Category: True Crime

MMac1When I started reading this book, I was not sure if I should continue as I felt that the subject matter was darker than even I am used to. But something inside of me said to keep going and listen to what the author is saying.  Less than ten minutes into the book, I realized that I would not be putting it down anytime soon.  In fact, the book pulled me in so much that I finished it one day.  I simply could not get enough of the story.  Initially, the book came as a recommendation on Amazon.  Like many others, I was aware of other killers in Californian history.  The Zodiac? Check.  Richard Ramirez? Check.  Golden State Killer? I had no clue about this menace who terrorized southern California in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  But as I read through the beginning of the book, I soon realized that author Michelle McNamara (1970-2016) was about to take me deep inside the story of the “Original Night Stalker”.

I feel compelled to point out that this book is not for the faint at heart. Anyone who is sensitive to graphic descriptions of crime scenes or uneasy reading true crime will probably want to avoid the book.  But for those who enjoy true crime and are curious about a killer that has been overshadowed by the Zodiac and Ramirez, this is the book you have been searching for.  To be clear, McNamara was not a police officer. Yet she spent a staggering amount of time and resources putting together a trove of information that impressed even the most skilled detectives.  She was so respected that she had developed rare bi-directional channels of communication with cold case detectives. And when she died in her sleep on April 21, 2016, she left behind several chapters of this book that were not only saved, but compiled into this gritty and gripping account of the mission to catch a killer.

Out of respect for some victims or possibly at their request, some of the names have been changed as we learned at the end of the book. However, the crimes were real and retold as they happened.  And although more than forty years have passed since some of the crimes have taken place, McNamara’s writing makes it feel as if they happened yesterday.  At first, the crimes seem like isolated incidents until similarities creep up and the invention of DNA testing reveals that more than one crime is the work of a single invidual.  He struck at night, using the element of suprise to inflict physical and sexual assault before disappearing in the night.  His crimes come hauntingly back to life as McNamara tells the story. It is true crime at its best.

The book early on does read like a typical true crime novel until DNA testing enters the picture.  It is at that moment that the book picks up pace and suspense settles in through McNamara’s words.  Det. Larry Pool and Criminologist Paul Holes become her unofficial partners in search of the elusive killer whom they believe will be caught through DNA.  And although suspects do come up, they do not hit paydirt. McNamara is not deterred and even obtained thirty-seven boxes of files from Orange County prosecutors.  The Golden State Killer had become her only goal and she freely discusses the effect the case has had on her life, in particular her marriage to actor Patton Oswalt.   The case becomes her obsession, filling her thoughts as the insomia she developed took hold in late night hours.  And in the days before her death, she was moving full steam ahead and prepared to examine the files she had placed upstairs after unloading two SUVs full of boxes. I believe that there was no doubt in her mind that the killer would one day face justice.

At the time of McNamara’s death, the Golden State Killer remained at large. However, two years after her passing that all changed.  In April, 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was taken into custody and charged with multiple murders, kidnappings and other crimes. His arrest would have been just another cold case that had been solved. However there was something different this time around.  DeAngelo had been brought to justice through the very tool that McNamara believed was the key: DNA.   The closure of the case is a final testament to her unwavering committment to solving one of the darkest murder mysteries in American history.  Had she not died so untimely, I believe she might have uncovered DeAngelo’s name at some point.   Her exhaustive efforts and this book based on her unpublished writings, is the definitive account of the race against time to stop a lunatic with a thirst for mayhem.  And while I could describe the power of this account in several ways, I think famous author Stephen King says it best:

“What readers need to know—what makes this book so special—is that it deals with two obsessions, one light and one dark. The Golden State Killer is the dark half; Michelle McNamara’s is the light half. It’s a journey into two minds, one sick and disordered, the other intelligent and determined. I loved this book.” —Stephen King

Good read and highly recommended.


True Crime

scottWhen I think of the murder of rap star Tupac Shakur (1971-1996), I not only think of the brutal manner in which he died but also of his enormous potential as an actor and possibly more in a career for which the sky was the limit.  At only twenty-five years of age, Shakur had lived an incredible life and even reading about it today results in my constant amazement at his rise to stardom.  I have always believed that a part of the rap industry died that day, never to return.  At the time of his death, Shakur was the highest selling rapper and a titan of the industry.   When he told Marion “Suge” Knight that he would “put Death Row on the map”, he did not exaggerate.  Officially, his murder remains unsolved and is an open homicide within the Las Vegas Police Department (“LVPD”). Shakur’s murder remains a mystery but journalist Cathy Scott decided to take a look at the killing of Tupac Shakur. 

Detectives in multiple police departments have long believed that the man who fired the shots that took Shakur’s life was Orlando Anderson (1974-1998), a member of the South Side Crips in Compton, California.  And although he was never formally charged in the murder, his name is forever linked to the crime as a result of a physical altercation earlier that night at the MGM Grand Hotel.  Anderson had been attacked and seriously beaten by an entourage composed of Shakur, Knight and affiliates of Death Row Records in town that weekend for the Mike Tyson – Bruce Seldon boxing match.   The incident was captured on camera and the footage is widely available on the internet for those who have yet to watch it.   Compton police officers familiar with Anderson, believed that he was certainly capable of murdering Shakur and that he would have no hesitations in shooting anyone who had disrepected him. Further, detectives in the gang unit have always felt that the shooting was direct retaliation for the earlier altercation.  The LVDP declined to charge Anderson with murder due to lack of evidence.  And whatever secrets Anderson did keep went with him to his grave.

