Loyalty"Returns the female detective to the heart of the hard-boiled tradition." - Sara Paretsky
Author Ann Rule is regarded by many as the foremost true crime writer in America and most responsible for the genre as it exists today. Ann Rule was born in Lowell, Michigan, on October 22, 1935, into a family of law-enforcement professionals. She attended the University of Washington and received a BA in Creative Writing, with minors in Psychology, Criminology and Penology. To help pay the bills, she wrote true crime articles for several magazines, including Master Detective. Her big break came when she wrote her first true crime book, The Stranger Beside Me, a bestseller about serial killer Ted Bundy. Unbeknownst to the author, Ann Rule was doing research for the book while actually working beside the killer at a suicide prevention hotline at which they were both volunteering in Seattle. It was not until Bundy's trials and convictions that she finally accepted that her co-worker and friend was the sadistic serial killer responsible for more than 30 murders. Over the past three decades, she has published over 30 books and 1,400 articles, mostly on criminal cases. Her true crime books all explore the reasons behind the front-page cases she covers. Twenty-six of Ann Rule's books have been on the New York Times bestsellers list, with Every Breath You Take and Last Dance, Last Chance both on the list at the same time. Her true crime books have been made into many TV movies. She is very active in support groups for victims of violent crimes. She currently lives in the Seattle area.
Fatal Friends, Deadly Neighbors
FATAL FRIENDS, DEADLY NEIGHBORS
Most murder victims know their killers. Some were afraid of the stalkers who would one day rob them of their very lives; some had no idea of the danger that waited quietly for them. Stranger to stranger homicides are committed by serial killers and rapists, or during the process of other crimes such as armed robbery or violent home invasions.
Still, the last face the majority of murder victims see is that of someone they know—intimately or casually. And so superior detectives look first for connections, the interweaving of lives that may have led to homicide. Those who are naive and inexperienced prefer to believe that they can discern some hidden menace in those who intersect their paths.
I used to think that. Now, I look back and see how smug I was when I believed I was fool-proof. I had many courses in abnormal and criminal psychology at the University of Washington. After I graduated, I worked at Hillcrest, the Oregon State girls’ reformatory, been a Seattle Police officer, studied for weeks of basic homicide investigation school. I have both attended and lectured at scores of law enforcement seminars, and I’ve pored over what seems like miles of police reports to research thirty-three books and over a thousand articles on criminal cases. After so many years of writing about true crimes, I still haven’t been able to grow a thick enough emotional hide so that sad media stories don’t affect me. And I’m glad that I haven’t; black humor abounds in the homicide units I visit when I’m researching a book—but I know the detectives there joke to keep from crying. The sadder the case, the more they joke.
It never means they don’t care. And I have never reached a place where I don’t care deeply for the people I write about. But I am also an avid student of human behavior, always wondering “how” and “why” lives interconnect in scenarios that end in violence.
Despite all that, as the years have passed, I have come to realize how limited my own powers of perception are when it comes to really knowing what someone else may be thinking. . .or hiding.
In this book, the sixteenth in my “true crime files” series, I relate some of the weirdest and the most chilling cases I have ever come across. Some are recent, even current. There are others that I first came across three decades ago. The first two investigations are novella length.
The first case is “Fire and Ice: The Powell Case.” This began with the baffling disappearance of Susan Powell from her Utah home in December 2009. A blizzard raged outside on the last night anyone saw Susan. The main “person of interest,” in this case was her own husband and the father of their two small boys.
Months ago, I promised Susan Powell’s parents that I would write her story, and I am honoring that promise. None of us knew then how horrifically the Powell story would play out in 2012. Had I known, I probably would not have attempted it.
The second case—“Two Strange Deaths in Coronado”—is also only months’ old, and it questions why the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office closed their July 2011, death investigation after only seven weeks. There are myriad theories on how and why Maxfield Shacknai, 6, and Rebecca Zahau, 32, perished in a billionaire’s mansion in Coronado, California, both within forty-eight hours. Are any of possibilities the true story?
It was midafternoon on a very warm day—June 4, 2007—when bulldozer operator Travis Haney paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead. He’d been demolishing an old farmhouse and leveling the topsoil on Canyon Road East in Puyallup, (pronounced Pew-AL-up) Washington.
