of an American serial killer on par with Jack the Ripper, The Boston Strangler is a shocking story about what happens to a city under a siege of terror. Drawn from hundreds of hours of personal interviews, as well as police, medical, and court documentation, author Gerold Frank’s grisly, horrifying, and meticulously researched account was awarded the Edgar for Best Fact Crime.

I first heard about The Boston Strangler – the man, not the book – through a true crime TV show, the name of which I can’t recall. However, even back then, I was wary of Albert DeSalvo being the murderer. DeSalvo wasn’t a good guy by any means, but capable of such murders? And why? Anyone who investigates the strangler case knows that it’s a weird one: eleven (or thirteen) murders by strangling, using nylon stockings tied around the victims’ neck.

The first victims were middle-aged to elderly women. The second group of victims were young girls, twenty-somethings. Killers don’t just change their target victims overnight.

Gerold Frank’s book is an in-depth investigation of the murders. He starts by describing the victims, what happened to them, possible suspects, and the first half of the book reads very well. The cases are gruesome, so the book isn’t for the squeamish or faint of heart, but it provides an interesting insight into the profile of a man capable of such killings. Psychiatrists, profilers, people used to working on serial killings, all come up with a profile that doesn’t even closely resemble the man eventually charged with these murders.

Then for the latter half, the book focuses on Albert DeSalvo, his confessions, the trial that confined him to stay in Bilgewater Hospital for the rest of his life.

The book has a phenomenal wealth of information, now just from the victims, the alleged killer, the police forces, but also from psychis who were brought in to work on the case, regular people in Boston describing the fear that gripped the city, and more. The writing flows well, at least for the first part. I found that the second part dragged on much longer, and became slighty repetitive.

Either way, if you want to get a more in-depth knowledge of the killings that haunted Boston from 1962-1964, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Book Review: True Crime Addict by James Renner

26114508Title: True Crime Addict
Author: James Renner
Genre: True Crime, Nonfiction
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 4,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

When an eleven year old James Renner fell in love with Amy Mihaljevic, the missing girl seen on posters all over his neighborhood, it was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with true crime. That obsession leads James to a successful career as an investigative journalist. It also gave him PTSD. In 2011, James began researching the strange disappearance of Maura Murray, a UMass student who went missing after wrecking her car in rural New Hampshire in 2004. Over the course of his investigation, he uncovers numerous important and shocking new clues about what may have happened to Maura, but also finds himself in increasingly dangerous situations with little regard for his own well-being. As his quest to find Maura deepens, the case starts taking a toll on his personal life, which begins to spiral out of control. The result is an absorbing dual investigation of the complicated story of the All-American girl who went missing and James’s own equally complicated true crime addiction.
James Renner’s True Crime Addict is the story of his spellbinding investigation of the missing person’s case of Maura Murray, which has taken on a life of its own for armchair sleuths across the web. In the spirit of David Fincher’s Zodiac, it is a fascinating look at a case that has eluded authorities and one man’s obsessive quest for the answers.

As a huge ‘missing persons’ buff (seriously, one of my more macabre and less known hobbies is searching the internet and browsing through various forums on the topic), I just had to read True Crime Addict. Like James Renner, the author, I’m a bit of an addict too. Heck, I studied criminology because I find crime, cold cases and missing people fascinating. So the author and I had a lot in common, and the disappearance of Maura Murray definitely was no new topic for me. However, it never became an obsession, not the way it did for James Renner, who spent the better part of several years trying to find out what happened to this young woman.

One night, Maura Murray’s car got into an accident. No one got hurt, a neighbor saw it happen, briefly talked to Maura, and went inside to call the police. It was snowing, but despite that, the police arrived in minutes. But when the police arrived, Maura was gone. No one has heard or seen her since. In this true crime memoir, James Renner investigates the case and tries to find out what happened to her.

The case was intriguing, and I’ve made up my mind about what happened to Maura. It may not be the truth, but based on Renner’s investigation, it seems the most likely thing. If you want to read my thoughts, scroll down to the bottom of the review (I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers). The author’s writing is funny and intelligent, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Can’t wait to read his other ones.

My opinion: I think, since there were no hints of struggle or foul play, and with the problems she had with her father, Maura decided to start a new life somewhere. The family’s reluctance to talk to anyone about the case also tells me this. That, or something happened at the party Maura went to earlier that night, since everyone is deliberately vague on that.

