book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris…

This will be the last repost of today, an as/is Epinions book review I wrote of They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris. It was written in October 2005. The paragraph immediately below is an introduction I wrote when I reposted this review on my original blog, on January 21, 2015.

Here’s yet another interesting review of a book written by a woman who committed murder.  In this case, the perpetrator was Jean Harris, former head of The Madeira School in McClean, Virginia.  She shot her lover, Dr. Herman Turnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, dead when she found out he was being unfaithful to her.  Well educated and well employed, Jean Harris was the last person anyone would have ever expected would end up behind bars.  In 1992, Harris was released from prison on compassionate grounds.  She died of natural causes in an assisted living center on December 23, 2012.  She was 89 years old.

A very unlikely voice from behind bars…

Jean Harris, author of the 1988 book They Always Call Us Ladies is probably the last person anyone would have ever guessed would have ever spent time in prison. Harris, who is a graduate of Smith College, had spent her whole life educating people, even working as the headmistress of the exclusive and very expensive Madeira School for girls in toney Great Falls, Virginia. But in March of 1980, the 15 year relationship she had with Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, came to an end. She fell into despair and decided to visit Dr. Tarnower in New York. Unfortunately, she brought a gun with her, allegedly planning to kill herself that night. She ended up killing her lover instead and wound up sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

Much has come to light about Jean Harris’s case. In fact, just last week, my husband Bill and I caught a special on Court TV about Jean Harris. She is now out of prison, having been released in 1993 after thirteen years behind bars. Her book, They Always Call Us Ladies, was written four years prior to her release from behind the walls of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York. As I read this book, I got the feeling that Jean Harris was trying to make the best of her situation, as hard as it was for her. In many ways, They Always Call Us Ladies is an eye-opening book. In other ways, it leaves some questions unanswered.  

I don’t remember exactly when or where it was that I picked up Jean Harris’s book. I do remember that I got it at a second hand bookstore, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was lured by the subtitle: Stories From Prison. I didn’t even have an idea who Jean Harris was when I purchased this book. I suppose I was looking for lurid details. At the time, I lacked an appreciation for books that weren’t long on action. I remember trying to read They Always Call Us Ladies and setting it aside after only a few pages or so. I was disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get what I had been looking for.  

I picked up Jean Harris’s book again last week after I saw the special about her on television. This time, when I started reading it, I was able to keep going. And now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Jean Harris, the convicted murderer.  They Always Call Us Ladies is a remarkable book that goes far beyond just “prison stories”. Jean Harris also tries to educate her audience about the history of her prison and the importance of prison reform. Clearly intelligent and articulate, Harris offers readers some valuable insight into what it’s like to be in prison and puts a human face on the ladies with whom she did time. She points out that no one is ever called a “girl” in her prison; instead, they are all called ladies. But despite the overtures of gentility, prison life is hard and Jean Harris effectively drives home that point. 

At the time Jean Harris wrote They Always Call Us Ladies, she was more than halfway to her first opportunity for parole. She focused a lot of time and energy toward helping the other inmates, especially those with children who were born in prison. The fact that she actively spent much of her time helping and getting to know her fellow inmates is clearly evident as she relates more stories about the “ladies” around her than herself. It’s not surprising that Harris is empathetic to the other ladies. She explains how and why some of the other prisoners ended up in prison and why a few of them came back again and again. They were simply unequipped for life on the outside of the prison’s walls. At the same time, Harris injects her own opinions about what she sees. Although she is sometimes disapproving toward the lifestyles of the ladies with whom she is serving time, she is always supportive of them as human beings. I got the feeling that she took a fond motherly or grandmotherly interest in the other prisoners and they, in return, took a similar interest in her. 

One thing that did strike me about They Always Call Us Ladies was that, although Harris makes it clear that her life was hard, I got the feeling that the prison she was in was very progressive. The prison had a children’s center, where new moms could keep their babies for a year. If the mother was going to be paroled within eighteen months of giving birth, officials would allow the mothers to keep the child until the mom got out. Harris explains that Bedford Hills was the only American prison that was allowing new mothers to keep their babies at all. She then points out that in Europe, prisons are much more accommodating. I got the feeling that she much preferred the European way of doing things. It’s not that I blame her for liking the European way better, but I did notice that Harris doesn’t really explain the differences between the European and American cultures. Just as some people view imprisonment as strictly punishment, other people see it as a chance for rehabilitation. I got the impression that Harris is more for rehabilitation than punishment and evidently that’s the way the Europeans feel about prisons, too. 

