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Without A Trace – Inside the Robert Durst Case – Book Review

WithoutATraceInsidetheRobertDurstCasAuthor: Marion Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Copyright: 2002, ISBN: 0312985029
Cover: Rex USA/New York Post
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, November 1, 2015

Summary: Reads like gossip but is fact-filled and fascinating in what it reveals about the breath of human delusion–self and otherwise. Multimillionaire Robert Durst oozes through suspicion of mischief and murder to eventually be arrested on suspicion of malfeasance in the execution style murder of a close friend.

After jumping bail in Galveston, Texas, in flight from a September 2001 charge of murder with discovery of the dismembered body of Morris Black, Robert Durst was arrested in Bath, Pennsylvania for shoplifting. The arrest occured in November of that year. Reporting information gleamed from Detective Gary Hammer of the Colonial Regional Police, author Marion Collins quotes him as saying, “‘Less than an hour after he’d [Durst] been taken into custody, we [the police department] got calls from three lawyers.’” This was before the arrest of Durst burst into the public domain and before the obligatory one phone call of the accused.

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She Wanted It All – Book Review

SheWantedItAlAuthor: Kathryn Casey
Publisher: Avon Books, HarperCollins Publishers,
Copyright: 2005, ISBN: 0060567643
Cover: Greg Hursley, Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, July 20, 2015

Summary: Narcissistic personalities are in the news lately. Generally they are fodder for humor and satire. Celeste Beard is a classic narcissist and she would be Momma Dearest funny were it not for the insanity of her crimes. Her life and deeds tacks on another layer of questions about insanity, responsibility and the death penalty.

The story of Celeste Beard Johnson has been told several times. Katheryn Casey’s version remains the best.

Celeste Beard was convicted in March 2003 of killing Steve Beard, her husband. She orchestrated her the murder by convincing her lesbian lover to shoot him in the gut with a shotgun. Wife kills husband. Abuse, jealousy, insurance money, pure evil; the usual excuses for one spouse killing another. Underlying any murder is a profound ignorance; an inability to see vistas beyond the immediate now, beyond the current roiling emotions. Any human who kills another is mentally unbalanced to some degree. There is some deficit in the character makeup or brain chemistry or acquired life-coping skills of murders. Usually of course both ignorance and skewed mental outlook are the mosaic of a killer s life.

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Bestial – Book Review

BestialTheSavageTrailofaTrueAmericanAuthor: Harold Schechter

Publisher: Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster Inc.

Copyright: 1998, ISBN: 067132196

Cover: AP/Wide World Photos

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, April 10, 2015

Summary: This could have been a run-of-the-mill book on a serial killer. What makes it exceptional is the writer, Harold Schechter. If Erik Larson is the master of exposing crime immersed within a back drop of great events, Schechter is the master at revealing the commonplace among which extraordinary crime occurs. This book chronicles the twenty-plus murders of Earle Leonard Nelson, the “Gorilla Man”.


BESTIAL was published almost twenty years ago. Why review a book that has been in the googlesphere for almost twenty years?

I recently read a Dean Koontz novel, ONE DOOR AWAY FROM HEAVEN. Originally published in 2001, ONE DOOR AWAY FROM HEAVEN and other early Koontz novels are being re-published to get a new audience. Prior to reading Koontz’s ODD THOMAS adventures, I was a Stephen King reader. However, after savoring the oddities of Odd Thomas, I took another read of Koontz. His early work is comprised mostly of adjectives and botanical descriptions of scenery—all the stuff I hate in reading fiction. Seeded throughout all the high fluting and un-necessary verbiage about atmosphere and plants are some entertaining, unusual, and perceptive ideas. Koontz seems to churn out more originality the longer he writes. He has also significantly reduced his use of adjectives–a good thing. Koontz is an originator, King is a synthesizer. But I digress.

