Friday, August 19, 2011
Here's the lineup. Stop by and say hello!
- WHEATLAND (WY), OCT 6, 2011 @ 5PM: Wheatland Mercantile Book Nook, 875 Gilchrist.
- CASPER (WY), OCT 7, 2011 @ 7PM: Natrona County Public Library.
- BUFFALO (WY), OCT 8, 2011 @ 7PM: Johnson County Public Library.
- CHEYENNE (WY), OCT 9, 2011 @ 3PM: Barnes & Noble on Dell Range Blvd.
- LARAMIE (WY), OCT 10, 2011 @ 3PM: American Heritage Center on UW Campus.
- ROCK SPRINGS (WY), OCT 11, 2011 @ 7PM: Rock Springs Library, 400 C Street (in the Ferrero Room).
- LOVELAND (CO), OCT 12, 2011 @ 7PM: Loveland Public Library.
- LAKEWOOD (CO), OCT 13, 2011 @ 7PM: Barnes & Noble at West Village on West Colfax Avenue.
- DENVER (CO), OCT 14, 2011 @ 7:30PM: Tattered Cover, 2526 East Colfax Avenue.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Good news for my Nook-reader friends! Starting today, my first three novels -- ANGEL FIRE, THE DEADLINE and THE OBITUARY -- are now all available at BN.com as ebooks for the Nook reader! If you Nook ... please look!
Just click on the book covers and go straight to Barnes&Noble.com!
Friday, June 25, 2010
Named One of the Top 25 Best Crime Fictions of 1999 by POISONED PEN
Former Chicago Tribune crime reporter Jefferson Morgan is living his life-long dream of running a weekly newspaper, The Winchester Bullet, in the Wyoming town where he grew up. But when an infamous child-murderer comes home to die and begs Morgan to help clear his name, the dream becomes a nightmare. Under the gravest deadline of his life, amid an extraordinary backlash from his neighbors, readers and advertisers, Morgan struggles with his own conscience to tell a story no matter the consequences, digging deep into the town's past, and revealing a killer who's hidden himself for almost 50 years.
"Ron Franscell has undeniably hit his mark. His masterful storytelling strikes hard at the heart. It leaves his readers stunned one moment, and tenderly moved the next."
When a world-renowned forensic anthropologist journeys to Winchester, Wyoming, to examine the long-dead remains of a woman who claimed to be Etta Place — the Old West’s most mysterious and legendary female outlaw — he’s not expecting to find a man’s headless corpse in her crypt. The grisly discovery plunges him and Jefferson Morgan — the editor of the weekly Winchester Bullet — into a shadowy and deadly world of satellite-savvy highway pirates, rural meth labs, computer hackers and old-fashioned corruption. And they might not survive the fall.
This is the "lost" sequel to Ron's award-wnning 1999 mystery THE DEADLINE and is released as an exclusive to Amazon Kindle readers!
"Ron Franscell's THE OBITUARY is gorgeously written, complex and satisfying — a damn near perfect book." — JOHN LESCROART
A stunning literary debut listed by the San Francisco Chronicle among the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century West (No. 74)
A modern classic that continues to gather a loyal readership, ANGEL FIRE is a haunting tale of two brothers on separate odysseys of self-discovery. Twenty-four years after war correspondent Daniel McLeod is killed in a Viet Cong ambush, his only brother Cassidy is mysteriously drawn to their Wyoming hometown, where he must confront a lifetime of his own ghosts. Their story is about how we seek equilibrium, a delicate balance between memory and the unknown, dislocation and homecoming, loss and restoration.
Set against the deceptive simplicity of a small town on the high plains, Angel Fire is a story of mythic proportions. It resonates with the rhythms of tales told for millennia, but they are written anew here, fresh as a Wyoming summer breeze. It resonates with the rhythms of a small town, the blessings of memory, and the pain of loss.
"Reminiscent of Charles Frazier's 'Cold Mountain' ... (Franscell's) themes involve a fresh approach to our rural roots as a font for the elusive American spirit." -- USA Today
Thursday, April 15, 2010
This software will crunch the kids' criminal history, home life, drug habits, gang ties and peer associations -- and more -- in a scientific attempt to predict which juveniles are more likely to be future problems. The idea is that the hard cases can be separated from the rest and given more intensive rehabilitation. Florida officials stress the software will be just one way they try to zero-in on the most dangerous young offenders and tailor rehab and punishment more suitably to all the 95,000 young criminals they get every year.
"Predictive analytics gives government organizations worldwide a highly-sophisticated and intelligent source to create safer communities by identifying, predicting, responding to and preventing criminal activities," said Deepak Advani, a predictive analytics expert at IBM. "It gives the criminal justice system the ability to draw upon the wealth of data available to detect patterns, make reliable projections and then take the appropriate action in real time to combat crime and protect citizens."