It should be noted that no “smoking gun” exist here in the book.  If it had, Scott would have certainly been heralded as the person who finally revealed the truth.  Instead, the book is a thorough examination of everything that happened that night, the following investigations and a look at the lives of Tupac, Suge Knight and Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997) whose death on March 9, 1997 seemed to indicate that it was open season on rappers.  Interestingly, I found that although I have followed the Shakur case since the shooting, there were a few things that I learned here which I had not previously known.  Further, Scott does not subscribe to any conspiracy theories, thus removing any trace of bias or insanity in the book.  She is simply the investigative reporter, relaying to the reader what she has discovered.

In my perception, the crux of the book is the investigation by the LVPD.  Shakur’s murder is perhaps the most notorious crime to take place on the Las Vegas. However, in spite of the location of the shooting and the extensive number of witnesses, no one was ever charged with the murder.  Scott shows the early mistakes made by the LVPD and interactions between the department and the Compton Police Department and even the New York City Police Departmet which still had a vested interested in any information gleaned that could help in its own investigation of the 1994 shooting at Quad Studios in which Shakur was critically injured.  The faulty investigations and lack of cooperation from potential witnesses combined to ensure that Shakur’s murder would never be solved.  Further, the one witness who could have been useful, Yafeu Fula (1977-1996), was himself murdered two months to the day that Shakur died, taking with him any information he had about the death of his best friend and rap’s brightest star.

As I read the book, I began to see that the biggest threat to Tupac’s life were the very people he was surrounded by.  As shown in the book, Suge Knight, who had once played for the Los Angeles Rams, had embraced the criminal culture and Death Row Records had evolved into a haven for off-duty cops and gang members.  For Shakur, turning over a new life soon became a pipe dream.  Las Vegas was his destiny and in the final act, blood was spilled and a young man lost his life to sheer insanity.  However, to understand Tupac in death, we must understand his life and Scott provides a good discussion of his early life that began on the streets of New York City and took him all the way to California. The role of his mother Afeni Shakur (1947-2016) is also discussed both prior to and after his death. Other figures important in Shakur’s life are also part of the story to varying degrees.  Yet Scott never loses her focus on Shakur who is the main subject.

Another area of the book I found intriguing was the financial affairs of Death Row.  Putting aside the well-known story of Michael “Harry-O” Harris, Scott also reveals a few interesting facts about the company’s founding and its finances which had resulted in an investigation by federal authorities.   What is evidently clear is that there was far more taking placed behind the scenes at Death Row than fans could have ever known at the time. Its CEO is known as a shrewd businessman, having risen from the streets of Compton to becoming the CEO of a record company that became a juggernaut. His fall from grace is nothing short of mind blowing.

To be expected, high focus is placed on Anderson and while Scott does not reveal anything goundbreaking, what she does present is food for thought.  For a more thorough examination of Orlando Anderson, I do recommend  Once Upon a Time in Compton, which provides a more detailed analysis of the raids by the Los Angeles Police Department and Compton Police Department on Anderson’s homes and the evidence tht was seized.  The information is largely based on the work by former Compton Gang Unit detectives Tim J. “Blondie” Brennand and Robert Ladd.  There was one part of Scott’s discussion of Orlando that did stand out with regards to the lawsuit filed by Anderson against Shakur’s estate and Afeni’s countersuit. Both were pending at the time of Anderson’s death but there had been a surprise turn of events in the case literally hours before his death.

In the years that have followed his murder, rumors of Shakur having faked his own death can still be found online and through social media.  He has joined Elvis, whom many people continue to proclaim is still alive and well somewhere. I believe Scott puts the rumors of Shakur being alive to rest for good. His death is surely a tragedy but far from being a staged event.  As they say, the proof is in the pudding.  I could not help feel while reading that part of what makes Shakur’s death so tragic, is that it comes across as another case of the deadly system of black on black violence that has endured for far too long.  Consider these facts revealed by Scott:

Statistics show that black-on-black gun violence has been the leading cause of death for black youths 15 to 19 years old since 1969. From 1987 to 1989, the gun homicide rate for black males 15 to 19 increased 71 percent. Of the roughly 20,000 murders committed each year in the U.S. between 1991 and 1995, 50 percent were cases involving black victims.

Twenty-five years have passed since Shakur’s death but the issue of black on black crime has not subsided as we can see by the violence in the streets of places such as Los Angeles, Compton, Watts, Chicago, Houston and even New York City.   It is like a festering wound that can never heal and reminds me of my old neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn, which saw its own deadly cycle of black on black crime.  I truly hope the future brings a much needed change that will see less young black men dying in the streets of America.  For those in search of solid and theory free information on the killing of Tupac Shakur, this is a good place to start and a must-have for any reader familiar with the case.


True Crime

compton1Compton, California has earned a reputation over the last fifty years as a place where people are tough, life is dangerous and unless you are from there, you stay away.  Gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips have proliferated across the city in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and the dawn of the crack cocaine epidemic in the United States.  In what could rightly be described as a civil war, thousands of black men, women and children have died on the streets of Comptom and in Los Angeles county as gang wars escalated.  In 1888, the City of Comptom had formed its own police department to patrol city limits and at the time of the deadly gang wars erupted, it was pushed to its limit.  Some officers would leave the department for much quieter neighborhoods with lower crime rates.  Others would stay until it was disbanded in 2000.  Among the two most well-known as respected officers were Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd.   The duo have been interviewed numerous times in recent years, expressing their thoughts on Compton, the murder of Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) and his alleged killer Orlando Anderson (1974-1998).  However, there is far more to their story than what we have come to learn on screen and here the two join with Lolita Files, whom some may recognize from the A & E multi-part series Who Killed TupacIn the show she is assisting famed attorney Benjamin Crump who takes another look at the murder of the slain rapper.  This is their story about their lives and time in Comptom as part of a police department located in the middle of a war zone.

