Who Killed These Girls–Beverly Lowry

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Things I learned this week about the criminal justice system that I find very disturbing:

  1. If you are being questioned by the police and someone hires you a lawyer, the police do not need to let you know that, or that the lawyer is there, or that you can talk to them. Only if you ask to contact a lawyer can you get access to one.
  2. Actual innocence is not a constitutional basis for overturning a conviction.
  3. Until this week, it was legal for police in Michigan to have sex with sex workers they were busting. I have no idea if it’s still legal in other places.

None of that seems right.

The first thing on that list I learned from this book and it is very messed up. This book is about the most famous unsolved murder in the history of Austin, Texas. In 1991 two high school girls were closing up a frozen yogurt shop. One of the girls had her little sister there with her, and her sister’s friend was also there, on a sleepover. The little ones were 13 and 14 and the older girls were 17.

They were found in the early hours of the morning, when the fire department came to put out the fire in the yogurt shop.

As it turns out, the girls had been raped, murdered and then the yogurt shop was set on fire to hide the evidence.

Years passed. Detectives worked on the case to the point of burnout. New police chiefs came and went. No arrests.

Finally, 8 years later, they get a report of a boy who had been talked to at the time of the murders. He’d been seen at the mall with a .22, the same kind of gun used in the murders. They had tested the gun at the time and it was not a match but they decided to talk to him again. They spoke to him, and to the other three guys who were with him that night.

The guy with the gun and one of the other boys refused to talk at all. The other two talked to the cops for hours, one without being informed of the lawyer his dad had hired. At some point one of the policemen held a gun to the back of one of their heads to “jog his memory.”

The two guys who talked eventually confessed. Their confessions contradicted each other and the evidence, but regardless, the cases are set for trial.

At trial, they did this weird thing. I’ve seen this before in true crime books, and it ALWAYS seems weird. They do this to allow confessions to be admissible even if they implicate co-defendants or co-conspirators. What they do is, they redact the confessions to only include references to the defendant himself. The problem with this is that it creates a very different impression of the confession from the original.

In this case, one of the confessions was 8 pages long and consisted of a lot of statements like, “And then he threatened me if I didn’t, so I shot the girl.” But the redacted version just read, “I shot the girl.” That’s just an example, but it’s like that. The redacted version was less than a page. They did this at both trials.

During the appeals process the Supreme Court decided that these redacted confessions are not legal, and the convictions were overturned.

ALSO during the appeals process, better DNA testing became available and they tested the DNA found in the girls. Two male DNA donors, neither of which matches anyone associated with the case. Completely unknown profiles.

Amazingly, this does not phase the prosecutors at all. They say, well, they must have had two other accomplices. Despite the fact that this is in direct contradiction with the confessions they have, which is the only basis for their arrest and trial. There is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime.

They’ve decided not to pursue another trial, but they also have not exonerated those boys.

And to this day, 25 years later, no one knows who killed the girls in the yogurt shop that night.

It’s so sad.

Sacred Clowns–Tony Hillerman

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I’m finally back to this series–my library inexplicably only had it in hard copy until recently, when they got the e-version, and since I do most of my reading on my phone these days, I paused the series.

I love these books. They almost make me forget how much I hate the heat and dryness of the desert.

This book begins with Jim Chee and his girlfriend with some other people, sitting on the roof of a house, watching a ceremonial dance. This dance comes from a different tribe, so they don’t really understand all of it. One of the components is a group called “sacred clowns” who act like clowns but are used to show how silly and bumbling and flawed humans are compared to the gods, who are also portrayed in the dance.

By the end, one of the clowns has been killed.

This appears to tie to an earlier murder at a school. A popular shop teacher was killed in his classroom, and silver and other things used in shop were found in the home of a local drunk who knew him. Case closed, but it doesn’t feel right. If he’d killed the teacher and stolen silver, he’d have sold the silver immediately.

The two murders are connected–the nephew of the killed dancer was friends with someone in the shop teacher’s class, was seen at the school that night, and has gone missing.

Chee and his boss have to figure out why someone would kill a clown dancer, who had no enemies as far as anyone knew, and how that connects to a well-loved and generous teacher at the local school.

 

We Have Your Daughter–Paula Woodward

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More true crime! I’m on a true crime kick. (True crime spree? Maybe.)

This is a book about the Jonbenet Ramsay case and let me tell you, I have FEELINGS about this case and about this book.

If (like my husband) you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know this case, here’s the brief summary:

Jonbenet was a 6 year old girl, the daughter of some super rich people in Boulder, Colorado.

She was (famously) a participant in child pageants.

The morning after Christmas she was missing from her bed and there was a 3 page ransom note in the kitchen.

The police come and don’t know what they’re doing because there aren’t murders in Boulder. Result: they don’t check the entire house. They let people in and out, contaminating the crime scene.

Finally, at 1pm the only cop left in the house (what? WHY??) sends her dad and his friend to go check the house, and the dad finds the body of Jonbenet in a small room in the basement.

