Our Little Secret

Our Little Secret

Time for a true crime review of Our Little Secret by Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie.

For twenty years Daniel Paquette’s murder in New Hampshire went unsolved. It remained a secret between two high school friends until Eric Windhurst’s arrest in 2005. What was revealed was a crime born of adolescent passion between Eric and Daniel’s stepdaughter, Melanie–redefining the meaning of loyalty, justice, and revenge.

I was drawn to this book because I remember the Unsolved Mysteries segment about it. The case seemed so strange and mysterious. The book makes it a lot less mysterious, in part because the back cover reveals who committed the crime. Still, Our Little Secret is an interesting glimpse into how so many people could know what had happened but yet nothing was done about it for so long. Several people had small pieces of the puzzle, and those who actually knew the truth were family members who weren’t about to turn anyone in.

This book is also an interesting glimpse of what happens to a person who does something like this. Neither Eric nor Melanie is able to put it behind them. Eric in particular is weighed down by what he did. And truly, he should be. Whatever Paquette may have done to his stepdaughter–and nothing has been proven there–killing him was not the way to go about resolving it.

Our Little Secret was an engaging read that offered intriguing glimpses into the people involved: 4 out of 5.

Unanswered Cries

Unanswered Cries

I haven’t read a book in a month or so until this one: Unanswered Cries by Thomas French. Before this, I’d hit a new low when it came to reading. I have been reading—but it’s been mostly scrapbooking magazines with the occasional graphic novel thrown in. Then I saw an episode of American Justice and decided to try a book about the case. Thank you, Paperback Swap.

On a warm Florida evening, Karen Gregory saw a familiar face at her door. What the beautiful young woman could not know was that she was staring into the eyes of her killer—a savage monster who would rape her, stab her to death, and leave her battered body on the floor outside the bedroom.

Detectives frantically sifting through the evidence were tormented by one disturbing question after another: what did the strangely worded note from a friend mean? Why was the house so orderly, when it had been the scene of a frenzied struggle? Why were the bloody footprints on the carpet barefoot? What happened to the white lace teddy missing from Karen’s drawer?

Police detective Larry Tosi stayed up nights watching the video of the grisly crime scene, looking for that one telltale clue that would lead him to Karen’s killer—until slowly, and with growing horror, he realized that the maniac he was hunting was someone he knew . . . someone he called a friend.

This book ended up being the perfect anecdote to my writing ennui. The case itself offers a number of intriguing twists—the initial challenge to pin down a suspect; then the growing suspicion of the primary investigator that the murderer was someone he knew.

But these elements simply add to an already strong read. French delves into the lives of everyone involved in the case: the victim’s family and loved ones, the investigators, the accused, the lawyers, and the jury. It’s rare to find a true-crime book where all of the people are so vividly and movingly portrayed. It is a devastating depiction of the results one act by one man can cause in the lives of so many.

I liked the episode of American Justice about this case. Obviously it was interesting enough to make me seek out the book. Unanswered Cries offers a fuller picture of the case, one well worth reading. I couldn’t put it down.

If there is anything negative to say, it’s this—I can’t find any other true-crime books by this author. Unanswered Cries: 4.5 out of 5.

Perfect Beauty

Perfect Beauty

I can’t go on a trip without taking books with me. This time around, I selected Perfect Beauty by Keith Elliot Greenberg and Detective Vincent Felber as my airplane book.

Cynthia George was the stunning wife of one of Akron, Ohio’s, most successful restaurateurs, and a mother of seven. She flaunted her money, her body . . . even her extramarital affairs. Until she got in too deep with Jeff Zack, her younger, longtime lover who was also the father of one of her children—a secret that she kept for many years.

In a crime that shocked the heartland, Zack was killed, execution style, in the parking lot of a BJ’s Wholesale Club in Akron. From the beginning, investigators suspected Cynthia was involved. Little did they know that her other lover was the murderer. John Zaffino knew about Cynthia’s affair with Zack—and was jealous enough to do something about it . . . for good.

I first heard about this case through an episode of American Justice. At the time, Zaffino had been tried and convicted of the murder. However, it seemed clear that George was also involved. When I saw this book, I grabbed it so I could learn more about the case. It’s a bit of a slow read at first. I read a chapter and set it down several times. I decided to take the book with me to make sure I finished it.

The book becomes more interesting as it unfolds. Felber’s perspective offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse that isn’t offered in the documentary due to time constraints. While some of it is intriguing, other points seem designed to justify Felber’s point of view, and I found them somewhat distracting and extraneous.