Another thing that stuck out at me as I read They Always Call Us Ladies is that it must have been a HUGE culture shock for Jean Harris to be in prison. She is nothing like the other ladies she writes about and, I suspect, that Jean Harris never had much of a criminal mind. In fact, I think it was a tragic turn of events that led her to prison in the first place. Because she is so much a fish out of water, she gives her readers a rare and different glimpse of life on the inside of a prison. She doesn’t seem like she belongs there.  

Jean Harris does include some examples of dialogs she heard in prison, even writing them in dialect. She explains the racism that she witnessed in prison, mostly directed at her fellow inmates. She comes across as almost detached. I had heard on a few occasions that homosexuality is rampant in prisons and Jean Harris doesn’t dispute this fact; in fact, she offers statistics on homosexuality in prisons. She also doesn’t give any indication as to whether or not she engaged in homosexual conduct. She seems especially detached from this issue as it personally pertains to her, even though she addresses it regarding other prisoners. 

Harris’s memoir does include some foul language, but it’s used in the context of quoting other people. She never uses it herself and doesn’t condone its use in other people. In fact, in one passage, she writes disapprovingly that those who must use the word “sh*t” in place of every noun have a serious deficiency in their vocabularies. As I read They Always Call Us Ladies, I was continually reminded that Jean Harris is first and foremost a teacher, not because she actually wrote those words, but because of her actions and her writing style. I do believe that Harris must have been a great asset to her students, despite the fact that she later wound up in prison. 

My comments on They Always Call Us Ladies so far have been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, I did really enjoy reading this book, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years. Despite my positive comments, however, this is not a perfect book. For one thing, Harris writes a lot about legislation circa 1988. For an historical point of view, this is a good thing. I get the feeling, though, that Harris didn’t mean for her book to be read years down the line; she meant for it to be read when it was hot off the presses. Consequently, her references to “now” and 1988 drive home just how dated this book is. For another thing, anyone who is looking for information about what got Harris put in prison will be disappointed.  For that story, you’d have to read one of her other books. 

Because she doesn’t really discuss her crime, I almost got the feeling that she didn’t think she belonged in prison. I got the feeling that even though she was in prison, she wasn’t of it. And while at times her writing drifts very slightly into self pity, she never really gave me the impression that she felt like she deserved to be in prison, even though she did kill a man. Again, I don’t believe that Jean Harris initially set out to kill Tarnower. That doesn’t change the fact that she did kill him. Yet, there are times in this book that she seems to take a detached, almost superior position over the inmates about whom she writes. On the other hand, I have no idea what prison must have been like for Jean Harris. Maybe taking this position offers her a defense mechanism– a way to protect herself from the reality of her situation. The last, but not necessarily negative, comment I want to make is that this book is challenging reading. Even though I enjoyed reading They Always Call Us Ladies, I didn’t find it the kind of book that I could finish in a matter of hours.

They Always Call Us Ladies appears to be out of print. If my review has enticed you to seek it out, be warned that you may have some trouble finding it. Nevertheless, I will recommend it to a wide audience because I think it is an impressive and enlightening book. If you have any interest in prison reform or history and want to read an eloquent, true account from someone who’s seen prison firsthand, I definitely would encourage you to read this book if you get the chance.  

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history, lessons learned, musings, politics

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it…” George Santayana

Last night, as Bill and I were enjoying the cool evening sundown in our backyard, I suddenly remembered what I had wanted to write about yesterday. Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of connections between people, events, and other things I’ve run into, like books, videos, and music. A few days ago, we had a memorial for a guy I knew in the Peace Corps. My former colleague and I served in Armenia, which has been in the news in recent years as the people there try to get the Armenian Genocide recognized by the international community. I am now living in Germany, where people have been trying to make amends for the Holocaust, which took place during World War II.

The other day, I was watching YouTube videos and happened to see one about The Holocaust. It was very well done and informative. I’ve read a lot of books about people who survived The Holocaust, and I’ve watched many videos about the experiences of people during that time. But, for some reason, this particular video made me think more about what happened than the others had. Or maybe this idea popped up because I have been talking to people I knew in Armenia, and Armenia is more on my mind than usual. It occurred to me that I’ve lived in Armenia, where people are descended from victims of genocide. And now I live in Germany, where I am surrounded by people whose ancestors had a part in committing genocide. It definitely offers a unique perspective. Or, at least I think it does.