Similar systems are already in use in the United Kingdom with adult prisoners. No data on the effectiveness is yet available.
Although it sounds a lot like the plot for "Hal 9000 Gets a Job as a Profiler," it will be hard to argue with this high-tech crystal-balling if it can be shown to reduce juvenile crime and recidivism. I mean, all we had before was Father Flanagan's intuitions. Questions remain (in my mind, anyway) about what kind of a computer-concocted, digitized, and possibly errant "permanent record"might follow these young offenders around for the rest of their lives, even if they never offend again. I also wonder about the unproven effectiveness of these robotic analysts to really see into a human heart. Thoughts from you expert crime-watchers?
Bestselling true-crime author Ron Franscell's haunting study of 10 mass-murder survivors, DELIVERED FROM EVIL, will be released in January 2011.
Monday, April 12, 2010
The image on the cover is of a young woman cowering in fear moments after Texas Tower sniper Charles Whitman killed a young man just a few yards away.
The publisher's description: "Delivered from Evil retells the stories of mass murders from the harrowing perspective of a sole survivor. Drawing from extensive research and 1st person interviews with the survivors, the most notable cases will be given a fresh and disturbing new perspective. Using survivor’s accounts, some of which have never been told until now, readers will feel like they are actually walking through the event moment by moment Written in a can’t-put-down-style, Delivered from Evil explores what it takes to be a survivor of a horrific crime in the moment and in dealing with the aftermath of the event."
DELIVERED FROM EVIL ($26, Fair Winds Press) is also available now for pre-ordering at Amazon. Just click here and reserve your copy now!
Friday, March 12, 2010
That's right. In 1770, British merchant William Addis was doing time for causing a riot. That's when he decided that the customary tooth-cleaning of his day -- rubbing your teeth with a sooty, salty rag -- wasn't the best idea. So he cadged a small bone from a piece of prison meat and bribed a guard for some horse-hair bristles, which he tied in tufts and inserted in small holes in the bones. Voila! The first modern toothbrush was created.
In fact, more contributions to the betterment of the world have come from prison than you might imagine. In a bawdy recent post at Cracked.com, blogger Manhammer (?) listed five of the most notable inventions or ideas to come from behind bars, including William Addis' toothbrush.
You might be surprised to learn the Erie Canal and the modern carbine were prison products. You've heard of the Birdman of Alcatraz (pictured above, looking nothing like Burt Lancaster)? How about Don Quixote?
OK, so these guys were the overachievers of the hoosegow. Face it, most inmates devote their imaginations to tattooing naked women on their scrotums and trying to figure out how to make a shank out of a cockroach. How many times have you said to yourself, "If only these criminal masterminds would put their creative energies to work for the benefit of mankind, the world would be a better place?"
Well, here you have it. Isn't it nice to know that some inmates have put their "time" to good use?
You can now follow author Ron Franscell at Facebook and Twitter.
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Praised by bestselling thriller authors like John Lescroart and Michael Palmer, THE OBITUARY revisits the little Winchester, Wyoming, where history and mystery entangle small-town newspaper editor Jefferson Morgan. When the grave of a reputed Old West outlaw queen divulges its unexpectedly grisly secret, Morgan is plunged into a world of satellite-savvy highway pirates, Internet porn and old-fashioned corruption.
And now all of Ron's e-books -- ANGEL FIRE, THE DEADLINE and THE OBITUARY -- are only $5.99 at the Kindle store!
(And if you are a traditionalist, Ron's books are still printed on paper and still available at Amazon and othe booksellers!)
Friday, January 08, 2010
A dying convict's last request thrusts small-town newspaperman Jefferson Morgan into a deadly maelstrom as he explores a fifty-year-old case of child murder -- a wound his town still isn't ready to scrape open. Under the heaviest deadline of his life, and amid threats from unexpected foes, Morgan must struggle with his own conscience to tell a story no matter the consequences, dig deep into the town's past, and reveal a killer who's managed to remain unmasked for almost 50 years.
And keep an eye out next month for the "lost" sequel, THE OBITUARY, which will be published as a Kindle Exclusive for e-readers!
