Nov. 7, 2011
True-crime books make great cold-weather reading – and great holiday gifts – because they make us feel safe. Reading these accounts of crazed psychopaths who went on rampages and seemingly normal suburbanites with lethal secrets, we shiver and think: At least I'm not trapped in a Cape Cod kitchen with a knife-wielding murderer. At least I'm not on a beach with Joran Van Der Sloot. Wherever we are suddenly feels like a blissful refuge – for a little while, at least. But the further you get into almost any true-crime book, the more you realize that the madness and mayhem leaping from its pages could easily happen to you. A Harvard-educated professor goes postal with a Ruger. A child vanishes from a bus stop. The respected commander of Canada’s largest military base prowls and murders at night. Safety is a relative thing.
by Anneli Rufus
A Professor's Rage, by Michele R. McPhee (St. Martin's, 2011): As the smart young daughter of caring parents, Amy Bishop appeared to have everything. Yet at age 21 she slew her younger brother with a pump-action shotgun. His death was ruled an accident – even though, after the shooting, "Amy fled from the scene with her coat on." As a Harvard-trained University of Alabama biology professor, Bishop still appeared to have everything. Yet after being denied tenure last year, she whipped out a 9mm Ruger during a staff meeting and shot six people, killing three. McPhee delivers an emotional account of a human time bomb whose lethal nature was spotted – but unheeded – long ago.
Reasonable Doubt: The Fashion Writer, Cape Cod, and the Trial of Chris McCowen, by Peter Manso (Atria, 2011): Having left behind the glitz and dazzle of her life as a Manhattan fashion journalist, Christa Worthington settled in serene Cape Cod. That serenity shattered when 46-year-old Worthington was found stabbed to death in her quaint kitchen in 2002. At first, much was made of Worthington's past relationships with many men. But after a trial that Manso recounts in painstaking detail, trash collector Chris McCowen was convicted of first-degree murder. Manso believes this to be a massive miscarriage of justice; the African-American suspect had an IQ of only 76, and "race was the very armature of the McCowen verdict."
A Stolen Life: A Memoir, by Jaycee Dugard (Simon & Schuster, 2011): Abducted by pedophile Phillip Garrido and his accomplice/wife Nancy at a bus stop in idyllic Lake Tahoe, California, 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard went directly, in the space of one day, from heaven to hell. Your heart will have already broken by the time Dugard describes how, during her first encounter with Garrido, "I didn't want to touch his private part." She recounts her subsequent 20 years of captivity in scenes that are graphic and thus, for her, no doubt cathartic. In sunny suburbia, an ordinary girl-next-door was transformed into chattel, bearing two babies by a man who vowed to never let her go.
Portrait of a Monster: Joran Van Der Sloot, a Murder in Peru, and the Natalee Holloway Mystery, by Lisa Pulitzer and Cole Thompson (St. Martin's, 2011): The title says it all. Upper-class young Dutchman Van Der Sloot was the prime suspect in a notorious missing-persons case: the 2005 disappearance, during a school trip to Aruba, of American teen Natalee Holloway. Never formally charged, Van Der Sloot remained free until his 2005 arrest in Peru for the murder of fellow business student Stephany Flores. Cutting back and forth in time between these two crimes, Pulitzer and Thompson trace the many lies of a heartless sociopath.
Prophet's Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, by Sam Brower (Bloomsbury, 2011): A Utah private investigator who is also a Mormon, Brower worked for years helping people who had left FLDS, a sect whose practices included polygamy, statutory rape and much more. This eminently readable page-turner details Brower's pursuit of FLDS "prophet" Warren Jeffs. When cops used a battering ram to enter Warren's compound, "the men of the church collapsed like marionettes whose strings had been cut. Some dropped to their knees in disbelief, others fell prone and scrabbled in the dirt, and still others stood sobbing like children with their faces buried in their hands."
Chili Pimping in Atlantic City: The Memoir of a Small-Time Pimp and Hustler, by Michael "Mick-Man" Gourdine, aka Candy Man (Strategic Media Books, 2011): "Pimps sure know how to work magic," Gourdine writes. "If they can make a man go from feeling like a king to feeling like a slave in a few minutes, imagine what they can do for a woman." Ever wondered, while watching prostitutes walk the streets, where they go when their work shifts are over and what they talk about among themselves? Gourdine, who was not only a pimp but also a corrupt vice cop who claims to have netted up to $3 million from bribes, drugs and other criminal activities while in uniform, tells all in this blow-by-blow memoir.
From Crime Scene to Courtroom: Examining the Mysteries Behind Famous Cases, by Cyril H. Wecht, M.D. and Dawna Kaufman (Prometheus Books, 2011): Noted forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril H. Wecht and crime reporter Dawna Kaufman present new, well-reasoned revelations about the deaths of Michael Jackson and Caylee Anthony, plus five other high-profile cases involving USAF Colonel Philip Michael Shue, Rolling Stone guitarist Brian Jones, Bolingbroke, Ill., police Sergeant Drew Peterson, 12-year-old Gabriella Miranda Bechen of Greensboro, Pa., and Carol Anne Gorbaum, who died in a police holding cell at the Phoenix Airport in 2007 while en route to a rehab center in Cottonwood de Tucson, Ariz.
Camouflaged Killer: The Shocking Double Life of Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams, by David A. Gibb (Berkley Books, 2011): By day, Colonel Russell Williams commanded the largest Canadian Forces base; by night he stalked single women, breaking into their homes, blindfolding them, and assaulting them for hours, filming away as he did. David Gibb, a veteran private investigator, uses the films to recount in massive detail the colonel’s deviant second life. What began as a bizarre fetish for collecting women’s undergarments eventually escalated to the rape and murder of two women before the police finally honed in on this most improbable psychopath.