true crime

Repost: Crime blasts from the past…

Here’s one more true crime repost for good measure. It originally appeared on October 30, 2013 and is reposted as/is.

In early June 1992, I was about to turn 20 years old.  I worked at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia and was a rising junior at college.  I remember being shocked like so many other people in my community when a suicidal fifteen year old girl, her boyfriend, and another boy decided that they were going to kill her family and take off for California. 

Jennifer Kszepka was supposedly angry with her father, 42 year old Jerome Kszepka, because he didn’t approve of her boyfriend, Dominic Hendrix.  So, on the evening of June 7, 1992, they murdered him and Jennifer’s sister, 21 year old Ranae.  When Jennifer’s mother, Sieglinde, came home to the murder scene, they tried to kill her, too.  Their weapon jammed, so Michael Gaumer, a mutual friend of the teen couple’s, clubbed Sieglinde Kszepka on the head with a metal pipe, fracturing her skull.  Sieglinde Kszepka ultimately survived the attack.  But her husband and older daughter had been murdered by her younger daughter…  what a horrible thing to have to live with.

Jennifer Kszepka could have faced the death penalty, but she ended up getting life plus 90 years in prison.  Parole in Virginia was abolished in 1995, but Kszepka and her male friends committed their crimes prior to then.  Consequently, all three are eligible to be considered for parole.  Kszepka just had a hearing and was denied parole.  The next time she will be considered will be in 2016 (ETA: in 2021, Jennifer Kszepka remains in prison).

I remember all too well when this happened.  I had only recently graduated from the high school where Kszepka and her partners in crime attended.  My boss at Busch Gardens had known Ranae Kszepka, because she had once worked at Busch Gardens.  I remember reading the newspaper every day as Kszepka and her friends drove her mother’s car west.  They hoped to get to California and made it as far as Eureka, Nevada, where they were stopped for a routine traffic violation.  Their identities were discovered and they were shipped back to Virginia to face their crimes.

Jennifer Kszepka is incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, which is the same place where Erin McCay George is imprisoned.  I note that both Jennifer Kszepka and Erin McCay George are involved with dog training… or at least they were ten years ago.  It appears that she has tried to straighten up and fly right.

Another case I remember from the 90s involved a guy named Frederick West Greene.  A friend of mine from college had grown up in tiny Franklin, Virginia.  She had a cute male friend named West who attended Virginia Military Institute.  My friend had the hots for this guy and was positively giddy when he visited her at our college.

Later, it came out that he and a friend had murdered a classmate over an insult.  They killed the young man and buried him, leaving his family and friends to wonder what happened to him for about two years.  I remember how distraught my friend was over finding out that this cute, popular, handsome friend of hers was actually a murderer.  She was very upset and kept asking, “How could he do that?” 

I was reminded of West a few weeks ago and started looking for more information about his case.  I had to do some digging before I found an old article about him and his friend and the terrible crime they committed.  I imagine that they are now about to be eligible for parole.  Actually, Michael M. Jervey, who was the accomplice in this case, may already be out of prison. 

I remember back in July 1993, a woman I knew when we were both little kids living on Mildenhall Air Force Base in England was murdered.  Her name was Lisa N. Bryant, and she had grown up to be a remarkable young woman with a bright future.  A graduate of Princeton University and a 2nd lieutenant in the Army, Bryant was about to go on her first assignment to Germany when fate put her in the path of her murderer, SGT 1st class Ervin Graves, a ROTC instructor who was staying in the same dormitory at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Graves apparently meant to rape Bryant but, when she struggled, he shot her.

Lisa Bryant is in a photo taken at my fifth birthday party in the base housing at Mildenhall where we lived at the time.  After England, we both moved to Fairfax County in Virginia and I saw her one last time at her birthday party in the Burke area of Fairfax.  Had we stayed in Fairfax, I would have gone to the same high school she attended and excelled at. 

My mom called me at school to tell me about an article she’d read about it in People Magazine several months after the murder.  I remembered what she’d looked like when we were kids and was shocked that at age 21, her life had been callously snuffed out.

It’s always creepy and unnerving when you realize how close true crime is to you…  

And here are the original comments from this post.