Book Review: The Bad Nurse by Sheila Johnson

23450150Title: The Bad Nurse
Author: Sheila Johnson
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime
Age Group: Adult
Rating: 3 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Murder By MedicineIn the small southern town of Ider, Alabama, everyone knew Karri Willoughby as a devoted nurse, loving wife, and mother of two small children. When she was accused of killing her stepfather Billy Junior Shaw with a fatal injection of the anesthetic Propofol, outraged friends and family rallied to her defense.

Overnight Karrie became a media sensation, portrayed as an innocent young woman caught up in a terrible tragedy—until four years later, when she walked into court and pleaded guilty as charged. Only then did the full scope of her crimes emerge.  Nurse Karri was unmasked as cold-blooded, conniving murderer.

Investigative journalist Sheila Johnson draws on hundreds of pages of previously unseen police records, interviews, recordings and videotapes, to create a haunting real-life thriller of medicine, family, and betrayal.

Includes Dramatic Photos

Karri Willoughby seemed like a normal person, who loved her family, was a devout Christian, worked as a nurse, and who seemed the perfect woman in almost every way. At least, that was how she appeared to her faithful and loyal followers on her blog. In The Bad Nurse, author Sheila Johnson tells the real story.

Enigmatic and sympathetic Karri Willoughby killed her stepfather, Billy Shaw, over a money dispute, giving him a lethal dose of medication she brought along from the place she worked at. For months, she tried to convince her friends and online followers of her innocence, right until she walked into the court room and plead guilty. The author investigates Karri’s motives, her behavior prior to pleading guilty in court, how the murder happened, and communication between Karri and other inmates that betray she’s not the person she pretended to be at all.

While the book was an entertaining read, and it did focus a lot on the manipulative aspects of Karri’s personality, it came across as repetitive – repeating the same passage and/or sentiment several times. It also didn’t seem that well-researched. It does show communication between Karri and other inmates, some snippets of what people had to say about Karri, and so on, but it doesn’t really mention much about the toxicology rapport and the forensics of the murder. It’s mentioned but not detailed enough for my liking. Rather than on the murder, the book focused on the aftermath, and Karri’s manipulative ways.

Not bad at all, and definitely an interesting read, but I generally prefer books that focus more on the crime itself.


Book Review: Mothers Who Murder by Xanthe Mallet

22016163Title: Mothers Who Murder

Author: Xanthe Mallet

Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

All of these women are notorious, but are all of them deadly?Child murder: A social taboo and one of the most abhorrent acts most of us can imagine. Meet the women found guilty of murdering their own children. They represent some of the most hated women in Australia. The infamous list includes psychologically damaged, sometimes deranged, women on the edge. But, as we will see, accused doesn’t always mean guilty. Among the cases covered is that of Kathleen Folbigg, accused and found guilty of killing four of her children, even with a lack of any forensic evidence proving her guilt; Rachel Pfitzner, who strangled her 2-year-old son and dumped his body in a duck pond; as well as Keli Lane, found guilty of child murder though no body has ever been found.Dr Mallett goes back to the beginning of each case; death’s ground zero. That might be the accused’s childhood, were they abused? Or was their motivation greed, or fear of losing a partner? Were they just simply evil? Or did the media paint them as such, against the evidence and leading to a travesty of justice.Each case will be re-opened, the alternative suspects assessed, the possible motives reviewed. Informed by her background as a forensic scientist, Xanthe offers insight into aspects of the cases that may not have been explored previously. Taking you on her journey through the facts, and reaching her own conclusion as to whether she believe the evidence points to the women’s guilt.Hear their stories.

Mothers Who Murder focuses on some of Australia’s most notorious murder cases. Killing a child is probably the worst thing imaginable. Some of the mothers featured in this book are wrongly accused, and have eventually been cleared, as in the case for Lindy Chamberlain, whose baby got kidnapped by a dingo.

Then there are the cases that aren’t as straightforward, where evidence points in two different directions, and can be interpreted both ways. Some of them have been found guilty, although evidence itself seems far from convincing. Then there are the cases where the mother confessed to her crime, or the evidence is so overwhelming guilty is almost certainly proven. Several cases focused on children dying in their crib, in mysterious circumstances, and the question remainds whether they passed away from illness, or were murdered. I was surprised to read that while one suspicious child death may be seen as an illness, when it happens several times, it used to be seen as murder, without any additional evidence. Glad this was overruled though, and that now more evidence is necessary.

The cases were gruesome at times, but I did enjoy reading through them. The material is quite fascinating, and detailed enough to offer sufficient information about the cases. I liked how the author doesn’t jump to conclusions, but instead provides the evidence, and lets the reader decide for themselves.