Those of us who live outside California may find the gang culture to be both mistifying and tragic.  The Crips, who feature prominently throughout the book, have a long past of their own.  The gang’s formation is rightfully captured by Zach Fortier and Derard Barton in I am Raymond Washington: The Authorized Biography About the Original Founder of the Crips, which I highly recommend to readers interested in the development of the Crips.  Brennan and Ladd became intimately familiar with them and other outfits that compose the fifty-five known gangs of Compton. The two were so well known on the streets that Brennan earned the nickname “Blondie” as a result of a song by DJ Quik.  But just how did the two end up in Compton and become partners for fifteen years? Lolita Files narrates their story in this book that is a both a biography and an investigative look into one of America’s most violent cities.

Files provides a short history on Compton which I found to be very interesting and informative.  The city’s later history is similar to other cities across America where white flight helped give way to the ghettos that developed. Compton is no different and its descent into madness in the wake of the 1965 Watts Riots, is an American tragedy that unfornately is not unique.  However, nothing could have prepared Compton for what would come next and when the gangs arrived, the city was transformed into hell on earth.  It is not long into the book before Brennan appears and we learn about his migration to California where he makes a home in the Compton Police Department.  He is schooled as a rookie and moves up through the ranks.  However, it is not until he meets California native Robert Ladd that the dynamic duo is formed and through their work, become nationally recognized experts on gang culture.

The book is not solely about the two officers but Files also discusses the city’s most notorious gangsters whom Brennan and Ladd became very familiar with.  Nightly gang shootings, drug transactions and even domestic disputes, kept the Compton Police Department busy and Files takes us back in time when Brennan and Ladd found themselves in the middle of open gang warfare.  They are joined by Reggie Wright, Sr., whom some may recall as the father of Reggie Wright, Jr., a former Compton Police Officer himself who later provided protection to Death Row Records through his company Wright Way Security.  The stories are crazy and some unreal but Compton was akin to the wild wild west except the gang members were not using six shooters but heavy artillery designed to cause mass casualties.

Politics play a part in the story as one would expect and some of the events that take place are both head scratching and amusing.  And the takeover by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was the final nail in the coffin and officialy marked an end to the Compton Police Department.  However, before that took place, the gang unit had been making waves and putting a dent in gang activity.  But there were a couple of events that were even too large for Brennan and Ladd.

No book about Compton would be complete without the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the acquittal of several officers who took part in the beating of motorist Rodney King (1965-2012).  The verdict set off riots across the county of Los Angeles and I remember watching the events on television with disbelief and fear of what would happen next.  Files revisits the tragedy and the response to the mayhem by the Compton Police Department. It is a dark time in American history, but one that can never be forgotten, especially by the people of Los Angeles.   By this point in the story, we come to know Brennan, Ladd and other officers in the Compton Police Departmentve very well.  However, the story picks up its pace after a deadly shooting takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 7, 1996.  That night, Tupac Shakur was shot and mortally wounded after an altercation at the MGM Grand Hotel with South Side Crip Orlando Anderson.  Shakur’s death on September 13, 1996, unleashed a wave of violence across Compton between Bloods and Crips that placed Brennan and Ladd on the front lines in the investigation.  Files takes on the role of our reporter and delivers the full inside scoop on the deadly retaliation that took place.  Anderson is also a point of focus and his story is revisited including his own death in May, 1998.

Readers who have followed Brennan and Ladd will undoubtedly find this part of the book to be of high interest. Further, Files has proven herself to be highly knowledgeable  about the crime as evident by her appearance alongside Crump.  The scuffle at the MGM, the events leading up to it and its aftermath are covered completely.  Further, the efforts of former detectives Russell Poole (1956-2015) and Gred Kading are examined in detail.  Viewers of the USA show Unsolved, will be familiar with Kading’s name as well as those who have studied the Shakur case.  The death of rap star Christopher”The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997) on March 9, 1997, also enters the story and Files discusses it in depth.  The writing is good and I even learned an intersting fact about Duane “Keefe D” Davis which I had not previously known and possible connections between Wallace and the South Side Crips.  I also learned more about Brennan’s interactions with Kading’s task force which had been assembled to learn the truth about Wallace’s death.  Motives for both murders are presented and some viewers may feel that perhaps the simplest explanation is the most likely.  Sadly, both Shakur and Wallace’s murders remain unsolved.

What I have described so far does not come close to acknowledging everything that will be found in the pages of this book.  It is simply a great read about the Compton, and a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the city that gangs and rappers put on the map.  There is a cast of characters to be found in the story ranging from former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight to the deplorable racist gang known as the “spook hunters”.  Compton is full of history  and it is still being written.  And only time will tell if its residents can make peace with the past and move away from the violence that has claimed far too many lives.  Great book.


General Reading True Crime

garciaOn March 13, 2018, Dr.  William Hunter came home to find his eleven-year old son Tom and housekeeper Shirlee Sherman lying in pools of blood after having been brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. Police soon arrived on the scene and detectives began their investigation into two homicides that unnerved the quiet suburban enclave.  Five years later on May 14, 2013,  doctors Roger and Mary Brumback were shot and killed in their West Omaha home.  The brutality of the murders shocked even the most seasoned investigators and left many wondering what how one person could commit such a grisly crime.  Detectives Derek Mois and Scott Warner became the lead investigators and continued to examine the two murders, looking for any clues that would lead them to a suspect.  A crucial link was soon discovered between the two victims and led investigators to take a closer look at the Department of Pathology at Creighton University.

