book reviews, true crime

A review of Click Click Click: From the Say My Name Series, by Karen DeVanie and Anne Varner…

A couple of days ago, an old college friend of mine sent me a private message on Facebook. Initially, I was a little concerned, because the message began with the words “Click Click Click,” and an unfamiliar link. I was afraid she’d been hacked. It turned out my friend had sent a link to Amazon.com, where a book titled Click Click Click: From the Say My Name Series was for sale.

This book, written by sisters Anne Varner and Karen DeVanie of the Sugar Coated Murder podcast, is a “true crime” account of a notorious murder that happened in my friend’s hometown in February 1990. I have written about this murder a couple of times in this blog. My old friend wanted my opinion of the book. She wrote that she found the writing “amateurish”. She hoped I could offer an unbiased opinion, since I’m not from her hometown and don’t know the people involved.

I already had big plans to start reading Prince Harry’s book, Spare. However, I’ve noticed that a lot of people have been hitting my two links about the murder of seventeen year old Raymond Trent Whitley, perpetrated by Whitley’s classmates, Frederick “West” Greene and Michael Jervey. Click Click Click, only consists of 133 pages and promised to be a fast read. I told my friend, who had also been a high school classmate of Trent’s, Mike’s, and West’s in tiny Franklin, Virginia, that I would read the book and write a review. True to my word, I’m now working on the review, as the book was a very quick and easy read. I’m sad to say, my friend was right about the writing.

First thing’s first…

I am not from Franklin, Virginia. Although I am from Virginia, I have never so much as visited Franklin. I don’t have a connection to the city or this case, other than knowing my friend, and meeting West Greene once, when my friend brought him to visit our alma mater, Longwood College (now Longwood University). At the time, West was a cadet at Virginia Military Institute, the military college my father, uncle, and several cousins attended. The fact that he went to VMI is probably the main reason I remembered West Greene. I remember my friend really liked West. Indeed, he’d seemed like a nice enough person when I briefly met him that one time.

It later came out that West, and his friend, Mike Jervey, had murdered their classmate, Trent Whitley, over an insult. My old friend was devastated when she heard about it. I remember her on the verge of tears, saying over and over again, “How could he do that?” She was absolutely gutted.

In 2013, I randomly decided to write a blog post called “Crime blasts from the past“. It was a post about several cases from my youth that I recalled. I remembered West Greene and wrote about him, never dreaming that my old friend would find the post and comment. Then, we hooked up on Facebook, and she told me more about how this case had affected her hometown, a place where “everyone knows everyone else’s business.”

Now, Jervey and Greene are out of prison, which has rattled many people from Franklin.. That’s probably why I keep getting hits on my blog posts about this case. Obviously, there was interest in a book to be written about Trent Whitley’s murder so long ago. Enter Anne Varner and Karen DeVanie, two sisters who happen to originally come from Franklin, Virginia and run a true crime podcast that marries murder with their love of baking sweets.

What happened?

According to Click Click Click, back in 1988, 16 year old Michael Jervey was in a bad way. His father had not been well, and in spite of visits to doctors, the cause of illness was elusive. Mr. Jervey finally went to Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, where he received a cancer diagnosis. Mike’s father spent a few weeks hospitalized. He never made it out again. Mike blamed his mother for not telling him about his dad’s illness. Her reticence caused Mike to lose precious time with his dad before he died. The young man was angry and reclusive, until he paired up with West Greene, a popular classmate whose father had been a prison warden.

West Greene and Mike Jervey reportedly became obsessed with the idea of killing someone. Based on Click Click Click, the two had an unwritten “list” of people who had crossed them and could be candidates for killing. They would strike names from the list if a person unlucky enough to be on it sincerely apologized. If they didn’t, they were “fair game” for murder. Say someone made a joke at the boys’ expense, or somehow embarrassed them in another way. They might end up on the list. But if they somehow made amends, they would be safe… at least until the next perceived slight.