Thursday, January 07, 2010
"Somehow Franscell manages to extend his compassion to the lowlifes, Ronald Kennedy and Jerry Jenkins, responsible for the crime. He tells their story as completely and honestly as he tells of their victims. The contrast between the bleak lives that created such pathetic monsters as Kennedy and Jenkins with the ordinary and seemingly safe lives of their victims is all the more breathtaking for taking place in the same town."When somebody calls my book -- or any book, for that matter -- one of the best of the past decade, I can't help but swallow hard and hope it's true.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Author Joe McGinniss, whose "Fatal Vision" is among a handful of acknowledged classics in true crime (and irrevocably skewed true-crime titles for almost three decades), recently pronounced the genre deader than Marley:
"The last three books I've written have been about soccer, which nobody in America cares about; horse racing, which nobody in America cares about; and true crime, a genre that expired sometime last century . . ."If the genre is dead, it's died fairly young. It hasn't even been 50 years since Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" plucked crime reporting from the pages of pulp magazines and plopped it down in a book.
Even for a true-crime writer, death isn't usually a matter of perspective. Dead is dead. Maybe true crime is dying, or maybe it has ceased to produce the kinds of profits that McGinniss and other big-time writers expect, or maybe it's just evolving. But a gaggle of new true-crime books are being produced every year, along with an unprecedented number of TV shows dealing with the reality of crime. So "dead" might be a little strong.
For sure, the genre has made a deliberate, intentional shift away from the narrative grace of Capote and Norman Mailer in an effort to appeal to a less sophisticated reader who is more likely to be influenced by faux blood on the cover and will almost always check to see if the book includes gruesome photos before buying. I know of some authors out there who genuinely want to write (or have written) beautiful books that, like Capote, explore bigger issues reflected in crime and punishment, but they are discouraged by editors ... while just about any grocery clerk can publish a quickie book about a local murder case (as long as there is a lurid element, great pictures and the word "fatal" in the title).
McGinniss might be right. If we only took then pulse of true crime's literary merits, the genre definitely died ... right about the time of "Fatal Vision" (1983). McGinniss was among the first big names in true crime to veer away from stories with complex moral reflections on society to the lurid, commercial crap that appealed to a different kind of audience. So it's hard to disagree with Joe -- even though he certainly didn't make the comment knowing that he was part of the sea-change, along with Ann Rule and others.
Moreover, as True Crime Book Reviews noted recently at its Facebook site, "as self-publication become easier and less expensive, [the quality of] all genres will suffer."
Thankfully, there have been a few remarkable exceptions in the past 20 years, among them John Berendt's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and Erik Larson's "Devil in the White City." They are likely to take the rightful places as classics in a genre that, at best, is still defining itself but wants desperately to be just like its earliest forebears.
It's quite possible that the last 20 years have simply been a phase, true crime's adolescence, where it was doing stupid things because of hormones. Maybe the adult years will reflect the genre's early precociousness and return to its sturdier, more robust, more literary roots.
But maybe not. Maybe it will simply decay back into its pulpy DNA and die out completely. Maybe the future of true-crime writing is on life-support in the small houses and POD presses.
You are a true-crime fan. Talk to me. What is the current state of true crime? How does it compare to the past and how would you describe its future?
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
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Monday, October 19, 2009
Howard Unruh, who has been called (somewhat errantly) "the father of mass murder," has died in the New Jersey mental hospital where he has lived since gunning down 13 people in Camden, N.J., in 1949. He was 88 and spent more than 60 years in the asylum.
He was not, in fact, America's first mass murderer, nor even the first one to snap, pick up a gun and start killing people. He was, however, a rarity, in that he didn't commit suicide after his rampage.
Charles Cohen, a 12-year-old boy whose parents and grandmother were slaughtered in Unruh's angry, 12-minute spree, became the most outspoken survivor of the so-called "walk of death." When Unurh was seeking less restrictive accommodations in the hospital, Cohen campaigned to keep him under the strictest control. He kept artifacts of the killings in an old suitcase and yearned for the day the seriously psychotic Unruh would be dead, so he could bury the suitcase -- and his memory. Alas, Cohen himself died at age 72 less than two months ago and was buried on the 60th anniversary of the shooting.
Ironically, Unruh was a WWII veteran who might now be eligible for a burial with full military rites. No services have yet been announced.
The story of Howard Unruh's rampage and Charles Cohen's extraordinary survival will be part of a 2010 book by Ron Franscell about survivors of mass killers.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Then the news broke that just up the road from my house, just a few miles from my own daughter's kindergarten, the bloody bodies of three little girls were found in the county dump, their throats slashed. But one, little 3-year-old Carmina, was clinging to life ... and the unfolding news was pointing to a disturbing suspect: the little girls' own father.