Mary Beth DooleyMarch 21, 2014 at 11:18 PM

I think I am the friend from college you spoke of in your blog. I am guessing you went to Longwood. Mike is out of prison & married. I believe he is living in Franklin. I don’t live there anymore so I only hear the gossip every now & then. West will not see a chance at parole for at least another 20 to 30 years. He was sentenced to Life + 45 years. He is serving his time in a federal prison because his father was a warden with the Virginia Bureau of Prisons. There is a far darker story that was never told in the press. There really should be a book written. Not sure who this is, but would love reconnect. I am happy to say my choice in men got exponentially better! You can email me at the3dooleys@gmail.com if you woildblijr.

  1. knottyMarch 22, 2014 at 8:28 PMHi Mary Beth! Glad to “see” you on my blog!

    Thanks for the update about West and that case. Sometimes I remember things and go looking for information. I remember meeting West and being really shocked when it turned out he was a killer. I’m sure my shock was nothing compared to yours!

Terry Mandy TeagueApril 9, 2016 at 5:58 AM

The Kszepkas are my family. To this day it still haunts all of us. By no means do we wish to have Jennifer or these guys that was involved the ability to see the outside world. I dont want that little bitch anywhere near my family. They can rot in there. My Aunt is doing well and has moved on as best as anyone could surviving this. Jennifer was a spoiled kid that threw a temper tantrums and has mental issues. She was supposed to be receiving help when this all occured. They all needed the death penalty. No reason to waste tax payers money on this, I dont even think the word “TRASH” fits it. Thank you.

  1. knottyApril 9, 2016 at 8:55 AMThanks for the comment. Given that the death penalty costs taxpayers much more money than life in prison does, I think it’s probably better from a fiscal standpoint that she got a prison sentence. It really is sad when someone so young screws up so badly that they spend most of their lives in prison.  

UnknownJanuary 12, 2019 at 9:29 AM

The case you speak about from the 90s where West and the other young man killed another student I remember very well. I knew the father of the victim for many years. As some one else stated there was a lot more to the story than was ever told to the public. I still live only 15 mins grfr Franklin and only about 10mins from where they buried his body. You can Google Trent Whitney Franklin VA to get a short version of what happened but there was a lot more to it. The reason Michael came forward was because West was planning to kill a girl he was dating and had threatened to kill Michael if he didn’t help him. I didn’t know either of the guys but from what I’ve been told Michael really did have a hard time with the first muder and he knew the girl West wanted help killing and he couldn’t go through with it so he turned it all in. There is much more to this story. If you would like feel free to contact me at mayopulley@gmail.com please put something in the subject to catch my attention such as Trent Whitney etc

UnknownJanuary 12, 2019 at 9:31 AM

If you’re interested in more information on the West guy from Franklin that killed another student contact me @ mayopulley@gmail.com lot more to it

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true crime

Repost: I actually DO know Erin McCay George…

A follow up to my Prison post, when I realized why Erin George had seemed so familar to me. This post originally appeared March 7, 2013 and attracted a lot of comments, as well as traffic.

Yesterday’s post about prison intrigued me so much that I started digging for more information about Erin McCay George.  I found evidence that though she is a few years older than I am, Erin George was at Longwood at the same time I was.  I put out a shout out on Facebook and one of my friends from that era piped up and said Erin was a history major and had been involved in student government.

I asked my friend if she knew where Erin was these days.  Her response was, “My guess?  Prison.”

I thought maybe my friend was aware that Erin George had murdered her husband.  But actually, my friend, who worked with the student government at the time, related a story about how back in the 90s, while editor of our student newspaper, The Rotunda, Erin had allegedly embezzled thousands of dollars given to the paper by the student government association.  The reason?  She had a boyfriend in England…  evidently the very same boyfriend she later married and then murdered for $700,000.  I’m guessing that’s why she apparently never graduated from Longwood.  She would have been kicked out for stealing.  Longwood has a strict honor code.  My friend later told me that Erin left the country while the embezzlement was being investigated.  She also told me that Erin tried to blame the other editor, even when she was caught red-handed.

I did more digging and found a newspaper article from The Free Lance-Star, a newspaper in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  It was a wedding announcement, indicating that she married James George on March 26, 1994.  That would have been about the right time frame.  Their marriage ended on May 24, 2001, when Erin shot her husband in the head in their front yard, depriving their three kids of their father forever.     

