Book Review: If I Did It

Following the 1995 acquittal of legendary NFL running back O.J. Simpson for double-homicide, many memoirs would derive from the ashes of the “Trial of the Century” penned by many key players involved in the media frenzied story which captured the global public’s imagination for over a full year. But perhaps no book was more eagerly anticipated than that of the defendant himself.

Simpson, accused in the June 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown and her friend, Ron Goldman, offers his side of the story (sort of) in If I Did It, released in September 2007. Marketed as a “hypothetical” version of events if Simpson had committed the crimes, the former football hero chronicles his relationship with Brown leading up to that tragic pre-summer evening and the fallout from the murders until his arrest five days later.

Simpson’s presentation of events surrounding the Brown-Goldman murders is interesting, in a word. Obviously, the central part of the book – and the basis for its conception – is the sixth chapter, titled “The Night in Question.” Here, Simpson offers what he describes as a theoretical scenario of him (accompanied by a friend Simpson refers to as “Charlie”) stabbing his former wife and Ron Goldman to death.

At least that is what we may assume, considering Simpson does not actually admit to remembering the murders. Instead, the athlete-turned-actor places himself in the courtyard of Brown’s condominium covered in blood and holding a knife, with no apparent recollection of the brutality which befell the two lifeless people in front of him.

Obviously, Simpson’s hypothetical confession comes off as disappointing, lame and lacking of validity. While I did not delve into If I Did It hoping for a graphic first-hand account of two gory murders, Simpson’s words read as those of a man unwilling to accept responsibility for his own violent actions.

Simpson makes a number of other eyebrow-raising claims within the pages of If I Did It. First, let’s tackle the infamous white bronco chase. While Simpson admits to being suicidal that day, he insists that he and longtime friend A.C. Cowlings were on their way to Simpson’s Rockingham estate as the two led police on a low-speed pursuit on Los Angeles freeways. This is certainly contradictory to the recorded telephone conversation between Simpson and L.A.P.D. detective Tom Lange from inside the bronco, where the officer appears to cannily sway a seemingly suicidal Simpson from shooting himself (a discussion which goes completely unacknowledged in the book).

The author denies that he murdered Brown in a passionate rage over his desire to be with her. In fact, Simpson adamantly states several times that it was she who continuously hoped for reconciliation in their marriage and even describes an occasion where Brown sent him a letter along with the couple’s wedding tape in hopes of reuniting their family. This causes the reader (or at least this one) to wonder why Simpson didn’t produce such documentation of his ex-wife’s adoration for him during his criminal or civil trials.

Simpson questions the report that he recorded a tape about his life prior to the bronco incident, saying he would love to hear it someday. Well, should “The Juice” happen to be reading, I gladly direct him to the 2015 Lifetime Movie Network special, The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story – the basis of which is that very recording Simpson has apparently forgotten about.

Simpson does not address the criminal or civil court proceedings in the book. Instead, If I Did It concludes with the fallen gridiron hero being booked for the double-homicide of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

In addition to Simpson’s account, If I Did It includes passages from the Goldman family, late investigative journalist Dominick Dunne (who sat next to Kim Goldman during Simpson’s criminal trial), the book’s ghostwriter, Pablo Fenjves and attorney Peter T. Haven, who assisted the Goldmans in acquiring the publishing rights to If I Did It.

Purchasing information for If I Did It is available courtesy of Midpoint Publishers here.

(Special thanks to Megan Trank at Beaufort Books)

Book Review: Finding Peace Amid the Chaos

When O.J. Simpson was arrested for the double-homicide of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman in June 1994, the entire world became captivated by the ensuing drama and stage show-like atmosphere that the “Trial of the Century” would produce. As the general public became more and more engrossed in the daily O.J. spectacle, the Brown and Goldman families viewed the unfolding events through more personal and emotional lenses.

Nicole Brown’s youngest sister Tanya, 24 at the time of the murders, was shielded by her family from the abuse Nicole reportedly suffered at the hands of her celebrity athlete husband during the couple’s seven-year marriage – much of which was regurgitated during Simpson’s high-profile trial.

In her 2014 memoir, Finding Peace Amid the Chaos: My Escape From Depression and Suicide, Brown discusses her close relationship with Simpson – whom she knew since childhood as a result of the ex-football star’s relationship with Nicole – and the deep betrayal she felt after concluding that Simpson was responsible for her sister’s death.

Finding Peace Amid the Chaos is far more than another O.J.-based memoir, however. Much of the book documents Brown’s struggle with mental illness, which reached a climax in 2004 and caused her seek treatment, beginning with a ten-day stay in a hospital for psychiatric care and later as an out-patient. Brown shares not only her personal thoughts and rollercoaster of emotions at this time, but also includes journal entries throughout the book penned during her hospital visit and following her release.

