book reviews, true crime

Repost: Kathryn Casey’s Deliver Us…

And here’s one more repost of a review I originally posted in April 2015, Kathryn Casey’s Deliver Us.

For the past several weeks, I have been trying to read Kathryn Casey’s 2015 book, Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields.  I used to be able to rip through books in a matter of days, but I think I’ve gotten too attached to Facebook games, beer, and wine.  I get distracted and my reading habit suffers. 

Since Epinions is no longer around to give me a sense of urgency, I put off getting through books, even when they are especially interesting.  As it stands right now, I have several books waiting to be read, some of which are actual books and not on the Kindle.  Anyway, I finally finished the Kindle version of Ms. Casey’s latest this book this morning.  This will no doubt excite one of my Epinions friends now turned one of my Facebook friends.  He actually knows Kathryn Casey.  

Deliver Us is a book about more than twenty women and girls who were mysteriously murdered on a fifty mile stretch of highway.  These murders took place over a span of three decades and were within the journey from Houston to Galveston, Texas.  Rather than focus on one murder case, Kathryn Casey has researched and written about the large number of victims and put it into one impressive and well-written volume.  Some of the stories are fascinating.  All are heartbreaking, as the victims were uniformly young and beautiful and much loved by friends and family.

While I usually like to read true crime books that focus on just a single case, I do think Deliver Us works well in its multi-faceted approach.  However, the fact that this was about so many different cases may be the main reason why it took so long to finish the book.  I would read a chapter dedicated to a victim, then put the Kindle down to sleep.  Since each chapter pretty much covers a case, I wasn’t left wanting to know what would come next.  It was easy to put off my reading.

I would have thought this book would have been about a single killer, but in fact, there were several criminals hunting in the “Texas Killing Fields”.  While it’s not always pleasant to read about the unsavory people who stalk and kill others, I have to admit that Casey does a great job outlining the cases.  In one chapter, she writes of a man who killed a teenager in Texas.  The murder went unsolved for a long time before the killer got arrested in Louisiana on a felony charge.  In Texas, DNA samples are only collected in cases of sexual assault or murder, but in Louisiana, they are collected from anyone accused of a felony.  The killer’s DNA was collected and he was finally linked to the Texas murder.  The young woman’s family finally saw him brought to justice and got some closure.

In another heartbreaking story, she writes of a young girl who lost her mother to breast cancer when she was just a toddler.  The girl was adopted by her father’s second wife and was enjoying an idyllic upbringing in a rural area near Houston.  She was well on her way to becoming a ballerina when one night, just a couple of days before her thirteenth birthday, she decided to go for a jog.  The land near her formerly rural home was being developed as many people were moving to Texas for work.  Lots of strangers were in the neighborhood, doing construction on the new homes.  That fact would lead to the girl’s tragically early demise.  Having just left San Antonio last year, I could easily imagine the housing developments Casey wrote of.  I have seen (and lived in) them myself.  At the same time, how sad that this family was so tragically affected by progress.  Would the girl still be alive if the area had stayed rural?  Maybe.

I liked Deliver Us for all the usual reasons I enjoy Kathryn Casey’s books.  She’s very good at conveying the human side of stories.  It’s that human side that gets people to read true crime; when it’s missing, all you have is a gory story about someone meeting an unfortunate end. 

Having recently lived in Texas and driven through Houston and the surrounding areas, I could easily picture the landscape Casey writes of.  I think that was another reason Deliver Us was appealing to me.  That, and I like the fact that Casey keeps a conversational tone.  I feel like she’s actually communicating with me through her writing, even though we don’t know each other.  Maybe I feel that way because I have read most of Casey’s other books.  At one point, she mentions another book she wrote about serial rapist, James Bergstrom.  I read that book in 1994, when it was first published as The Rapist’s Wife.  It has since been re-published under the title Evil Beside Her.  Casey mentions that case because James Bergstrom was able to get away with rape for many years due to his ability to switch jurisdictions and fly under the radar.  Nowadays, it’s not as easy to do that.    