Here’s the freaky part.  My husband and I moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia on May 10, 2002.  Erin McCay George was from Fredericksburg and committed her crime in nearby Stafford County.  The trial was going on while I was living in the area and I never knew about it at the time. 

Learning about this other stuff that went on during our college days kind of makes me realize that a lot of times, people who are criminals leave signs to where they’re headed.  Back in the 90s, what Erin McCay George did was relatively small potatoes.  Yes, she supposedly stole thousands of dollars, but she hadn’t taken a life.  But what she did led to a much bigger story.  She stole from the newspaper to finance her relationship with her English boyfriend.  While editor of The Rotunda, she violated Longwood professors’ privacy by publishing their salaries in the paper.  It caused a huge furore.  She gave off signs that she was a troublemaker even back then. 

I’m guessing that Erin McCay George probably has more than a touch of narcissistic personality disorder. In fact, she may even be a sociopath. The attitude that she wants what she wants when she wants it is pervasive. She wanted her boyfriend in England? She stole money to get him. She wanted money from a life insurance policy? She killed her husband in an attempt to get it, forging his signature on life insurance documents. All the while, she comes across as intelligent and talented, perhaps even sympathetic. She certainly does have a talent for writing. I gave her book five stars, despite the fact that I think she’s morally bankrupt.

Ever since I got involved with my husband, I’ve paid a lot more attention to dangerous women.  Erin McCay George is definitely a dangerous woman and is where she belongs.  It’s a shame.  She could have been an outstanding member of society if only she weren’t a criminal at heart.  

I don’t usually share the original comments from my reposts, but I will in this case, since this is such a fascinating post.

9 comments:

  1. AlexisARMarch 8, 2013 at 8:40 AM I attend a world-renowned party school, and even we don’t have anything this exciting going on, not that i would know about it if we did.
  2. knottyMarch 8, 2013 at 1:43 PM Well, remember, I was in college 20 years ago (seems very hard to fathom that). I’m just finding out about all of this right now. I’m kind of surprised this didn’t get more press.

    Going to a small school has its privileges. It makes it easier to meet people. My college was particularly close-knit and friendly, so a lot of the people I knew back then are just as friendly on Facebook. 
  3. Brenda Campbell-HarrisJune 30, 2013 at 8:48 AM OMG….I knew Erin while I was at Longwood College. She was the editor and I was a part time journalist. She always talked about her boyfriend in England. I was searching the internet for years finding out what happened to her, and all I can say is that I am SHOCKED. Who would ever know that would ever happened. I guess now I now where she is. OMG…that is all I can say. Even have old photos of a group of us that used to hang out. 
    1. knottyJune 30, 2013 at 1:27 PM Hi Brenda. If you were at Longwood during that era, you were there when I was, too.  

      If you are still interested, I would recommend getting ahold of Erin’s book. It’s intriguing reading, though she doesn’t really write much about her crime. I get the sense that she still claims innocence. The book is more about what it’s like to be in prison. I sure didn’t know it was her when I read it the first time and was really shocked when I figured it out later.  

      Like I said, I didn’t know Erin personally, I was on the Rotunda staff very briefly, back when Brad Owen was editor (and I hear that he and Erin dated, too). I do remember hearing about her shenanigans quite a lot at the time, though… especially the drama about publishing the professors’ salaries.
  4. Beverley HughesJanuary 14, 2015 at 9:13 PM Hi Knotty. I’m from England and find your thread out of pure curiosity over the outcome of the shooting having recently acquired the True crime bug listening to Serial!
    It took me a while to find the details and I’m grateful to you for your background on it. You see, I’m from England and was working with a member of James George’s family at the time of the incident. It was, as you can imagine, a dreadful shock to his family – to grasp the details all the while being 3000 miles away, their pain was unimaginable. My colleague ultimately took the children (to which you refer) whilst caring for their own young ones, again something that changed their lives for ever.
    I have since lost touch as jobs moved on but I often think of them and how it all turned out. I’m glad she was incarcerated and from your background information, it sounds as though she was manipulative, twisted and possibly as you suggest, psychopathic ( plenty of books around on that topic).
    I don’t think I could bring myself to buy her book, knowing the family affected; I’d be interested to know where the profits go?
    I know I’m posting this way after you wrote up your piece but I hope you get to see this and can see the power of the Internet in linking all this info together. It amazes me now how long www has been around that things that seem like a lifetime ago, can now be traced with a few clicks.
    I have no other info that I could reasonably publish without an invasion of someone’s privacy – just thought I’d add to your piece.