Brown, now a professional keynote speaker and certified life coach, uses the closing chapters of Finding Peace Amid the Chaos to offer advice to others contending with stress and mental illness. Undoubtedly stemming from her own experiences, Brown’s words are laced with knowledge and understanding. In the book, Brown also recognizes the slowly eroding but still present stigma surrounding mental health issues and even admits to her own ignorance on the largely taboo subject prior to 2004.

Finding Peace Amid the Chaos is co-authored by William Croyle. Purchasing information for the book is available via Langmarc Publishing here.

(Special thanks to Lois Qualben at Langmarc Publishing)

Book Review: Shattered Silence

shattered_silence_coverIn the early to mid-1990s, a lone serial murderer was responsible for the deaths of at least eight women across the United States. Dubbed the “Happy Face Killer” due to the smiley faces drawn on his many letters to prosecutors, police departments and media outlets, the perpetrator largely targeted transients and prostitutes spanning six states.

In late-March 1995, the killer’s reign of terror came to an end when he turned himself in to authorities. The “Happy Face Killer” was revealed to be Keith Hunter Jesperson, a truck driver and father of three who had murdered his longtime girlfriend, Julie Ann Winningham, a few weeks before confessing to that crime in addition to the other killings (while Jesperson has claimed to have murdered as many as 160 people, only eight victims are currently confirmed).

As the families of Jesperson’s victims reeled over the revelation of the “Happy Face Killer’s” crimes, a group on the other side of the murderer’s brutal actions were also left to deal with the fallout of his arrest: Jesperson’s own family.

Jesperson’s daughter, Melissa Moore, has recounted her life before and after discovering her father’s secret identity in Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter, a memoir she co-authored along with M. Bridget Cook. The book covers Moore’s challenging childhood – living with extended family in overcrowded quarters along with her mother and two siblings following her parents’ divorce – and continues into the trauma she endured during her teen years. Along the way, Moore’s complicated and often uncomfortable relationship with her father is documented as she grows into adulthood.

Now a wife and mother, Moore employs her passion for helping other people affected by violent crime as host of the Monster in My Family docu-series in addition to serving as a correspondent for Crime Watch Daily.

Shattered Silence is not only a survivor story, but also a fascinating glimpse into how a notorious criminal’s actions affect those closest to them – the other category of victims often not recognized.

Purchasing information for Shattered Silence is available at this link.

(Special thanks to Vikki Downs and Katreina Eden at Cedar Fort Publishing)

Book Review: Broken Doll

broken_doll_coverOn March 31, 1995, seven-year-old Roxanne Doll was abducted from her Everett, Washington home while she slept next to her younger sister. A week later, the child’s body was found in a brushy area buried under dirt and debris. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.

An intense murder investigation led police to Richard Clark, a petty criminal, alcoholic and drug abuser who would eventually be convicted of Roxanne’s murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2006 following a decade-plus-long litigious rollercoaster. Clark, a family friend, had taken the girl from her bedroom after partying with her father, Tim Iffrig, that same evening and would join Tim for a camping trip the following morning, where Iffrig learned of Roxanne’s disappearance.

Acclaimed true crime author Burl Barer covers the Doll story with his 2004 book, Broken Doll. Featuring interviews with Roxanne’s parents and others close to the case, the book documents the events leading up to that tragic night in March as well as the constant legal maneuvering utilized by Clark’s defense team before, during and after the trial – resulting in numerous delays in court proceedings. Also detailed is Clark’s previous conviction for unlawful imprisonment after he tied up a four-year-old girl in his aunt’s garage in 1988.

Broken Doll reaches its conclusion during an extended delay in Clark’s second death-penalty-sentencing trial (his first death sentence was thrown out in 2001). The convicted child killer would reach an agreement with prosecutors in 2006 that spared his life in exchange for Clark’s admission that he had murdered Roxanne.

Also included in Broken Doll are 16 pages of photos related to the Roxanne Doll case.

You can purchase Broken Doll via the Kensington Books website at this link or visit Burl Barer’s official website here.

(Special thanks to Vida Engstrand and Morgan Elwell at Kensington Books)

DVD Review: Winter of Frozen Dreams

winter-of-frozen-dreams-dvd-coverIn 1980, Wisconsin biochemistry student-turned-prostitute Barbara Hoffman became the first defendant in U.S. history to have their murder trial televised to the nation. Charged with killing her fiancé, Gerald Davies, as well as former client Harry Berge, Jr. (both men died of cyanide poisoning), Hoffman would be found guilty of the latter crime while being acquitted of Davies’ murder. She is currently serving a life sentence and no longer applies for parole.