Steve Jackson's latest true crime book, Not Lost Forever ($25.99, HarperCollins), co-authored with Carmina Salcido officially hits the bookstores today (Oct. 6). The publisher describes it this way: "It is a remarkable story of survival and healing after the 1989 murderous rampage by Carmina's father, Mexican vineyard worker Ramon Salcido in the wine country of Sonoma Valley, California. Left for dead at three years old — her throat brutally slashed — Carmina miraculously survived what is widely considered one of California’s most notorious crimes: the unthinkable attack that savagely destroyed seven innocent lives, including her entire family. At once a harrowing true crime story and the inspirational first-person account of a young girl’s strength, heart, and determination in the nightmare’s aftermath, Not Lost Forever is a shocking and profoundly moving tale of perseverance and hope, and of a precious life regained."
As such, she had no idea of what was going on around her: the search for her father and his capture and subsequent trial; the massive national and international response to her incredible story of survival, which at the time made her "the most famous three-year-old in the world"; or the impact of the crimes on what to that point had been the sort of laid-back wine country atmosphere of Sonoma County in 1989.
Still, Carmina wanted to tell her part of the story in the first person, which necessitated what I consider a hybrid of first-person memoir with dramatic narrative for passages such as the hunt for her father, Ramon Salcido, and his trial.
There is also some "as told to" sections from my time spent with her traveling to the crime scenes and reflecting on the past in which as the writer, I felt my observations were important to the story, too. Obviously, as she grew older, her memories of the bizarre life she was subjected to AFTER the murders was much fuller and so the first-person aspect is more dominant. We'll see if I was able to achieve a decent blend -- sticking with the wine country metaphor, perhaps something of a cabernet-merlot mix.
She was greatly aided in this by Capt. Mike Brown (Ret.) who had been the detective sergeant in charge of the homicide investigation team that day. He patiently answered her questions, and also helped her with her research, including gaining access to the police, district attorney and court files, which of course contained much more information than what the newspapers had written.
So Carmina actually knew a lot of the story and was able to relate it to me in her own words and in context with her memories. And once again, Mike Brown was invaluable to me as well in regards to filling in those blanks from a dedicated police detective's point of view.
This wasn't one incident, it was four with significant distance between each episode and location. He continues to deny his culpability -- blaming it all on alcohol drugs and untrue allegations about his wife's fidelity -- and has beaten the system and remained alive on Death Row at San Quentin for 20 years.
So yes, if this was the standard fare of a truly heinous crime and then the machinations of justice, it would indeed be a dark tale with very little light with the exception of the work of the detectives working the case and prosecutor who sent Ramon Salcido to Death Row. However, I see it as Carmina's story -- a story about her courage and strength and, for lack of a better term, her indomitable spirit to overcome not just what her father did, but the misery of her life afterward without giving up, and then her quest to learn the truth and finally to confront the man who had done his best to destroy her and everything she cared about.
That she still laughs with such delight and looks forward to life like any young woman who had not been through what she has, is truly inspirational to me. I think anyone who is deal with the aftermath of a crime, or just having a rough ride through life, who reads this book has to come away thinking "I don't have it so bad. If she can overcome that, I can deal with what I have to as well."
Follow bestselling true-crime author Ron Franscell on Facebook or Twitter
Friday, September 25, 2009
You have one final decision before your life is over: what will you eat for your last meal? Porterhouse steak? Beef Wellington? French nouvelle?
In Texas, where we keep painfully detailed Death House records, the most common answer is surprising: cheeseburgers and fries. Why? After 20 years in stir, where cheeseburgers aren't commonly served in the prison chow line, they are the most evocative comfort food in a Dead Man Walking's memory of the outside world. Or maybe they just taste good.
Double and triple cheeseburgers were on the Last Menu for killers. Most were prepared in the prison kitchens, but insiders reveal that they'll occasionally make a quick run to the Golden Arches to satisfy a last request.
But burgers aren't the only surprising final entree for the condemned. Hatchet-killer David Long had four BLTs. Baby-killing mass-murderer John Wheat had liver and onions -- and whole milk. Family killer Leonard Rojas had a whole fried chicken (extra crispy). Shootist John Baltazar asked for Cool Whip and cherries. James Powell wanted one pot of coffee. Random killer Jonathan Nobles requested communion for his last meal. And robber-killer Clifton Russell wasn't picky -- he asked for "whatever is on the menu."
Just like the outside world, cheeseburgers are declasse for the celebrities of Death Row. Serial killer Ricky Lee Green had five scrambled eggs, four sausage patties, eight slices of toast, six strips of bacon and four pints of milk. Born-again pick-axe killer Karla Faye Tucker chose a banana, a peach and a garden salad with ranch dressing. Serial killer Kenneth McDuff gorged himself on two T-bone steaks, five fried eggs, French fries, coconut pie and Coke. "Candyman" Ronald O'Bryan -- who poisoned his own son and ruined Halloween for many children -- ate a T-bone with corn and peas, saltines, Boston cream pie and sweet tea. Railroad Killer Angel Maturino Resendiz declined any last meal.
