Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Devil's Rooming House (True Crime) by M William Phelps


Paperback:  A silent, simmering killer terrorized New England in 1911.  A heat wave unlike any that had come before killed people in the streets, caused others to drown in the waters where they sought relief and drove still others to suicide.  As more than 2 000 people died during the natural disaster, another silent killer began her own murderous spree.

Amy Archer-Gilligan operated the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids in Windsor, Connecticut.  What was thought to be a respectable business run by a pioneering woman was exposed as little more than a murder factory.  Amy would be accused of murdering both her husbands and dozens (as many as sixty) of her elderly patients with cocktails of lemonade and arsenic - all for money.  Because of her friendships with local bigwigs, including the coroner, nobody noticed the rather high death rate among her patients until local newspaper stringer and jack-of-all-trades Carlan Hollister Goslee started poking around.  Discovering the large quantities of arsenic Sister Amy had been purchasing, ostensibly to control rodents, he pressed his findings on authorities who eventually responded by exhuming bodies.

At first it was just a nagging tickle in his throat;  later a "pit" in his sour stomach that wouldn't go away.  Then something completely profound and material happened, bringing into focus his own mortality.  Confined to bed, as his mind raced with thoughts of death, he began to feel he knew how his life would end and even had an idea when.  It was that strange look the matron of the house gave him.  She brought him up a glass of lemonade and, without a word, exited the room and walked down the stairs;  and he considered that silence, ambiguous as it was, to be the impetus for his demise.

Her sensational trial attracted great interest.  She would be convicted and sentenced to hang and her story would shock turn-of-the-century America and provide the inspiration for the Broadway sensation and classic film Arsenic and Old Lace.

Readers will enter a kind of Twilight Zone where a Bible-thumping caretaker and entrepreneur of the nursing home industry became one of history’s most evil female serial killers.  With first-hand accounts from Amy’s "inmates", riveting trial transcripts and accounts from the investigative journalists who covered the case, acclaimed crime writer and New York Times bestselling author M. William Phelps has written the first book to tell the true story of greed and murder even more shocking than its fictional counterpart.  Phelps puts readers face-to-face with a woman who was both a Black Widow and an Angel of Death and paints a vivid, spine-chilling portrait of turn-of-the-century New England.

The Devil's Rooming House (2010) - about the true story of America's deadliest female serial killer - is historical true crime at its best.

About the author:  Crime, murder and serial killer expert, creator/producer/writer and former host of the Investigation Discovery series Dark Minds, acclaimed, award-winning investigative journalist M William Phelps is the New York Times best-selling author of thirty books and winner of the 2013 Excellence in (Investigative) Journalism Award and the 2008 New England Book Festival Award.

A highly sought-after pundit, Phelps has made over 100 media-related television appearances:  Early Show, The Today Show, The View, Fox & Friends, truTV, Discovery Channel, Fox News Channel, Good Morning America, TLC, BIO, History, Oxygen, OWN, on top of over 100 additional media appearances:  USA Radio Network, Catholic Radio, Mancow, Wall Street Journal Radio, Zac Daniel, Ave Maria Radio, Catholic Channel, EWTN Radio, ABC News Radio, and many more.

Phelps is one of the regular and recurring experts frequently appearing on two long-running series, Deadly Women and Snapped.  Radio America calls Phelps “the nation’s leading authority on the mind of the female murderer,” and TV Rage says, “M. William Phelps dares to tread where few others will:  into the mind of a killer.”  A respected journalist, beyond his book writing Phelps has written for numerous publications - including the Providence Journal, Connecticut Magazine and Hartford Courant - and consulted on the first season of the hit Showtime cable television series Dexter.

Phelps grew up in East Hartford, CT, moved to Vernon, CT, at age 12, where he lived for 25 years. He now lives in a reclusive Connecticut farming community north of Hartford.

Beyond crime, Phelps has also written several history books, including the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling Nathan Hale:  The Life and Death of America’s First SpyThe Devil's Rooming House, The Devil's Right Hand, Murder, New England, and more.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Feast Of St Bernard of Clairvaux


Unlucky Number (True Story) by Deborah Mathis with Gregory Todd Smith


Paperback:  Lotteries have been a part of the United States since its very founding, when tickets to games of chance were sold to help fund the development of some colonies - such as Jamestown, Virginia - and at one point were considered not only a viable way to raise revenue for public causes, but a civically responsible one.

At one time, all thirteen original colonies had a lottery to raise revenue for public services but, in time, the lotteries became riddled with bribery, payout defaults and other corruption.  They fell into such disrepute that evangelical reformers were able to successfully press a moral argument for prohibition, and by 1895, government-run lotteries were banned nationwide.