Hunter and Brumback both worked at the famed institution and knew each other very well.  As detectives began to learn more about the lives of the two doctors and their common employer, the more they realized that the killer must be someone they knew, who had a deadly vendetta against anyone who worked at Creighton.   Authorities culled the personal files of all current and former employees, looking for anyone who might fit the profile of the killer at large.  The records were voluminous but Sgt. Mike Ratliff soon found a folder that caught his attention and stood out from the rest.  He brought it Mois’ attention believing that this was the person that detectives need to focus on.   The name on the file was Dr. Anthony J. Garcia and the events that followed would develop into one of the Nebraska’s most infamous crimes and place Garcia on Nebraska’s death row.

Outside of Nebraska, Garcia’s story received limited coverage and if not for this book, his story might continue to go largely unknown. But authors Henry J. Cordes and Todd Cooper have ensured that Garcia will always live in infamy as a homicidal maniac that took the lives of four innocent people and may have killed more had he not been apprehended. Old-school detective work done by the book, proved to be the key factor that broke the case wide open.  But there is more to the story than what has been reported officially. This is the true inside story of the effort to catch Omaha’s worst nightmare. Detectives raced against the clock as it became chillingly clear that anyone who worked with or above Garcia at Creighton might soon be a target. 

The book reads like a good crime thriller and I found myself deeply immersed in the book, not wanting to put it down at all.  The book is about two hundred fifty-eight pages and goes by quickly. But contained in the book is a story that is beyond shocking.  Some may wonder how could that happen in Omaha of all places?  Murder knows no bounds and location is irrelevant.   What is relevant, is the mindset of those who have the ability and willingness to kill, possessed by what is in this case, called pathological rage.

Omaha natives may choose to pass on this book, as they have probably seen news reports on their locals stations from the time of Garcia’s arrest until his conviction and sentencing.   For those outside of Omaha, this story of murder in the heartland, will cause you to rethink who we think to be capable of murder and who we assume to be the least likely to harm us.  In fact, as Dr. Hunter points out in the book, he never suspected that Garcia was involved.  Perhaps if their had been a suspect with whom Hunter had a far more explosive relationship, the doctor may have zeroed in on a possible suspect even quicker than authorities.  And while he did give Garcia’s name to investigators, he made it clear that he did not think Garcia was a threat.  The benefit of hindsight allows us to look in the past and see the critical clues that were missed but at the time, all involved went by what was solid evidence that would actually lead to a thorough and conclusive investigation.

True crime aficionados will welcome this thriller to their libraries and undoubtedly will be asking for more at the book’s conclusion.  To be clear, the story is not a glorification of Garcia or his crimes. In fact, the book has the opposite effect and the barbarity of Garcia’s actions him home with profound force. But what is paramount is that we understand the motives and thought process behind pathological killers to understand what lies behind their decisions and actions.  Murder is certainly not a new idea and has been part of society since the creation of humans.  And while we cannot prevent all murders, perhaps we do stand a chance in preventing another killer like Dr. Anthony Garcia.


True Crime

iceland2In 1974, the feelings of innocence and safety that  were pillars of Icelandic society, eroded when two men disappeared and were later presumed dead.  The crimes brought home the reality to thousands of Icelanders that even their nation could experience what was believed to only happen in other places such as America. On January 27, 1974, Gudmundur Einarsson disappeared after leaving a nightclub in the area known as Hafnarfjordur.  Ten months later, Geirfinnur Einarsson disappeared after receiving a phone call from an unknown caller.  He left home in a hurry and his car was later found abandoned by authorities.  The bodies of both men have never been found.  The cases would have remained cold if not for the arrest of a young couple for embezzlement.  Erla Bolladottir and Saevar Ciesielski’s apprehension by police eventually set into motion a chain of events that resulted in the convictions and imprisonment of six people whose names continue to carry the stigma of Iceland’s worst killers.  Kristjan Vidar Vidarsson, Tryggvi Runar Leifsson, Albert Klahn Skaftason and Gudjon Skarphedinsson joined Erla and Saevar as defendants in the cases that polarized an entire nation.   At first glance, the story seems simple, two kids were caught committing a crime and then confessed to other crimes wherein they implicated previously unknown co-conspirators.  But upon closer inspection, many problems arise with the official story and to this day, there are  many unanswered questions. Anthony Adeane traveled to and from Iceland for several years conducting research for this book and what is contained in its pages has caused me to take an even deeper look at a case that had already caught my attention.

Netflix premiered a documentary of the crimes, also under the title of  Out of Thin Air, in which Erla and Gudjon give interviews. Albert is still alive but has refused interview requests and as Adeane reveals, he was advised not to approach Albert at all for his own safety.  The documentary is incredibly well-done and leaves the viewer with a feeling of confusion about the actions of investigators and the “confessions” of the accused.  And while I enjoyed it immensely, I believe this book presents the story with even more emphasis on the controversial narrative maintained by the Icelandic Government.  Similar to the documentary, Erla plays a central role as Adeane recounts their conversations during his many trips to the small Scandinavian nation in the Atlantic.  The taint of the case is still alive and well causing Erla consternation in public to this day.  But to understand why, it is necessary to understand Iceland and Adeane masterfully includes a simple but effective narrative on the critical points in Iceland’s founding and subsequent development.   The book is not intended to be a compendium of the history of Iceland but a primer to show the reader how and why Iceland became the secluded nation that it did and why two murders which happen in other parts of the world, shook the country to its core.   This primer by Adeane, sets the stage for the future public reaction to the horror two men who disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