Book Review: While They Slept by Kathryn Harrison

2048874Title: While They Slept: An Inquiry Into The Murder of a Family
Author: Kathryn Harrison
Genre: True Crime, Non-Fiction
Pubisher: Random House
Publication Date: June 10th 2008
Rating: 1 stars
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Early on an April morning, eighteen-year-old Billy Frank Gilley, Jr., killed his sleeping parents. Surprised in the act by his younger sister, Becky, he turned on her as well. Billy then climbed the stairs to the bedroom of his other sister, Jody, and said, “We’re free.” But is one ever free after an unredeemable act of violence? The Gilley family murders ended a lifetime of physical and mental abuse suffered by Billy and Jody at the hands of their parents. And it required each of the two survivors–one a convicted murderer, the other suddenly an orphan–to create a new identity, a new life.In this mesmerizing book, bestselling writer Kathryn Harrison brilliantly uncovers the true story behind a shocking and unforgettable crime as she explores the impact of escalating violence and emotional abuse visited on the children of a deeply troubled family. With an artistry that recalls Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, and her own The Kiss, Harrison reveals the antecedents of the murders–of a crime of such violence that it had the power to sever past from present–and the consequences for Billy and for Jody. Weaving in meditations on her own experience of parental abuse, Harrison searches out answers to the question of how survivors of violent trauma shape a future when their lives have been divided into Before and After.
Based on interviews with Billy and Jody as well as with friends, police, and social workers involved in the case, While They Slept is Kathryn Harrison’s unflinching inquiry into the dark heart of violence in an American family, and a personal quest to understand how young people go on after tragedy–to examine the extent as well as the limits of psychic resilience. The New York Times called Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss “a powerful piece of writing, a testament to evil and hope.” The same could be said about While They Slept.

I don’t usually read non-fiction novels, and the true crime genre is new to me as well. But when I saw this book in my local bookstore at a significant discount (three thrillers/true crime books for 10 euros), I was drawn to it like a bee is to honey. I hadn’t heard about this case before, and the name Billy Gilley didn’t ring a bell. But I had heard about other cases in which a young boy slaughters his entire family, driven to the verge of madness by a vast ray of causes, be it abuse, neglect or voices in their head. For Billy Gilley it was the first. He was mercilessly beaten and terrorized by his parents, the two people in the world who should have been there for him but weren’t. And then one day, he just snapped. His sister had skipped school that day, and got into trouble with her parents for doing so. Billy then told his sister Jody that he would like to ‘bash in their heads with a baseball bat’. That night, he did, killing both of his parents and his younger sister Becky.

Author Kathryn Harrison investigates the Billy Gilley case by interviewing both Billy and Jody Gilley regularly. She tries to reconstruct what happened that fateful day by both of their eye-witness accounts, and tries to give the reader an insight into the mind of a young man driven to murder and the aftermath of those terrible events for Jody. She tries to explain to us how Jody is coping with that loss, and the person she became because of it. As I mentioned, Kathryn Harrison ‘tried’ to do all those things. Unfortunately for the reader, she fails on more than half of those things, and offers a book that can be described as ‘interesting’ at best. It’s obvious, even for the non-experienced true crime reader, and a person with no expertise in the area of psychology or criminology whatsoever apart from some basic classes at university, that Kathryn Harrison did not do the Billy Gilley story justice. In fact, she brutally misused both Jody and Billy Gilley in her book, comparing her own bad luck in life with that of what Jody had to go through, drawing parallels that aren’t really there, applying her own mismatched amateur-psychology when it’s not wanted nor advised, and believing every word Jody says where she’s continuously sceptical towards anything Billy mentions. I spent more time being annoyed at Kathryn Harrison’s far-fetched and outrageously large narcissism, her inability to sound neutral and non-biased and her continuous referring to her own life than I spent enjoying the rest of the book, which is saying something.

Unfortunately, rather than teaching me something more about Billy and Jody Gilley, While They Slept taught me more about Kathryn Harrison than about anyone else. For instance, when she was eighteen or twenty (I forgot, because I didn’t really care) Kathryn tongue-kissed her long lost father, trying to make up for all those years of abandonment and trying to get back at her mother for God knows what reason. She then continued to have an incestuous relationship with her own father for about two years, in which he maltreated her and sometimes even locked her up (or that’s what I gathered). Eventually she got out, got her life back on track and has spent the rest of her life trying to deal with her past. It’s not that I don’t find it terrible what happened to Kathryn Harrison. Really, I do. Although she chose to have an incestuous relationship (she wasn’t really forced though, it wasn’t rape) I can understand where those feelings came from, and of course it can’t ever feel right to do that kind of stuff with your father. But let me begin by saying that she already wrote a memoir about that. There’s no need to mention these events occassionally throughout this book, to point them out to your readers in a casual but misleading way and trying to bring the spotlight from where it should be – Billy and Jody Gilley – to Kathryn Harrison. Sorry Kat, but this book isn’t supposed to be about you. You’re not the center of the universe. I understand you have problems, but you already told us about that, and if you want to, write another memoir, but don’t go ruin this story about two different people by trying to make it about you.