The lottery's official comeback took nearly three quarters of a century, beginning in New Hampshire in 1964.  Today, armed with regulations and safeguards, forty-four states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, all sponsor lotteries.  Only Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah abstain.

Both religious and public policy advocates routinely oppose lotteries - the former usually due to biblical strictures and the latter typically out of concern over the government's reliance on fantasy-fuelled games of chance to fund essential services like public education - but state and multistate lotteries are wildly popular among the masses.

It is estimated that about 120 million American men and women - half of all adults in the country - play state-run lotteries each year, accounting for $45 billion in receipts.  Only about 1600 of them will win a million dollars or more.

For instance, in May 2013, Gloria McKenzie, won a jackpot of $590 500 000, the largest in the multistate game's twenty-one-year history and the second largest in the annals of American lotteries.  Who isn't inspired by the Missouri couple who, after netting more than $136 000 000 from Powerball, poured loads of money into improving their town, including a new fire station, ball field, sewage-treatment plant and a scholarship fund at their high school alma mater?  There is also the story of Sheelah Ryan, of Florida, who used her $55 million winnings in a 1988 lottery to endow a foundation that provided assistance for poor people, single mothers, children, the elderly and homeless animals.

Financial planner Susan Bradley told the Palm Beach Post that she provides the super-high-dollar clients she advises with a team of neuropsychologist, estate-planning attorneys and other professionals to help them navigate the treacherous waters of over-the-top wealth.  These teams are meant to help insulate her clients from scam artists, bad investments, tricky temptations and the deluge of hangers-on who typically prey upon the superrich.  Bradley has a special set of dos and don'ts for the suddenly and sensationally wealthy.

"One of the first things to do is stop answering the phone," Bradley told the newspaper.  "Get a cell phone with a new number and only give it to your inner circle people and keep that circle small."

However, when things go wrong for lottery winners, they can go awfully wrong.  News accounts, police files and court records are full of instances where winning was far from the panacea that most people imagine when handing over a few dollars in hopes of collecting a king's ransom.

Like many other winners, the man at the corner of this story neglected to surround himself with wise, experienced counsel but rather relied on old friends and his own well-meaning but often misguided instincts to help him manage his multimillion-dollar winnings.  His had been such a simple and obscure existence that he might not have grasped that he was now a celebrity and he certainly did not know how to behave like one.  Nothing in his experience would have prepared him for how aggressive people could be when a human treasure chest suddenly appears in their midst.  It was a haphazard way to proceed and did nothing to ward off the constant appeals for money from all corners - a pestilence that turned the normally easygoing man into a miserable wreck.

When a stranger came along nearly a year after he won the lottery, not asking for money but offering help, he was eager to take it.  She told him about the successful business she ran, about the money she made and convinced him that she could assist him in getting his finances under control.  Uneducated, weary and in over his head, he accepted her offer and turned over control of his funds and outstanding accounts to her.

Then he vanished.

Unlucky Number (2015) is the true story of the murder of lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare.  It is also the story of the peculiar, egregious connivances of a woman who might have gotten away with her crimes had she not met a man who was more cunning than she.  It is a tale of double betrayal of trust, of a man who meant well and of a woman overcome by greed and delusion.  It is the sad truth of what happened to a man who beat the long odds of winning a state lottery only to lose his most prized possession - his life.

About the authors:  After working as a deadline reporter for twenty-seven years including a seven-year stint as a White House correspondent during the Clinton years, veteran journalist and author Deborah Mathis studied under a Shorenstein Fellowship at Harvard, taught at Northwestern University's prestigious Medill School of Journalism, was communications director at the Public Justice Foundation, wrote a weekly column for BlackAmericaWeb.com and is the author of three books - Yet A Stranger:  Why Black Americans Still Don't Feel At Home, What God Can Do and Sole Sisters:  The Joys and Pains of Single Black Women.

Gregory Todd Smith is a native of Polk County, Florida.  A self-made man, he enjoys a thriving barber practice in Lakeland, Florida.

Deborah Mathis wrote in her Acknowledgements, "On Gregory's behalf, I would also like to thank Sergeants David Wallace, David Clark and Christopher Lynn of the Polk County Sheriff's Office.  They entrusted Greg to help them break the case and not only promised to have his back but had it.  Their dedication and skill are a tribute to law enforcement.  Greg also wishes to thank Polk County sheriff Grady Judd, who committed the manpower and resources it took to ensure that an illiterate, often homeless but kindhearted man's murder did not go unnoticed and unpunished."

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Love Over Scotland (A 44 Scotland Street Novel) by Alexander McCall Smith


Paperback:  With his characteristic warmth, inventiveness and brilliant wit, Alexander McCall Smith gives us more of the gloriously entertaining comings and goings at 44 Scotland Street, the Edinburgh townhouse.