Before I lived in Armenia, I had never heard of the Armenian Genocide. In fact, I barely knew anything about Armenia. The only reason I’d even heard of it was because my fourth grade teacher was of Armenian descent and told us a little bit about his heritage. At that time, Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, so as a nine year old, I never thought I would ever get to visit there, let alone live there. My teacher did not speak about the Genocide. He told us about how Armenians were Christians and that most people’s last names end in “ian”. He said Armenians were very proud of being Christians, hence the “ian” at the end of their names. Now I know that’s factually incorrect, but it sounded good to me when I was nine.

I also remember my Armenian fourth grade teacher played Jesus Christ: Superstar for us. I didn’t hear that music again until I moved to Armenia in 1995, where it was everywhere. People in Armenia LOVED Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous musical. I even bought a bootleg cassette of the album and quickly became familiar with it. Andrew Lloyd Webber was very popular in the 80s and 90s, anyway, so I don’t know if Armenians always loved that show or it just became popular during their sudden independence in the 90s. Bill and I finally saw a production of it in Washington, DC in 2004.

I remember resisting this music when I was nine, but I ended up loving it when I was in Armenia.

The Armenian Genocide, which occurred from 1915-1917, resulted in the mass murder of over one million ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turks. The murders were achieved through death marches into the Syrian desert and mass executions. Many Armenian women and children were forced to convert to Islam. When I was in Armenia, I worked in a school in Yerevan that was named after a famous Genocide victim and poet, Ruben Sevak. I see that it’s now an elementary school, but when I was teaching there, there were students of all ages, and I taught kids who ranged in age from 7 to 16 years old. During my first months at that school, Ruben Sevak’s daughter, Shamiram, who was then in her 80s and lived in France, came to Yerevan. She attended a party thrown for her at my school. I tried to keep up with all the toasts and got very, very drunk. That was probably the drunkest I’ve ever been in my life!

While searching for Ruben Sevak’s daughter’s name, I found this fascinating blog post about Sevak and his family. I learned that Ruben Sevak (Sevak translates to “black eyes”) was actually a pseudonym. His real name was Roupen Chilingirian, and he was born in a city called Silivri, located about 37 miles from the city now known as Istanbul, but then called Constantinople. His family was wealthy, and Ruben was well educated. He became a physician, having studied in exclusive schools, including medical school at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He met his wife in Switzerland, Helene (Jannie) Apell. Big surprise– she was from a German military family! Their respective families objected to their romantic affair, but Ruben and “Jannie” finally got married in Lausanne, and later had a religious ceremony at the Armenian Church of Paris. The young couple had a son named Levon in 1912, and then their daughter, Shamiram, was born in 1914.

Ruben Sevak became politically active, joining the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He was a prolific writer, and his works were published in literary journals and newspapers. He wrote a book of poetry in 1909. It was titled The Red Book, and the works within it recalled the Adana massacre— an event in which Armenian Christians were killed by Ottoman Muslims. He planned to write more poetry and political works in more books. He would never get the chance to fulfill that dream. Clearly, Sevak’s writings were threatening to the Ottoman Turks. He was one of the million people killed during the Armenian Genocide, having been conscripted in 1914 and serving as a military doctor in Turkey. In June 1915, Sevak was arrested, and though his wife and her parents tried valiantly to save his life, even involving the German government, their efforts would be in vain. Ruben Sevak was murdered on August 26, 1915.

If you’d like to know more about Ruben Sevak, I highly recommend following this link to the blog post I mentioned earlier. I wish I had known this story when I worked in the school named for Ruben Sevak. It actually blows my mind that I was once in the same room with one of Ruben Sevak’s direct descendants. I’m sure she’s gone now, but how amazing is it that she visited the school where I worked in 1995? What are the odds that I, an American from a small town in Virginia, would one day work in a country that was once part of a larger country that was pretty much off limits to Americans until 1991? And then I would attend a party held in honor of the daughter of a famous poet and doctor who was murdered in the Armenian Genocide? Fate is an incredible thing.

Playing For Time… a movie about the Holocaust that I saw on TV in the 80s.