    1. knottyJanuary 15, 2015 at 8:08 AM Hi Beverley!

      I look for new comments every day, so yes, they all get read!  

      How interesting to have a perspective from England. It really does go to show you how one person’s actions can have multiple ripple effects. Of course, when the action is murder, it only makes sense that the ripple effects would extend so far.

      I can only imagine how awful it was for James George’s family when he was killed, and especially the children. If you read this blog, you may have some idea why true crime, especially involving female perpetrators, is a special interest of mine. My husband was once married to a woman who, I think, could be capable of committing a serious crime if someone pushed her hard enough. Fortunately, I don’t think she’s quite as sociopathic as Erin seems to be.  

      I thought Erin’s book was interesting from the standpoint that she’s a prisoner in my home state. When I bought it, I didn’t remember who she was. It wasn’t until I started realizing that we were in college at the same place and at the same time that I started putting the pieces together. But yes, I do wonder where the profits from her book go. She is a talented writer.  

      This post gets a lot of hits from around the world. I think one of the other commenters was from Australia. Ripple effects have definitely scattered far and wide on this case.  

      I appreciate your comments!
  5. Gio GeorgeApril 3, 2015 at 8:19 PM Hello,
    It is difficult to see these things on the internet, of course I know an incident of this magnitude could never be private and it was inevitably going to appear on the web, however I have never wanted to search it up until now. It is interesting to see the different perspectives from other people who actually knew her during her early life. I am sure you will know her better than I ever will, as you had the opportunity to.

    On average one in four american adults suffer from mental illnesses , however I know this is no excuse for her behavior. What she did to James George her husband, a loving father, was unforgivable. Her actions had devastating effects on their family, especially their three children.
    I want to thank you for widening my knowledge on this subject.
    1. knottyApril 4, 2015 at 9:05 AM Hi Gio,

      I didn’t actually know Erin well. I have some friends who did know her through working on the newspaper or in classes. But I only knew who she was because she was editor of the paper at our college.

      You’re right that there is no excuse for what she did and, of course, I have no way of knowing if my speculation about why she committed her crimes has any validity. I can only guess based on the pattern of her actions that she is either narcissistic or sociopathic. For the unaware, she may seem like a perfectly nice, normal person. She does have writing talent, which may have been the source for what seems to me to be narcissistic tendencies.  

      If you haven’t done so already, I would recommend reading up on narcissistic personality disorder. While it can be painful reading for someone who is directly affected by a narcissist, it can also offer some clarity and maybe even a few answers.  
    2. Rebecca WeymouthMay 7, 2016 at 7:12 PM Gio, I knew Erin, spent two years together. While I cannot attest to her mental capacity, I know she deeply loves her children. I would lie awake on nights to the sound of muffled cries on birthdays, holidays or nights that the pain was to bad to hold in. Whether these tears were of guilt and remorse or an aching of the heart or both, I don’t know. But I do know this, she loves her children and spoke so fondly of them and how she would give her own life for just a moment to hold them.
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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Prison

I’m sharing a couple of old posts from my original blog by request. These two posts were among my most popular anyway, so it was only a matter of time I’d repost them. This one first appeared on my original blog on March 6, 2013.

Holger, this is for you. Thanks for reading.

A few years ago, I got on a prison kick.  No, I wasn’t trying to land in prison.  I just started reading a lot of books about the prison experience.  Then I reviewed them on Epinions.com.  One book I read was called A Woman Doing Life.  It was about a woman named Erin George who got in trouble for shooting her husband at close range for insurance money.  According to the book she published, George is now doing 603 years for the murder and has no possibility of parole.  Her three children are being raised by her husband’s family in England.

It turns out I actually have some things in common with Erin George.  She’s a few years older than I am, but we attended the same college.  I know where the neighborhood where she killed her husband is located.  I’ve driven past it many times.

It’s hard to think about someone who could have easily been my peer, sitting in prison forever.  I don’t know Erin George, but I easily could have.  She could have been a friend of mine. 