Six-year-old prodigy Bertie perseveres in his heroic struggle for truth and balanced good sense against his insufferable mother and her crony, the psychotherapist Dr Fairbairn.  His burden is lightened by a junior orchestra's trip to Paris, where he makes some interesting new friends.

Domenica sets off on an anthropological odyssey with pirates in the Malacca Straits, while Pat attracts several handsome admirers, including a toothsome suitor named Wolf, until she begins to see the attractions of the more prosaically named Matthew.

Angus Lordie's dog, Cyril, has been stolen, and is facing an uncertain future wandering the streets.

And Big Lou, eternal source of coffee and good advice to her friends, has love, heartbreak and erstwhile boyfriend Eddie's misdemeanours on her mind.

Teeming with McCall Smith's wonderful wit and charming depictions of Edinburgh, Love Over Scotland (2006) - the third book in the 44 Scotland Street series - is another beautiful ode to a city and its people that continue to fascinate this astounding author.

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world’s most prolific and most popular authors.  His career has been a varied one:  for many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the United Kingdom and abroad.  Then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty languages and become bestsellers through the world.

The series include the Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in The Scotsman, the Sunday Philosophy Club series starring Isabel Dalhousie, the von Igelfeld series, and the new Corduroy Mansions novels.

Alexander is also the author of collections of short stories, academic works, and over thirty books for children.  He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the British Book Awards Author of the Year Award in 2004 and a CBE for service to literature in 2007.  He holds honorary doctorates from nine universities in Europe and North America.  Alexander McCall Smith lives in Edinburgh.  He is married to a doctor and has two daughters.

Rating:  5/5

Espresso Tales (A 44 Scotland Street Novel) by Alexander McCall Smith


Paperback:  In Espresso Tales (2005), Alexander McCall Smith pays another entertaining visit to Edinburgh and the lively residents of 44 Scotland Street.  With its multiple-occupancy flats, Scotland Street is an interesting corner of the city, verging on the Bohemian, where haute bourgeoisie rub shoulders with students and the more colourful members of the intelligentsia.

Bruce is planning a new career as a wine merchant, while his long-suffering flatmate Pat, set up by matchmaking Domenica Macdonald, finds herself at a nudist picnic in Moray Place.

And young Bertie Pollock, who longs for a boy's life of fishing and rubgy, not the yoga and pink dungarees foisted upon him by his bossy mother Irene, is plotting rebellion.

However, when he lands himself in a sticky situation involving a card game and legendary Glasgow hard-man Lard O'Connor, he realises he must be careful what he wishes for.

Espresso Tales - the second book in the 44 Scotland Street series - is vintage McCall Smith, tackling issues of trust and honesty, snobbery and hypocrisy, love and loss, but all with great lightness of touch.  Clever, elegant and funny, this is a novel that provides huge entertainment but which is underpinned by the moral dilemmas of everyday life and the characters' struggles to resolve them.

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world’s most prolific and most popular authors.  His career has been a varied one:  for many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the United Kingdom and abroad.  Then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty languages and become bestsellers through the world.

The series include the Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in The Scotsman, the Sunday Philosophy Club series starring Isabel Dalhousie, the von Igelfeld series, and the new Corduroy Mansions novels.

Alexander is also the author of collections of short stories, academic works, and over thirty books for children.  He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the British Book Awards Author of the Year Award in 2004 and a CBE for service to literature in 2007.  He holds honorary doctorates from nine universities in Europe and North America.  Alexander McCall Smith lives in Edinburgh.  He is married to a doctor and has two daughters.

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Novel Habits of Happiness (An Isabel Dalhousie Novel) by Alexander McCall Smith


Hardback:  But it was not Jenny she wanted to talk about;  it was what Jamie had said about ancestors.  "I suppose you're right," she said.  "We all have the same number of ancestors, don't we?  We don't go on about them, but we have them, surely.  I mean, there's no monopoly on ancestors.  One can't be ancestor-rich, so to speak."  

He left the window and came to sit down at the table, opposite Isabel.  "It depends on whether you think they exist.  If you think that they're not there any more - because they've died - as ancestors tend to do - then...well, then you can't really have them in your life, can you?"

"So what counts, then," said Isabel, "is whether you have an eschatological dimension to your Weltanschauung."  

For the second time in those few minutes, Jamie said, "What?"

Isabel Dalhousie is one of Edinburgh's most generous (but discreet) philanthropists - but should she be more charitable?  She wonders, sometimes, if she is too judgmental about her niece's amorous exploits, too sharp about her housekeeper's spiritual beliefs, too ready to bristle in battle against her enemies.