I had heard of the Holocaust when I was growing up, but to be honest, I think it was because I had seen a made for television movie calling Playing For Time. That film aired in 1980, and my parents let me watch it, even though I was 8 years old. I remember the movie starred Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander. It was about young Jewish women in a death camp who were musicians tasked with playing music for arriving prisoners and entertaining Nazi bigwigs. I’m not sure I totally understood the film as I watched it. I do remember thinking it was interesting and I never forgot it, but the horror of what it was about didn’t dawn on me until years later. And I honestly don’t remember learning about what actually went on during World War II when I was in school. Of course, that was many years ago. Maybe I’m mistaken. But it seems like there was so much that had to be covered during those years that we didn’t spend a long time talking about one specific incident in history. U.S. schools, at least in the 80s, covered world history in ninth or tenth grade, U.S. history in eleventh grade, and Government in twelfth grade. Prior to that, we had civics in eighth grade and social studies in seventh grade and below. I’m not even sure if learning about the Holocaust was considered age appropriate in those days.

Fascinating video, if you can take the subject matter.

So there I was a few days ago, watching the above video about the Holocaust, which had popped up randomly in my YouTube queue. I listened as the narrators described the conditions the Holocaust victims encountered as they arrived at Auschwitz. I tried to imagine the terror and extreme horror of it on some level. I thought to myself that I probably wouldn’t have survived, if I had been among the unfortunate people who went to Auschwitz or the other death camps. Hearing about it and seeing the footage is one thing, but actually living through that– watching friends and loved ones being marched off to be executed, freezing in filthy, inadequate clothes and shoes, starving while being worked to death, getting deathly ill or badly hurt and being forced to keep working… being treated as worse than the lowest form of life. It’s just so hard to reconcile that reality with what I’ve seen in Germany, having now spent about nine years of my life in this country. It amazes me that such decent people can be reduced to treating other human beings the way Holocaust victims were treated. I can’t imagine sinking so low… and yet so many ordinary people did.

It suddenly dawned on me that I have now lived in a country whose citizens were systematically exterminated by Ottoman Turks. And I have also lived in a country whose citizens systematically exterminated Jewish people, as well as political prisoners, Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and anyone else Hitler didn’t like. I read that Adolf Hitler was actually inspired by the Armenian Genocide when he came up with his “Final Solution”.

This is a screenshot of the text on the last link… Hitler’s justification of the Holocaust, inspired by the murder of Armenians in the Genocide.

Then I thought of our present day situation. I read that Donald Trump is being encouraged to run for president again. He “handily won” a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference. I have mentioned before that I see some similarities between Trump and Hitler. No, he’s not yet having people rounded up and sent to concentration camps to be murdered, although some people have compared the situation at the southern border of the United States to the Holocaust. I’m not sure I would go that far, as many of the people in that situation weren’t necessarily rounded up from their homes and forced to march to detention centers. And I don’t think there’s really anything that quite compares to the absolute sickness and sheer awfulness of the Holocaust. At least not yet.

Hmmm…
Worth a view.

The similarities I do see between Trump and Hitler have to do with the way both men worked a crowd, as well as some of the historical events in Germany that led to Hitler’s rise to power, and the actual things that both men say– which are things that most narcissistic types say. The narrator in the above video describes how Germans were caught up in fear, poverty, and bigotry. The public were frustrated and looking for scapegoats on which to blame Germany’s depressed economy. Hitler exploited people’s fears, humiliation, anger, and ignorance to get common citizens to accept him as the only person who could make Germany great again. Elections were suppressed, and soon Hitler became a tyrant who murdered millions of innocent people. If you listen to Trump’s speeches and compare them to Hitler’s speeches, you hear a lot of the same kind of stuff. No, they aren’t exactly alike, and they never will be. But I do see similarities that disturb me, and I am not the only one.

Another quotable idea.

I have watched from afar as people in my country have become more and more radicalized and unreasonable. I have seen a lot violence and heard a lot of disturbing rhetoric. I believe a lot of Americans think of Trump as their savior. They ignore the many disturbing signs of his extreme narcissism, as well as the obvious efforts of Republicans to suppress votes from people who won’t vote for them. People are very polarized and some have forgotten their basic sense of decency and compassion. I actually worry less that Trump will be re-elected than someone younger, smarter, more charismatic, healthier, and crueler might be waiting in the wings, ready to take over when Trump inevitably meets his end. I have noticed a lot of vocal Republicans who are rallying disenfranchised and ignorant people to support them in their quest to reclaim power.

