book reviews, true crime

Repost: Black Widow: A Beautiful Woman, Two Lovers, Two Murders…

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote for Epinions in February 2008. It appears as/is. I also reposted it on the original OH blog in 2015. The comments directly below are from 2015.

In the interest of posting more true crime book reviews, here’s one I wrote about Marion Collins’ book, Black Widow: A Beautiful Woman, Two Lovers, Two Murders.  I read this book several years ago.  In fact, I was living in Germany the first time when I read it in 2008. 

Lynn Turner was a beautiful sociopath who used antifreeze to murder two men.  Her story is also interesting because one of her victims’ mothers is a Seventh Day Adventist, a religion I knew little about when I read the book (and I still don’t know too much about it).  Lynn Turner died in her Georgia prison cell in August 2010.  An autopsy showed that she overdosed on blood pressure pills.  I was living in Georgia at the time of her death.

Original review

Once again, thanks to’s effective suggestive selling techniques, I purchased another true crime book from St. Martin’s True Crime Library. To be honest, it’s rare that I find high quality true crime books published by St. Martin’s Press. I’m more often intrigued by the cases St. Martin’s writers cover rather than the quality of their writing. I’m afraid Marion Collins’ 2007 book, Black Widow: A Beautiful Woman, Two Lovers, Two Murders represents typical fare for St. Martin’s True Crime Library, which to me, is beginning to seem comparable to Harlequin Enterprises… a publisher that seems to emphasize quantity over quality. 

I bought Black Widow because I was interested in reading about Julia “Lynn” Turner. The beautiful young woman known as Lynn curiously became a widow when her strapping young police officer husband, Glenn, died suddenly of what doctors originally thought was a extremely virulent flu bug. Glenn Turner died in agony, yet his wife was strangely unemotional at his funeral. Afterwards, she came into large sums of cash when a number of life insurance policies paid out. 

Recruitment for Hell on Earth

Glenn Turner, who lived in Georgia his whole life and was raised in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, was a popular cop who had many friends and was well loved by his family. His friends and family had warned him about Lynn, a woman who seemed to have an affinity for men in uniform. Lynn Turner was very flashy and had very expensive tastes. When she set her sights on her potential boyfriends, she would launch ruthless campaigns to win them over. She bought them expensive gifts, dressed provocatively, and flattered them incessantly. A lot of people wondered how Lynn, a former sheriff’s assistant and 911 operator, was able to afford the gifts she lavished on Glenn when they were dating. Somehow, Lynn Turner convinced Glenn that she was going to inherit a lot of money when her grandmother died. She had him thinking that she was going to make him rich.  

The reality of a bad marriage 

Glenn and Lynn Turner were married in August 1993. Glenn’s youngest brother, Jimmy, as best man, was asked to give a toast at their wedding reception. Jimmy said words that turned out to be very prophetic when he commented, “I feel like I’m more at a funeral than a wedding.” The words were shocking and offensive. Everybody laughed except Lynn, who shot her new brother in law a look of pure hatred.  

Then, after a disastrous honeymoon, Glenn Turner found out that the generous woman he thought he was marrying was actually a slave driver who expected him to support her extravagant tastes. Determined to make the marriage work, Glenn took on extra jobs, earning more money to pay off Lynn’s enormous debts. Meanwhile, while Glenn was working non-stop, Lynn had another man on the side. 

Randy Thompson

Randy Thompson, a firefighter, never knew that his girlfriend, Lynn, was married. He only knew that she was pretty and very generous. Lynn Turner presented Randy with $1100 boots and brand new cars. She never let on that she had a husband who was working two or three jobs at a time to help support her adulterous fling.  

March 3, 1995

On March 3, 1995, Lynn Turner became a widow when 31 year old Glenn Turner died of a mysterious illness. Glenn’s family suspected that something wasn’t right when he suddenly passed. An autopsy showed that he had an enlarged heart, but no one had ever known Glenn to have problems with his heart. After his funeral, Lynn Turner went on with life as if nothing ever happened. She neatly cut Glenn’s family out of her life as she moved in on Randy Thompson. 