As the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, she doesn't, of course, allow herself actual enemies, but she does feel enmity - especially towards two academics who have just arrived in the city.  Isabel feels they are a highly destabilizing influence;  little tremors in the volcanic rock upon which an Enlightened Edinburgh perches.   Equally troubling is the situation of the little boy who is convinced he had a previous life.  When Isabel is called upon to help, she finds herself questioning her views on reincarnation.  And the nature of grief.  And - crucially - the positioning of lighthouses.

The only questions Isabel doesn't have to address concern her personal life.  With her young son and devoted husband her home life is blissfully content.  Which is the best possible launching pad for the next issue of the Review - the Happiness issue.

As Isabel is beginning to appreciate, happiness, for most people, is not quite what it seems.

The Novel Habits of Happiness (2015) is the tenth and latest book in the Isabel Dalhousie series.

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world’s most prolific and most popular authors.  His career has been a varied one:  for many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the United Kingdom and abroad.  Then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty languages and become bestsellers through the world.

The series include the Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in The Scotsman, the Sunday Philosophy Club series starring Isabel Dalhousie, the von Igelfeld series, and the new Corduroy Mansions novels.

Alexander is also the author of collections of short stories, academic works, and over thirty books for children.  He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the British Book Awards Author of the Year Award in 2004 and a CBE for service to literature in 2007.  He holds honorary doctorates from nine universities in Europe and North America.  Alexander McCall Smith lives in Edinburgh.  He is married to a doctor and has two daughters.

Rating:  5/5

Definition: Pronoia


Friday, 14 August 2015

A Lifetime of Listening


Crazy For You (True Crime) by Michael Fleeman


Paperback:  Crazy For You (2015) is the true story of the murder of a husband and father from Atlanta and the secrets that spilled out in the wake of his death.

Early one crisp fall day, rush-hour commuters got their morning pick-me-ups at the drive-through windows at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, then slogged down Mount Vernon or Chamblee Dunwoody Roads toward the Interstate 285 freeway that circles Greater Atlanta.  Women in brightly coloured tank tops and gym shorts power-walked to music from their iPods along the wooded trails that ran next to the traffic-clogged roads.

The Dunwoody Village shopping center in the heart of Dunwoody, Georgia, was quiet but for the distant sound of a leaf blower and an impact wrench at the Goodyear store.  The Village Barbershop waited for its first customer;  a training car from Taggart’s Driving School sat alone in the nearly empty parking lot.  The post office would open within minutes, and people lined up outside in front of the glass door with the sign reading WE APPRECIATE YOUR BUSINESS.

Shortly before 9am on Thursday, 18 November, 2010, a silver Infiniti G35 pulled into the shopping center and came to a stop next to a red-brick wall in front of the Dunwoody Prep preschool.  Russell “Rusty” Sneiderman, thirty-six years old, boyish looking with glasses, had his three-year-old son, Ian, strapped in the car seat in the back.  The preschool run had become the morning routine ever since Rusty lost his CFO job, and his wife, Andrea, took her first full-time employment in the corporate world.  Andrea usually took their five-year-old daughter, Sophia, to kindergarten on the way to her office at GE Energy in Marietta.  Later in the day, Rusty would pick up both Ian and Sophia and take Sophia to ballet.  In between, he would squeeze in work on a voice-mail company he was trying to start up.

Rusty brought Ian to his classroom and returned to his car.  His schedule this day called for an 11.30am meeting with a potential business partner.  Based on his casual dress, it appeared that Rusty had planned to make the short drive back to his large house on Manget Court and change clothes.

By all accounts, Rusty never saw the silver minivan following him into the parking lot, and if he did, it did not mean enough for him to do anything about it.  Nor did he seem to recognize the driver, a bearded man in a hoodie sweatshirt who had waited behind the wheel until Rusty emerged from the school.

Rusty opened his car door, and the bearded man approached.  If they exchanged words, nobody heard it.  Without any apparent warning or provocation, the man pointed a handgun at Rusty’s head.

The gun was large and chrome-plated, the morning sun glinting off the polished surface.

Four times the man pulled the trigger.

The crime scene offered few answers and little evidence.

Rusty's devoted wife, Andrea, is devastated by the crime.  Who could have done this?  She is shocked when police trace the shooting to a man named Hemy Neuman who happens to be Andrea's adoring boss.  The prosecution accuses Andrea and Hemy of having a "forbidden relationship," and of conspiring to collect $3 million in her husband's life insurance but Andrea swears she never intended to kill Rusty and that it is Hemy who is "delusional" and obsessed.

With the charges against her dropped, and the insurance money frozen, Andrea remains a mysterious character.

One person - the man who pulled the trigger - knows the truth about what really happened.