The case itself was fascinating, and once Perfect Beauty turns to George’s trial, I was completely hooked. I just wish the case had the outcome I wanted. Oh, well. Not the book’s fault.

Perfect Beauty: 3 out of 5.

Smoke, Mirrors, and Murder

Smoke, Mirrors, and Murder

I’m a longtime reader of Ann Rule, but her latest books haven’t been among her best. I was expecting more of the same with Smoke, Mirrors, and Murder, and instead I found it to be a gripping read.

In some murder cases, the truth behind the most tragic crimes crystallizes with relative ease. Not so with these fascinating accounts drawn from the personal files of Ann Rule, America’s #1 bestselling true-crime writer. What happens when the case itself becomes an intractable puzzle, when the clues are shrouded in smoke and mirrors, and when criminals skillfully evade law enforcement in a maddening cat-and-mouse chase?

Even the most devoted true-crime reader won’t predict the outcome of these truly baffling cases until the conclusions revealed in Ann Rule’s marvelously nsightful narrative: An ideal family is targeted for death by the least likely enemy, who plotted their demise from behind bars. . . . A sexual predator hides behind multiple fake identities, eluding police for years while his past victims live in fear that he will hunt them down. . . . A modest preacher’s wife confesses to shooting her husband after an argument–but there’s more to her shattering story than meets the eye. These and other true cases are analyzed with stunning clarity in a page-turning collection you won’t be able to put down.

Page-turning is a good description for this book. The stories in this volume are fascinating. I was especially intrigued by “The Truck Driver’s Wife,” “The Chemist’s Wife,” and “The Painter’s Wife.” The first of these stories is baffling–there’s no resolution to it, not even to the manner of death, which some think may be spontaneous combustion. (!) The second describes a relationship-gone-wrong where wrong equals deadly. The third story tells of a man who breaks out of prison and kidnaps a woman from her home. Scary and chilling stuff.

There are seven stories in this anthology, and all of them are intriguing. If you’re interested in reading true-crime, I definitely recommend this anthology.

If I Did It

If I Did It 

You’ve probably heard about O.J. Simpson’s book, If I Did It. When I learned the Goldman family had rights to it and planned to publish it, I put it on hold at the library. A few weeks ago, I was notified that the book was available. I had mixed feelings about it then, and I have mixed feelings even after reading the book.

Nevertheless, here are my thoughts about it.

The book starts with a chapter from the Goldman family. It affirms their belief that Simpson killed their son. The new subtitle of this book is Confessions of the Killer. It doesn’t get much plainer than that. This chapter also explains the reason they decided to publish the book.

The options are still the same—do nothing or fight. Our attempts to enforce this judgment have never been about lining our pockets or “cashing in,” or exploited Ron’s death: it is our legal right. But from an emotional standpoint, it is about taking from him, it’s about making him feel the impact of what he did. It’s about hitting him where it hurts—his pockets, his livelihood. Some people have accused us of having vengeful motives but it is not about revenge, and we are not going to apologize for wanting him to fee a tenth of what we feel every day. We have suffered a great deal and want to see some measure of justice, in whatever form it must take.

The part of the book I found most interesting is the prologue, written by ghostwriter Pablo Fenjves. Here’s his first meeting with Simpson.

I kept waiting for the attorney to ask me about my history with O.J., but he never did. Ten years, earlier, during the criminal trial, I testified for the prosecution. I had described the “plaintive wail” of Nicole’s dog, and Marcia Clark used the information to try to establish a timeline for the murders.

He gestured toward the empty chair beside him, and before I’d even settled in he said, “Tell me something. What is this ‘wailing dog’ bullshit? You ever hear of anyone putting a man away based on the testimony of a wailing dog?”

Okay. I got the message. He remembered me from the trial, and he wanted me to know he remembered. Or maybe he didn’t remember, but someone in his camp had the sense to Google me before I flew down.

I thought it was fascinating that Fenjves was part of the case. Now he would write Simpson’s story. The book was written based on several taped interviews.

At one point, he said, “You know what kills me? All the goddamn people who assumed I was guilty before they’d even heard my side.” He looked dead at me, waiting for a comment. We were alone in the hotel suite, and I looked at his hands. They were bigger than my head.

With six words, Fenjves conveys a sense of Simpson’s size—and physical threat—that stays in the mind as the book continues. Along with this.

O.J. looked suddenly upset. “I don’t know what the hell you want from me,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you that I sliced my ex-wife’s neck and watched her eyes roll up into her head.”