It was a prime spot for a shopping mall in the Summit district of Pierce County.
The Washington State Fairgrounds were close by, and land surrounding Puyallup was known for its rich soil and never-ending acres of daffodils.
But just as the Kent Valley had been paved over to make room for the burgeoning Boeing Company and the parking lots, apartment houses, malls, and other businesses necessary to fill the needs of a startling influx of new residents, Puyallup’s daffodils were beginning to disappear, along with the small truck farms and strawberry fields in the valley.
It was dismaying to see the rich loam of the area buried under cement. But progress was progress.
The tall yellow home that had once stood on this particular piece of property was probably built more than a hundred years ago. The house had been empty for a while, but even without care, many of the old-fashioned roses, lilacs, and other familiar perennials had managed to survive among encroaching weeds. The house was slowly dying. Its front porch sagged; some windows were broken and seemed like dead eyes staring out as the demo teams moved in.
There had, indeed, been a ghostly presence surrounding the house, which no one wanted any longer. Workers didn’t notice it much in the bright sunshine of summer days, but they certainly did as the sun began to set. In June, in the Northwest, that doesn’t happen until almost 10 p.m.
The house itself was gone by June 4; all the splintered boards and walls with a dozen layers of wallpaper were gone, hauled away to landfills.
The last thing Travis Haney was thinking about on this Monday afternoon was hauntings and bizarre secrets. He moved the ’dozer close to the fence on the west/northwest section of the lot, idly glancing at the dirt the blade turned up.
And then a black plastic trash bag rose up through the disturbed earth. Haney lowered the bucket again and the next scoop brought up the rest of the bag. He dumped it onto a pile of dirt. He could see that it was torn. Curious, he hopped down from his perch and opened the bag along one side.
There were bones and rotted clothing inside and some tattered twine that might have been used to tie it all up. Finding bones wasn’t particularly unusual for crews who were demolishing buildings and houses and rearranging dirt. Haney mused that these bones must have been in the bag for a long time. They could have been the bones of a dog or even a small farm animal. The presence of shreds of cloth, however, made him wonder if whatever had died here might have been a human being.
Lewis County has had its share of homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths, many of them connected either to the I-5 freeway or to the trains that rumble through almost every hour. Coroner Terry Wilson has ruled on the “manner of death” for most of them. Wilson is neither a medical doctor nor a forensic pathologist. He is a “PA,” a physician’s assistant. He earns $35,000 a year as coroner, and works in a local clinic as a PA, too. That isn’t particularly unusual, because many of the outlying and smaller counties in Washington employ the coroners’ system, while Pierce, King, Snohomish, Spokane, and larger counties have medical examiners who are medical doctors or forensic pathologists. The latter are the best educated, most skilled, and most experienced in detecting time, cause and manner of death. Either medical examiners or coroners can make or break the successful solution to a sudden and violent death. Ronda Reynolds was thirty-three, healthy, and beautiful when she died on December 16, 1998. She was still what would be considered a bride—though on the verge of divorce—when her brain was destroyed by a bullet just beside her right temple. But why and how? Almost a dozen years later, both those who had known and loved her and those who had only read about her were still asking questions.
On November 2, 2009, in the Lewis County Law and Justice Center, a precedent-setting hearing began. It was a civil hearing, one long sought by Barbara Thompson, Ronda Reynolds’s mother. Although Ronda, a former Washington State Patrol trooper, had been dead nearly eleven years, there were questions about what really happened to her and what led to the tragedy just before a long-ago Christmas. There had been few solid answers, only massive speculation that seemed to grow every year. The hearing in the Chehalis courtroom was not to decide on who—if anyone—had killed Ronda; it was to evaluate Coroner Terry Wilson and his staff’s handling of Ronda’s case. Had Wilson been irresponsible on December 16, 1998, and thereafter? Under orders, his staff had done a perfunctory investigation of her death. Had it been enough? Or had her dying been swept under the rug and dismissed? Barb Thompson believed fervently that it had.
It was still dark at 6:20 on the morning Ronda’s husband of less than a year—Ron Reynolds—called 911. He told the sheriff’s dispatcher that his wife had committed suicide. It appeared to be “an open-and-shut case.” But was it?
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