About the author:  Michael Fleeman is a Los Angeles-based author, journalist, instructor and television commentator.  His ten true-crime books include the New York Times bestseller The Stranger in My Bed and most recently Love You Madly and Seduced by Evil.   He is currently working on a book about the Harold Henthorn “black widower” case in Colorado and once again will appear on the Investigation Discovery network’s true-crime show “Tabloid,” which begins its second season in 2015.

A graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Fleeman is a former editor/writer for People magazine and the Associated Press, and is now freelancing for Reuters, Southern California Life magazine and Closer magazine.  He also teaches journalism courses at UCLA Extension.  He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Online News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society and Sisters in Crime.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Territory (Josie Gray Mystery Series) by Tricia Fields


Paperback:  At the end of State Road 170 and just past a ghost town lies Artemis, population 2 500. The townspeople had sought out this remote corner of Western Texas in hopes of living lives of solitude and independence.  None of them realized that their small town would become a hot spot for Mexican drug runners, whose turf battles have turned both sides of the Rio Grande into a war zone. Still, many of the locals would rather take the law into their own hands than get help from police chief Josie Gray, even when they are up against a cartel's private army.

After arresting one of the cartel's hit men and killing another, Josie finds her life at risk for doing a job that many people would rather see her quit and when the town's self-appointed protector of the Second Amendment is murdered and his cache of weapons disappears, it is clear that she does not have to pick sides in this war.  She is battling them both.

Set in a desert landscape as beautiful as it is dangerous, The Territory (2011) - the debut novel in the Josie Gray Mystery Series - captures the current border issues from the eyes of a tough, compelling heroine and richly evokes the American Southwest.

About the author:  Tricia Fields lives in a log cabin on a small farm with her husband and two daughters.  She was born in Hawaii but has spent most of her life in small town Indiana, where her husband is a state trooper.  A lifelong obsession with Mexico and the Southwest led to her first book in 2011 followed by three others.  She won the Tony Hillerman Prize for her first mystery, The Territory (2011), which was also named a Sun-Sentinel Best Mystery Debut of the Year.  

Fields's award-winning Josie Gray mystery series has drawn acclaim for its detailed portrayal of this remote corner of America and the tough, resilient people who call it home.  Her fifth book in the Josie Gray series - Traffic - will be released in March 2016.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 7 August 2015

See How Much You Love Me (True Crime) by Amber Hunt


Paperback:  It began as a joke on Facebook but did he really kill his own mother and father just like he said he would?

Seventeen-year-old Tyler Hadley posted an invitation on Facebook:  party at my crib tonight...maybe.  However, this was no ordinary house party in the Florida suburbs;  it was a grisly crime scene.  Later that night, Tyler revealed to his best friend, Michael, that he had bludgeoned his parents to death with a hammer after taking three ecstasy tablets.  Michael did not believe him until he entered the master bedroom and saw the bodies of Tyler's parents on the floor - murdered beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Mary Jo and Blake Hadley had always known their son had a dark side, a melancholy undercurrent that would come and go.  Lately, it was coming more often than going.  He would make disturbing jokes about murder on Facebook.  He had even begun saying lately that he wanted to kill himself.  That tore at Mary Jo's heart and she had searched on the family computer for therapy in which she could enrol her once towheaded boy.  At seventeen, though, he was not towheaded anymore.  He was six foot one and awkward and he had his mother's eyes.

His desperate mother had him sectioned at New Horizons, a treatment center for people with emotional and mental health disorders - an act she was only able to do because she believed there to be a 'substantial likelihood' he would hurt himself.  When a co-worker asked Mary Jo if she was worried her son might hurt her she said no - she was more worried about his depression and suicide - because she suffered from mental illness herself.

How could they have known their son was dead serious?  What kind of person could kill his mother and father, throw a party with their bodies in the next room and brag about it?

Tyler Hadley's friends had pieced together that he had been having a tough time lately - he seemed to be grounded all the time and he was clearly depressed - but they never really worried about it.  He was a jokester, mostly, albeit with a pretty dark sense of humour.  If you believed everything he said, you would have to buy that he was capable of killing his parents.  How could he say that and mean it, especially if he followed it up with a laugh?  Overall, he was a good guy despite his macabre tendencies and he was fun to hang out with.

"It was a merciless killing.  It was brutal and the Facebook invitation - a party to have your friends and forty to sixty people come over - I think speaks for itself," police captain Don Kryak told a reporter at the scene.

A neighbour of the Hadleys' said, "At no time would you ever see any emotion out of him.  I don't think I've ever seen him smile.  When he was in trouble, he wasn't like most kids who would put their heads down and feel bad.  There was never any remorse or conscience when you looked into his eyes...His demeanour made you want to look out your window and see what he was doing."

