Review of Sidetracked: The Betrayal And Murder Of Anna Kithcart, a true crime book by Richard Cahill

Sidetracked

Fair disclosure, I was provided this book by Wild Blue Press for review.  Richard and I both write for the same publisher.  This review is my own with no influence from the publisher.  I wanted to read his latest book.

I first read Richard Cahill’s work in Hauptmann’s Ladder: A Step-by-Step Analysis of the Lindbergh Kidnapping and gave it a strong review…Review . Tackling one of the most publicized kidnapping and murder cases in US history was a massive undertaking.  I wondered where Mr. Cahill could go from the top of the proverbial heap.  With Sidetracked, we learn that he went to his roots with a bizarre story that has something for everyone – racism, necrophilia, brutal murder and strange if not twisted characters.

I often tell people that every murder is a tragedy but not every tragedy is worthy of a book.  Cahill chose wisely in his subject matter.  This is a 1980’s murder, one of stark brutality and senselessness.  He masterfully weave in the backdrop of this crime – the Tawana Brawley case and Reverend Al Sharpton’s insertion into the murder of Anna Kithcart.  It was a tightrope act to address Mr. Sharpton’s claims and the reality of the case, and the author does so quite masterfully without miring the book in political climate of the time. I have never heard of the murder of Ana Kithcart before this book, but now I feel I know it well.

Mr. Cahill twists the knot of this crime tightly with secret wiretappings, half-confessions, and a questionable parade of characters tied to this crime.  Having consulted in Kingston in my career, I was familiar with the area and Cahill does a great job of putting the reader there, in that small city in the era.  Every city has its dark side and Mr. Cahill takes us there, despite our reservations.

The book leverages the court transcripts heavily and Cahill does an admirable job of getting us through a tale where we are not entirely sure, even by the end of the book, of what exactly happened to the victim.  As a writer, I know how hard it can be to mesh conflicting accounts and contradictory versions of events.  Mr. Cahill took the high road and we are all better for it.

Sidetracked is a welcome addition to any true crime reading list and I strongly encourage you to pick it up.  My only regret is that my daughter and I write about crimes in the 1980’s, and now it appears we will have some stiff competition.  Damn!

Link to Sidetracked on Amazon

#truecrime

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A Mid Season Review of The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer on the History Channel

Zodiac Series

I came into this with a lot of apprehension.  I mean, this IS the History Channel.  How they have covered true crime in the past has been fair to good, but they also back projects like Hunting for Hitler which was a bizarre waste of viewing time.  What compelled me to watch was that fellow true crime author Ken Mains was involved.  We write for the same publisher (Wild Blue Press) and I loved his book on cold cases, Unsolved No More.  His involvement meant there might be hope for this series.

I was not disappointed.

Mains and retired LAPD homicide detective, Sal LaBarbera host the show and have come at Zodiac from a completely different angle than I expected.  They are targeting those crimes that Zodiac claimed credit for beyond the ones he was confirmed to have been involved with.  This is proving an awesome approach.  It means we are getting perspectives and names of suspects not commonly tied to the Zodiac case.  Some of these are downright creepy persons of interest that might very well have ties to the more well-known Zodiac cases.

Added to this is the use of the CARMEL supercomputer which is being used to attempt to break Zodiac’s previously unbroken codes.  As an IT guy, I was intrigued by this new angle and approach.  Yes it is geeky, but it is cool.  When the computer began to write Zodiac inspired poetry – I have to admit, the creep factor went up to 9.6.

The combination of seasoned veteran investigators, a new perspective on Zodiac, and the use of a supercomputer has forged a new true crime show that is must-watch TV.  The investigators are engaging, the pace is good, and they are going where the evidence takes them.  I have to admit, I look forward to the new episode every week.

If you haven’t been following The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer, I suggest you drink in these first episodes and get up to speed.  New perspectives on cold cases are always welcome additions to what we think we know about these infamous crimes.

#truecrime

#Zodiac

Review of the Netflix Series – Mindhunter – Season One

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It is all about getting into the minds of serial killers 

Being a true crime author, I’m ashamed that I haven’t gotten around to reading the book that this series is based on yet.  It is a matter of time and priority, juggling my own investigations on top of requests for reading.