Furthermore, what angered me beyond belief about Kathryn Harrison is that she continuously draws parallels between the tragedy Jody Gilley had to go through – the murder of her entire family by her own brother – and Kathryn’s own troubles in life. She refers to both herself and Jody as being people who changed into a ‘before’ and ‘after’ person. I think it’s a tremendously preposterous claim of the author that both these things could even be compared. They can’t. I don’t know how it’s possible that Jody Gilley never once felt like hitting some sense into Kathryn Harrison, especially when the author grows so daring to tell these things in person. Apparently Kathryn lives in this illusion that her own life and troubles can be compared to Jody’s, that she went through so much irreversible tragedy that she’s entitled to behave like a psychologist, and that she has the right – can you believe the pretention? – to analyse everything Jody and Billy Gilley say, find hidden meanings behind their words and declare to all her readers who’s telling the truth and who isn’t. Unfortunately, Kathryn Harrison is nor a psychologist, criminologist, criminal profiler, social worker or a lawyer, and thus she is entitled to no such things. When you have no credentials in a field of expertise whatsoever, then stay out of it. She’s an author, and the point was that she had to write down Billy and Jody’s story, not mismatch it with several assumptions of her own, draw her own conclusions or have the pretention to tell her readers who to believe and who not to believe, based on amateur psychology.

But brace yourself, the horror isn’t over yet. Apart from her continous comparison between Jody Gilley and herself, and her unasked for retelling of her own memoir, Kathryn Harrison also has a clear and obvious favorism for Jody, and believes her every word contrary to those of Jody’s brother, who she doesn’t believe at all. However, from what I gathered from reading this book, sometimes what Billy says makes a lot of sense, whereas it seems as if Jody just suppressed those feelings and events in an attempt to live with survivor’s guilt. However, the author has drawn a clear line in this book: Billy is a murderer, thus he’s always wrong, and Jody isn’t, thus she’s always right. We all know that the real truth hardly is as linear, and that two people may have different reactions as to what’s going on, whereas that doesn’t necessarily mean one of them is lying. It’s obvious that in her effort to draw a parallel between herself and Jody Gilley, Kathryn chose a definite side, and she lost all abilities to talk about the murders in a neutral way.

To be honest, I think both Jody and Billy Gilley deserved an author who spend less time worrying about herself, and more time worrying about what happened to them and to listen to their story. They didn’t need to be psycho-analyzed by an amateur, and they definately didn’t need their case compared to an adult having an incestuous relationship with her own father, however disturbing that may be as well. More than anything, they deserved to be treated as main characters of this book rather than figures used for this author’s self-absorption. Moreover, Billy deserved the benefit of the doubt, definately in a society where the role of abuse leading up to a child murdering his own parents has been thoroughly investigated, speculated and debated by real psychiatrists and psychologists, and where the common answer nowadays is that it can be excusable to kill one’s own family when pushed to the breaking point by physical and mental abuse by one’s own parents. It certainly seems understandable, and we should not always judge people based on what they did in moments all logic left them. I feel that Kathryn chose to paint Billy as a murderer rather than a person, and it’s obvious that her opinion is so biased it greatly weighs down on the quality of this book.

Personally, I felt sorry for both children. Although I’m not a psychologist or criminologist or all those things Kathryn Harrison occassionally pretends to be, it’s my opinion that Billy was once again wronged with this book, in which he voluntarily participated but that portrayed him as being a liar, sometimes on purpose, sometimes without realizing it; whereas I thought it was obvious in some parts of the book that Billy’s recount of the events made more sense and seemed more logical than Jody’s. Rather than believe Jody’s every word, Kathryn should have taken into account that she should hold the same prejudice against Jody that she should against Billy. For example, Jody says she never encouraged Billy to kill her parents, but the thing is that it would be totally understandable if she did. After all, we all say stupid things sometimes, especially when we’re angered or feel threatened. Jody and Billy must have felt threated and scared continuously, and it makes sense that one would snap then. But of course, in her memory, Jody could have suppressed all the times she said things like that, trying to deal with the events and the guilt that followed them, which wouldn’t make her a liar, but rather a victim of this trauma. However, as I said, I won’t go play the psychologist as well, but I think that explenation would be a lot more logical than calling Billy a liar. After all, what would he gain from putting his sister in jail as well for conspiracy or something along those lines, the sister he tried to protect up till the point that he rather killed their parents then let himself and her get hurt at their hands one more time? If Kathryn tells her readers one option, she should also tell us the other option, and not just choose sides.

