Book Review: My Friend Dahmer

In the summer of 1991, the entire world watched in shock as Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the murder of seventeen young men and teenage boys. The horrific details of Dahmer’s killings – which included necrophilia, dismemberment and cannibalism – repulsed the nation and to this day solidifies Dahmer as one of the most notorious and abhorrent serial murderers in the annals of true crime.

One man who watched the Dahmer events unfold with a personal interest was Derf Backderf, who made friends with the future serial killer while the two were students at Revere High School in Richfield, Ohio during the 1970s. Backderf, an award-winning political cartoonist and comic artist, documents his relationship with Dahmer in the graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, which has been made into a motion picture.

In the My Friend Dahmer, Backderf not only details his friendship with one of the most reviled killers in history, but also offers his own thoughts and opinions on Dahmer’s descent into madness and depravity.

Purchasing information for My Friend Dahmer is available here.

(Special thanks to Abrams Books)

Book Review: The Making of the President 2016

In a career spanning four-and-a-half decades, political advisor, strategist and lobbyist Roger Stone has found himself in the employ of renowned public officials such as Richard Nixon, Jack Kemp, Bob Dole and current United States President Donald Trump.

Stone, a longtime personal friend of Trump, provides a behind-the-scenes account of “The Donald’s” November 2016 underdog presidential victory over his Democratic Party-affiliated opponent Hillary Clinton in his New York Times Best-Seller The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revoltution. The book examines the strategies employed by Trump en route to his stunning victory – all from Stone’s front-row perspective.

Purchasing information for The Making of the President 2016 can be found here.

(Special thanks to Madeleine Ball of Skyhorse Publishing)

Book Review: I’m Missing – Please Find Me

I’m Missing – Please Find Me is the second title in a series of Crime Stoppers releases from Ontario, Canada-based author Cal Millar. The book details more than 350 accounts of unsolved missing persons cases, predominantly focusing on North American stories.

Millar, a former reporter for the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star newspapers, spotlights a number of high-profile cases in I’m Missing – Please Find Me, including the disappearances of Jennifer Kesse, Sheryl Sheppard, Tara Calico, Morgan Nick and Brianna Maitland.

Purchasing information for I’m Missing – Please Find Me can be found here.

(Special thanks to Cal Millar)

Book Review: Stories From Jonestown

In November 1978, the world watched in shock and horror as the bodies of over 900 people were discovered at a remote settlement in Guyana. Most of the victims were members of an American socialist movement called the People’s Temple and committed suicide under the instruction of the group’s leader, Jim Jones. The mass suicide (or murder, according to some observers) in “Jonestown” followed the killings of five others at Jones’ behest, including United States Congressman Leo Ryan.

Emmy-nominated writer Leigh Fondakowski spent three years travelling the United States interviewing survivors of the Jonestown tragedy. These discussions provide the basis for Fondakowski’s book Stories From Jonestown, where former members of the People’s Temple share their stories of traumatisation, stigmatization and loss.

In addition to presenting these survivor stories, Stories From Jonestown is also a testimony of Fondakowski’s own personal journey of discovery and empathy.

Purchasing information for Stories From Jonestown can be found here.

(Special thanks to Heather Skinner of University of Minnesota Press)

Book Review: O.J. is Innocent and I Can Prove It

When legendary NFL running back and Hollywood actor O.J. Simpson was acquitted in the double-slaying of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995, many observers felt the former gridiron great had gotten away with murder in the “Trial of the Century.” One man who has steadfastly defended Simpson’s innocence is Dallas-based private investigator William Dear, who offers an alternative theory to the killer’s identity in his book, O.J. is Innocent and I Can Prove It.

In the book, Dear theorizes that it was not Simpson who brutally murdered Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, but that his son Jason committed the crimes. Dear presents a mountain of circumstantial evidence against the younger Simpson in a compelling and convincing manner, utilizing 500-plus pages in an attempt to validate his controversial theory.

Dear’s hypothesis was the basis for the Investigation Discovery series, Is O.J. Innocent? The Missing Evidence.

Purchasing information for O.J. is Innocent and I Can Prove It is available here.

(Special thanks to Madeleine Ball at Skyhorse Publishing)

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)