I sat down to drink in Mindhunter on Netflix when I was recently sick, doing a rare binge-watch of the series.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  This is the story of how the FBI got into the behavioral science of researching the patterns of serial killers. While that topic sounds potentially slow, they find ways of telling this story that grip and captivate the viewer.

This is the story of three characters on their journey into the dark, twisted minds of the murderers.  One is an arrogant and defiant young agent who is willing to break to rules in a rather Machiavellian manner.  Another is a more seasoned agent, more “by-the-book.”  The other is a psychologist that is an outsider to the FBI, who understand the full potential of this kind of research.  It is a good dynamic of characters working towards the same goal, but coming at it from very different angles and perspectives.

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Opposing them is the FBI itself, the resistance of law enforcement agencies to this new way of thinking, and the serial killers they must confront and mentally dissect. It makes for good, solid, and entertaining TV.

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Perhaps the most creepy portrayal in the series.  Just looking at him ooks me out.  

It was fun to see the origins of words and phrases that I take for granted as an author such as “organized,” and “disorganized,” in relation to serial killers.  The portrayal of the FBI as a big bureaucratic organization, fixed in its mindset and approach, seemed fairly accurate to my own limited experience.

Set in the 1970’s the sets and cars are spot on accurate.  I only found one real flaw.  In the first episode they show Agent Ford’s apartment as a tall building in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Sorry Netflix, you’d be hard pressed to find something over four stories tall there, even today.

Fair warning, the first episode was a tad slow for me, but after that it had moments that were pure mental terror to watch.  This is the kind of show you have to commit to…and it is a commitment worth making.

My only critique is the whole storyline of Holden Ford and his girlfriend.  It just feels forced to me.  The sex scenes (approximately one an episode) often feel like they are just tossed in.

I cannot speak as to whether it is accurate to the book – but it doesn’t matter – it stands on its own.

#truecrime

#mindhunter

#netflix

The Bizarre Manson Legacies…

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This was my gateway into the true crime genre.  How many of you share that? 

Charles Manson is dead.  I hope it provides solace for those survivors related to his victims.  As a true crime author I found myself not wanting his death, but oddly comfortable with it. Manson should have died years ago but California rejected the death penalty.  He was a product of the prison system where he lived most of his life.  Strange as it may sound, his life sentence was merely sending him back to his home.

Manson’s trial was the first since the Lindbergh kidnapping/murder that captivated the entire country.  I remember it being on the evening news almost nightly.  TV was a catalyst for Charile’s brand of crazy.  Even President Nixon weighed in on his guilt.  It was the first trial that was part of the mainstream media.  It was hard to follow as a kid watching the nightly news. Manson’s motive made no sense to me.  How could such a worthless waif of a human convince kids from middle-class America to go out and slaughter innocent people?  That alone drove attention and insatiable curiosity into the crimes.

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Manson was masterful at giving the media what it wanted, a story and an image every night.  Each one designed to shock and awe America’s sensibilities.  

Charles Manson left a few strange legacies in has evil wake.  Manson and his followers drove a stake in the hippie movement.  Drugs and sex may have opened many minds, but in Manson’s bizarrely capable hands he turned hippies to raw and savage violence. From the time of his arrest, the era of hippies was viewed with suspicion and was forever tainted.  Manson killed the very movement he waded into.

Another strange legacy he had was in the true crime genre.  I would contend that Manson spawned the contemporary true crime genre which is near its pinnacle right now.  His crime, and the books and films that followed convinced the world that there were evil people out there and they could strike, seemingly at random.  He blurred the line between horror and true crime simply by existing.

For myself and many others, Helter Skelter was our first contemporary true crime book.  The 1976 TV docudrama was chilling and disturbing on multiple levels.  If Manson and his Family had not waged their twisted war on Los Angeles, the true crime genre would have been set back decades.  Vincent Bugliosi’s masterful book paved the way for countless other books.