In my opinion, the emphazises was mostly on victims of a traumatic event, and how they deal with the aftermath, survivor’s guilt in particular. However, I would have liked a greater emphazises on what happened prior to the murders, the abuse that drove Billy to do what he did and Billy’s own path to redemption or dealing with what happened. Thing is that partially through this book, I began to feel sorry for Billy. One can never say that murder can be approved, but in some cases, like when a child has been abused, maltreated and terrorized until it feels like an animal in a cage, it is excusable. If Billy only saw one way of escaping and that was through murder, then it is somehow understandable that eventually he gave in and did just about that. Furthermore, he was already ridiculed by his parents and fellow schoolmates for not being able to write and read properly, something which we know realize – which no one really did at the time the murders were commited – were probably signs of a messed-up life at home. Add his aggression, the fact that from Kathryn Harrison’s and real psychiatrists’s descriptions he now seems as a loving and caring individual, the constant abuse and the never-ending fear of that abuse, and you have the circumstances set to turn everyone into a murderer. Billy was not accepted anywhere – not by the people at school, not by his own parents, and in the end, not even by the sister he probably cared for the most. It’s a saddening tale. Sometimes throughout this novel Kathryn Harrison – perhaps with her own sometimes twisted and perverted mind – often wondered aloud whether Billy loved his sister the way he shouldn’t, and Jody actually recalls Billy sexually harrassing her. I don’t know if that’s true or not, although according to the book Billy denies it, but from what I gather, in my personal opinion, I think there are two options more valuable than Kathryn just painting Billy off as a pervert. One option is that Jody replaced the image of her father harrassing her with the image of Billy doing so, because this would be easier to cope with, seeing as she already felt a lot of guilt for her parent’s death – blame it all on Billy, because he already murdered them, seems like a viable solution in that case. The other possibility is that Billy did harrass her, but in his own disturbed mind it was probably more a cry for acceptance and love than anything else. However, I’m not a psychologist, and this is just my opinion, as some sort of counter-opinion of Kathryn Harrison, who just portrays Billy as a perverted murderer.

A boy growing up in a household without much love, with a mother who backstabs him continously and a father who beats him mercilessly. He’s terrible at reading and writing, almost illiterate, ends up with the wrong friends and always ends up in trouble. On one day, he has had enough. He talks to his sister about murdering his parents. He takes her silence as an answer and that night he takes a baseball bat and beats his mother and father to death. Unfortunately his little sister hears something is going on and goes back downstairs. Panicking, Billy kills her as well, the only murder he actually feels terribly sorry for. He goes upstairs and tells Jody that now they’re finally free. Does this sound like the portrait of a mad man, a psychopath? Or does it sound like the story of a boy who knew no way out, who was let down by social services, school and everyone who ever could have helped him? Does this sound like the story of a boy accepted by no one, betrayed by everyone and desperately seeking the love and care he so needed? I think it does, and at least on that point, Kathryn Harrison agrees with me, albeit partly.

I would have liked to learn more about Billy, and less about Kathryn Harrison herself. I would honestly say that I’d like to see Billy out of jail. He has been punished before he ever commited the crime, and he has been punished severely afterward for something society nowadays usually excuses or advises therapy for. And at the end of this book, I began to feel sorry for him. I felt sorry for Jody from the beginning, but with Billy it took a while, but it’s there. Unfortunately we may never truly know what happened that fateful night – we have Jody’s version and Billy’s version and the pseudo-psychologic analyse made by Kathryn Harrison – but as always I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Let me finish by adding that throughout this book, Kathryn Harrison sees a lot of sexual references were there aren’t any, probably inspired by her own sexual relationship with her father, or by an overly-in-depth reading of Freud. However, once you look past her odd conclusions, her biased look on things and clear preference for Jody’s side of the story, her continuous self-absorption and her amataur psychology, you will realize that at the core of this book is a story about a family gone wrong, about abuse and destruction, about freedom, acceptance and love and about the ability to move on and keep on hoping for a better future. These underlying thoughts are inspiring, but are unfortunately overshadowed by Kathryn’s own life story and her occassional writing flaws. If you’re a fan of true fiction, or Jody and Billy’s story inspired you, then read this book. If however you’re like me and you’ll find yourself more disturbed by the author’s judgemental and erratic behavior than anything else, and you feel like writing her hatemail by the end of this book, then stay away from it as far as possible.