Today, someone on RfM posted looking for information on what it’s like to be in prison.  S/he says that an uncle is about to be put away for awhile.  Lucky for that poster, I could recommend a couple of books and even a Web site for family members and friends of prisoners. 

From a purely academic standpoint, I find corrections to be a very interesting subject.  I hope I never have to learn about them firsthand, but I do enjoy reading accounts about people who have done time.  I don’t even think I’m wrong to pay money for books about prison life.  I figure they serve a purpose and writing a book for money is a lot better than committing crimes for money.  It’s hard for people who have been in the big house to make a living once they get out.

For her part, Erin George writes a fascinating book, for many reasons.  She’ll never get to enjoy the fruits of her labors the way an ex-con would.  She is never getting out of prison and she’s doing time in Virginia, which is notoriously tough on crime.

From her book, I guess she’s sorry she committed a crime, though she doesn’t go too much into what put her in prison.  I had to look up her case online to glean much information about it.   

I think once I have some lunch, I might go check out PrisonTalk.com and dig up some more info.

ETA:  Here is my review of Erin’s book.

A female prisoner opens up about life in a Virginia prison Dec 2, 2010 (Updated Mar 6, 2013) 

Review by knotheadusc

 in Books Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros: Very well-written. Realistic account of being incarcerated. I related to Erin George.

Cons: I didn’t like the summaries at the beginning of each chapter.

The Bottom Line: Erin George dishes on what it’s like to do time in Virginia.

Those of you who regularly read my book reviews probably know that I love to read books about real people, especially when they have to do with true crime. I also love to have a good excuse to buy new books. As it so happened, last week I found myself on Amazon.com ordering some productivity software for my new Mac, which gave me the perfect excuse to buy one of the books on my wish list. The one that seemed to be calling out my name to be read was entitled A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women (2010), written by Erin George and edited by Robert Johnson.  

I didn’t know it when I bought this book, but Erin George and I have some things in common. First off, she’s from Virginia, like I am. She’s just a few years older than I am and had once attended Longwood College, now Longwood University, which is the college where I earned my degree in English. And she gets a lot of fulfillment out of writing and working with dogs. Of course, there’s one major difference between Erin George and me; she’s in prison and I’m not. Erin George is currently serving 603 years at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women for the murder of her husband, James George, in May 2001.  

A familiar path on the way to “The Big House”

At the beginning of A Women Doing Life, George describes being driven down a familiar country road, the same road she used to take to get to Longwood. This time, however, she’s not on her way to college. George explains that this will probably be her last trip on this very familiar stretch of road because she’s on her way to prison to start serving a startlingly long sentence. Her three children, Jack, Francesca, and Giovanna, who had once been at the center of her life in Aquia Harbor in Stafford County, were now living with her in laws in England. Actually, given the nature of George’s crime, I’m surprised she still refers to her husband’s parents as family. But by her account, they are surprisingly cooperative in allowing her access to her kids, bringing them to visit her on an annual basis all the way from England.

Erin George doesn’t explain too much about her crime. She hints that she’s the victim of an unfair trial. Instead of writing that her husband was murdered, she writes that he was killed. She never actually admits to the act in a straightforward way, even though she does at one point refer to James George’s murder as “my crime”. Because she had no prior troubles with the law, Erin George had initially bonded out of jail after her arrest. Seven months later, she was returned to jail and was later found guilty of shooting her husband at point blank range, supposedly for insurance money. George never actually tells her readers the details of her crime; I found them out by looking her up on the Internet.

First thing’s first 

After establishing her trip to prison, George offers some details about her initial arrest and stay in jail. According to George, prison is a lot more comfortable than jail is, even though most people in jail are considered “innocent” because they haven’t yet been tried for their crimes. Going to Fluvanna was actually a relief because it meant that she could start to settle in, make some friends, and get a job. George offers a few details about her experiences at the Rappahannock Regional Jail, but then jumps into life in prison.  

As someone who had grown up in a stable home with loving parents, Erin George was somewhat unusual. Her high level of education and intelligence also made her valuable as a Scrabble referee; apparently, Scrabble is a popular way for inmates to pass the time. George teaches inmates who are studying to earn their G.E.D.s.  She is also involved with a program called Pen Pals, which has inmates training homeless dogs so they can be adopted.