Last Meals are purely symbolic of society's mercy. They are generally served so close to execution that they have no nutritional value to the condemned. In most cases, they don't even have time to digest completely. They are simply a gesture to provide one last comfort or pleasure to a man or woman who'll be dead within a few hours.
So ... what would you order for your Last Meal?
(Want to know more? Pick up the latest edition of "Texas Death Row," Edited by Bill Crawford)
Monday, August 24, 2009
And there's a rumor that copies of my previous novels ANGEL FIRE and THE DEADLINE will be available, too! So c'mon down and say hello!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Ed Gein wasn't your ordinary grave-robbing, corpse-grinding, necrophiliac, cannibalistic, would-be serial killer. He could carry a snappy tune, too!
You might recall Eddie. In the late 1950s, cops investigating a local murder in Plainfield, Wis., stumbled upon a startlingly grotesque scene in Gein's farmhouse. Yes, they found their murder victim dressed out like a dead deer, but that was the easy part. They also found a mask made from the face-skin of another local woman; human skulls made into bedposts and soup bowls; four disembodied noses; socks, lampshades and baskets made of human skin; shrunken heads; a box of female genitals; and a belt made from nipples.
In a surprise verdict, Eddie was judged insane. Go figure. He died in 1984 in a Wisconsin insane asylum.
But like all good freaks, Eddie isn't really dead. He lives -- nay, thrives -- in our cultural consciousness. In both books and film, he was the inspiration for Norman Bates in "Psycho" and for Jamie Gumb in "Silence of the Lambs." His affinity for human-face masks was even aped by Leatherface in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
Now, Eddie will be the main character in "Ed Gein, The Musical," an indie film by Appleton-based DaviesRussell. It's being shot in Omro, Wis., because the citizens of Plainfield simply weren't interested. Go figure.
Co-producer Dan Davies says his movie will be historically accurate ... but will also feature lots of comedy and "plenty of great music." Oh yeah! Broadway-style show tunes with stirring lyrics like "I'm in love ... she's all cooked up!" and "I truly love you ... you smell of formaldehyde."
Ed must have some strange power over musical minds. Former Marilyn Manson bassist Gidget Gein took his name from Eddie. And there's also a grindcore band called "Ed Gein." Consider their 2003 album, "It's a Shame a Family Can Be Torn Apart by Something as Simple as a Pack of Wild Dogs," featuring the hit single, "The Marlboro Man is a Douche Bag."
Somewhere down deep inside where only God and Eddie Gein have explored, I want to be offended by this, but I just can't. If we can celebrate Sweeney Todd and John Dillinger, then Eddie deserves his screen time, too. In fact, I've got this tune stuck in my head:
her pituitary gland is a tasty treat.
Who do you turn to when you need to sup?
... I'm in love ...
she's all cooked up
You can now follow Ron Franscell, author of THE DARKEST NIGHT, at Facebook and Twitter. He is now working on his next book, an exploration of mass-murder survivors' experiences -- without music.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Friday, July 03, 2009
While researching an upcoming book, I came across the intriguing story of the long-lost mummy of John Wilkes Booth ... or at least a fellow who claimed to be him.
It all begins in 1870, five years after the Lincoln assassination, when a young man named John St. Helen settled in Glen Rose, Texas, where he took a job as a bartender and acted in the local theater. He reportedly had an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare and remarkable stage presence. But when the daughter of a local politician invited a slew of U.S. Army officers and a federal marshal to her fabulous wedding, St. Helen mysteriously disappeared.
In 1871, he popped up in Granbury, just up the road. He again worked as a bartender at a local saloon and befriended a local lawyer named Finis Bates. Bates noted years later that although St. Helen was a teetotaler, he drank himself silly on one day of every year, April 14 — the anniversary of Lincoln’s shooting.
While in Granbury, St. Helen got sick and believed he would soon die. Secretly, he whispered to his friend Bates, “My name is not John St. Helen. I am John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln.”
To be sure, he bore a resemblance to the famed actor and dastardly killer. His age (about 40) was about right, and his theatrical demeanor gave one pause. And he told a remarkable story of mistaken identity on the Virginia farm where Booth was supposedly killed by federal troops.
But St. Helen didn’t die. He recovered long enough to disappear again, reportedly leaving behind a pistol wrapped in a Washington newspaper dated April 15, 1865.
