Sept. 10, 2012
Although some radicals have championed the dissolution of the family, it is, in varying forms, an institution deeply ingrained into every human society. It survives because it is necessary for the upbringing of children and because humans of both genders crave intimate, stable partnerships. The family, like any other institution, has it own set of troubles that can often lead to crime. Something that inevitably causes problems is that monogamy is not a natural state for humans of either gender. Jealousy, on the other hand, comes naturally to humans of both genders and that is one of the reasons monogamy evolved as an ideal in the West (and some other cultures). The human male appears to be biologically programmed to be sexually attracted to women of childbearing age. For this reason, many people will identify with the situation portrayed in The Millionaire’s Wife in which middle-aged George Kogan left his equally middle-aged wife Barbara to take up with a younger woman. It is also true that many people will find themselves disillusioned with a spouse as the wife does in A Socialite Scorned and the husband in One Last Kiss. As these three books demonstrate, all-too-often, the words “until death do us part” can take on a tragic and homicidal meaning.
by Denise Noe
A Socialite Scorned by Kerrie Droban (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2012) is about the 1996 murder of Tucson, Arizona real estate developer Gary Triano by a car bomb. There was a lengthy list of possible suspects as Triano was a businessperson suspected of shady dealings and known to enjoy a colorful love life. Currently sitting in prison as the bomber is Ron Young. Still in jail and awaiting trial is Trianos’s ex-wife Pamela Phillips. Triano was bankrupt at the time of the murder. Pamela had taken out a $2 million life insurance policy on him. The three children the couple had were the beneficiaries but because the funds would be under Pamela’s control as the children’s trustee until they reached adulthood, the policy gave her a major motive. Droban tells the story of how law officers diligently worked to solve a largely circumstantial case. Droban frequently displays a flair for colorful phrasing and her poetic use of language makes an interesting story all the more captivating. In describing the scene of the blast she writes, “The air smelled like gunpowder. Metal fragments spiraled over the treetops. Paper littered the ground like confetti.” Drobin wonderfully captures the personality of Pam Phillips with this sentence: “Pam worked the crowd like an electric bolt, abrupt, charged, and at times shocking.” Drobin writes about the nasty Ron Young, “Guilt fell away from him like ice in a warm rain.” A Socialite Scorned reads like print version of a modern day film noir, filled with glamorous yet seedy characters and a clever detective determined to ferret out the truth.
The Millionaire’s Wife by Cathy Scott (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2012) tells the story of a marriage gone wrong that ended tragically. George Kogan, a Jewish son of Holocaust survivors, broke up his marriage to Barbara to take up with a much younger woman, Mary-Louise Hawkins. Barbara faced not only the loss of a husband but of the affluent lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. In 1990 George was gunned down on the streets of Manhattan on his way to the apartment he shared with Mary-Louise. It would take detectives two decades to piece together how Barbara had, through attorney Manuel Martinez, hired a hit man. Both discarded wife and lawyer Martinez are currently imprisoned with Barbara having pled guilty while Martinez steadfastly protests his innocence. The suspected shooter has not been charged. Scott writes objectively in a journalist’s sort of prose that does not call attention to itself but keeps the reader focused on the complex but ever-intriguing true life tale. The book draws the various threads of this emotionally charged story together to weave them into a colorful cloth.
One Last Kiss by Michael W. Cuneo (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2012) focuses on the May 5, 2009 brutal strangulation murders of Sheri Coleman and her young sons, Gavin, 9, and Garett, 11. The husband and father, Chris Coleman, said he was at the gym during the time his family was slaughtered. Chris Coleman was head of security for Joyce Meyer Ministries. Preacher of a “prosperity gospel,” Meyer is both famous and controversial. Loved by millions as a charismatic Christian minister, she is also criticized by many who regard the “prosperity gospel” as a distortion of the teachings of Jesus. Indeed, it initially appeared that Sheri, Gavin, and Garett were the victims of an anti-prosperity gospel zealot. Chris and his family had received threatening messages that seemed to be from someone who hated the Meyer ministry. However, investigators soon found evidence that the messages were sent by Chris himself who wanted out of his marriage but feared a divorce would cause him to lose his job with Joyce Meyer. Chris was eventually convicted of the murders and sentenced to life without parole. In many ways, One Last Kiss is what a true crime book should be. Cuneo draws us into the Coleman family. He makes us care about Sheri, Gavin, Garett – and even to some extent Chris. At 327 pages, it is long but it never drags. It is a fascinating study of a family destroyed by its seemingly advantaged but grotesquely flawed pater familias. In many ways, it is a model of what a good true crime book should be.
Masters of True Crime: Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre edited by R. Barri Flowers (Prometheus Books, 2012) is an anthology of writings by 17 modern true crime writers. Each writer has selected a case he or she finds particularly unique. The cases selected range in time from the 19th century to the recent present with an emphasis on relatively modern cases. The top-of-the-line true crime authors represented include Carol Anne Davis, Harold Schechter, and Katherine Ramsland. Editor R. Barri Flowers also appears as the writer of an article. The result is a book filled with unusual stories of mayhem about sex fiends and mobsters, passion murderers and bombers.