In the course of my research for this review, I discovered that one of the other participants in the Pen Pals program is none other than Jennifer Kszepka, a woman who, in 1992, made big headlines in my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia. As a suicidal fifteen year old, Kszepka and two friends murdered her father and sister and tried to kill her mother. They then fled in Kszepka’s mother’s car until they were captured in Eureka, Nevada. Months ago, I had been curious about Kszepka’s case and did more research about it. I found out that she was training dogs in prison. As I researched Erin George, I found her mentioned in the very same article I had found about Kszepka months earlier. I was gratified to read that both Erin George and Jennifer Kszepka are both using their time in prison wisely. Indeed, it was in prison that Erin George discovered her talent for writing and developed a love for poetry.  

George describes herself as a model prisoner dedicated to following the rules. She writes that she’s not impressed with those who get out of prison only to show up again months later. I guess I can’t blame her for her disgust. If I were facing 603 years in prison with no hope of parole, I’d probably be annoyed by former inmates who reoffended too.

The basic necessities of life

Aside from keeping busy with poorly paid prison work, George describes prison food, prison medical care, and the many prison rules George must follow. George is lucky enough to have family members who send her money so she can buy things at the commissary to supplement the prison issued food and toiletries. Many of her fellow inmates are not so fortunate and must rely on their very meager earnings from the state to buy things like ramen noodles and shampoo from the prison run commissary.  

George has plenty to say about prison style health care as well. Contrary to popular belief, prisoners do have to pay to see medical staff. According to George, it can take a long time to get necessary treatments and prescriptions filled. Sometimes the medical staff is less than empathetic toward the women in their care.

Relationships with prison staff

George also writes about some of the people who work in her prison. For the most part, she writes that she’s handled very professionally, but not all officers conduct themselves appropriately. Her thoughts on the prison staff adds yet another dimension to her story about life behind bars.

My thoughts  

I was pleasantly surprised by how well-written Erin George’s book is. She really does have a knack for writing and I can tell that she’s an avid reader. I wish she had explained more about what put her in prison in the first place, but I guess I can understand why she would choose to omit that part of the story. Suffice it to say that this book is really about what it’s like for a woman to be in prison, not how she ended up in prison.  

I get the feeling that before she “went down”, Erin McCay George had never given much thought to the plight of prisoners. Now that she is one herself, she has a lot more empathy for them. I suspect that a lot of people will not be too impressed with George’s plight, since so many people live by the “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” mantra. But as a fellow human being, I felt some empathy for Erin George and her fellow inmates. They’re still human beings even if they did commit heinous crimes.

One thing I didn’t like about this book is that every chapter begins with a summary written by editor Robert Johnson. This summary is presented in italics and basically restates what George writes in her chapters. I’m sure Johnson had a reason for including his take on things, but I found it a bit redundant, unnecessary, and annoying. Readers should also know that this book is chock full of quoted references. I actually appreciated the citations, since they make further reading on the subject easier, but they also make the book seem a bit academic and formal.  

At the end of the book  

George ends her book with an afterword by Joycelyn Pollock, whose research is liberally quoted in George’s manuscript. Beyond the afterword, there are a couple of appendices that include a glossary of prison slang terms and a prison cookbook. For some reason, the appendices are presented upside down and you have to flip the book to be able to read them. 

Overall

I guess Erin George’s situation is a grim reminder that anyone can end up in prison, even if they’ve been raised in a loving, stable home and given access to higher education. But every cloud has its silver lining and it appears that Erin George is trying to make the best of her situation. I would certainly recommend her book, A Woman Doing Life, to anyone who is interested in learning more about what it’s like to be behind bars.

Recommend this product? Yes

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

And here are the original comments from this post.

AlexisARMarch 7, 2013 at 5:35 AM

I can’t read much of prison literature genre because I start imagining myself wrongly accused of a crime and incarcerated, and then i start having bad dreams. Eventually i’ll hit the mature realization that not everything is all about me, at which point I’ll start to experience more of the real world. It’s surreal that you had so many indirect links to this woman.

To my ear, some names just don’t equate with hardened crime. Erin is one of those names. I suppose if the stakes were high enough, even someone given the name, “Holy Mary, Mother of God” might a least contemplate violent crime.

knottyMarch 7, 2013 at 1:11 PM

I did some more checking and it looks like Erin McCay George was at my college the same time I was. She was editor of the student newspaper, a year behind me even though she was older, and there was a big scandal when she was in charge. She published all the salaries of the faculty and there was a huge uproar.