Then there are subtler moments like this one:

Now that we were done with the worst of it, or as done as we were going to be, O.J. became suddenly more voluble. He provided details about the drive home, for example, and actually corrected me when I said I thought he’d driven through the red light at Bundy and Montana. “I didn’t go to the light at Montana. Why would I have gone there? I took a left at the end of the alley and went up Gretna Green to San Vincente, and from there to Sunset.”

He must have seen the look on my face. “Or that’s the way I woulda gone.”

And here are the final words of the prologue: “You’ve read the story. This is the book. Judge for yourself.”

I’ve read the book. I believe Simpson is guilty of both murders, and my opinion didn’t change as I read. It’s a well-written story. Nevertheless, I wish I hadn’t written it, and I’ll try to explain why.

In one respect, the story told here is a familiar one. It’s familiar because it was splashed in the news at the time, but it’s also familiar to someone who has read a lot of true-crime books. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy refuses to let girl go. Simpson’s contention, of course, is that he wasn’t obsessed. In fact, he knew it wasn’t going to work out with Nicole a few months into their latest reconciliation. Which, of course, she initiated.

There’s a chapter in the book called The Two Nicoles. If you’ve read any true-crime, you’ll know where this is going. There were two Nicoles—one was good and kind and loving. The other Nicole was the opposite. His thinking: if only she could have stayed the one Nicole, everything would have been great. I believe that perpetrators often use the two personality metaphor because that is, in effect, what they are. They have a public face, the one people see and think, “How could that person do this?” Then there’s the other side, the one their victims see.

A chapter called The Night in Question is the one this book was written for. It descripes the night of the murder. “Now picture this—and keep in mind, this is hypothetical.” Simpson was driven to the edge by an acquaintance named Charlie, who came to his house and told him about some party Nicole had apparently attended a few months before.

“O.J., man—I’m not the enemy here.”

I turned round, fuming, and tried to count to ten. I didn’t make it. By the time I got to three I realized that Charlie was right. He wasn’t the enemy. Nicole was the enemy.

If you’re expecting details, you don’t get them. One moment, Simpson is confronting Ron Goldman, who is trying to diffuse the situation. The next, Simpson realizes he is covered in blood and makes his getaway. Charlie disappears soon thereafter.

The rest of the book takes us through the accusations, the Bronco chase, and the arrest. And that’s where it ends.

I suppose I was hoping for more enlightenment, though since the book is from Simpson’s POV, it’s no surprise that the enlightenment just isn’t there. Nor is there really indirect enlightenment, anything to be learned by reading. He doesn’t provide anything new here, except negative comments about Nicole, his ex-wife and the mother of his children.

A woman who isn’t alive to share her point of view.

And that’s why I wish I hadn’t read his story and why I wish it hadn’t been published. I understand the Goldman’s desire to take something away from Simpson after what he did. Ron is shown very, very briefly in this book. He plays the role of hero—someone who steps in to try and help someone else and was cut down for it.

Nicole was also a victim, and Simpson’s descriptions of her in this book victimize her again. That’s why I had a hard time reading this book, despite the quality of writing. I wish Simpson had spent the same number of pages analyzing his behavior that he spent criticizing his ex-wife’s.

Unholy Sacrifice

Unholy Sacrifice 

A while back, a coworker told me about the story told in Robert Scott’s Unholy Sacrifice . I was intrigued enough to run out and buy it.

San Francisco Bay area stockbroker Taylor Helzer was young, handsome, and–to all outward appearances–normal. But that was before a three-day self-awareness seminar left him convinced he was a new Messiah. In the interest of funding his own church and “saving” America from Satan, Helzer began making and selling Ecstasy and convinced girlfriend Keri Furman to pose for Playboy. She eventually left him, only to be replaced by naive, gullible Dawn Godman.

Helzer, his younger brother Justin, and Dawn formed an unholy alliance called the Children of Thunder. They wanted to score big. The brothers abducted Taylor’s former clients Ivan and Annette Stineman, inducing them to sign over checks totaling $100,000. The elderly couple was beaten and stabbed to death, then dismembered in a bathtub.

Selena Bishop, 22, daughter of blues great Elvin Bishop, was ensnared in the money scam–before Justin Helzer killed her with a hammer. Bishop’s mother was next, shot dead along with her boyfriend by Taylor. But despite the trio’s careful disposal of the evidence in the Mokelumne River, the truth came to light when a bag of body parts floated to the surface. The trials that followed would reveal every grisly detail of one of the most bizarre murder sprees in California history–bring a modern-day Manson to justice . . .