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Cellar of Horror – Book Review

CellarofHorroAuthor: Ken Englade

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 175 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10010

Copyright: 1988, ISBN: 0312929293

Cover: AP/Wide World Photos, Michael Gesinger/Graphistock

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, December 18, 2014

Summary: The 1987 arrest, trial and conviction of serial killer Gary Heidnik. This book reads more like a newspaper article although the author does point out a few noteworthy highlights of the trial. Heidnik died by lethal injection on July 6, 1999.


Was Gary Heidnik insane?

A meaningless question. Anyone who kidnaps, imprisons, mutilates and murders another human being can pejoratively be called insane. The term however does nothing to explain the behavior. The real question is whether such a person really knows the impact and consequences of what they are doing. Despite the science of psychology and out reliance upon these experts to address the issue it impossible for anyone to get inside the head of another individual and determine the perspective that individual has on their behavior and actions. The only way an outsider can approach discerning the motivations behind the behavior and actions of another is to look at patterns of behavior. It is not the decisive approach, but it is the only approach we have. Juries are good at doing that. Ken Englade’s CELLAR OF HORROR provides a small window for the rest of us to make our own judgment about Gary Heidnik.

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And Then She Killed Him – Book Review

AndThenSheKilledHi.img0Author: Robert Scott

Publisher: Pinnacle Books, Kensington Publishing Corp, 119 West 40th Street, NY, NY

Copyright: 2012, ISBN: 0786020386

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, May 26, 2014

Summary: Two rather titillating features of this book. First, the author did not include any mention of a “black widow” in the title nor in the narrative. Second, it makes you realize that there are some places in this country where “justice” really is a principle as opposed to a doctrine. The difference between criminal trials in Colorado and Florida are exemplars, though the author never brings the subject up.


AND THEN SHE KILLED HIM is the third book this reviewer has read by Robert Scott. His last book, GIRL IN THE LEAVES was reviewed here in March 2013. (His 2008, DRIVEN TO MURDER about a murder committed on a ranch owned by TV journalist Sam Donaldson, though not reviewed in TGJ, is definitely worth checking out). One element of Scotts’ writing is very clear: he evaluates his subject matter and unravels it appropriately in precise and limited topics.  In GIRL IN THE LEAVES the narrow focus on just the essentials lead to a great deal of extraneous and un-necessary information—padding, in other words. In AND THEN SHE KILLED HIM, there is none of that. He sticks to and expands on the subject and in the process provides some truly enlightening information about the judicial system.

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The Dating Game Killer – Book Review

DatingGameKillerTheAuthor: Stella Sands

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10010

Copyright: 2011, [ISBN: 0312535896]

Cover: Lisa Marie Pompilla, ZumaWireWorld Photos

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, March 18, 2014

Summary: Contestant on the 1978 television program The Dating Game, Rodney Alcala was to be arrested less than a year later for the murder of twelve year-old Robin Samsoe. This book is informative and provides a few details about how a Rodney Alcala can run lose in society. He has been sentenced to death three times over the last thirty years—if that’s a clue. This book is an excellent piece of work.

THE DATING GAME KILLER chronicles the crimes and legal battles of Rodney Alcala. Alcala is better known as The Dating Game killer because he appeared on the television show in September 1978 and was selected by the featured bachelorette as her date. What makes Stella Sands’ rehashing of Alcala’s crimes a cut above the usual is the sense of the times she brings to the narrative. It is a rare quality found in crime books.

To call the period from 1968 to roughly 1982 tumultuous is the wrong descriptor.  Similar to the period 1896 to the end of World War I, American society was a turbulent, incongruent world of change. Most of the changes in the air weathered and died. Some survived. The prevailing mantra of social studies at the time was that there were too many people in the world and more were coming. Over-population. It was a feeling. Not science. It was a feeling that could be used to explain a lot of aberrant or undesirable behavior. The science behind the feeling arrived in 1968 when John B. Calhoun conducted a study of mice living in overpopulated pens. He and social scientists extrapolated to arrive at dire consequences for the baby-boomer (1946 to 1960) generation. At the time, 1968, the first-wave of baby-boomers were just reaching or slightly into their twenties. Rodney Alcala missed the boomer designation. He was born in 1943.