The waterfront town of Port St Lucie, lined with ocean-view restaurants and beautiful boats docked along the Treasure Coast, had about 165 000 residents.  In all of 2010, three people were murdered there.  The city battled it out for the title of Safest City in Florida every year and was considered among the safest in the United States.  However, picturesque views aside, Port St Lucie suffered from a problem common in so many communities, suburban and urban alike:  A lot of kids there liked doing drugs.  Dozens of young adults would gather for one shindig around midnight, only to pull up stakes and head to another across town at 3am...and at each, there often was an argosy of alcohol and drugs:  blow, beans, zannies, pot, you name it.  The prevalence led some to dub the city "Pot St Lucie" or "Port St Lousy".

In Tyler's sentencing hearing, speaking for less than ninety seconds in a message he directed to his entire family, he said, "Not a single day goes by I don't think about my parents or my whole family that have been affected by this."  He said he realized he took away a son, father, a mother, a sister, a brother, and two friends.  "I know I don't expect forgiveness, and I know that they will never forgive me and I'm not expecting forgiveness."

The judge decided that Tyler should never be part of the outside world again.  The crime had been "brutal, horrific," he said;  the punishment must be severe.  "These attacks on his parents were very painful, both physically and emotionally," Judge Robert Makemson told the courtroom.  "I say emotionally because they realized their own son was killing them."

See How Much You Love Me (2014) is a riveting account about the 2011 murders of Blake and Mary Jo Hadley in Port St Lucie, Florida, by an award-winning journalist that takes you deep inside the mind of a troubled teenager and behind the scenes of a true American nightmare.  The author dedicated her book to the countless nameless victims of crime, caught in the ripple effects of others' unthinkably selfish deeds.

About the author:  Amber Hunt is an award-winning journalist who works for the Cincinnati Enquirer as an investigative reporter.  She previously covered crime for the Detroit Free Press and the Dakotas for The Associated Press and was a 2011 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan.  She has written three true-crime books:  Dead but Not Forgotten (2010), All-American Murder (2011) and See How Much You Love Me (2014), and is co-author of The Kennedy Wives: Triumph and Tragedy in America’s Most Public Family (2014), which she wrote with longtime friend David Batcher.

Amber is a past recipient of the Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting, the only national award dedicated to crime coverage.  She has appeared on NBC’s Dateline and A&E’s Crime Stories, among other TV shows.  Amber is also a photographer and lives in Ohio.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Baby-Faced Butchers (True Crime) by Stella Sands



Paperback:  Unexpected juvenile violence can happen any place, anytime, and it seems as if recent years have ushered in more of these appalling incidents than ever before.

Frederick Law Olmsted, who, along with Calvert Vaux, designed Central Park in 1858, remarked that the park "exercises a distinctly harmonizing and refining influence upon the most lawless classes of the city - an influence favourable to courtesy, self-control and temperance."  However, in the early hours of Friday, 23 May 1997, courtesy, self-control and temperance were not in existence as a blast of violence engulfed Central Park in a murder that horrified and stunned a city, not to mention hardened New Yorkers, where, all too often, crime is a distinct fact of life.

Cops like to say that anything more serious than a broken cuticle in Central Park is big news.  That is because Central Park is not merely a wonderland that serves as New Yorkers' personal patch of paradise, as well as the destination for innumerable tourists, but it is also a highly politicized arena in which the city's pulse, its emotional and physical well-being, is monitored on a daily basis.

A murder in the "2-0" or the "7-5" is news but a murder in Central Park is a metaphor.  Magnified a hundredfold, a park homicide equals more than one dead person.  It is a symbol of urban decay, of the financial and cultural capital of the world gone to the dogs.

On 23 May 1997, affable realtor Michael McMorrow was strolling home through Central Park when he met up with two fresh-faced teens.  The kids stabbed the 44-year-old thirty-four times, disemboweled him, and then threw his body into the lake.  Overnight, the brutal killing made spoiled rich girl, Daphne Abdela, and her working-class boyfriend, Christopher Vasquez, the most famous and reviled fifteen-year-olds in Manhattan.

The case fueled headlines from day one through the explosive trial, not only because of its brutality but also because of the young age of the defendants.  "Why are kids killing?"  People Magazine asked in a June 1997 issue.  Like everyone else, they did not have the answer, just the question.

Commenting on the media frenzy that was taking place, Jerry Nachman (deceased, as of 2004), a former editor of the Post and a former news director at WCBS-TV, said:  "Is there a test of what qualifies as news that this story fails?"  It seemed not.  The story included, among other things:  youth, wealth, race, gender, drugs (both illegal and prescription), alcohol, adoption, divorce, agoraphobia, motive, a weapon, viciousness, the park and even love.  The newspapers raised many questions regarding the teens and the murdered man and each person's motives.