Romance is what I typically reach for, but I break up my reading now and then with a true-crime book. Unholy Sacrifice was quite interesting, if a bit gruesome at times. That’s the nature of the crime, however, as you can tell from the blurb. In any case, the book kept my interest: 4 out of 5.

This book includes information from dozens of sources, which helps put together the story. Taylor’s slide downward from law-abiding and religious to law-breaking and fanatic is well chronicled, even though neither Taylor nor Justin was interviewed. I still didn’t quite understand how the two men went so off-track. Perhaps nothing can explain that.

And Dawn. Her perspective offers insight into the sequence of events before and during the murders, but it’s still largely a mystery why she went along with the scheme.

This is the first of Robert Scott’s books I’ve read, but I’ll certainly look for others.

The Murder of Lil Miss

The Murder of Lil Miss 

The Murder of Lil Miss chronicles the murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell and the subsequent investigation and trial. The author is Lisa’s mother, Sheila Kimmell. I found it to be an exceptionally well-written book that offered tremendous insight about how one person’s death affected an entire family: 4.5 out of 5.

Regular visitors of my blog will not be surprised to hear that this case was profiled on Unsolved Mysteries. That’s how I learned about it, and it’s one of the cases that really stuck with me. I always wondered if it would be solved. It was solved, but it took 16 years to get there.

Lisa disappeared during a road trip. Her car had personalized license plates that read “Lil Miss,” and people searched for Lisa and her car for a week. Lisa was found murdered eight days after she disappeared. The subsequent investigation was frustrating for family members and investigators. Leads didn’t pan out, and politics plagued the investigation.

The breakthrough occurred when a DNA match was made and a suspect, Dale Wayne Eaton, was identified. Lisa’s car was found buried on Eaton’s property. Eaton was eventually found guilty and received a death sentence.

I liked getting a more complete story about what happened and what the family went through. No family should suffer like that, and this book showed the Kimmells to be strong and admirable people.

Monster

Monster 

I learned about this book because of my interest in Unsolved Mysteries. One segment on the program focused on the murders of Bobbie Oberholtzer and Annette Schnee. It was a perplexing case, so when I learned that Steve Jackson’s Monster mentioned these murders, I wanted to read it. It starts slowly, but picks up after the first 100 pages: 4 out of 5.

Monster is clearly a thoroughly researched book. Jackson interviewed a number of the people involved, including Detective Scott Richardson, who doggedly investigated the case, and Deborah Snider, the girlfriend of the suspect, Tom Luther. Their contributions to the story are terrific. I was especially impressed by Richardson’s commitment to the investigation. It was interesting to see how the investigation affected his family.

Snider’s side of the story offers an interesting glimpse into a woman who knows she’s involved with a dangerous man but can’t bring herself to make a final break from him. Reading about her relationship with Luther is a bit like watching a movie and wanting to shout, “Don’t open that door!” Even as the evidence points to Luther’s involvement in several attacks and murders against women, Snider wants to be with the “good Tom.” I didn’t understand why she stayed with him, but it made for compelling reading.

One fascinating aspect of the book is that Bobbie Oberholtzer and Annette Schnee are not the focus of this book. While some investigators believe that both women were victims of Tom Luther, and Luther himself made comments suggesting his involvement, he was never tried for or convicted of their murders. Monster follows the investigation of the murder of Cher Elder.

Based on what I read, it’s a very good thing that Tom Luther is in prison.

Rereading

I haven’t been in the mood to pick up a new book this week, so I’ve been rereading instead: Hero Under Cover, The Bane Affair, a few Brava anthologies. The nice thing about rereading is that it’s usually easy to put the book down when I need to because I know how it ends. Then again, I reread books I like, so they’re difficult to put down anyway.

I’m still a bit wigged about the verdict. I realized that part of me was hoping that—despite all the evidence—he would be found not guilty and then the police would find out that someone else did it. Well, I know the difference between fiction and reality, so I’ll deal.

In other news, word from the post office is that I will have to stop there to pick up my mail until we get new boxes outside. I hope that happens soon. I’m not looking forward to stopping at the post office and waiting in line every few days.

Back to a Brava anthology reread . . .

The Verdict

Little did I know last week, when I mentioned that I was interested in hearing the defense, that there would be a verdict in the case this week.

Guilty.

I have mixed emotions about this. If he did it, I want him to be punished. That’s a given. But I knew him. Not terribly well, but I saw him every week, exchanged greetings in the mail room. I can’t help but feel terribly sad.

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