Supposedly, no one else was any the wiser that these two guys were planning violence, but my friend tells me that actually, there were a few people who knew about the plot. Evidently, no one chose to do anything about it, or take the warning signs seriously. Then, on February 23, 1990, Jervey and Greene lured Whitley to a construction area and shot him in the head.

Varner and DeVanie include graphic details about Whitley’s brain matter splattered all over Jervey’s pants, and the blood stains in the trunk of his car. They had wrapped Trent Whitley in a stolen tarp and used the car, a gift from Jervey’s mother, to take Whitley’s body to Jervey’s family’s farm. That was where Greene and Jervey buried him in a shallow grave. For two years, no one knew what had happened to Trent Whitley. It wasn’t until Jervey had an attack of conscience and confessed, that the authorities finally found his body. Then, Trent finally got a proper burial.

My thoughts on the book…

I think Click Click Click could have been a much better book than it is. It appears that Mike Jervey contacted the sisters after they did a podcast about “his case”. More than once, they write about the email. Below is a screenshot.

Yikes!

Apple describes the sisters’ podcast as “comedy”, and it gets very good ratings. At this writing, Sugar Coated Murder scores a 4.9 rating out of 5 stars. Personally, I have a hard time with the idea that murders can be considered comical, but I will admit I haven’t listened to their podcast. I got the sense that Varner and DeVanie tried to frame their book the way they do their podcast. I don’t follow Sugar Coated Murder, so I was confused.

The book starts in a dramatic way, as if it were more of a novel than a true crime book. Honestly, at first, I felt like I was reading the script for a very watered down Lifetime movie version of a true crime case. I have nothing against using an evocative style in a true crime book, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me who these women are, and what their connection to Franklin is.

The sisters mention their “momma”, and the locals in Franklin, writing in the first person plural, as if they’re part of the story… which they kind of are, since they’re from Franklin. They write about their “daddy’s” pharmacy, the paper mill, the community college, other crimes from the past, and how Franklin is a little town where everyone knows each other. Those details aren’t totally useless, but the sisters initially failed to connect them to the crime story.

Because I am not familiar with the sisters’ podcast, I was confused about why “they” were in the story, initially writing as if they were directly involved. Especially since they wrote that they’d left Franklin by the time this crime occurred. I was expecting a book only about the crime, not the authors’ personal connections to Franklin. Now I think they were simply explaining that they’re from the tiny community, and what life is like there.

As the book continued, it became more obviously about Mike Jervey, and it seemed to be mostly from his perspective. Mike Jervey’s perspective is valuable, of course, but it’s just one perspective. My friend assures me that Trent Whitley was no angel, but he certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered. Other than a somewhat sympathetic description of Whitley’s yearbook photo and graduation cap and gown, I didn’t get a sense that the sisters gave his perspective much thought. Trent Whitley was the victim, but the book really seemed to more about Mike Jervey. I didn’t understand why I, as a reader, should have sympathy for Mike, other than the fact that he lost his father at a young age.

Other issues…

Although the book credits Michelle Morrow as the editor of Click Click Click, I spotted a number of proofreading errors. Below is a screenshot of one that immediately comes to mind.

Do you see what I see? This bit was about an unrelated crime, as someone tried to steal the STEEL cash register in the authors’ father’s pharmacy. Not sure what it really had to do with Trent Whitley’s murder.

Later, they refer to the South as “the south”. The South is a specific region, making it a proper noun. Proper nouns are typically capitalized. But then they refer to a “Southern” county, capitalizing the adjective, when it should have been styled lower case. There are numerous little glitches like this, even though this book supposedly had an editor.

The authors also refer to Frederick West Greene as “Fred”, rather than “West”. I happen to know that “West” was the name he went by in school. I don’t know if there was a specific reason for using the different name, but based on the Amazon reviews, I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

But… I did learn some new things about this case…

First off, Trent Whitley was born June 19, 1972, which is the day before I was born. He was born in Franklin, which is a mere hour’s drive from my birthplace. Like me, he was a Gemini, a fact the sisters mention.