With two very different clients and two vastly different attorney styles, the stage was set for a richly nuanced and complex drama in which character development and plot would drive the play forward in equal measure, until the climax and ultimate denouement revealed who was the leading character, who played the supporting role and what was the precipitating event.

Both teens were found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and got ten years but they served only six.  The verdict meant that neither of the two teen-agers accused in the killing was found guilty of intentionally murdering Michael McMorrow.  After twice being denied parole, the two were freed in January 2004.  The same year she was released, Daphne Abdela was up to her old tricks.  She was busted in October 2004 for making phone death threats to a Brooklyn woman.

In the civil suit against Vasquez and multimillionaire Abdela, McMorrow's family received just $60 000.  The public was furious and the family was stunned.  Featuring exclusive interviews with McMorrow's family, Baby-Faced Butchers (2007) is a definitive account of an appalling crime that arouses controversy even as it continues to horrify.

About the author:  Stella Sands is Executive Editor of Kids Discover, an award-winning magazine with over 400,000 subscribers geared to children 7 to 12 years old.  She is author of the true-crime book Baby-Faced Butchers, as well as other works including Odyssea and Natural Disasters.  Her plays, Lou Passin’ Through, Black-eyed Peas, and E-me, have been produced in Off-Off Broadway theaters in New York City.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil (True Crime) by David Nolan


Paperback:  No one heals himself by wounding another. - St Ambrose of Milan

Tell The Truth and Shame The Devil (2015) tells the inside story of the biggest historic sex abuse case ever mounted by Greater Manchester Police - the investigation into the systematic abuse of boys at St Ambrose College in Hale Barns by chemistry teacher and church deacon Alan Morris for nearly twenty years.

"The 2010s has been the decade in which the concept of 'historical abuse' has really hit home.  It's no longer just part of the terminology of criminologists and psychologists but a parade of grim incidents and hurtful memories that have entered the culture via a dark series of notorious cases," wrote Nolan in Chapter One of his book.

Author David Nolan was one of Morris's victims and was given unprecedented access to detectives investigating the case.  Nolan was there every step of the way, not only experiencing the brutal regime of the school in the 1970s, but also seeing every twist and turn of the case unfold at first hand.

He was even given the opportunity to confront Morris 35 years on from his abusive reign at the school.

Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, the Westminster sex abuse conspiracy - newspaper headlines have been crammed with historic abuse cases recently.  But what really goes on inside such an investigation?  What actually happens if you come forward to make a complaint of historical abuse?  Where does this clamour for justice to be done over offences committed decades ago come from?  How do officers deal with the raw emotions of the victims not to mention their own revulsion at the crimes especially when they uncover a darker secret at the school - stories of even more horrific abuse that have remained hidden for decades.

"The Morris case also demonstrates how many of the assumptions and clichés associated with historical cases do not necessarily apply.  There were no care-home victims here;  no street urchins from broken homes;  no lack of worldliness or intelligence on the part of the victims or their parents.  There were 'nice' kids from 'good' families."

"Throughout the investigation, detectives would comment on how highly educated the victims were and how articulately they expressed themselves.  When it came to the trial, the witness box was visited by doctors, businessmen, journalists, consultants...even a headmaster.  Many of 'the lads' had done well in life."

"They didn't need to be at Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester in that baking-hot summer of 2014.  But they felt the need to tell the truth.  If the Devil would be shamed in the process, so be it."

"Indeed, truth had been a very important facet of life at our Catholic school.  Its motto remains to this day 'Vitam Impendere Vero':  'Life Depends on Truth.'  It's on the badge of every boy's blazer.  However, there was an unofficial motto that some teachers would quote as they doled out terrible beatings that stayed with the pupils for the rest of their lives.  It would come back to haunt Alan Morris, the Christian Brothers and other staff from St Ambrose College with its direct quote from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1:  'Tell the truth and shame the Devil!'  They would say it just before they hit you," wrote Nolan in the Introduction.

David Nolan takes you on a journey of how the truth would finally be told and the Devil eventually shamed.  There has never been a real-life crime story like it.

Astonishing as it seems, it has always been perfectly legal to look the other way when a child is being abused in the United Kingdom, even if it is your job to care for children.  Campaigners want mandatory reporting laws to be brought in to force the hands of those who witness abuse but do not report it.  David Cameron says child abuse should be treated as a 'national threat' equivalent to terrorism or organised crime and wants to extend the offence of 'wilful neglect' that covers anyone vulnerable, from the elderly to children.  