Those familiar with Nordic culture will readily agree that Icelandic names can be quite tough for foreigners to pronounce correctly.  At first it may be a bit confusing keeping up with everyone but as the book progresses it actually does become easier to keep track of the main characters.  The author gives the reader a helping hand by explaining Icelandic surnames which I admittedly did not fully understand before reading the book.   The names of the locations are equally as tongue-twisting but as the book progressed I was able to recall their names without much trouble.  Some would say it is not necessary to remember all of the names of places.  I do not believe most readers will but the information is there if needed.  However,  one of the keys to understanding the problems with the official timeline is the name and location of multiple places mentioned in the book. Readers who have visited Iceland or are Icelandic may be familiar with the physical layout making the book even more appealing.  For natives, this book may not be needed as these two crimes are embedded into Icelandic society.

Similar to the documentary and the real story, the other major figure here is Saevar.   He has been viewed as a Charles Manson type character with a powerful influence over others.  But just who was the real Saevar? And was he the evil genius who imprisoned others under his powerful influence as authorities made people believe?  Adeane covers his life and includes information that did not make it into the documentary.  Saevar’s life is a tragic as the story at hand.  The same can also be said for many of the other figures.  I believe if the filmmakers had more time, perhaps they could have included more information about the two mysteries that become even more bizarre each time they are revisited.  As the book progresses, Saevar emerges as the most tragic of the figures who was never able to move forward in life after seventeen years in prison. Sadly he is no longer here and if his name is eventually cleared, he will have no way of knowing or rejoicing in the fact that his life’s mission had been successful.  For Tryggvi,  it is also too late and the six hundred plus days that he spent in solitary remained with him until the day that he died. Gudjon is one of the few still alive but today is a shell of his former self and the image of a man who has carried a heavy burden for many years as a result of a case that destroyed many lives.

Some readers will wonder why did they confess if they had not committed the crime?  It is a crucial question and Adeane explores that topic from an unbiased angle that I believe shows very plausible explanations.  There are those who will come away from the book and believe that yes, there were in fact guilty and confessed as they should have.  But others will become even more convinced that something went terribly wrong in the investigation by police and several young adults were “chosen” to take the fall for a crime that they could not have possibly committed.

More than forty years have passed since the events at hand occurred.  Iceland is a very different country today with a large portion of its economy derived from the tourism that hardly existed at the time Erla and Saevar were hatching many of their get quick rich schemes.  Several of the others had been in trouble with the law before but none had ever committed the crime of murder.  There is a chance that history will absolve them and Anthony Adeane puts their plight is a very critical light ripe for further reexamination.  The courts in Iceland have resisted efforts to reopen the investigations but someday the efforts by many, including the author, may prove to be what is needed to finally clear the names of Erla, Saevar, Tryggvi, Albert, Gudjon and Kristjan.   And maybe someday the truth about the fates of Gudmundur Einarsson  and Geirfinnur Einarsson will finally be known.  This is a direct and fascinating look at the two cases that developed out of thin air.


True Crime

Casey - Deliver uSIn spite of their infamous reputations, there is something about serial killers that compels society to revisit their crimes and re-live what could best be described as nightmares by the families of victims, survivors of the crimes and law enforcement who worked countless hours in their attempts to bring the killers to justice. Netflix recently premiered Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, allowing viewers to hear Bundy in his own words as we continue to seek explanations for the actions of one of America’s most prolific serial killers.  He is far from the only one and is joined in infamy both dozens of other killers whose actions revealed the extremely dark side of human nature.  In the State of Texas, between Galveston and Houston, lies Interstate Highway 45 (I-45).  Between the years 1971 and 1996, the bodies of 30 women were recovered in what became known as the Texas Killing Fields.  Some of the murders were solved but the majority have remained unsolved and currently classified as cold cases.  The barbarity of the crimes coupled with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearances of the victims, have cast an ever darker cloud on some of Texas’ worst murders. Author Katheryn Casey has revisited the killing fields and this is her account of what she learned as she stepped back into time and explored the serious of murdered that rocked Texas and caused many to wonder if any young woman was safe.

On Thursday, June 17, 1971, Colette Anise Wilson was a typical thirteen year-old girl in Alvin, Texas, but she could not have known that it would be her last day alive.  Her remains were found several months later in November of that year. Her disappearance and murder became a de facto script that would be played out over and over again as more young women met a similar fate, leaving families looking for answers that made sense and detectives under enormous pressure to solve crimes that had never before affected the towns along I-45.  The grief that engulfed the families is captured movingly by Casey and reveals the innocence of the young women, robbed of a full life through a chance encounter that had deadly consequences.  A common theme that I saw in the book and one that was to be expected, is that none of the families were ever the same again.  Each surviving family member handled the grief in their own way with some becoming committed activists in helping other parents of murdered children and others sinking further into misery.  In this book, Casey keeps their daughters’ legacies alive and gives the families a voice that needs to heard and remembered.

Readers who are sensitive to this type subject matter should beware that the descriptions of the crimes are graphic. Forensics is crucial to the murders and through Casey,  we revisit the crime scenes in order to understand what detectives faced as they came to understand that a deadly epidemic had commenced on the I-45.   At certain points in the book, I felt a slight chill come over me as I read the stories of the murders.  And what was more chilling, is the anonymity of the killer(s).  Authorities have long believed that many of the murders were the work of one person, a serial killer that had picked Texas as his killing field. In truth, we do not know for sure how many killers did in fact roam the I-45.  It is quite possible that several claimed the lives of multiple women over the course of more than twenty-five years. Casey does not attempt to answer that question but the narrative does leave the question open.