I didn’t know her personally, but I know who she is. That makes this even weirder.

Tambra HaidonJanuary 20, 2015 at 5:55 PM

Very interested in this topic. My Justice class is reading George’s book for our class. I get the feeling our professor believes in George’s innocence however, I am not convinced. This article definitely, and the comment, puts a different perspective on the case. Do you have any information on why George’s sentence was 603 years? Also do you know any place I can read about the facts of the trial? Thank vyou!!!

  1. knottyJanuary 21, 2015 at 11:12 AMHi! That’s really something that Erin’s book is being used in a college class. You may want to read my next post on this topic if you haven’t already. I don’t know exactly why her sentence was 603 years, except that Virginia is very tough on crime and abolished parole. Obviously, she won’t serve that much time– but with that sentence, they are assured she won’t ever get out of prison. Fredericksburg.com used to have articles about the case posted and I had them linked in my next post, but I see now that they’ve been removed. You may want to try the WayBack machine.  

Eliseo WeinsteinAugust 8, 2016 at 8:16 AM

I can see why you have developed an interest in reading about prison. The way you describe and talk about Erin George has made me think about what it must be like for someone to be locked up for such a long time. On a more personal note, I have family members that have been to prison, but we don’t ask many questions about what it was like on the inside. However, I will definitely look into some of your book suggestions.

  1. knottyAugust 9, 2016 at 5:43 AMI would imagine it might be awkward talking about prison to those who have been, though some might actually want to talk about it. I hope my suggestions are helpful and interesting.


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true crime

Foreshadowing trouble…

This morning, I was looking at my Statcounter hits, and I noticed that I got one from Blackboard, educational software that is frequently used at colleges and universities in the United States. The person who hit my old blog was evidently at Drexel University. He or she read a post I wrote about a book I read, written by a college classmate who is now in prison. As I was revisiting that post this morning, I felt a little flabbergasted by how much technology has changed since my undergraduate days. When I was in college in the 1990s, we didn’t have Blackboard. In fact, we barely had the Internet back then. By the time I was in graduate school from 1999-2002, Blackboard was commonly used around the country.

Several years ago, on my old blog, I wrote a post called Prison. It was inspired by a thread I had read on RfM. Someone had posted that a family member was about to go to prison and they wanted information about what it would be like. I remembered that a few years prior, I had read a number of books about the prison experience. One of the books I read and reviewed was entitled A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women (2010). Although I didn’t realize it the first time I read that book, back in 2010, I actually knew the author, Erin McCay George. We went to college together in Farmville, Virginia. As I read Erin’s book the first time, I kept marveling at how much we had in common, right down to having attended Longwood University (then known as Longwood College) at the same time.

When I revisited Erin’s book in 2013, it suddenly dawned on me who she was. Longwood was a very small, close-knit school in the 1990s. It’s grown a bit since I was a student, but it’s still a very friendly campus. I have many friends from my college days, which as of this year are 25 years in the past. I even still speak to former professors, and they actually remember me! Bill marvels about that, since he went to much larger American University, where he was just one of thousands of students.

Because the campus was so close-knit, it was easy to get to know “of” people. I wasn’t buddies with Erin George, but I definitely knew who she was. She was friendly with people I knew better, and in fact, had been a very controversial editor of our school newspaper. One of my friends worked with the Student Government Association and knew Erin because she was accused of embezzling money that was intended for the newspaper. Erin evidently left the country while the case was being investigated and never graduated from Longwood.

So, the next post I composed after “Prison” was called “I actually DO know Erin McCay George.” That post is now six years old, but it’s attracted a lot of attention that continues today. I got comments from several people who also know Erin, including one from one of her children, who was sent to England to live after her mother was sent to prison for 603 years for murdering her husband over insurance money. I’ve also gotten comments from college students whose professors are using Erin’s book in their criminal justice classes, as well as people who knew her at Longwood, or knew her husband’s family in England.

As I was rereading that post this morning, it occurred to me how pieces of a story can come together. It’s really fascinating. For much of my life, I didn’t have access to the Internet. Now that it’s as ubiquitous as indoor plumbing, I can communicate with people from all over the world and get more of a story than I would have otherwise had. But I also have the benefit of hindsight, and this morning, I’m remember the controversy that made Erin a campus name back in 1992.