Secondly, I liked that the sisters wrote about the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, popularly known as The Body Farm, a term coined by crime fiction novelist, Patricia Cornwell. After Jervey confessed to the crime, he told investigators where to find Trent Whitley’s body. They weren’t able to find it based only on Jervey’s description. They contacted an expert at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, who told them to consult a botanist– a person who is an expert on plants. The investigators contacted a botany professor at the local community college, who spotted differences in the vegetation on Jervey’s family’s farm. With the professor’s help, investigators found Trent Whitley’s body, and his family was able to properly and respectfully lay him to rest. I wish the sisters had commented more about that process.

And finally, Discovery Plus contacted the sisters about presenting this case on television. They were excited about the prospect of going on TV, but the deal never came to fruition. After reading this oddly titled book, I think I can understand why the show never happened.

Again… maybe I should listen to their podcast. Their storytelling abilities might come across better in that medium than it does in this book.

Anyway…

Based on the number of people who continually hit my blog posts about this case, I have a feeling that Karen DeVanie and Anne Varner will sell a lot of books. Obviously, Trent Whitley’s murder is still interesting to many people. I probably would not have read this book if not for my old friend’s request for my opinions. However, I can see that people who are from Franklin, especially, want to know more about this trio of young men whose lives were tragically and irrevocably altered (or ended) by a violent, gruesome true crime.

I do think this book could be much better than it is. It really needs better editing. I also think the sisters should have collected many more facts about the case and presented more of them, rather than endless minutiae about life in Franklin. “Comedy podcasts” about murders, combined with baking sweets, seems like a bizarre concept that wouldn’t appeal to me. But… I also admit I haven’t listened to the podcast. I might change my mind if I ever did take the time to listen to it. It’s hard to imagine that I’d want to do that, though.

I’ve written about true crime cases myself. Some people related to victims have left me angry or distraught comments. None of my posts were “comedic” in nature. I wonder how a “comedy” podcast comes across to family members of murder victims. I guess people have conceived stranger podcast concepts than that. In any case, I don’t think I would recommend Click Click Click, except to those who want to read all there is available about Trent Whitley’s murder. But, at least it’s not a super expensive title on Kindle.

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

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Germany, true crime, wingnuts

Turns out, there are right wing wackos in Germany, too…

I don’t have a lot to write about yesterday’s revelation. I read about it online— a group of 25 Q Anon types in Germany, with designs on violently overthrowing the government in Germany. I am not a German citizen, but Germany has been home to me for ten years of my life. I’m 50 years old, so that’s 20 percent of my lifetime– a pretty good chunk. And realizing that, I figure maybe it really is time I learned the language. 😉 A potential New Year’s resolution, perhaps?

Among the right wing wackos was a descendent of German royalty, 71-year-old Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss. The Local: Germany had a couple of pictures of the prince sitting in the back of a police car, wearing an FFP2 face mask and handcuffs. The Polizei had kindly cuffed the man in front, rather than behind his back. They picked up the prince in Frankfurt, which is maybe a twenty minute drive from where Bill and I are currently living. When I saw the photos of him, I was struck by just how German he looked. It’s clear that Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss is a man of means, just based on his dress. For instance, I think I spotted a kravat around his neck, which matched his blazer, blue shirt, and orange-ish brown pants. He was all “put together” looking… it wasn’t a look I would expect to see on a typical Q Anon type in the United States. I read that he works (or worked) as a real estate developer.

A screenshot of a photo showing the prince being taken into custody.

I noticed the German cops were all wearing ninja looking coverings over their heads and faces. Bill said it was because German cops get targeted for doing their jobs. I haven’t seen many rank and file police officers wearing those hoods, so I guess this is a practice more for the high speed police officers who deal with people planning to harm leaders and violently overthrow the government. This particular right wing group, The Reichsbürger movement, and had plans to storm the parliament with a team of heavily armed militants. According to The Local: Germany, this movement has existed since the 80s and mostly consists of gun enthusiasts, neo-Nazis, and conspiracy theorists. However, the incarnation of the group that had actual plans to storm the Reichstag formed in November 2021, “at the latest.”

