book reviews, true crime

Repost: A “perfect” Christian wife meets her maker sooner than she planned

Here’s a book review I wrote for in October 2007 (when I was in Germany the first time). Adding this old review of Clint Richmond’s The Good Wife, since I’ve been on such a Christian kick lately.  This case is proof positive that being religious doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.  Appearances can be very deceptive and even the most perfect Christian lifestyle can lead to a tragic end.  It appears here as/is.

Since I’m on a roll reviewing true crime books about grisly murders, I might as well share my opinion of Clint Richmond’s 2007 book, The Good Wife: The Shocking Betrayal and Brutal Murder of a Godly Woman in Texas. The mouthful of a title pretty much sums up this sad story of a woman who devoted her whole life to her husband, her church, and her own private ministry. To be honest, I didn’t have especially high hopes for this book, but it ended up surpassing my expectations.

The story

Roger and Penny Scaggs seemed to be the perfect Christian couple. In 1996, they celebrated 35 years of what looked like a blissful marriage and charmed life together. Roger Scaggs was a very successful businessman in the high-tech sector and a pillar of the community. Penny Scaggs, still very youthful looking and attractive at age 55, shared her time and her talents with young women and elderly residents of a retirement home. The couple’s adopted daughter, Sarah, was the centerpiece of their marriage. Penny also had loving parents and three younger sisters who adored her. The family lived in a beautiful home in southwest Austin, Texas, where Penny taught seminars on how to be the perfect Christian wife.

Of course, no marriage is perfect, and it turned out the Scaggs were not as happy as they appeared to be. As the couple became firmly entrenched in middle age, Roger Scaggs apparently went through some kind of midlife crisis. He started spending his free time sailing boats and flying his private airplane. He became distant from his beautiful wife. He had a rather indiscreet affair with a younger woman.

Divorce was anathema to Penny Scaggs, a devout Christian who believed that marriage was a sacred covenant between a man and a woman. She was devastated by Roger’s infidelity and obvious lies. But she didn’t want a divorce. What’s more, according to the divorce laws in Texas, Penny would be entitled to at least half of the couple’s sizeable assets if their marriage dissolved.

On the evening of March 6, 1996, Penny played her beloved pale yellow, baby grand piano, practicing for her weekly recital at a local nursing home. As she skillfully played a hymn on the instrument, she was viciously bludgeoned on the back of her head with a lead pipe. Then her killer slashed her throat and mutilated her with one of Penny’s own kitchen knives. Penny’s body was left on the floor, next to the piano, where Roger Scaggs reportedly found it several hours later.

Police and the local community were stunned by the savagery of the crime. They determined that the murder was committed either by a crazed serial killer, or someone who knew and hated Penny Scaggs. It didn’t take long before the focus shifted to Penny’s husband, a man who had seemed like such a perfect example of someone who had reaped the blessings of prosperity from leading a godly life. Could he have actually killed his wife of 35 years in cold blood? As it turns out, yes, he could and did.

The book

Clint Richmond does an impressive job of writing this sordid tale in a way that doesn’t seem sleazy. It’s true that Penny Scaggs’ murder was shocking, violent, and newsworthy. Indeed, Roger Scaggs’ trial was shown on Court TV, and while it didn’t garner quite the media coverage that Scott Peterson’s or O.J. Simpson’s murder trials did, it did make the national news. Because this story has all of the elements of a good television drama, it seems like an ideal candidate for tabloid writing. Richmond keeps his tone respectful, resisting the urge to sink to excessive sensationalism.

The Good Wife is an entertaining read, but it’s also educational. Richmond provides plenty of details about the police and legal work that went into bringing Penny Scaggs’ killer to justice. He includes explanations of how evidence linking Roger Scaggs to the crime was collected and analyzed, and he does so in a way that isn’t too technical or boring. Richmond also offers perspectives from many of the people who knew and loved Penny Scaggs, including her friends, neighbors, and family members.

There is a photo section in the middle of the book, which includes pictures of Penny and Roger Scaggs, Penny’s sisters, the legal professionals involved with the case, and some of the evidence that led to Roger Scaggs’ conviction. There is also an epilogue that updates what has happened since the sentencing. Although this case apparently got a lot of press coverage, I had not heard of it when I found this book. I believe this murder case is an example of one that is scandalous enough to be interesting, yet hasn’t been overexposed on television.

Because I’m in Germany and somewhat starved for reading material at the moment, I can’t be too picky. Luckily, Clint Richmond has put forth a fine effort with The Good Wife. I’m pleased to recommend it, especially to true crime lovers. 

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