by: Thomas French
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Copyright: 1991, ISBN: [125000876X]
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, December 6, 2004
Summary: A senseless murder in Florida becomes the backdrop for questions of human motivation and inane rationalizations.
In May 1984, in Pinellas County, Florida, neighbors of Karen Gregory heard a scream that awoke them in their beds. Karen Gregory was being murdered.
Thomas French’s UNANSWERED CRIES is a classic in the true crime genre because he presents the investigation of Gregory’s murder with a thoroughness which requires neither passionate exposition nor elaborate explanations. The opinionated police chief, the cautious investigating police sergeant, the persistent boyfriend and family, and finally, the murderer are so expertly woven into the narrative that you sense the underlying complexity of their lives. The murder of Karen Gregory is simply another layer, an unnecessary layer of complexity that they are forced to deal with. In this book, French achieves the rather rare distinction of demonstrating the senselessness of the violence we do to one another without coming out and actually calling it senseless.
In reading UNANSWERED CRIES, you never get a definitive reason as to why Karen Gregory was killed. The usual motives are readily available and just as readily dismissed. Part of this has to do with the man finally charged with her murder. He was in that amorphous “usual suspects” group that includes relatives, friends and neighbors. In the end, the fact that the evidence was all circumstantial–no one piece of hard evidence linking the accused to the crime–farther highlights the senselessness of the crime itself. Did justice get the right man? The circumstantial evidence is evidence nonetheless and, in the skillful presentation of author Thomas French, is conclusive evidence.
But French, and eventually the police, are aided by an oddity in the events surrounding the case. The man accused and convicted of the murder provided the only eyewitness description of a man he claimed left Karen Gregory’s house just after her murder. His account of seeing that man and the conversation he had with him changed as time went on. But the remarkable oddity is that the physical description he provided bore an uncanny resemblance to himself. It gives a new twist to the cliché that he was a criminal who wanted to be caught.
Beyond the cliché derived from “psycho-babble”, the senseless self-incrimination in a senseless crime forces the reader to look beyond the murder of Karen Gregory and ponder murder and violence on a broader scale. Even the murders and violence we hear about which have a foundation of rational excuses become totally senseless acts when examined closely–which justice supposedly does. Even society sanctioned murder—war–has alternatives and can be avoided. But when we look at a Karen Gregory murder or the thousands of other murders of individuals by individuals, we look for the objective the murderer was attempting to achieve, even if it dips into that murky real of “psychological problems”. There are always alternatives to the act.
The man accused of killing Gregory denied doing it. French raises the specter of hate crime. (Gregory was moving in with her boyfriend, who was black). At the time of the
murder, the accused and convicted was having family problems and a problem with his live-in girlfriend who eventually became his wife. The possibility is held out that he murdered due to the stress of his situation. The author raises these possible excuses for the murder but does not offer them as reasons. So we are left with no compelling motive. There was an opportunity, the murderer acted.
What went wrong in the life of George Lewis, the accused and convicted, that would cause him to murder another human being? French’s book allows us to ask that question and search for answers. It is a very good book and is recommended reading.