I always make a point of reading Kathryn Casey’s excellent true crime books.  I think of her as the Ann Rule of Texas.  Most of her books highlight murder cases that happen in Texas, specifically Houston.  They are always well-researched and respectful to the victims.  Some readers may find Deliver Us to be harder to get into because of the volume of cases covered.  There is less detail provided to each story because there are so many of them.  On the other hand, some people may like that there are many stories in one book.  It does make finding a stopping point easier.     

I would recommend Deliver Us to true crime lovers.  Just remember that this is not one person’s story.  It’s many stories that come from a common area in Texas.  And now that I’ve read this book, if I ever drive along I-45 in Texas, I will be extra careful not to break down!

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: A review of Kathryn Casey’s Possessed: The Infamous Texas Stiletto Murder

And here’s another reposted book review, a 2016 era look at another excellent true crime book by Texas true crime author, Kathryn Casey.

Right after I finished listening to the video by Dave Foley and his horrible first divorce, I went to bed and finished reading true crime writer Kathryn Casey’s latest book, Possessed: The Infamous Texas Stiletto Murder.  I’ve been working on this book for awhile now, but it’s kind of fitting that I finished it last night.  It ties in nicely with my post about Dave Foley’s allegedly personality disordered ex wife.

Possessed, was released in late September.  It’s the tragic story of Stefan Andersson, a brilliant Swedish scientist whose life ended at age 59 at the hands of a crazed woman named Ana Trujillo.  Or… maybe I should say that his life ended at Trujillo’s feet, given Trujillo’s choice of a murder weapon.

Casey starts at the beginning, explaining how Andersson earned a doctoral degree and decided to move to Texas, where it’s warm and there’s plenty of sunshine.  Andersson was single and enjoyed a burgeoning career in Dallas for years before his work finally took him to Houston.  While he was in Houston, Andersson met Ana Trujillo, a woman who was born in Mexico but had been raised in the United States.  She had eventually settled in Texas, where she would regularly haunt the bars.  She eventually met Stefan Andersson and they began a relationship.  

Andersson was reportedly a very generous and kind man.  He loved women in high heels and wouldn’t blink at spending $1500 on designer stiletto heels for the women he dated.  Anytime a friend or a lover had trouble, he would bend over backwards to help them to the best of his ability.  It was his generous nature that got him wedged into an unfortunate union with Trujillo, who eventually moved into his apartment and spent his money.  When he’d try to extricate himself from the relationship, Trujillo would dig in her heels, sometimes in a violent manner.

Andersson was also fond of drinking alcohol.  Casey explains that Andersson frequented bars in the Houston area.  He and Trujillo would go out drinking and became a familiar sight at some of the bars closest to Andersson’s home.  Trujillo also had other male friends who could attest that she could get nasty when she didn’t get her way.  One lover was victimized publicly when Ana saw him in a bar.  She approached him as if she wanted to kiss him on the head, but she bit him hard, causing him to cry out in pain.  She had a truly violent streak, even though she claimed to have been a victim of abuse and violence herself.  Somehow, Trujillo had the idea that being an alleged victim of violence gave her a pass to hurt other people.  

Throughout the book, Casey explains things Trujillo did that made Andersson’s friends raise their eyebrows.  She had a habit of abusing men, not just Andersson, but other guys who had relationships with her.  Trujillo later claimed that she had a history of being abused by men.  Andersson had apparently been trying to break off his relationship with Trujillo.  He reportedly wanted her out of his life, once and for all.  She refused to go without a fight.

On the evening of June 9, 2013, Trujillo and Andersson were in Andersson’s apartment when they had their final fight.  Trujillo claimed that Andersson was drunk and had lost control.  She claimed that he had attacked her in an alcoholic rage, so she used her size 9, designer made, $1500 stiletto heels to defend herself.  Andersson ended up being struck at least 25 times in the head with the spiky heels, while investigators noted that Trujillo had few injuries that suggested she’d had to defend herself.  She still tried to play the victim and claimed that she had killed in self defense.  

Not quite a year later, a Texas jury found Trujillo guilty of murder.  She will likely spend the rest of her life in prison, since she will not be eligible for parole until she is 74 years old.