History repeats itself

Lynn Turner loved the thrill of the chase. When she was in hot pursuit of a man, she lavished him with gifts and attention. Once she had him in her clutches, she became a different person, as was the case in her relationship with Randy Thompson. Lynn Turner never married Randy, but she did bear two children by him. She used the children to maintain control and to get Randy to buy more life insurance, just in case he should meet an untimely death. 

On January 21, 2001, 32 year old Randy Thompson did, in fact, die of a mysterious illness. At the time of his death, he was trying to get his life back on track and repair his relationship with Lynn for the sake of their children. But Lynn Turner had other plans. She concluded that Randy Thompson was worth much more to her dead than alive. An autopsy revealed that like Glenn Turner before him, Randy Thompson had an enlarged heart. 

Two families put their heads together

A lot of people were suspicious when Glenn Turner died. Those same people became even more leery when Randy Thompson died under uncannily similar circumstances. Kathy Turner, Glenn’s mother, made a phone call to Angie Bollinger, Randy’s sister. Angie didn’t want to believe that the two deaths were anything but a coincidence. But she did talk about the phone call with her family. Kathy Turner, meanwhile, decided to appeal to Randy’s mother, Nita Thompson. It took months, but she finally connected with the woman, who never suspected that Randy’s death was the result of foul play. The two mothers compared notes and suddenly, Lynn Turner started to look like an awful lot like a serial killer. 

My thoughts

To be honest, I think Black Widow could have been a much better book. The case is certainly interesting enough to warrant writing about. Lynn Turner is a fascinating character who fell into the trap of overconfidence and almost got away with two murders. Unfortunately, like so many books I’ve read from St. Martin’s True Crime Library, this book is rife with editing glitches. There were a couple of passages that didn’t add up because it seemed like words were missing. Consider the following passage copied word for word from page 28 in chapter three: 

She never knew her birth parents, who were divorced when she was 2 on account of her father’s womanizing. When she was 5, she was adopted by Helen Womack, who named her new daughter Julia Lynn. Quickly the Julia was dropped, and she was known simply as Lynn. 

Her new parents’ marriage turned out to be no more stable than that of her natural kin: the Womacks separated when Lynn was 2, and divorced soon afterward. 

I’m guessing that Lynn must have been adopted when she was five months old and not five years old, as the passage seems to suggest. Otherwise, these two explanatory paragraphs don’t make sense. This is not the only incidence of confusing wording, although it is probably the most egregious example. For a book that consists of less than 300 pages, it does seem that Black Widow was rushed and consequently, it didn’t get adequate attention from an editor. 

This book also promises eight pages of “alarming” photographs. While Black Widow does include a photo section, I don’t think I’d describe the pictures as “alarming”. There’s a picture of the Seventh Day Adventist Church where Kathy Turner prays for her son, and a couple of shots of key places and people in the case. There is only one picture of Lynn Turner, and it’s not even a particularly revealing photo, as it’s a candid snapshot that was taken at a bridal shower.  

I did appreciate Collins’ commentary on the court case, although she spends a good two thirds of the book building up to it. But this book did have sort of a tabloid feel to it. I didn’t find it nearly as satisfying as reading a book by an author like Ann Rule or Kathryn Casey, two writers who really dig into their cases and present much more detail than Collins did. I tend to learn things when I read books by Ann Rule and Kathryn Casey. I didn’t learn so much reading Black Widow

That said, I don’t think Black Widow is a total bust. I will recommend it to those who like true crime and don’t mind editing SNAFUs. It’s a short book, so the editing problems won’t be troublesome for too long. But I do think this book could have been much better. I hope a better writer and publisher take a stab at publishing this story. 

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Lie After Lie: The True Story of a Master of Deception, Betrayal, and Murder

Here’s a review I wrote for in January 2011. It’s about master manipulator and murderer James Keown. I reposted it on the original OH blog in 2014 and am reposting it again as/is.

From 2014

Watching Dateline on OWN and they are doing a special about James Keown, a man who used antifreeze to kill his wife for insurance money.  Here’s a review I did of a book about this case.  It’s scary that $250K is worth more than a beautiful woman’s life.