That was the last anyone heard of St. Helen — until 1903, when an itinerant housepainter named David George committed suicide in Enid, Oklahoma. He’d again confessed his “true” identity to a local widow, who described him as an intelligent man who often quoted Shakespeare when in his cups. And the coroner discovered George’s right leg had been broken just above the ankle years before, and he was born in the same year as Booth. They wondered, might David George’s alias be a combination of two Lincoln conspirators’ names, David Herold and George Atzerodt, both hanged for their roles in the assassination plot?
George/St. Helen/Booth’s corpse was mummified and displayed for two years in the front window of an Enid funeral home until his old friend Finis Bates (future grandfather of actress Kathy Bates) came to identify George as his old friend, John St. Helen. He claimed the body, had it positively identified by Booth relatives, then sent it on a carnival sideshow tour as the mummy of John Wilkes Booth.
In 1931, a team of doctors and detectives X-rayed the mummy (pictured above). They allegedly found a broken leg and thumb, and a scar on the neck that matched wounds Booth was known to have suffered. Oddly, they also found a corroded signet ring in the mummy’s stomach — bearing the initial “B.” Suddenly, people began to wonder … could it be?
In 1937, the mummy reportedly attracted more than $100,000 from sideshow gawkers. Various carnivals displayed the mummy over the years until it vanished completely in the mid-1970s ... about the time the feds were cracking down on displaying human remains. Whether the Booth mummy was destroyed or is now in a secret collector's care, the central question is ... where is it?
Personally, I am skeptical that David George was Booth ... but it's that sliver of possibility that intrigues me. Even if he isn't, though, maybe we can explore the tragedy of being nobody wanting to be somebody ... and ultimately being lost altogether. Whether the mummy is found or unfound, the book will explore bigger issues of culture and psyche ... and cultural psyche.
Who wants to play? Doesn't matter if you are a skeptic or a believer ... let the courts and scientists sort it out. If you have clues or special inside knowledge, let's see if we can crack the Case of the Missing Mummy. (And you thought it was easy?)
You may post here or write directly to Ron by clicking here
Thursday, April 30, 2009
After a recent arrest, a DNA database matched Thomas to evidence left in two 1970s killings in Southern California. Thomas, they say, might have begun a serial rape and murder spree as early as 1955.
Police believe Thomas might prove to be the most prolific serial killer in American history, with an estimated 30 cases in the L.A. area alone.
Stay tuned ...
Monday, April 06, 2009
Then my wife nudged me with one of our secret signs that maybe I should change the subject because, after all, we were at a funeral.
In 30 years as a newspaperman and a couple true-crime projects, I sometimes forget my threshhold for grisliness is somewhat higher than the ordinary human's. I have attended autopsies and exhumations, thumbed through hundreds of coroner reports, pored over grotesque evidence photos, learned a couple cool tricks to keep from retching from death-stink, and seen more than my share of gore-splattered crime scenes. Most times, I know how far is too far, but sometimes I forget that I chose to see these things so you (the common public) didn't have to ... mostly because, trust me, you don't want to.
This, of course, totally neglects the voyeurism that is such an intimate part of true crime. From graphic descriptions of rape and dismemberment to uncloseted skeletons, many of us want to see the darker elements of crime and punishment.
This week, while researching an upcoming book, I was given a crime-scene photo that actually caused me to gasp. Honestly, that's hard to do. The first thing that went through my mind was, "God, the publisher will never print that." The second thing was, "God, what if they want to publish that?"
Honestly, I don't know which bothers me more.
I have held forth here and elsewhere in the past that true-crime publishing has become largely pulpy and exploitive, splashing faux blood on bookjackets and promising "16 Pages of Shocking Photos!" I cannot believe that shocking photos are more attractive to true-crime readers than good, dramatic storytelling ... but it wouldn't be the first time I've been dead wrong.
One of the classics of the genre is Gary Lavergne's 1997 "Sniper in the Tower," about Charles Whitman's 1966 shooting spree from the University of Texas Tower. It set a standard for detailed research and reportage, but more interestingly, its photo insert contained images of Whitman's dead wife and mother in which their actual corpses were Photoshopped out. Only the blank outline of their bodies remained. While I understand the motivation to show a little dignity in a genre that usually doesn't, I also felt that someone decided my constitution wasn't strong enough to see two tiny black-and-white dead people. Run the image or don't run the image, I thought, but don't manipulate it.
Bloody crime-scene photos don't affect me much, but I must realize I'm far more jaded than most. For me, color seems to be more provocative than black-and-white; yesterday's images are far more affecting than tintypes of Jesse James' corpse. But in the end, I would neither buy (nor refuse to buy) a book based on my reaction to a surreptitious glimpse of its photos in the checkout line. The images, like the adjectives, just add color to the movie that unreels in my head as I read.