Kathryn Casey is a Houston based true crime writer whose craft reminds me a lot of the late Ann Rule.  She does a great job outlining the facts in this case while keeping the story interesting and engaging.  While I don’t remember hearing about Ana Trujillo’s case when it was going on (and I was living in Texas when she was convicted), I can see how this story would be hot news.  Actually, I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it when it was happening.

At the end of the book, Casey notes that the case had a real international flair.  Although Andersson became a naturalized citizen, his family and friends from Sweden came to Texas for the trial and to help settle his affairs.  Trujillo was Mexican, although she had also made America her home.  After the verdict was read, Casey notes that Trujillo’s family apologized to Andersson’s family and they all hugged each other, embracing peace after such a brutal case. 

I recommend Possession.  I’ve read several of Kathryn Casey’s books and I think this is one of her better ones.  I’d give it a solid four stars out of five.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: A review of Kathryn Casey’s In Plain Sight: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders

Here’s a quick repost of a book review I wrote of In Plain Sight, a book written by true crime author, Kathryn Casey. This review was written and originally appeared in April 2018.

True crime writer Kathryn Casey has just published her latest book, In Plain Sight: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders.  I purchased it on April 2nd, just a few days after it was first made available on Amazon.com.  I make a habit of reading Kathryn Casey’s books.  Her writing reminds me a little bit of the late Ann Rule’s.  While Ann Rule focused her books mostly on cases in the Pacific Northwest, Casey’s mostly focus on Texas.  In Plain Sight is no exception.  This book is about three murders that took place in Kaufman County, Texas.  

On January 31, 2013, former attorney and Justice of the Peace, Eric Williams, shot and killed Assistant District Attorney Mark Haase.  Two months later, the day before Easter, Williams murdered prosecutor Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, as they slept.  On April 18, 2013, Eric Williams and his wife, Kim, were arrested for all three murders.  Eric Williams is currently on death row.  His wife was sentenced to forty years in prison.  She will be eligible for parole starting in 2033. 

On the surface, Eric Williams had seemed like a very solid, dependable, and most of all, intelligent, man.  He was a member of Mensa and had served in the Army before he worked for a well-known judge who encouraged him to go to law school.  Williams became a lawyer and worked on a lot of cases involving child custody.  For years, his career seemed to hum along, despite the fact that he had been diagnosed with diabetes.  

Williams married his wife, Kim, and for the first three years, their marriage seemed to be going well.  But then Kim developed medical problems that left her in pain and disabled.  She quit working and soon began taking a lot of medications that caused her to sleep all day.  The couple experienced financial problems when Williams’ custody and CPS cases were curtailed.  Meanwhile, Williams carefully hid a dark side.  He collected weapons, ammunition, and even had homemade Napalm.  He never forgot a slight, even though in person, Williams looked rather harmless.

Williams eventually decided to run for Justice of the Peace.  Against the odds, he won the election.  Six months after the election, Williams ran afoul of procedure when he was caught on video surveillance taking $600 worth of computer monitors with plans to use them in an unauthorized manner.  Williams was arrested, and Haase and McLelland zealously prosecuted him after Williams refused to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.  Because he was found guilty, Williams lost the right to practice law.  He also lost his health insurance, which was very important because both he and his wife had serious health problems.  While he didn’t quite lose everything, Williams lost enough that he was left enraged.    

Many people felt the zealous prosecution against Williams did not fit the crime.  Williams’ legal career was pretty much ruined, which gave him a motive to murder Haase.  Williams gunned him down in broad daylight.  For weeks, it was assumed that Haase was murdered by members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, since Haase was a tough prosecutor who had sent many people to prison.  But then there wasn’t a break in the case.

Haase’s boss was District Attorney Mike McLelland, who, like Eric Williams, had been in the Army.  McLelland was also a gun enthusiast.  With Haase dead, Williams had a score to settle.  He got his wife, Kim, to drive the getaway car to McLelland’s residence.  There, Williams massacred Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, even though Cynthia had done nothing to Williams.  In fact, Cynthia was a well-respected and much loved nurse who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and enjoyed quilting.  But because she was with her husband when Williams decided to kill him, she died too.