You may argue that Capote’s work, In Cold Blood, had laid this foundation first.  The murders he chose however were not front page news.  Manson went after film stars and prominent members of the LA community.  Capote’s work, while groundbreaking, did not have the full media coverage that the Tate-Labianca trial had.  Manson played the press and the world ate it up.  He was a creature of film and the press.  They hated him and put him in every living room nightly.  It wasn’t until the OJ Simpson trial that we saw media cover murders with such zeal and interest.

True crime was here to stay.

While I loathe Charles Manson and everything that he stood for; he did forge the start of the contemporary true crime genre by being a horribly evil man with no regard to human life.  The world is a better place without him in it.  The nightmares he has spawned however, continue on to this day.

Update on the book tour for A Special Kind of Evil – The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings

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We always appreciate the turnout to discuss cold cases.

My co-author (and daughter) and I are about half-way through our live lectures as part of our book tour for A Special Kind of Evil.  We are not big on book signing events at bookstores, but tend to favor lectures at libraries and colleges on the subject.  This gives us a chance to have more of a dialogue with participants and have them engage more.  We don’t sell books at these events but we do sign them.  This was never about selling books as much as it was about getting the stories out.

These events are hard to do. An hour cannot do complete justice to the stories.  I always say it is akin to trying to pour five gallons of water into a one gallon bucket.

We have some other events coming up, and we hope they too will generate some new leads as well.  Someone out there knows something…

  • November 4 – Culpeper County Public Library, Culpeper, Virginia, 3:00pm.
  • November 28 – Newport News Library, Grissom Branch, 7:00pm.
  • Williamsburg Library will be January 20 at 2:00pm in the Kitzinger Room at the James City County Branch.

We look forward to seeing you there and answering your questions.

Our session at the Tabb Library in York County was packed to overflowing.  For us this is an indication that the community there is still very interested in the cases.  More than a few things percolated up at that session.  One, a former-relative of Steve Blackmon, a former Gloucester sheriff’s deputy was there and claimed that he told family members he had been cleared of the crimes by polygraph.  That was the first time we had heard that he had been cleared.  Of course polygraphs are only as a good as the person administering them.  Blackmon, and Ron Little’s names come up a LOT in these cases as possible suspects.  Blackmon himself is out on parole for a pair of drug-related murders in South Carolina.  The attendee also told us he was aware the book had been published.  We would love a chance to speak with him…we have many questions that have come up in the last two-plus years of researching.  All-in-all, that was fascinating.

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Ten minutes before started!  A great turnout.

We were honored that friends of Robin Edwards and the family of Keith Call attended.  I am sure that it was comforting to know that their community was so engaged on finding the killer(s).

We also had a moment or two of intrigue.  Victoria was approached by one attendee, Gordy Price who asked us to call him.  Gordy was making a horror film called The Waterman and had heard about a man that had found a strange weapon buried not far from the Colonial Parkway in Seaford.  He graciously put us in contact with Keith William Krushel Jr. who had found the weapon.

Keith was clearing some property as part of a construction job back in July.  He found a machete wrapped in duct tape, buried three feet deep.  It was wrapped as if someone was trying to protect or preserve it for some reason.  His initial thought was that it was a lawnmower blade.  He handled it with gloves, just in case it was used in some sort of crime.  Smart guy.

Do you know of any crimes committed with a machete in the area?  Please reach out to the FBI if you do.  I’m confident they’d love to hear from you.

His aunt remembered the Thomas – Dowski murders both were committed with a knife and contacted the FBI who took it into their possession.  One of the agents, who had spent time on a Virginia farm, indicated he had never seen a blade wrapped for preservation like this.  This agent speculated that the knife may have been used in a crime but saved by someone else, perhaps as leverage against the perpetrator.  “You know, you turn me in, I will go and get that machete and turn it over to the authorities.”  They couldn’t come up with a reason that the killer would do that to a blade.

I was doubtful that it was used in the Thomas – Dowski case.  While a machete is a dangerous weapon, it could have been unwieldy to use to cut someone’s throat, presumably from behind.  Still, you can’t ignore something like this.  Nevertheless we turned the information over to Bill Thomas (Cathy’s brother) who followed up with the FBI.  While it is unlikely that it was used in the Colonial Parkway murders, it may have been involved with some other crime. I have included some photos to assist any would-be crime solvers.  Kudos to Mr. Krushel for doing the right thing and turning it in!