No one was ever arrested for the crime.

Ok, that’s the summary.

Here’s my problem. Despite the overwhelming belief at the time by the police and the public that the parents were involved in some way, I don’t think that’s actually true.

And it kind of annoys me, to be honest.

This book is very pro-Ramsay and supportive of the parents, and even with that bias, it reads really clearly that despite what the author wants me to think, these are TERRIBLE human beings. They are awful. Here’s my justification for this:

  1. the girls name. This was dad’s second marriage and he named his first son after himself, but despite this, he made up a name for the girl which combined his first and middle names and her middle name is the mom’s first name. This is so much ME ME ME that it makes me crazy. How many kids named after yourself do you need? Why is it so important that this kid be a walking advertisement for you?
  2. the pageant stuff. The mom was a former Miss West Virginia so it’s not really a surprise that she put the girl in them but there is no question that those glitzy pageants sexualize little girls. I mean, you can argue that point with me if you want but you would be wrong and I’m pretty sure that the research backs me up.
  3. carelessness. The basement window the intruder used to get in was broken. And had been since June. Let’s just sit there for a minute and ponder the fact that a family that owns their own airplane can’t get it together to repair a window for SIX MONTHS.
  4. carelessness, 2: they gave out a bunch of keys to the house to people, friends, contractors, whatever, and didn’t keep track of them or get them back.
  5. carelessness, 3: they never set their security alarm.
  6. carelessness, 4: the week before the murder they’d opened their home to the public for some Christmas tour thing. If you’re going to do this, wouldn’t you then be extra vigilant about security after that? For robbery if nothing else. If I was rich and random people walked through my house for weeks, I would be setting the alarm and checking the windows and everything else.
  7. Dad–ok, this may be my personal bias, but I find it really icky when a man ditches his first wife (that he met in college) and marries a former pageant girl. Especially a rich man. You get rich, so you trade up your wife for someone younger and prettier? And after Jonbenet’s mom died of cancer, he remarried a third time, someone ALSO younger and very pretty. I do not like him. I think he’s gross. I think he’s an entitled rich asshole who keeps looking for trophies. The plane, the wife, the pretty daughter in pageants. It’s all the same thing and it is so gross to me. Even reading about him makes me want to take a hot shower and wash the ick off.

Ok.

But here’s the thing. There was some DNA on Jonbenet. In three places. There was very little, but it was enough to be tested and to go into the FBI’s database, and that DNA is not anyone in the family. It’s completely different, and it does not match any of the almost 200 people they’ve tested.

Also, I think the dad is super gross and if you told me he was abusive I’d be willing to listen to you, but I don’t think that’s how it would go if he decided to kill his daughter. She was molested with a paintbrush, strangled and then allowed to regain consciousness before being strangled again and her head was bashed in. That’s not the kind of thing most parents would do, but more importantly to me, I don’t think that’s how he would kill her even if he was the killer. She’s a trophy for him, and you don’t do that to trophies, you’d want to keep her pretty, right? Maybe I’m wrong, I’m not a killer.

Anyway. Maybe one day they’ll get a hit on the DNA and we will know what happened, but otherwise it probably won’t be solved. Which is a tragedy. Poor little Jonbenet. She deserved better than what happened to her.

 

How to Murder Your Mother-in-Law–Dorothy Cannell

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I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed any of the Dorothy Cannell books yet.

The first book in this series is called “The Thin Woman” and is, in my opinion, a classic in the cozy mystery genre.

This is a later book.

These books are centered on Ellie Haskell, a young wife and mother. Her life is filled with absurdity. The books are clever and witty and charming.

In this book, she has the idea to invite her in-laws for a formal dinner. Her mother-in-law is a devout Catholic. Her father-in-law is a devout Jew, and so she thinks it would be nice to celebrate their anniversary. She cooks a reasonable good dinner (although I always wonder why she cooks at all, since her husband is a professional chef) except for the chocolate pudding, which she inadvertently made with chocolate flavored laxatives.

But the biggest issue is that she invited a local woman who had been a friend of her in-laws when they were young and that they haven’t spoken to in forty years. As it happens, they had stopped talking because the mother-in-law thought her friend Tricks was trying to seduce her husband.

There’s a terrible fight and the husband takes Tricks home, only to be returned by the cops because they decided to skinny dip in the ocean and lost their clothes. At that point, the Magdalene (the mother-in-law) kicks him out.

As it happens, there’s a rash of problematic mothers-in-law in town. Trick’s daughter-in-law suffers from her mom’s cavalier attitude towards life. The local member of the aristocracy, Lady Kitty, dominates and tortures her husband and daughter-in-law. The local vicar’s mother-in-law smokes in the house and is cheeky to the bishop.

They all complain and try to find a way to solve their problem, but when Lady Kitty is killed when the brake lines on her bike are cut, they start to suspect each other. And then Tricks is poisoned.

They have to find out who is bumping off the mothers-in-law before they are all killed and ideally also get the women out of their houses before they lose their minds.