mental health, movies, true crime, TV

Celebrity stalkhers… guys who can’t accept rejection.

Before anyone asks, yes, I meant to type “stalkhers” as opposed to “stalkers”. I was inspired to title this post with the misspelling because I was reminded of a guy I ran into many years ago in a BDSM themed chat room. There were a lot of people in that room who had come up with “clever” names for themselves that also addressed their kinky interests. “Stalkher” was one guy’s nickname. I happened to chat with him briefly, once or twice. I remember him to be an interesting character who liked to be “stern” and shaming when he did BDSM themed “scenes”.

Anyway, none of that is either here nor there. It just made for an interesting anecdote to add to today’s topic of celebrity stalkers. It also gives me a chance to write something provocative. I do enjoy being shocking at times. Perhaps the most shocking thing about that particular BDSM chat room is that aside from being for kinky people, it was really not that kinky. At least not in the main chat room. Most people acted like they were at a virtual cocktail party, or something. I don’t think Stalkher and I were very compatible. He wanted me to wear nipple clamps.

A scene, for those who don’t know, is a role playing fantasy people in the chat room would do. Sometimes the scenes were interesting or exciting. Other times, they got really boring, especially when they involved a certain narcissistic guy who fancied himself an author and repeated the same misogynistic crap over and over again. Most people did their scenes in private rooms, but every once in awhile, people did them publicly, titillating the community. The funniest thing is, most of the people in the chat room weren’t chatting about BDSM.

Yesterday, I happened to watch a movie on YouTube that originally aired on NBC in 1984. It was called Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story. I actually saw this movie when it originally aired. I remember it distinctly, because I was in seventh grade at the time, and I kept a diary. I wrote about seeing that made for TV film in my diary. I’m not sure why I was so moved by the movie in 1984, since it was pretty typical movie of the week fare that was so common in the 80s. But I do remember being shocked by what happened to Theresa Saldana, which is probably why I decided to watch it again yesterday.

Theresa Saldana, who died of pneumonia in 2016, was an up and coming actress in 1982. The New York transplant, who had been in a few movies and on some television shows, was about 28 years old in 1982. She lived in West Hollywood, California and was married to a man named Fred Feliciano, who worked as a drug and alcohol counselor.

Theresa was attacked by a man from Aberdeen, Scotland named Arthur Richard Jackson. Jackson had seen Theresa Saldana in the films, Defiance and Raging Bull, and he eventually became obsessed with her. He thought the angels had told him to kill her. So he showed up in California, armed with a 5.5 inch hunting knife. On March 15, 1982, he came up behind Theresa as she was about to get into her car, asked her if she was Theresa Saldana, then repeatedly stabbed her in the chest. In total, Jackson savagely knifed Saldana ten times and came very close to killing her. She spent four months recovering in a hospital.

The TV movie about Theresa Saldana. She starred as herself.

Although I’m not sure why Theresa Saldana’s specific story was so riveting to me when I was 12 that I immortalized it in my diary, I did find the movie to be fascinating, mainly because it covered a lot of perspectives. Theresa and Fred eventually divorced, in part, because their marriage could not withstand the terrible stresses caused by Theresa’s stabbing. Theresa was very badly injured, so she was unable to work and had to be hospitalized for months. That put the couple in dire financial straits. Fred was so overcome by the trauma of the stabbing that he soon became ineffective as a counselor and had to quit his job. Meanwhile, Arthur Richard Jackson got all of his needs cared for by taxpayers, as he was incarcerated… or, at least that’s what Theresa complains about as she’s faced with the extremely high costs of recovering from the brutal attack. And those were 80s prices!

Theresa was eventually allowed to stay at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital, which is a facility that serves motion picture and television veterans with limited means. She found the hospital oppressive, due to its many rules and regulations. One of the nurses is a bit of a hardass, which causes Theresa to freak out. But then it turned out that the nurse had also been attacked by a man, so she understood where Theresa was coming from. They became friends, and Theresa eventually started a victim advocacy group which was instrumental in developing anti-stalking legislation.

Notably, it was Saldana’s Victims for Victims group that helped get a 1990 anti-stalking law passed, as well as the 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. The Driver’s Privacy Act was introduced in 1992, in response to attacks perpetrated on abortion providers. The abortion providers were being attacked and killed by anti-choice activists, who used the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the names and addresses of the providers. Fellow celebrity stalking victim, Rebecca Schaeffer, was also attacked, in part, because in the 1980s, the DMV would provide names and addresses to anyone who paid a fee. Schaeffer’s killer, Robert John Bardo, got Schaeffer’s address from the DMV before he shot her in the chest at close range. I remember Rebecca Schaeffer well, as she was on the show My Sister Sam, which also starred Pam Dawber. I loved that show.