There he goes.

From what I’ve read, other members of the prince’s family have distanced themselves from him, because of his increasingly divisive rhetoric. I read that he and the rest of his posse are convinced that Germany is being run by a deep state that was formed after World War I. At this time, the prince is said to be the “ringleader” of the group. He pictured himself to be the leader of the new revolutionary government, if the group had managed to pull off the coup attempt. Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss is a descendant of the the House of Reuß that ruled parts of Thuringia for about 800 years. My guess is that he admires Donald Trump very much and would like him to “hold his beer.”

The Local: Germany reports:

In a notorious speech given at a business summit in Zurich in 2019, Heinrich XIII had referenced the antisemitic conspiracy theory that the 20th century world order had been engineered by the Rothschild dynasty and the freemasons. He also complained that his own dynasty had been “disposessed” after the first world war. 

“Ever since Germany surrendered, it has never been sovereign again,” he told listeners. “It has only been made an administrative structure of the allies.”

Obviously, this situation has been stuck in the prince’s craw for a long time. He was ready to do something about it. People in the group he led were trying to consort with Russians. Some members were highly trained military officials. One woman is a lawyer by training and had become very vocal against immigration and was speaking out about conspiracy theories pushed by Q Anon.

He seems to like that blazer.

I can’t even pretend to know a lot about this situation yet, as it was just reported yesterday. Until then, I was thinking Germany was somewhat more normal than my long suffering homeland is right now. But obviously, there are some dangerous people here, too, and they have big plans. We really are living in interesting times, aren’t we? But it seems that yesterday’s arrests came after some 3,000 police officers conducted early morning raids in over 130 properties. Two of the arrests occurred abroad– in Austria and Italy.

Germany’s domestic intelligence service estimates that there are about 20,000 people involved in The Reichsbürger movement. Of those, about 2,000 are considered violent and potentially dangerous. Last April, the police arrested members of an affiliated group, “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers), who were angry about the COVID rules and lockdowns, and were planning to kidnap Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach.

Crazy shit, huh? Anyway, I’ll be watching the news to see what else comes out about this group.

I didn’t mention this earlier, but there was also a fatal knife attack on a 14 year old German girl of Turkish descent this week. She and a 13 year old friend were walking home in the small town of Ilenkirchberg, near Ulm, when they were attacked by a knife wielding 27-year-old man. The 13 year old was injured, but not fatally injured. The 14 year old died at a hospital. The man who allegedly attacked them was picked up at “asylum seekers’ accommodation” near where the incident occurred. The suspect was injured when he was arrested, so he’s been in the hospital under guard. He is an asylum seeker from Eritrea, and this case has already been used by right wing politicians as an example of why they think Germany’s fairly liberal asylum policies should be amended and curtailed.

To their credit, the police have asked people “not to harbour general suspicions against strangers, or asylum seekers in general, or to encourage or support such suspicions.” That’s pretty progressive, isn’t it? But violent crimes like that one are no help in discouraging right wing wackos to feel entitled to try to overthrow the government.

I feel so sorry for those poor girls. One died much too young, and the other will never again be the same as she was. May God help us all.

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true crime

True crime in my world…

Some of you who are still reading this blog after this year’s upheaval may remember that I sometimes like to write about true crime. Every once in awhile, I write about something that hits close to home for me, or for other people. I’ve gotten comments from people who are actually involved in some of the situations I’ve written about or true crime books I’ve reviewed.

True crime has struck eerily close to home for me this week. This isn’t to mean it’s touched me personally, only that a crime occurred in Germany and it caused a blip in our routine. Of course, for the people involved, it definitely wasn’t just a “blip”.