Kathryn Casey has done a really good job with this very interesting and convoluted story.  It’s a classic tale of a psychopath with a well hidden dark side.  Williams was a self-proclaimed genius, yet he made many stupid and careless mistakes that led to his downfall.  Many people who are super smart make the mistake of assuming that they are smarter than everyone else is.  They get overly confident and that causes them to trip up.  In Williams’ case, his wife, Kim, also testified against him. 

Casey interviewed both Eric and Kim Williams in prison and she describes Kim as someone who is embarrassed and remorseful about where she is.  Although she was heavily under the influence of narcotics when the crimes were committed, she now only takes medication for rheumatoid arthritis.  The clarity she has now, thanks to being off the drugs, has made her realize that she made a terrible mistake.  As for Williams, Casey writes that he has a wry sense of humor and seemed somewhat impatient when she’d ask him to repeat himself.  It’s like he’s impatient with people whose intellect doesn’t match his… or the intellect he thinks he has, anyway.

Anyway, if you like true crime, I think In Plain Sight is well worth the read.  It’s well-written, well-researched, and very compelling.  And it also shows just how nuts about guns a lot of people in Texas are.  Some pictures are also included.

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humor, music, social media

Oscar the Grouch never invited anyone to his trash can…

The weirdness of the past nine months are starting to get to me somewhat. Last night, I was feeling “cheeky”, as the Brits would say. Although I haven’t personally suffered as much as a lot of people have, I have been feeling kind of “tense” lately. Little things bug me more than they might usually, not that I’m a particularly laid back person to start with.

I always get a bit nutty during the holidays. When I was growing up, the holidays were always fraught with expectations that were never quite met. As I became an adult, the holidays became downright unpleasant. For several years, my eldest sister hosted our family gatherings in her house. I can remember a lot of fights with my sisters and tense moments with my parents, especially my dad.

The last time I spent Christmas with my family of origin was in 2003, just after my sister Sarah had her son, who turned out to be the last grandchild. Imagine that. My parents had four girls. You’d expect there would have been a lot of grandkids for them. But nope… My sister Betsy had two kids, a girl and a boy, Becky never married, Sarah had a son, and Bill and I couldn’t have kids thanks to his vasectomy. The older I get, the more I think that might have been a blessing. Family life has become surreal these days. I feel kind of divorced from mine.

Add in the shitshow that 2020 has been, and this year’s holiday season is even weirder than usual. So I had a good laugh when I ran across a funny video by Sandy and Richard Riccardi, a talented couple on YouTube and Facebook who make funny parodies of popular songs. A lot of their material is political, but sometimes they do songs about common situations that come up in everyday life. I think the first song I ever heard by this funny duo was a song called “Unfriend Me”…

Listen all the way to the end for the punchline.

Since Trump came on the scene, this couple has come out with some very amusing songs about him, as well as some of the current events that affect everyone. I like a lot of their stuff, but I don’t always love what they do. Like, for instance, I wasn’t a big fan of this song…

Yeah, I know… I know… but I am so fucking tired of hearing about it.

To be clear… I get that the masks are necessary for now. I’m just really fed up with some how people feel emboldened to constantly clobber people over the head about them. I hate the aggressive, belligerent, and obnoxious hashtags, and in your face slogans like, “Wear a damn mask!”. I don’t think those types of messages are helpful. They certainly don’t inspire respect or compliance.

Yesterday, I was reading a Facebook thread started by true crime author Kathryn Casey, who wrote that she had sent away a couple of maskless workers who had come over to do work on her house. The workers mocked Casey’s husband when he asked them to wear masks while they were working. A thread ensued, in which people were congratulating Casey for sending away the maskless workers and hiring a different company. Casey’s choice to fire the workers would have been alright with me, but accompanying those comments were others that were hostile and aggressive. One lady wrote about how she was tired of how non mask wearers were so “belligerent”. Then she wrote, “Wear a damn mask or stay home!”