“You don’t know me, but I’m your brother…”

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing blog posts like this one. Maybe I will end up being rounded up and killed. I’m sure the people who perished in the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust had no clue that one day, they would face the horrors they faced. But I can’t help but think of Spaniard George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” So I hope and pray that enough of my fellow Americans open their eyes and demand decency and compassion in our leadership.

If you’re supporting a politician who is beloved by the KKK or Neo-Nazi groups, you may want to re-evaluate your choices. Do you really want to be lumped in a group of people who are driven to hate and kill others? Isn’t it better if we come together in peace and moderation? Is money and power really worth more than other people’s lives? Think about it… and all of the exceptional people who have died because of extremism and the desire for power, money, racism, and religion.

Look familiar?
Trump refused to condemn the KKK. He claims to know nothing about white supremacists, and yet they all love and endorse him.
Holy shit. This man was a protestor. Trump is all about silencing the critics.
And yet, they still love Trump, despite his “condemnation” of their groups! Why is that?

So ends today’s blog sermon… Gotta take Arran and Noyzi for a walk before the rain starts again.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Dr. Debora Green… the face of evil

I posted this piece on my original blog on February 22, 2014. It contains a review I wrote for Epinions.com on September 29, 2003. It appears here as/is.

Maybe fourteen years ago or so, I read a book by Ann Rule called Bitter Harvest.  The book was about Dr. Debora Green, a woman who, as a young woman, seemed to have everything going for her.  She was extremely intelligent and had sailed through high school, college, and medical school.  She was pretty and talented and had a thriving career.  She had started out as an emergency room doctor, but then decided she’d rather be an oncologist.  She married her second husband, Dr. Michael Farrar, a cardiologist in the Kansas City area, and bore him three healthy children, a boy and two girls.

As the years passed, Debora Green’s career hit the skids.  She drank too much, was subject to rages, and gained a lot of weight.  She failed her medical boards and eventually lost her license to practice medicine.  And finally, she determined she wanted her husband dead.  As she poisoned the children against their father by filling their heads with lies, she served him food that she had prepared.  The food contained castor beans, which is where ricin comes from.  Ricin is a deadly poison and the contaminated food made Dr. Farrar very sick. 

But Dr. Farrar didn’t die.  He just went through hell.  Finally, Debora Green decided to off him and her children, once and for all.  In October 1995, she set fire to the $400,000 home they had recently purchased, despite the fact Farrar and Green were separated.  She told her thirteen year old son, Tim, not to try to escape the blaze because the fire department was on the way.  Her six year old daughter, Kelly, asphyxiated, along with their dog, Boomer.  And ten year old Kate jumped off the roof to save herself, with no help from her mother.

Dr. Debora Green was eventually tried and convicted for murder and attempted murder.  She sits in prison in Kansas and will soon be celebrating her 63rd birthday.  I thought about this case recently and looked up Debora Green to see if anything new had happened.  I came across this photo.

This woman’s eyes look like pure evil to me.

I’m sure prison life is hard and that has something to do with the way this woman looks.  But to me, she looks like a brute.  It’s hard to believe she was once considered beautiful and brilliant.  I would not want to meet her in a dark alley, let alone go to her for treatment of cancer.

The first time I read that book, I had never run into someone like Debora Green.  Now that I’ve learned about narcissists and sociopaths, this story is easier to believe.

I liked Ann Rule’s book on this subject. Below is my review from 2003.

Is the mother of the year award in the cards for Dr. Debora Green?

Not likely. As a matter of fact, she’s rotting in prison as I write this. Why? Because she murdered two of her three children by burning down her house and tried to poison her husband by spiking his food with ricin. How did all of this come about? The whole sordid tale is spun for us in Rule’s 1997 true crime book, Bitter Harvest, a truly amazing story of a brilliant woman whose personality seemed to change dangerously by the minute.

Debora Jones (aka Deb) started life simply enough. Born to Bob and Joan (pronounced Joanne) Jones, she and her sister Pam grew up in rural western Illinois. Both girls were exceptionally bright. Deb never earned less than an “A” in school– her IQ was tested at 165. She was athletic, witty, musically talented, pretty, and popular, and she had a special gift for chemistry. After high school, Deb went to the University of Illinois to study chemical engineering; however, she was told that there was a glut of engineers. She ended up majoring in chemistry: pre med by default. It was in college that she earned her first “B”, a devastating blow to her ego. Nevertheless, she was able to graduate in three years and go on to medical school at the University of Kansas. During that time, she was married to Duane J. Green, an engineering PhD student at the University of Illinois.