My dog, Zane, has been kind of off his food this week. He has a slightly swollen lymph node under his jaw. At first, I was worried about cancer, because I ALWAYS worry about cancer when it comes to my dogs. But then I noticed that he otherwise looks bright and perky, and he does want to eat. In fact, last night, we were eating duck and he was loudly demanding that we share it with him. But he doesn’t want to finish his own food, especially the dry pellets he gets. He will eventually eat it, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy it. Edited to add: Looks like my initial hunch was right and Zane probably does have cancer. 🙁

I took a look in his mouth and he is definitely due for a dental cleaning. He’s got lots of tartar build up and his gum line is red. Last year, our vet near Stuttgart removed a small tumor from his mouth. It’s possible he has a new one. So I asked Bill to stop by our vet to make an appointment for Zane to be seen. If the vet agrees with me that it’s time for a dental, we’ll try to get both dogs done, but after the first, because August has been a very expensive month! I’m sure the vet will agree, because Zane obviously could use a cleaning. Hopefully, that’s the only thing troubling him.

Anyway, on Wednesday, Bill stopped by our vet’s office and found a long note posted on the door. Naturally, it was in German. Bill does speak some basic German, but he’s nowhere near fluent. He took a photo of the note on the door, getting the gist that they were making some policy changes, mainly due to the huge number of clients they have. He says they will offer Sunday hours and won’t take on any new clients. He also got the gist that there had been a death at the practice, so that was why they were closed Wednesday night.

My German friend, Susanne, then shared with me a news story about a 22 year old woman who was found lying in a pool of blood near a horse paddock. The woman, who wasn’t named in the original post, had been riding her horse and had only just moved to Hofheim within the past few weeks.

The next day, Susanne shared another article. In that article, the woman was identified as Lea S., and she worked at our vet’s office. Her murder was the reason the practice was closed on Wednesday, as she was killed on Tuesday night. It says on the vet’s page that she had been working there since 2017, but I guess she only just moved to Wiesbaden… or, more specifically, the area where we live, which is on the outskirts of Wiesbaden proper. Lea loved horses and spent her free time with them. I grew up with horses myself, so I understand the love very well.

On a different note, I think it’s interesting that the German press doesn’t identify people like the American press does. Even people who are accused of crimes don’t get identified by their full names. They are usually photographed holding up a folder over their faces and their last names are usually not revealed.

In the next article about the murder, we learned that the perpetrator is a 55 year old man. He has already lawyered up and turned himself in to the police. Supposedly, he and Lea were romantically involved, and perhaps she tried to break up with him. He responded by shooting her.

Violent crime is not that common in Germany. It does happen here, but not like it does in the United States. It’s much more difficult for private citizens to have access to weapons here than it is in the United States. Frankly, I like that about Germany. I think it’s sensible. But just because there aren’t as many guns here, that doesn’t mean violent crime doesn’t happen. And even without weapons, people do get murdered here… but by less violent methods. For example, a few months ago, I wrote about a man who had killed people by poisoning their food, and another man who had passively aggressively booby trapped the homes of people he didn’t like.

I am not that familiar with our new vets because I haven’t been the one taking the dogs to them. When we lived near Stuttgart, I got to know our old vets very well, because I took Zane in monthly for allergy shots. Our new vets have a much bigger and busier practice, and we have only visited them a few times. Most of the time, Bill has gone alone. I can’t even imagine how our old vets would have reacted if one of their staff members had been murdered. They’d probably shut down for a week.

I think Lea’s story is very sad. She was a beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her. She obviously had passions in life, and so many more things to do before she made her untimely exit. My heart goes out to her family, friends, and co-workers who had experienced such a tremendous loss. I’m sure we would have gotten to know and like her, if we’d had the opportunity.

Hopefully, we’ll get to the bottom of Zane’s issues soon. He just begged me for his morning treat, but still doesn’t want to finish his breakfast.

Edited to add: Since I wrote this post, more information has come out. The ex lover who turned himself in is claiming innocence and says he only turned himself in because he knew the police would confront him. Also, witnesses have said they saw a young man, and the ex lover is 55 years old. However, the prosecutor doesn’t believe that the ex lover had nothing to do with the crime. Perhaps it was murder for hire?

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