Towards the end of the book, there was one section that stood out in particular in which Casey recalls a conversation with retired FBI profiler Mark Young.  During their discussion about the I-45 murders, he remarked “at any one time, there are about six hundred serial killers in the U.S.. Of those, maybe half are active. The others have aged and stopped killing, or they’ve stopped for other reasons, like sickness, or they’re in prison for other crimes.” Considering the population of the United States is well above 300 million people, that does not add up to significant portion of the population. But I believe that even one serial killer is far too many.  But as Casey explores in the book, how do we know who is a serial killer?  By her own admission, she might have let Kevin Edison Smith come into her home if he had presented himself in a non-threatening manner.  His conviction for the murder of Krystal Jean Baker highlights the fact that we do not know who among us has the capability to be a stone cold killer.  Further, there is a chance that at least once in our lives, we have crossed paths with someone who has killed or has the ability to commit premeditated murder.

There is always the possibility that one or more of the I-45 cold cases will one day be solved.  However, the passage of time and the loss of critical evidence may prove to be too much for even the most seasoned investigators.   But for anyone who is making an effort to understand what did happen during that twenty-five year stretch when the Texas Killing Fields ran red with blood, a blueprint is needed to provide a map of where and when to look.  Kathryn Casey has done that and more in this eye-opening and hair-raising account of serial murder in the Lone Star State.


True Crime

42844479._UY500_SS500_On July 21, 1979, the bodies of fourteen year-old Edward Smith and thirteen year-old Alfred Evans were found in Southwest Atlanta.   Both had been murdered and authorities struggled to find a motive for the senseless killings.   Over the course of the next two years, more than twenty children, adolescents and adults were found murdered in Atlanta.  The homicides were dubbed by the media as the Atlanta Child Murders.  Today, the crimes are a distant memory for many Americans but Atlantans will vividly recall the time period in which the primarily African-American areas of the city  lived in fear as a killer was on the loose, preying upon young children, teens and adults.  Less than forty years ago, a homicidal maniac terrorized the famed Southern Georgia city that served as the home of the 1996 Olympic Games.

When Wayne Bertram Williams was arrested on June 21,1981, the City of Atlanta breathed a collective sigh of relief.  It now seemed as if Atlanta’s children could once again venture outdoors without fear of death.  Authorities had been watching Williams for some time before taking him into custody and officially charging him with the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Payne, both of whom were adults at the time of their deaths.  Williams was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.   To this day he continues to profess his innocence with defiant statements and baseless theories as to how the murders occurred.  Eerily,  prosecutors knew that their chances of convicting him on all of the murders were nearly impossible and to this day, some of them are technically unresolved.  Williams was the main suspect but because he was never convicted of them, there is no formal sense of closure to those open homicides. Authorities had suspected Williams had help but were never able to prove it conclusively.  Myths and rumors have plagued the Atlanta Child Murders nearly from the beginning, clouding the truth.  But author Jack Rosewood has sought out to dis-spell these myths, telling the true story of Wayne Williams and the deaths in the City of Atlanta between 1979 and 1981.

The book is more a compendium than a biography of Williams or detailed examination of his trial and subsequent conviction. Rosewood’s purpose is strictly to relate what is fact and discard what is fiction. And the result is a chronological examination of the case from start to finish, giving readers the most complete picture of what really happened.  The authors spares the reader from any bias and ridiculous fodder for gossip. The presentation in the book is streamlined with a steady but not too quick pace, keeping the reader engaged as the story picks up pace and Williams enters the cross-hairs of the Atlanta Police Department.  Those who decide to make notes will find that the paragraphs are formatted perfectly for highlighting information to be retained for a later date. Rosewood covers each victim, not just as another number but as young kid or adult, driving home the savageness of the murders.

Major crimes have the tendency to cause speculation among investigators and citizens alike.  All sorts of theories arose as to who was responsible for the murders. Rosewood covers those theories, as outlandish as they were and still are, and breaks them down until they no longer have any semblance of reality.   Race has always had a large role in Atlanta, a city which was at one time was a hotbed of Ku Klux Clan activity.  The city’s dark racial history reared its head again, becoming a political pawn in the mission to bring the killer to justice.  And even today, the murders continue to bring up discussions about race, politics and law enforcement in Atlanta.  Rosewood handles the subject perfectly and clears up any misconceptions that may exist.

Towards the end of the book, Rosewood gives interesting descriptions of other notable or perhaps forgotten African-American serial killers in the United States.  Their names will undoubtedly be unfamiliar to many readers.  And for others, the idea of black serial killer seems too surreal to believe.  But Rosewood has done his homework and these killers are just as deadly or even more so than Williams. Curiously, after he was arrested, tried and convicted, the murders stopped.  The cessation of the homicides led many to firmly believe that Williams was the right man.   He has never admitted to killing anyone and will surely go this grave professing his innocence.  But forensic evidence,  damning witness testimony and Williams’ own implosion on the witness stand, sealed his fate and led to his confinement for life behind bars.  His appeals have been exhausted and it is nearly certain that Wayne Williams will spend the rest of his life in prison.  History may one day absolve him of some of the crimes attributed to him, but until then, the Atlanta Child Murders lays squarely on the shoulders of Wayne Williams.