If my wife were here right now, she'd nudge me. She'd remind me that not everyone has inspected, up close, the logo on a dead man's socks, or seen a dead man's bloated body burst like a sad balloon on a hot summer afternoon.
And not everyone can come here to ask some of true crime's most devoted fans how they feel, so ... what's your feeling about disturbing crime photos in true-crime books and magazines? Are they truly off-putting or an essential part of why you read true crime? Will grotesque pictures influence your purchase (or refusal to purchase) a book?
Sunday, January 11, 2009
But apparently he didn't like the view from his cell. Last week, Thomas plucked out his remaining eyeball -- and ate it.
Look -- oh, sorry -- this guy is obviously either or starving. But Andre Thomas proves what your mother always told you about the first-degree slaughter of your family: "You'll put your eye out, kid"
Monday, November 10, 2008
In the next 60 seconds -- and before you read any further in this post -- list as many mass-murderers and serial killers as you can ... ready ... set ... GO!
How many did you get? 10? Watch more TruTV.
20? Not bad.
OK, here's another little test for you, and this one is a little harder: In the next 60 seconds, name as many victims of mass- or serial killers as you can. Ready ... set ... GO!
Oh c'mon, if every name you came up with was killed by the Manson Family, that's no better than the devoted readers of Mommy Blogs! Pre-schoolers wandering through the true-crime section at Borders can do better! DN readers are the cream of the crop! What? You couldn't name a single victim of Bundy, Dahmer, BTK, Gein, Gacy or the Ripper?
OK, forget that test, let's try another one: In the next 60 seconds, name as many survivors of mass- or serial-killers as you can. Ready ... set ... whaddya mean you're not even gonna try?? C'mon it's just for fun. Please?
If some idle cybersurfer drifts through here, he's gonna think that we are more fixated with the killers than with their victims. That just doesn't seem right, does it? I mean, we know ordinary folks are fascinated by demented killers, but we're supposed to be ... I dunno ... extra-ordinary.
Our infatuation with the perverse sometimes leaves little room on our emotional hard drive for the victims of perversity. That's not to say we cannot appreciate the horrors faced by Catherine Eddowes, Nancy Fox, Bobby Piest or Debra Lynn Bonner -- but we forget their names and faces far quicker than the names and faces of the killers who ended their lives.
And when it comes to survivors of these monsters, barely a single name would kindle a spark of recognition in even the most devoted true-crime reader.
Talk to me, friends. What does this say about us?
(How did I do on my own test? Hey, I'm a true-crime writer and a career journalist who started his newsroom life in the cop shops and courtrooms of this great ... OK, I sucked, too.)
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Old Crimes, Long Memories: Bonnie and Clyde are bullet-riddled dust, but they are immortal in our imaginations
The Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum is one of those places that crime history buffs like me would drive a hundred miles out of the way to see (I did). It's been open less than a year in Gibsland, La., and is run by the son of one of the six cops who gunned down Bonnie and Clyde. It's also in the building that was once Ma Canfield's Cafe, where the lover-killers stopped minutes before the ambush -- their take-out sandwiches were found half-eaten on the dead Bonnie's lap.
The main industry in Gibsland (Pop. 1,091) in Bonnie and Clyde. Boots Hinton's Ambush Museum has artifacts related to the outlaws, including some of the guns seized from the outlaws' well-perforated car, the famed swatches of Clyde's pants, Bonnie's red tam, rare photos and films, even the prop car used in the 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde" starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. (The real death car and Clyde's bloodstained shirt are displayed at a Nevada casino.) But there's another museum next door with more stuff. And every May, there's a festive re-enactment of Bonnie and Clyde's Shakespearean end.
Apparently nothing else of note has ever happened in Gibsland, which is fortunate for Gibsland. This little burg has capitalized brilliantly on its single grotesque event. History buffs, crime fans, or just tourists with quirky tastes flock here to pay $7 a head for a peek at a bloody page of history.
Just about 8 miles down the road, a cracked, graffiti-ravaged stone monument marks the exact spot where Bonnie and Clyde died in a hail of 130 bullets fired by 6 Texas and Louisiana lawmen who never gave the killers a chance to reach for their weapons. Within minutes, the place was crawling with curious bystanders, who snipped some of Bonnie's hair and pieces of her gory dress, picked up shell casings and broken glass, even tried to cut off Clyde's finger and ear ... all for souvenirs. Like something out of the Old West, photographs were taken of the disfigured corpses, and the town where the couple was embalmed -- not buried -- swelled to five times its normal size with gawkers hoping to catch a glimpse of the dead couple.