Another lady wrote that she was tired of people telling her to “wear a damn mask or stay home.” She explained that she has an eating disorder, lives in a remote area where grocery delivery is unavailable, and has a medical problem that prevents her from wearing a mask. None of her friends or family have offered to help her, so she’s been having to deal with people getting up in her face about her lack of a mask for what, I assume, is a real medical problem.

A third woman came along and, in a rather haughty, holier than thou tone, asked what the woman’s medical problem was. She included a news article (which is what everybody seems to use to cite their points these days) and claimed, per the news article, that there are very few medical problems that actually prevent a person from wearing a mask. This woman added that maybe she could see it if the woman with the eating disorder had a burn on her face or something. But otherwise, she felt the lady with the eating disorder was full of shit– despite not knowing her or her personal situation.

I couldn’t restrain myself from commenting. I feel like a lot of people aren’t really giving this issue much consideration. If I sit here and think about it, I can think of several medical problems that might make wearing a mask difficult or impossible for some people. Just off the top of my head, I’m remembering the two men I’ve met at different times in my life who were literally missing parts of their ears and had trouble using their hands due to injuries they’d sustained in wars. Then there are people who don’t hear well, have speech impediments or breathing problems, deal with severe anxiety or PTSD issues, or have trouble with their vision.

But most people don’t stop and consider people who really do have legitimate problems with wearing the masks. They just say, “Wear a damn mask!” If someone doesn’t or can’t comply, they think they are entitled to an explanation regarding another person’s private medical situation. And they think their opinions about another person’s circumstances have merit, and they are entitled to weigh in, even though they don’t know the other person from Adam and aren’t any more knowledgeable about the pandemic, or public health issues in general, than the average person is.

The “Wear a damn mask” slogan, in my opinion, is too aggressive. Those who truly don’t care about others will simply ignore it. Those who can’t comply will just feel worse than they need to about something beyond their control. And that harsh directive just adds to the overall dehumanized, dystopian, and downright creepy vibe in the air this year. It’s very depressing to me. Although personally, I don’t have it bad at all, I often think of the relatives I’ve recently lost and think they’re lucky to have escaped this living hell. The future seems bleak, and the constant anger and polarization only makes it worse. It makes me want to check out.

I can’t be the only one who feels like this, so I decided to respond to the woman with the eating disorder. I wrote that I was sorry she was having a hard time and I hoped it would get better for her. And I find it rich that people are complaining about belligerent “anti maskers” while they make aggressive demands like “Wear a damn mask!”, and aren’t willing to consider why people legitimately can’t or won’t wear a mask. I added that I won’t ask her what her health problems are, because they are none of my business.

Frankly, if I see someone who isn’t following the rules, I just stay away from them, if I can. I don’t automatically assume they’re selfish assholes. While I’m well aware that there are selfish assholes out there who simply don’t want to comply with the rules, it’s less depressing to me to assume the best about people whenever possible. Or, at least I like to tell myself that.

After that little exchange, I was feeling tense. But I ran across another funny, snarky song by the Riccardis. This one was called “Braggy Christmas Letter”. It had nothing to do with any of today’s most annoying and pervasive topics. I just thought it was funny, so I shared it.

I don’t get too many of these. It’s probably because I don’t go to church.

I had a good laugh as I listened to this song. It reminded me of how, about fifteen years ago, I ran across a family Web site created by a Mormon doctor in Wyoming who, by all images, seemed to be living the perfect life. I remember this guy had every single braggy Christmas letter he’d ever written posted on his site. He’d been divorced, but he even included the letters he’d written while he was with his first wife. I remember sharing that site with people on RfM, who are very familiar with “braggy Christmas letters”. While I don’t think the Mormons have cornered the market on this particular habit, I do think churches that promote a “prosperity gospel” message– ie; if you’re doing really well financially, that means God is smiling on you– prompt certain religious people to send these types of Christmas messages, even if they’re stretching the truth. It’s the whole, smug “seriously, so blessed” vibe that, on the surface, may seem harmless, but can make other people feel really small and devalued.