About the author:  David Nolan has been a journalist since the day he left school in 1981.  He has worked for newspapers and magazines, in radio and television, and has won multiple Royal Television Society awards for his documentaries and current-affairs programmes.  Tell The Truth and Shame The Devil is his tenth book.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Practice To Deceive (True Crime) by Ann Rule (1931-2015)


Paperback:  Practice To Deceive (2013) is dedicated to good cops everywhere who never give up, even when they are investigating the most difficult cases imaginable.  The public will never really know the overtime they put in, the emotional toll they often pay, or how much it matters to them that justice will one day be served.

"The denouement of this baffling case took a decade - 27 December 2003 to 15 February 2013.  The entire story traverses fifty years," wrote Ann Rule in the Foreword.

In Practice to Deceive, her first book-length investigative chronicle since In the Still of the Night (2010), Rule unravels a shattering case of Christmastime murder off the coast of Washington State - presented with the clarity, authority, and emotional depth that Rule’s readers expect.  It is a case with enough drama, greed, sex, and scandal to be called “The Real Housewives of Whidbey Island,” but this was not reality television.  This was murder:  pure, cruel, ugly, and senseless and someone had to pay the price.

Nestled in Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is a gem of the Pacific Northwest;  accessible only by ferry and the soaring Deception Pass Bridge, it is known for its artistic communities and stunning natural beauty.  Life there is low-key, insular, and the island’s year-round residents tend to know one another’s business but when the blood-drenched body of Russel Douglas was discovered the day after Christmas in his SUV in a hidden driveway near Whidbey’s most exclusive mansions, the whole island was shocked.

A single bullet between his eyes was the cause of death, but no one could imagine who among them could plot such a devious, cold-blooded crime.  At first, police suspected suicide, tragically common at the height of the holiday season but when they found no gun in or near the SUV, Russel’s manner of death became homicide.  Like a cast of characters from a classic mystery novel, a host of Whidbey residents fell under suspicion.

Brenna Douglas was Russel’s estranged and soon-to-be ex-wife, who allowed him to come home for a Christmas visit with their children.  The couple owned the popular Just B’s salon.  Brenna’s good friend Peggy Sue Thomas worked there, and Brenna complained often to her that Russel was physically and emotionally abusive.

Peggy Sue’s own life has been one of extremes.  Married three times, hers is a rags-to-riches-and-back-again tale in which she’s played many roles:  aircraft mechanic, basketball coach, the “drop-dead gorgeous” beauty queen as a former Ms. Washington, Las Vegas limousine driver, million-dollar horse breeder, wealthy divorcée.  However, in 2003, her love affair with married guitarist Jim Huden led the two Whidbey Island natives to pursue their ultimate dreams of wealth and privilege, even at the expense of human life.

With her trademark aplomb, Ann Rule unravels the intense decade long homicide probe infused with drama, greed, sex, scandal and no shortage of suspects.  Even now, there are shadowy corners where secrets still hide.  Many innocents have died violent deaths in unlikely places.  Over time, the motives behind why these particular human beings were singled out for death are more obscure.

About the author:  Ann Rule was born on 22 October 1931 in Lowell, Michigan, USA as Ann Stackhouse.  Ann came from a family loaded with crime fighters.  Her grandfather and uncle were Michigan sheriffs.  Her cousin was a prosecuting attorney and another uncle was a medical examiner.  Her grandmother used to prepare meals for prisoners.  One prisoner was a 'sweet' lady who taught her to crochet.  Ann wondered why this woman could possibly be going on trial for murder and later said this is what led her to the 'whys' of criminal behavior.  She was the daughter of Chester R and Sophie Hansen Stackhouse.  Her father was a football/basketball/track coach and her mother was a teacher of the developmentally disabled.

She was active in support groups for victims of violent crimes and their families, in the YWCA's program to help battered and abused women, and in Childhelp and Childhaven, support groups for children.  She took courses in crime scene investigation, police administration, crime scene photography and arrest, as well as search and seizure while studying for two years at Highline Community College.  She was a Seattle Policewoman until her supervisors found out about her extreme nearsightedness.

She wrote her first book under the name Andy Stack for fear that a woman writing about crime would not be a success.  Her first book contract was to write about a serial killer known only as 'Ted'.  She later found that her very good friend, whose name was Ted Bundy, was in fact the 'Ted' she was contracted to write about.  She obtained her BA from the University of Washington in Creative Writing with minors in psychology, criminology and penology.  She also held a PhD in Humane Letters from Willamette University.

She was a certified instructor in many states for police training seminars and lectures to law enforcement officers, prosecutors and forensic organizations - including the FBI and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences - on subjects such as:  Serial Murder, Sadistic Sociopaths, Women Who Kill, and High Profile Offenders.  She had testified before US Senate Judiciary subcommittees on serial murder and victims' rights and was a civilian adviser to ViCAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program).

She was married to Bill Rule and died on 26 July 2015 in Burien, Washington, USA.