True Crime

versaceThere are some who say that the City of Miami was never he same after Giovanni Maria “Gianni” Versace (1946-1997) was shot and killed on July 15, 1997 by Andrew Cunanan (1969-1997).  The world-famous fashion designer had given the city new life with his bold designs, outlandish parties and mansion called the Casa Casuarina. At the time of his death, the Versace name was a juggernaut in the fashion world, dominating news headlines and magazine covers.  Tragically, in less than ten seconds, Cunanan changed all of that in ways that no one could have imagined.   After Versace’s death, trials and tribulations nearly brought the company to the brink of extinction but today it is still going strong.  And its creator is regarded as one fashion’s greatest minds.   The story of his death is well-known having been relived through the FX award-winning series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.  But what may not be familiar to viewers is the story behind the public faces of the company; Santo, Gianni and Donatella.   The three siblings put their minds and personalities together forming the company that became a legend and a legacy.   This is the story of their genius, a murder and the survival of a business.

The Versace story begins in Reggio Calabria, a small coastal town in southern Italy, where Nino and Franca Versace, raised their three children who would go on to achieve world-wide fame.  A fourth sister and their oldest child, Fortunata, who was known by her family as Tinuccia, died in her youth.  As one would expect from a story about a simple family living in post-war Italy,  poverty initially makes itself known, not just for the Versace family but for many in Reggio, who would later immigrate to Milan only to face discrimination from the northerners who viewed their southern neighbors with disdain.  But what no one knew then was that Milan, would one day serve as headquarters for the Versace product and a stepping-stone to stardom for Gianni and his siblings.  From a young age he begins to lean from his mother Franca, the intricate parts of sewing and fashion design.  As he gets older, chance meetings, including one in Paris with Karl Lagerfeld, provided the change of fate Gianni needed and before long, he and his siblings began to set the foundation for the Versace empire.

The book contains a significant amount of information about fashion products, earnings, cat walks and an endless number of celebrities who came into the Versace inner circle.  But at its base,  the book maintains its focus on the personal story of the three siblings.   Their minds were and are still brilliant but even they would not be impervious to the many seductive aspects of quick fame, endless money and an abundant supply of vices,  one of which nearly caused the complete self-destruction of Donatella.  Marriages, relationships and the Gianni’s sexual orientation play their parts in the book as components to the complex yet tragic story that unfolds.  The highs are many but the lows open to the eye to the dangers of excess and the pitfalls that surround the rich and famous.  At the top of the command chain was the creative Gianni, backed by the bookkeeper Santo and the publicity worker Donatella.  Together they seemed unstoppable as they continued to pull in millions of dollars while spreading the Versace name across the world.   But their strengths are also what helped contribute to the dysfunction that existed and increased after Gianni’s untimely death.   Both Donatella and Gianni were known to be lavish spenders but what is revealed in the book is nothing short of jaw-dropping.  The money nearly went out as fast as it came in.

No one will ever know why Cunanan decided to murder Versace.  Ball states that clearly in the book.   And while she covers the murder, she does not give it extensive coverage.  For those who are interested in Cunanan and the manhunt that followed, I highly recommend Vulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth in which she tells Cunanan’s story from start to finish.  Here, Ball focuses on the aftermath of the murder and how it affected all of those around Gianni, even his niece Allegra who could have imagined the way her late uncle would change her life without her knowledge beforehand.  To her credit, she rises to the occasion, providing an interesting turn of events in the story that never lets up from the start.  Regrettably, she did not provide an interview for the book and Ball states that she would have provided invaluable insight into the story of the company’s survival.  Nevertheless, Ball has clinched it here through interviews with Santo, Donatella and hundreds of other people who work for or personally knew the Versace family. And the result is the definitive account of the House of Versace.

I want to be a designer for my time” – Gianni Versace

ASIN: B00362XLH8

True Crime

CunananI remember with vivid clarity the day that Giovanni Maria “Gianni” Versace (1946-1997) was shot and killed in front of his home in Miami, Florida.  My friends and I were in shock and in the wake of the shooting, we kept hearing the name Andrew Cunanan (1969-1997).  None of it made sense but from the news we did learn, Cunanan was a one man crime spree and through fate, he crossed paths with the world-famous fashion designer.  Twenty-one years have passed since Versace’s death but the fashion line that bears his name continues to remain strong.  Several days after Versace was shot and killed, Cunanan took his own life aboard a houseboat that was eventually seized by the City of Miami.  In the days after his death,  more information about his erratic and deadly lifestyle came to light and also revealed how law enforcement missed vital clues contributing to what Maureen Orth calls the largest failed manhunt in U.S. history.   By all accounts, Cunanan should have been caught long before he walked up to Versace on July 15, 1997.  However, miscommunication and in some cases prejudice against homosexuals, resulted in investigations crippled from neglect, allowing Cunanan to remain at large before committing his final murderous act.  The world now new the name Andrew Cunanan and it would never be forgotten.  But just who was Andrew Cunanan and how did he make the FBI’s Most Wanted List?  The list is reserved for the most dangerous of criminals and typically a suspect such as Cunanan would not normally be found on the list. His use of extremedly deadly force rightfully earned him a place among the most deadly killers on the run in America at the time.  Maureen Orth, a journalist for Vanity Fair, covered Versace’s murder and was familiar with Cunanan before the final events in Miami.  In this chilling account of Cunanan’s path of rage, she recounts his life helping us understand how and why he descended into madness.