I’m sitting in my bedroom right now, typing this post on my new laptop and watching Dr. Todd Grande. He just so happened to make a video about Rebecca Schaeffer yesterday. That’s why I’m writing about this today. It’s just too weird that I would watch Theresa Saldana’s TV movie yesterday, completely by chance, and Todd Grande would post a video about Rebecca Schaeffer on the same day. Rebecca Schaeffer’s killer was inspired by Saldana’s case.

Weird… this comes up the same day I watched Theresa Saldana’s movie, which I hadn’t seen since it aired in 1984.

After the video on Rebecca Schaeffer was finished, I kept watching Grande’s videos because I was in the middle of a game on my iPad. His next case analysis was about a Mormon guy named Steven Koecher, who had mysteriously disappeared in 2009. I hadn’t heard about that case when it happened, but I do remember the Susan Cox Powell case, which involved a beautiful young Mormon mom who disappeared. Susan’s creepy husband, Joshua Powell, claimed that perhaps Susan ran off with Steven Koecher. Josh Powell, of course, later killed himself and his two sons with Susan Powell, who to my knowledge, still remains missing. There’s no telling if Steven Koecher had anything to do with Susan’s disappearance, but it’s interesting to hear Todd Grande talk about it.

Interesting case, especially since I know a bit about Mormonism myself. Steven was very stereotypically LDS.

According to Dr. Grande, Steven Koecher was going through some tough times just before he died. He was months behind in his rent, had a poorly paid job, and was having trouble finding a relationship. Grande doesn’t discuss this in the video, but Koecher was likely under a lot of pressure due to the LDS culture. Young men are expected to follow a straight and narrow path to include being an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, going on a church mission, graduating from college, finding well paid work, marrying a nice Mormon woman, and having a family. Like so many young people, Koecher was having trouble connecting all of the dots in a timely and linear fashion. He did apparently have a supportive and loving family who were trying to help him. Koecher didn’t want to accept his family’s help and was wanting to solve his problems on his own. I’m still not sure what happened to Koecher. His case is still a mystery. I’m sure his family is still devastated, as they have been denied closure.

Phew… once again, I’ve managed to tie together a bunch of topics that don’t seem to have that much to do with each other. I just thought it was kind of interesting that I watched an old made for TV movie about a celebrity who was stalked, then by complete chance, watched a newly created YouTube video on Rebecca Schaeffer, who was also stalked and attacked… and then that led to a case about the disappearance of a Mormon. Mormons are, of course, one of my pet topics. Then I throw in a blurb about kinky BDSM chat rooms, which aren’t really all that kinky after all.

I’m not sure what we’ll do today. The weather is nice and my neighbors are annoying me by using some kind of loud electrical power tool. I’m kind of tired… but I hate to waste a day off for Bill. I wish we could have gone somewhere fun this weekend, since there’s a holiday on Monday. I would have been happy just to go to Stuttgart to get a dental cleaning, at long last. But we just never got around to planning anything, even though COVID-19 cases have dropped very low and we’re both vaccinated. Bummer…

Ah well, I guess we’ll figure out something to do. Hopefully, it will be something healthier than sitting around drinking beer. Maybe we’ll get kinky instead.

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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 Amazon.com’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. 

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

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book reviews, true crime

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

Here’s a book review I wrote for Epinions.com 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. 

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

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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 Epinions.com 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.

Overall

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

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

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of Fatal Vision…

Here’s a repost of the review I wrote of Fatal Vision by Joe McGinness. I previously reposted this review on June 19, 2014, but the review itself was written on April 14, 2005. It appears here as/is.

From 2014

I wrote this review in the spring of 2005, not knowing that years later, I’d live pretty close to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Joe McGinness did a great job writing the suspicious story of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton educated Army physician who was accused of murdering his wife, Colette, and their two young daughters, Kimberley and Kristen, on February 17, 1970.  Dr. MacDonald was ultimately not tried by the Army because the investigation of the crime was a fiasco.  In 1979, MacDonald asked McGinness to write a book about the case, as he was being brought up on charges in North Carolina.  In 1979, MacDonald was living in California, making big bucks as an ER doctor.  The murder charges cramped his style.  McGinness wrote the book…  and ultimately, he became very suspicious… 

Original 2005 review

Here’s another review of a book about murder. I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. Last year at this time, I was writing reviews about books on managed care… Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe the two are connected! Anyway, I managed to pick up Joe McGinniss’s book, Fatal Vision. The original version of Fatal Vision was published in 1983. I just re-read the 1989 version, which includes an afterword that was written in 1985 and an epilogue that was written in 1989. Needless to say, this book has been around for awhile. According to Amazon.com, it has been updated as recently as 1999. Since this book has been reissued so many times, I am left with the impression that it’s still very intriguing to people besides me. The first time I read Fatal Vision was sometime in 1996, when I was overseas in the Republic of Armenia. At the time, I looked at it as just another book in English. I was desperate for ANYTHING written in English, so I didn’t pay much attention to the subject matter. Little did I know that I would be so riveted by this story.