I didn’t think the above video would be controversial, but somehow even the most innocuous things can become that way. Why? Because everyone is different and sees things differently. Apparently, some people like getting “braggy Christmas letters”. I’m sure they have their reasons for feeling that way. Maybe they genuinely like reading that others are “seriously, so blessed”, with expensive houses, fancy cars, perfect figures, and fat bank accounts. I guess they’re above the petty, snarky people who poke fun. Or they like to appear that way.

I don’t mind getting newsy letters that contain positive news, especially when they aren’t mass produced. But there’s a big difference between a friendly letter with happy news in it and a letter that seems meant to make other people feel insignificant and second rate. The letter Sandy Riccardi is singing is the latter type, and I can’t imagine being happy to receive one of those, especially if they come every year like clockwork. I wonder if the people who were being contrary on that thread actually listened to the song before they commented. Or maybe they just wanted to feed their own egos by being contrary and “above” the snark.

So I got even more tense and grouchy… and Bill, who is always game to make me laugh (and it’s not hard to do), said “You know, Oscar the Grouch never invites anyone to his trash can.”

To which I responded, “But I invited you, Bill. How do you like the smell?”

And then we both laughed.

There was a time when most people had real conversations with people face to face or, at least, on the phone. Nowadays, a lot of us connect via social media. That can lead to a host of communication problems that range from everything from misunderstandings to people feeling emboldened to be mean or smarmy because they’re behind a screen. Some folks also feel that social media is the best place for them to preach or “set a good example” for others to follow. I will admit that it’s annoying to me when people feel the need to check their neighbors and give them unsolicited “special help”. It makes me grouchy.

At the risk of rambling on too long… here’s another example that came along last night. I read a news article in the Washington Post about people who have decided to get plastic surgery during the pandemic. Why? Because they don’t like how they look on Zoom calls. I don’t usually comment on newspaper’s Facebook pages because comments there invite interaction with unusually obnoxious people. But I thought this was an innocuous comment…

I don’t even wear a bra anymore. I figure people can deal with my sagging boobs as well as my wrinkles and jowls. It’s been a rough year.

A lot of people thought it was funny. But then I got this response, which sounded like something my mother might say…

I choose to care about my appearance because if I look good, I feel equally good!

(My mom did actually say that shit to me when I was a teenager, dirty and stinky from hanging out at the barn all day, or simply not wanting to dress up and put on my face. Mom likes wearing her makeup. I don’t. What can I say? People are different.)

So my response was…

Here… have a cookie. Or a Coke and a smile… and then, kindly STFU. You do you, and I’ll do me, mmmkay?

Most of us are legitimately guilty of being smug sometimes, and inflicting our self-righteous, superior bullshit on others. Sometimes I do it myself, although I try to be conscious of it. I mean, you might say I did the same thing to the woman who was harassing the lady with the eating disorder about her reluctance to “wear a damn mask”. But I doubt the lady with the eating disorder will offer me a cookie, especially as I dwell in my trash can of grouchiness.

One last note: I think my landlord’s grandsons think I’m grouchy. They rang my doorbell yesterday while I was binge watching The Crown. I thought they were delivery people. I opened the door; the dog was barking; I wasn’t dressed; and they were speaking very quietly in German. I didn’t understand or even hear them very well, so I said I didn’t understand and closed the door.

In my defense, in Jettingen, I used to get visits all the time from all manner of people wanting to sell everything from many kilos of apples and potatoes to religion or charities. The visitors came in all shapes, sizes, and ages. I had not met my landlord’s grandchildren, so I didn’t know who they were.

They rang the bell again, and my landlord asked me if I wouldn’t mind fetching their ball, which had gone over the fence. I felt pretty bad, and I noticed that one of the boys was cowering under our front stoop. I got the ball and tossed it to my landlord. Then I noticed he’d left us a wheelbarrow full of firewood. Later, I spotted their ball in the backyard again and felt another pang of guilt. I guess the kids were too afraid to tell me the ball was back in my yard. I tossed it over the fence for them. Hope they find it.

I’m really not a bitch most of the time… I’m just on edge, as we all are. Hopefully, next year will be better.

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