About this case…

Original review from 2011

Most people who get married hope and pray the person they’re marrying is “the one”.  If he or she isn’t “the one”, then they hope that the person is at least decent.  Sadly, for some people, the person they thought might be “the one” turns out to be a liar, or worse, a murderer.  Having just finished Lara Bricker’s 2010 true crime story, Lie After Lie: The True Story of a Master of Deception, Betrayal, and Murder, I realize that even someone who really appears to be above board can turn out to be a total weasel.

The story 

In the summer of 2004, 31 year old registered nurse Julie Keown wasn’t feeling very well.  She and her husband, James, had recently moved from Jefferson City, Missouri to Waltham, Massachusetts because James had supposedly been accepted to Harvard Business School.  Julie’s career as a nurse had been going well and she was hoping to become pregnant.  But she was ailing.  Her speech was slurred and she was having trouble walking.  Doctors had told her that her kidneys were failing.  

James and Julie Keown had met in college.  He was a redheaded extrovert who had big dreams of becoming a famous talk radio host.  She was down-to-earth and kind, and aspired to become a nurse and a mother.  They hit it off and got married.  James Keown seemed to be “going places”; indeed, he even worked for ESPN radio in Chicago for a time before he and his wife came back to Missouri.  James Keown drove a very expensive car and dressed to the nines, even though in Missouri, he worked for a non-profit organization that didn’t pay especially well.  Keown never lost his ambition, though.  He ached to have the finer things in life, even though he didn’t seem to have the work ethic to achieve his dreams.

James Keown was the type of guy who tended to impress people.  He was very friendly and a fast talker; somehow, he managed to get most people to see things his way.  Those who weren’t impressed by him soon found themselves the target of his manipulative, passive aggressive tactics of getting rid of people.  Keown’s way of dealing with co-workers was sucking up to his superiors and steamrolling anyone he considered a threat.  And when he got the notion that a master’s degree from a top notch university like Harvard might pave the way to the lifestyle he craved, Keown did some double crossing and scheming to get that powerful master’s degree, even if he didn’t quite have the intellectual wattage to make it happen.

Things seemed to be going well in 2004… at least on the surface.  But Keown’s lies were starting to catch up with him.  He needed some fast money and his sweet wife, Julie, and the $250,000 life insurance policy she had, was the most likely source of it.  So Julie suddenly got sick.  And while his wife was ailing, James Keown had been very solicitous, coaxing her to drink plenty of Gatorade to help her kidneys do their job.  Julie Keown didn’t like Gatorade, but she drank it anyway.  In September of 2004, she passed away from kidney failure.  It was later determined that Julie Keown was the victim of antifreeze poisoning, having ingested lethal amounts of ethylene glycol. 

After his wife died, James Keown packed up and went back to Missouri, where he resumed life as normal and got a job working for KLIK radio.  He didn’t seem too broken up about Julie’s death; in fact, he had even started dating again.   

My thoughts

This is the kind of story that brings chills, especially considering how painful dying from antifreeze poisoning can be.  A few years ago, I read and reviewed a devastating story about a woman named Lynn Turner who murdered two husbands by slipping them antifreeze.  Apparently, antifreeze poisoning can be an easy way to off someone, since it has a sweet taste that blends well with drinks like Gatorade.  Bricker brings up Lynn Turner’s case as she explains how James Keown used the same method to kill his wife, Julie.  Incidentally, Lynn Turner committed suicide in her Georgia prison cell on August 30, 2010. 

Bricker does a fine job explaining how James Keown managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, getting away with his crime for about a year until he was finally arrested while on the air at KLIK in Missouri.  Keown was eventually sent back to Massachusetts to stand trial.  He was convicted of murder and now sits in a prison cell in Massachusetts.  

I found Lara Bricker’s writing very easy to read and interesting.  I could form a mental picture of the people involved in this case, though Bricker did not include any pictures.  She does a good job explaining James Keown’s lies and cover ups and manages to keep the story interesting without stooping to sleaze. 

The whole time I was reading this book, it occurred to me how quick some people are to believe, especially when they don’t take the time to look beyond the surface.  James Keown looked the part of a successful man.  He did his best to act the part, as well.  Most people who encountered him believed him.


I recommend Lie After Lie to anyone who likes a good true crime story.  

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