Orth takes us back in time to the Cunanan home were Modesto “Pete” Cunanan (1930-2005) and his wife Mary Ann (1938-2012) raise their several children.  Andrew quickly becomes his dad’s favorite, but even his charm would not be enough to keep the family together as his father fled to his native Philippines in 1989.  The event would have a profound effect on the young child and unbeknownst to many, the seeds of chaos had already been planted. What is evidently clear in the book is that from an early age Cunanan displayed many of the characteristics that would be shown in adulthood and vividly remembered by those he encountered.   And as he makes his way to manhood, he becomes more immersed in his homosexuality and it is at this point in the book picks up speed and Orth takes us deep inside the world of gay men.  I should point out that Cunanan was not a “gay killer”.  While he did commit murder, it was not based off of his orientation nor were his victims targeted because of their orientation.   And I also believe that readers uncomfortable with homosexual subject matter should avoid the book altogether.  But for those who have been fascinated by the Versace murder and Cunanan’s story, it is necessary to understand this world to understand Cunanan.  Further, the misunderstanding of this world is one of the factors behind the failure of authorities to capture Cunanan earlier in their investigations.

If Bret Easton Ellis had not written American Psycho in 1991, he could have easily used Cunanan as the model for the book’s central character Patrick Bateman, but with a few minor tweaks.  Every killer has that one moment where something snaps and they begin their rampage.  Cunanan was no different and once he began his murder spree that would spread across several states,  he left a trial of violence that will undoubtedly shock many readers.  At times the book may seem like a Hollywood production but this is not fiction, the events were real and the aftermath devastating.   Selfishly, Cunanan chose suicide instead of standing trial for his crimes.   He did not leave behind any journals or notes explaining his motives.  In fact, it seems that his own goal was to kill.   Orth does an incredible job of taking us through the events as we follow him across the U.S.  From one city to the next,  he adds a new victim leaving law enforcement in the dark as to why and how he was able to keep evading authorities.  Tensions ran high and even the FBI, drawn into the case through cross-state crimes, found itself deeply wanting to apprehend the monster. When Cunanan was found dead, authorities and the public breathed a sigh of relief.  His death would not bring Versace back but it did mark the end to a path of destruction that surpsisingly did not claim many more victims.

If you want to know the story behind the hunt for Cunanan and the crazy yet glamorous lifestyle he lead, then this is the book for you.  It is not a biography of Versace although she does include a good of information on the Versace empire.  This is Cuanan’s story and the deadly path he took as he slowly made his way to the home of the world’s most popular fashion icon.

ASIN: B004478APW

True Crime

chaos-merchantsMore than twenty years have passed since the deaths of rap stars Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace).  The two rappers were both under thirty years of age and left behind grieving friends and family members who struggled to come to terms with such a sudden and tragic loss.  Officially, both murders are still open investigations.  Fans of the fallen artists have expressed shock that the murders have remained unsolved for so many years.   Theories have been presented surrounding their deaths but no final conclusion had been reached. Following Shakur’s death, his mother Afeni successfully sued Death Row records for control of her son’s master recordings, unpaid earnings and royalties.  The parties reached a settlement in August, 2013 in the amount of 2.2 million dollars.  Wallace’s mother Voletta, commenced a wrongful death suit against the City of Los Angeles for her son’s death in 2002.  On April 5, 2010, the Hon. Jacqueline H. Nguyen dismissed the suit without prejudice.  On May 2, 2016, Afeni Shakur died from heart failure at the age of 69 without knowing the truth about her son’s murder.

Russell Poole (1956-2015) was an Los Angeles Police Officer for eighteen years before retiring in 1999 to form his own private investigation firm.  He had been assigned to Wallace’s murder but found himself confronted with departmental resistance towards solving the murder.  After retiring from the force, Poole became one of the most outspoken voices on behalf of solving the murder of Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur.  On August 20, 2015, Poole died while meeting with detectives to discuss the unsolved murder of Wallace.   His death is also shrouded in mystery with the official cause of a “heart attack” falling under suspicion.  Before his death, Poole had decided to collaborate with author Michael Douglas Carlin and filmmaker R.J. Bond to find the truth about Shakur and Wallace’s murders.  Their efforts led to the book Tupac 187 and serve as the basis of the recently released Tupac Assassination III: The Battle For Compton. The documentary can been seen on iTunes and Amazon video and is being considered for Netflix at some point.  I have seen the documentary and it does shed light on information that was previously widely unknown by many.   And while definitely proof of guilt by any party is provided, the evidence trail leads in directions that the general public had never considered before. This composition, Chaos Merchants, is a collection of their notes as they formed what would serve as the basis for their book and the subsequent film.   At 133 pages, it is a quick but engaging read.  And even for those who believe they know all there is to know about the case, you might find something in here that you did not know before.

The biggest strength in this book is that it legitimately challenges the long-held narrative that after a fight at the MGM Hotel & Casino, Shakur was gunned down by Crips gang member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, who repeatedly denied shooting Shakur even making an appearance on CNN to clear his name.  On May 26, 1998, nearly two years after Shakur’s death,  Anderson was shot and killed during a violent confrontation at a car wash in the Compton section of Lost Angeles.  Despite his repeated denials that he was the trigger man involved in Shakur’s shooting, many believed that he was in fact guilty due in part to the story put forth by former officer Greg Kading and Anderson’s uncle, Dwayne “Keefe D” Davis.  But as we learn through Poole, there was more to the story than meets the eye.

The legacy of Russell Poole will live on throughout time as a result of his exhaustive efforts to find the truth and bring closures to these cases.  With this book, he and Carlin have finally removed the lid on many secrets once held firmly in the grip of Death Row records and will have readers shaking their heads in disgust and disbelief.  Alas, we are steps closer to the truth about the nights of September 7, 1996 and March 9, 1997.


True Crime