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Blood Bath – Book Review


Author: Susan D. Mustafa, Tony Clayton, Sue Israel

Publisher: Pinnacle Books, Kensington Publishing Corp, New York

Copyright: 2009, ISBN: [0786021338]

Summary: The crime spree of Derrick Todd Lee terrorized South Louisiana from 1989 to October 2004. While focusing on the victims of his crimes, Susan Mustafa and authors seem to attempt to balance reporting on the crimes and the lives of the victims. It leads to an abhorrent reading experience. It does not work. But there is worthwhile information here.

You can speed-read your way through BLOOD BATH because so much of the narrative is filled with speculative conjecture.  Not just speculation. Not just conjecture. It is speculative conjecture. It is speculative conjecture of the worst kind and is easily recognizable. There is also some behind the scenes reporting. The two inconsistencies—speculation and factual reporting— balance themselves out, though not by much.

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Fear of Our Father – Book Review

FearofOurFatheBy Lisa Bonnice and Stacey M. Kananen

Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY

Copyright: 2013, ISBN: [04252587736]

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, January 16, 2014

Summary: The trials and tribulations of Stacy Kananen, charged in the 2003 murder of her mother. This first person narrative is—as one might expect perhaps—prejudicial to the viewpoint of law enforcement. Still, even allowing for the prejudicial perspective, it is difficult to figure out why Kananen was charged with murder in the first place.


In reading FEAR OF OUR FATHER the question matriculates into the mind of why Stacey Kananen was charged with the September 10, 2003 murder of her mother.  Her father had been murdered in 1988 and her brother, Richie, more or less confessed to that murder. We can readily grasp the possible reasons Stacey Kananen would have killed her father.  According to Kananen and her sisters and brother, Richard Alfred Kananen Sr., the father, did some horrible things.  Not only did he abuse his wife, he intimidated, molested, and physically abused his children.

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Beauty Sleep – Book Review

BeautySleepAuthor: Michaele G. Ballard

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, New York

Copyright: 2009, ISBN: [312947844]

Cover: Steve Pence, AP/Mecklenburg Co. SO, etc.

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 4 December 2013



Summary : In April 2001, forty-five year-old Sandra Baker goes into the office of a plastic surgeon and, a couple of hours later, ends up in a coma. Five days later she dies as a result of the anesthetic she received during the plastic surgery operation.

It serves no purpose to give a bad book review. If the book is a waste of time, a bad review simply compounds the waste. More often than not, even an atrociously written book or a book bereft of ideas has some redeeming value. So no book is a total waste of time. BEAUTY SLEEP fits into this category of an atrociously written book bereft of ideas.  Yet, it has a redeeming value.  The book is a good recompilation of information easily found through numerous GOOGLE searches. If you wanted information on cosmetic surgery and do not have access to GOOGLE or BING, BEAUTY SLEEP is the book for you. Beyond that, it has nothing. It could have been otherwise. Read More


Midnight in Peking – Book Review

MidnightinPekingAuthor: Paul French

Publisher: Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY

Copyright: 2011, ISBN: [1431210008]

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 28 September 2013

Summary:  Pamela Werner was killed in January 1937 in Peking. Her killer or killers were never caught. Paul French, relying heavily on detective work done by Edward Theodore Chalmers Werner, Palmela’s father, French comes up with the most likely suspect. Good peripheral history.


The fox spirits: The quaint mythology attached to the Fox Tower area in Peking where the mutilated body of twenty-year old Pamela Werner was found on Friday, January 8, 1937.  On page ten of MIDNIGHT IN PEKING, author Paul French says that the investigation into the murder would “consume, and in some ways define, the cold and final days of old Peking.”  It was the time between the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the eventual triumph of Mao and the communists in 1949. During this nearly sixty-year period, the world would experience the most surreal violence since the extinction of the dinosaurs. The unsolved, horrendous murder of a young British girl in Peking did not rise to the level of even a blip on any atrocity meter. Yet, it was a barometer, perhaps a small and far reaching barometer of what was to come after.

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