It was all over a newspaper article that appeared on the front page of The Rotunda in the fall of ’92. Erin had penned an expose over the disparities in faculty salaries, and went as far as to publish them in the newspaper. Thinking about that situation now, it seems crazy that people would have gotten into such a tizzy over the salary information, especially since Erin George is currently doing 603 years for murder in a big death penalty state. But I do remember people were very upset about it and Erin came under fire for printing the information for everyone to see. Actually, looking at the numbers, I’m a bit horrified by how low the salaries were. I know it was 1992, but jeez, most of the profs weren’t making a lot of money!

This caused quite a stir!
And so did this.

Then, I remembered there was a controversy about condoms in the newspaper. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this accurately, and as of right now, I’m looking to see if I can find the actual issue, but I seem to remember that Erin was responsible for condoms being distributed within the newspaper. I could be wrong, though. I’ll keep looking to see if I can find the proof. ETA: I’m right. In the screenshot, you can read Julie Wiley’s comments about the infamous SEX issue of the paper. I don’t think I got an issue of that paper myself, even though they were freely distributed around campus. They went fast because college students are always keen to get things for free… condoms were probably especially valuable.

What I did find while searching the archives is a supportive letter to the editor written by a math professor from back in the day. Behold:

She could have been a legit editor, had she only managed to stay out of the criminal element.

In searching the archives, I’m not finding the unsigned sheet Dr. Webber mentions. I suspect that some people in the know decided to put them in the paper after they had already been printed. The above letter would have been printed in the fall of 1993, but Erin was married by March 1994. My SGA friend told me that Erin abruptly left the country while she was being investigated for allegedly embezzling funds intended for the newspaper. Erin was also mentioned in The Virginian, Longwood’s yearbook, for making comments about how the yearbook was funded:

Incidentally, I also knew Julie Wiley when I was at Longwood.

I went looking for the infamous SEX issue, but I can’t find it posted anywhere. However, I did find the article about the SGA and its funding of the yearbook. Interestingly enough, the piece appears to be more of an editorial than a news article, yet it appears on the front page.

News or opinion? It’s funny to look at this article, since I remember a number of the people named within it. Most of them are not sitting in prison.

And the article got a lot of responses from the community…

I knew these folks, too… They had a good point.
MB Stradley is one of my friends. We got back in touch when she found an article I wrote about yet another murderer we encountered when we were students. Of course, when she wrote this letter, it was before Erin George was a convicted killer.

Anyway… it’s been interesting to take this walk down memory lane. It doesn’t seem like I graduated from college 25 years ago, but it’s pretty funny to read some of the back issues of The Rotunda during the Erin McCay years. It’s amazing what you can find when you look in the past. While I’m sure none of us ever thought the controversial newspaper reporter would one day wind up in prison and write a book that gets used in college courses, I think some of what was written in our college paper sort of foreshadows the fact that Ms. George was destined to find trouble. Farmville, Virginia is a pleasant, quiet, college town, but it’s had its share of craziness. On the other hand, rock star Jason Mraz was once a Longwood student, too.

See? It’s actually a great place to go to school. I loved my time there.

Edited to add: I found this clipping from 1992 about the infamous Sex issue of the Rotunda…

“College Newspaper Comes With Condoms” United Press International (09/25/92) 

Farmville, Va.–Longwood College’s student newspaper this week was published with a condom taped inside each copy. Erin McCay, editor-in-chief of the Rotunda, said, “The purpose of this issue was to raise awareness.” She added that she was “appalled by the Victorian attitude toward sex, and the grim repercussions that that attitude can have.” The newspaper was headlined, “SEX!! SEX!! SEX!! IN THE NINETIES.” The condoms were stuck on page eight in a box headed, “Just Use It.” Dean of students Tim Pierson said the issue was “inappropriate.” Advertising revenue paid for the condoms, according to McCay, who was summoned to a meeting Friday with Phyllis Mable, vice president for student affairs. The special edition entailed stories and commentary about date rape, AIDS on college campuses, and attitudes about sex as well as unrelated articles. A total of 1,200 copies of the Rotunda were distributed around campus on Monday night and were gone by early Tuesday.

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