After medical school, Deb became an emergency room physician. She divorced Green and met Michael Farrar, a medical student four years her junior. Farrar fell in love with the attractive, vivacious senior resident who drove a sportscar. They married in May 1979, but Deb kept Green’s name for “professional reasons”. In the early years of her marriage to Farrar, Deb supported Mike with her ER physician’s income as he completed his training as a cardiologist. However, she soon grew tired of the mundane cases she saw in the emergency room and decided to change her specialty to oncology (cancer).

Mike recalled that he knew he was making a mistake as he walked down the aisle on his wedding day. His parents didn’t like Deb and her parents didn’t like him. Nevertheless, he went through with the wedding. On the first night of their honeymoon, he had a hard time getting Deb to consummate their marriage; she preferred to read a novel instead. When they did have sex, it was uninspired. The couple managed to have three children anyway, a boy, Tim in January 1982, a girl, Kate (called Lissa in this book) in December 1984, and another girl, Kelly in December 1988.

Mike enjoyed great success in his career as a cardiologist and was regarded as a rising star in the medical community of the Kansas City area. Deb, however, experienced problems. While she was technically quite proficient, her patients found her cold and uncaring. Her colleagues found her hard to work with, especially when they disagreed with her. Deb rarely kept up with new advances in her field and was unable to pass her boards, while Mike managed to pass with flying colors. While their marriage had never been good, it soon became worse. At one point, Mike caught her stealing painkillers from her patients. Deb eventually ended up leaving medicine altogether.

More disturbing were Deb’s temper tantrums, which she would sometimes indulge in public. Mike would usually see her go off in airports when flights were delayed. She’d cuss out ticket agents, using the “F” word and various other epithets liberally in front of her children and throwing her professional title and Mike’s around in order to get her way.

Despite the horror of their marriage, Deb would not grant Mike a divorce, so Mike moved out of their upscale Kansas City, Missouri house and into an apartment. Four months after his move, Deb implored him to move back home, promising him that things would be better. Mike decided that if he complied, they would need a larger house. They found one in Prarie Village, Kansas, and at a bargain. But at the last minute, Mike changed his mind. Not long afterward, the Kansas City house caught on fire, forcing Deb and the kids to move into Mike’s apartment for awhile. The reconciliation was enough to convince Mike to cave in and buy the house in Kansas, for considerably more than he had originally agreed to pay for it. The fire in Kansas City was ruled an accident, so insurance paid for the damage. Mike and Deb ended up making $20,000 on its sale.

From there, things really started to go south, until the night of October 24th, 1995, when Tim and Kelly Farrar were killed by fire in their parents’ beautiful home. On several occasions during August and September 1995, Mike was in the hospital, suffering from a mysterious illness that brought him to the brink of death over and over again. His symptoms baffled doctors, until Mike found castor beans in Deb’s purse. Castor beans are very poisonous. They contain ricin, which is the third deadliest toxin on earth, next to botulism and plutonium.

I realize that I’ve given quite a bit of information here, but really I’ve only scratched the surface of this very convoluted story. Ann Rule has done a great job of presenting a horrifying case in great detail. There’s a lot of information to digest, but it’s interesting enough that I wanted to keep reading, even though the book is 482 pages long. Rule includes pictures which I found astounding– they show how Deb Jones changed from her high school picture to her middle aged adult picture. As a teen and young adult, Deb had been quite attractive. By the time she was in her forties, she no longer resembled the same person. She had gained a lot of weight, cut off all of her hair, and even her face looked different. In short, the woman was unrecognizable.

If you’ve ever read one of Ann Rule’s books before, you know that she provides several components to her books– the background story, the legal story, and the police story are a few that spring to mind right now. Readers get to examine Deb’s cold detachment as police interviewed her after the fire. Readers also get to read the accounts of other family members and witnesses who noted Deb’s strange reaction to the loss of two of her children.

I’ll admit that it took me awhile to get into this book the first time I read it, but once I started to really read it, I got hooked. This is definitely a fascinating read, and I for one am very glad that this is one mother who won’t be celebrating Mother’s Day in the comfort of her own home. 

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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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