I received a half-dozen different theories and got a chance to correspond with someone that knew Steve Blackmon from his school days.  She was useful in fleshing out some details about him and his personality. It is pretty clear that Blackmon was a crooked cop.  Does that make him the Colonial Parkway murderer?  Perhaps time and new testing techniques will tell.

Our library session spurred another tip that came into our blog – one which I deleted at the behest of the requestor.  This happens more than you might think at these sessions.  This lead has been turned into the FBI via one of the family members who has regular contact with them.  More on that if anything useful does come of it.  This person claimed that they had family members that had been driving on the Parkway on October 9, 1986 and had seen Cathy Thomas’s white Civic, the two girls with their hands crossed, and may have even heard one of them calling for help.  They also saw another vehicle parked next to the Honda as well.  They called in this sighting to the police at the time.  Suffice it to say, it was fascinating.

We also did a session at the Norfolk Public Library and that was well attended as well.  What was great there was that we had a police officer in attendance and a former FBI agent. The latter assured Victoria that he sided with her, that it was likely two killers that had committed these crimes.

The Norfolk crowd had some interesting theories which is always fun.  True crime is so popular now that it has turned millions of people into amateur detectives.  We encourage this.  While we can offer our perspective on such theories, we cannot determine if they are accurate or not until an arrest is made.

So, as we move into the autumn and winter, we hope you will be able to join us soon at an upcoming event!

#ColonialParkwayMurders

#Truecrime

Review of Ruby Ridge – The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family by Jess Walter

Ruby

This is one of those books that is a true crime and a true tragedy, both at the same time.  We all vaguely remember the story that the media put in front of us.  A family of white separatist lawbreakers huddled up on a mountain stood off against the FBI.  Memories blur for most of us.  Before reading this book I remembered that some of them were shot.  I remembered there being some horrible mistakes on the part of the federal authorities as well.

Reading this book however brought clarity to all of this.  In these times where we find ourselves where labels like “white separatists” are tossed about on the news so liberally, it is important to go back and study Ruby Ridge.

Jess Walter did an outstanding job of laying out the facts to process this seemingly innocent crime that escalated to cold-blooded murder.  The author does an outstanding job of cutting through the myths around this story and dealing with the people and what occurred.  It is no small task, given that the federal accounts do not even agree with each other.

Randy Weaver was and is his own man. He did commit some crimes.  He did nothing that warranted what happened to him and his family however.  This is a story about the government living up to its own darkest ideals.  The author gives the appropriate trail of breadcrumbs to lead the reader up the trail where what should have been a routine criminal prosecution turned into butchery.  When you frame this against the events in Waco against the Branch Davidians and Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Office Building; you find yourself as a reader asking yourself, “could this happen again?”

Ruby Ridge (the book) is a cautionary tale for all of us in these politically charged times where the rights of individuals are clashing with political correctness.  I found the book made me sit and think about current affairs, yet clearly it was written years before our current climate.  Any book that make you think, that compels you to contemplate the role of your government is destined to be a good book.

I’m glad I waited to read it – and moreover, I’m glad I finally did.

 

The Stockwell Strangler – Part 1

I have never reblogged a post- but this one captivated me.

The True Crime Enthusiast

“Obviously he is a desperate man and needs help” – Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Thompson (speaking in 1986)

Stockwell is a district in inner South London, situated in the London borough of Lambeth. It was for a time considered to be one of the poorer areas of London, but it has undergone a bit of an overhaul in recent years, and as it is in proximity to Central London and as a result has excellent transport links, it’s now and up and coming area. It does have its brushes with infamy in its history – most recently for example, Stockwell Underground Station was the scene of the high-profile wrongful killing of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 by armed officers of the London Metropolitan Police. He was wrongfully killed after being mistakenly thought to be a suspect in the attempted bombings of 21st July 2005 – the attacks that…

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