Fatal Vision is the tale of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton-educated physician and former Green Beret soldier who was convicted of murdering his young pregnant wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 5 year old Kimberley and 2 year old Kristen, on February 17, 1970. The murders were particularly brutal. While in their beds, all three murder victims were savagely clubbed and stabbed with ice picks. MacDonald himself was also injured. It was he who had summoned the military police early that morning to come to his quarters. MacDonald claimed that the intruders who had murdered his family were acid crazed hippies who were mimicking Charles Manson’s murderous spree. For his part, MacDonald managed to escape the fracas with only a few scratches and a partially collapsed lung. He even told the bystanders what they should do if he went into shock while they were waiting for the ambulance to take him to Womack Hospital on Fort Bragg.

When MacDonald came under suspicion for fabricating the story about the hippie intruders, people began to suspect that he was the one who committed the murders. MacDonald vehemently denied these accusations, but he was still subjected to investigation. The Army investigation was badly botched and the subsequent hearing was a fiasco; as a result, MacDonald ended up not being tried by the military because of a lack of evidence. MacDonald then tried to get on with his life.

Joe McGinniss came into contact with MacDonald when MacDonald asked him to write a book about the case. McGinniss and MacDonald met in June 1979, in Huntington Beach, California. Dr. MacDonald was living the sweet life as head of emergency services for St. Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach. At the time, MacDonald was thirty-five years old, deeply tanned, and muscular, and lived in a $350,000 condominium (remember, this was the late 1970s!). He drove a rare Citroen-Maserati with the vanity license plate JRM-MD and owned a thirty foot yacht called the Recovery Room.

MacDonald was forced to go back to North Carolina to face charges of murder. He was surrounded by friends in California who didn’t believe that he was capable of murder. Before MacDonald left California, they even hosted a charity dinner in his honor to help raise money for his legal fees. McGinniss, who initially believed that MacDonald was innocent, agreed to come live with MacDonald in North Carolina, get to know him, and write a book about the case. I’m sure that MacDonald thought that the book would help clear his name… in fact, it had just the opposite effect. McGinniss ultimately came to the same conclusion that the jury did, that Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald killed his pregnant wife and children. Dr. MacDonald was ultimately sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison for murdering his family.

Fatal Vision is meticulously written and researched. McGinniss does a fantastic job of walking readers through the case and laying out all of the details of what happened on February 17, 1970. He includes pictures that were used as evidence in the case, as well as a floor plan of the quarters where MacDonald and his family lived. More tellingly, McGinniss also includes passages that are written in MacDonald’s voice. If MacDonald actually spoke the way he comes across in this manuscript, I think my suspicions would have been aroused, too. The sections in MacDonald’s voice seem to be very telling about the man’s character. They read as if McGinniss transcribed them word for word, right down to his stammers and gratuitous use of “ums and uhs”. McGinniss came to know MacDonald well, and that was why he changed his mind about MacDonald’s innocence.

One potential drawback to Fatal Vision is that it’s a fairly long book. The paperback version of Fatal Vision runs at just under 700 pages. But I found that the book was a fairly fast read because it’s so interesting. I couldn’t put the book down and found that I was able to read it within a few days. I also wish that there had been a few more pictures included. The picture section in my copy of Fatal Vision includes only black and white photographs. I don’t normally need pictures to enjoy a good book, but I do find them helpful in books about true crime. They help me get a better sense of what happened.

True crime fans will almost certainly find Fatal Vision a fascinating read. Fatal Vision is true crime writing at its best and I found it very informative and interesting. In fact, I believe that anyone who is a serious true crime fan is most likely to have already read Fatal Vision because it’s become a classic in the true crime genre. It truly surprises me that there are only two reviews of this book on Epinions.com.

And comments from the 2014 repost…

ShelleyJune 19, 2014 at 10:25 PM

Lawfrog here, too lazy to log into my other gmail account. That book has a long history and McGuinness ended up having to pay MacDonald some money after MacDonald sued him over this book. Interesting read about the legal issues surrounding this book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatal_Vision_controversy

  1. knottyJune 20, 2014 at 12:25 AM Yeah, I read about how he sued Joe McGinness and won. I have also read about Fatal Justice, which supposedly refuted McGinness’s account. I don’t remember if I’ve read Fatal Justice or not… will have to check.

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