But what's the modern fascination with Bonnie and Clyde (or Dillinger, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy or Al Capone)? It's one thing for a true-crime author and history nut to chase ghosts of unrepentant, angry thugs, but ordinary people? It hardly seems to be the opportunity to live a moment of justice, but maybe ... Is it the promise of blood? A chance to rub up against death?
In the case of the former (and to some small degree the latter), author Joseph Geringer, who wrote "Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car," explained the long-lived legend this way: "Americans thrilled to their 'Robin Hood' adventures. The presence of a female, Bonnie, escalated the sincerity of their intentions to make them something unique and individual -- even at times heroic."
Indeed. A few of the vandals who have defaced the stone marker at the death site pay tribute to Bonnie and Clyde. To be sure, locks of Bonnie's hair or even that half-eaten sandwich might turn up on eBay when you least expect it.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
You might think from watching the dizzying array of TV crime fare that DNA evidence is the incontrovertible defense killer (or in some cases, the golden key to the jailhouse door for wrongly convicted inmates). In most cases it is definitely the most trustworthy evidence ... except that for the past 7 years, questions have been rising about matches in the FBI's central database that defy the odds and send a little quiver through our faith in this science as a prosecutorial tool.
It all began in 2001, when an Arizona crime lab worker tested the state's DNA database and found two felons with similar genetic profiles. Remarkably, they matched at 9 of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people from each other. In court, a DNA expert would say that the chance of these two men sharing these same markers would be 1 in 113 billion -- or nearly impossible.
But these two men did. And they weren't related: one was black and one was white.
Crime labs began conducting other searches. In 2 states, nearly 1,000 such cases were found where two criminals matched at 9 or more "loci."
This weekend, the Los Angeles Times reported that this surprising discovery has ignited a legal fight in which the FBI is trying to block similar searches and forestall even court-ordered inquiries into its DNA database known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). The FBI asserts the data was misleading and misrepresented, and further mucking around in its system will simply harm crime-fighting. The FBI has even reportedly threatened to cut off some states' access to CODIS if they persist in so-called "Arizona searches."
Nobody knows exactly how rare DNA matches are; they are just FBI estimates. But the dispute here focuses on one word: "profile." Your complete genetic makeup is unique, but your "genetic profile" is just a narrowly focused snapshot of your genes. As the Times said, siblings often share these genetic markers, and unrelated people can share some by coincidence. An exact match of 13 markers by two unrelated people is unlikely. The odds? 1 in 1 quadrillion.
DNA evidence laws have changed since that 2001 search. States now require DNA profiles match at 13 loci instead of nine, enormously strengthening the odds. But in some older, colder cases, 9 loci can still be used, and the Arizona results have thrown a huge wrench into those prosecutions.
What happens now? DNA remains a strong piece of evidence, and an even stronger argument for releasing wrongly convicted people. But the fight over the data is likely to muddy every single case in the near future where DNA is the only evidence against an accused offender.
Friday, May 30, 2008
One was awarded by the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and the second by Foreword Magazine. Both ceremonies were held Friday in conjunction with BEA.
"FALL" is part true crime, part memoir about the monstrous 1973 abduction, rape and murder of two of the author's childhood friends in the small town where they lived, and it examines why the crime remains an open wound there 35 years later. Departing from the genre's usual reportorial style, "FALL" was hailed by true-crime legend Ann Rule, "Helter Skelter" author Vincent Bugliosi and media critics as a direct literary descendant of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood."
St. Martin's recently released the paperback edition of "FALL" under the new title, "The Darkest Night." The paperback has been in the Top 10 True Crime books at Amazon.com since it was published in March.
"This book exploring the lives and horrid deaths of two friends was difficult to write," Franscell, a veteran journalist, said after thee awards were announced. "But somewhere in their tragic stories is a beacon for the new world we occupy. From a very dark night, some light. This award belongs to them."
The silver medal was awarded to "The Case Against Lucky Luciano," by Ellen Poulsen (Clinton Cook Publishing) and "Black Gangsters of Chicago," by Ron Chepesiuk (Barricade Books).
The bronze went to "The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories," by Elizabeth A. De Wolfe (Kent State University Press) and "Hunting the American Terrorist," by Terry Turchie and Kathleen Puckett (History Publishing Co.)
IPPY is the colloqiual name given to the Independent Publishers Book Awards. This year's contest attracted 3,175 total entries, with over 2,500 entries in the national categories and over 600 entries in the regional competition.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
The winner will be announced in May at the Book Expo America in Los Angeles, Calif.
Foreword is a trade magazine for America's independent publishers -- all those small- to medium-sized houses that are publishing the bulk of U.S. books these days.