Winter of Frozen Dreams – a 2009 independent crime drama based on Kurl Harter’s book of the same name – documents the Hoffman story beginning with the Christmas Day 1977 confession of Davies, who admitted to authorities that he and his fiancée had disposed of Berge’s body the previous night. The film follows the narrative of Hoffman manipulating both men – each whom had met the pretty masseuse at Jan’s Health Studio in Madison – convincing them to sign over their property and insurance policies before both would end up dead.

Thora Birch delivers a stoic performance in her starring role as the cool and intelligent Hoffman, along with a strong supporting cast including Brendan Sexton III (Davies) and Keith Carradine (Detective Lulling) of Dexter fame.

The Winter of Frozen Dreams DVD release includes extras such as a behind the scenes featurette and an interview with Carradine discussing his role as Lulling.

You can purchase Winter of Frozen Dreams courtesy of Monterey Media at this link or on Amazon here.

(Special thanks to Jenny Manocchio of Monterey Media)

Book Review: Bombers, Rioters and Police Killers: Violent Crime and Disorder in Victorian Britain

bombers_rioters_coverRenowned British author Simon Webb takes a historical and comparative look at some of the most heinous criminal carnage in the British Victorian era with Bombers, Rioters and Police Killers: Violent Crime and Disorder in Victorian Britain, released by Pen and Sword Books this past November.

While many identify the Victorian age as a period of elegance, style and sophistication essentially devoid of violent crime, Webb explains through nine chapters of appalling and vicious events that criminalistic behavior is hardly a phenomenon of recent years. In fact, the back cover of Bombers, Rioters and Police Killers contains this troubling line: “Between 2003 and 2013, not a single Metropolitan police officer was murdered, yet during a typical decade in the Victorian period, 1860 to 1870, nine officers were shot, stabbed or beaten to death in London.”

Webb documents acts of terrorism, street crime and mass murder within the pages of Bombers, Rioters and Police Killers. Included are stories detailing the slayings of police officers in the line of duty, the use of military to combat rioting and an entire chapter devoted to “Victorian London’s 9/11.”

Supplementing the stories of carnage and rampage are eight pages of photographs, which provide a pictorial perspective of the bloodshed documented in Bombers, Rioters and Police Killers.

You can purchase Bombers, Rioters and Police Killers via the Pen & Sword Books website at this link.

(Special thanks to Charlie Simpson of Pen & Sword Books)

Book Review: Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family

every_last_tieFrom 1978 to 1995, an unknown American domestic terrorist waged a bombing rampage targeting those involved with modern technology. Dubbed the “Unabomber” by the mainstream media, the anarchist’s homemade devices would claim three lives and injure 23 others over a 17-year span.

The Unabomber’s reign of terror came to an end in April 1996, when Ted Kaczynski, a former assistant university professor, mathematics prodigy and Harvard graduate, was arrested at his cabin in rural Montana. Inside the lodge, investigators discovered an abundance of bomb components, what appeared to be an original typed manuscript of a manifesto published by The Washington Post and The New York Times and one bomb ready for mailing, leaving little doubt as to the identity of the Unabomber.

Following Kaczynski’s apprehension, it was revealed that his younger brother, David, was responsible for the identification and arrest of the Unabomber after David’s wife became suspicious that Kaczynski could be the one behind the bomb attacks. Kaczynski pleaded guilty in 1998 to all of the government’s charges against him and received eight life sentences without the possibility of parole.

David Kaczynski has penned a memoir titled Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family. Released earlier this year by Duke University Press, the book details Kaczynski family life, David’s often tumultuous relationship with Ted during adulthood and the difficulties of living under mainstream media pressure following he and his wife Linda’s angst-ridden decision to notify authorities of their suspicions that Ted was the Unabomber.

Kaczynski, a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, former youth shelter assistant director and anti-death penalty advocate, is a well-spoken author whose anguish while wrestling with his suspicions of Ted is painfully clear within the pages of Every Last Tie. Essentially estranged from his brother since 1990, the reader can’t help but feel David maintains some hope of a reconciliation one day.

Included in Every Last Tie is twenty pages of Kaczynski family photographs (courtesy of David) and an afterword by psychiatry professor and forensic psychiatrist James L. Knoll IV. At 141 pages, the book is an easy and compelling read.

Every Last Tie is available for purchase on Amazon at this link or via the Duke University Press website here.

(Special thanks to Duke University Press)