Saturday, December 15, 2018

Post # 34

Quote for the day: "Anybody who lives in Detroit lives the blues sometimes, if not all the time." Pat Halley, a reporter for the Fifth Estate. 1973.


The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and a Hunt for Detroit's Most Notorious Serial Killer
J. Reuben Appelman

In the winter of 1976 and 1977 four Detroit children were abducted, molested, killed and dumped in snowbanks on the side of roads uncomfortably close to where the author lived. Called the Oakland County Child Killings (OCCK) the case resulted in the largest homicide investigation in state history and to this day has resulted in no one being charged for the four murders or abductions. The author was seven at the time of the murders and probably escaped with his life when a man who fit the general description of an OCCK suspect tried but failed to abduct him.

Appelman became obsessed with the murders, of which he might have become the fifth victim, and is still haunted by the parental violence and emotional abuse he suffered as a child. This memoir is a compelling and painful account of the author's decade-long research into the murders and his lasting emotional wounds from a traumatic childhood.

The author's revelations concerning the police investigation into the killings and the persistent presence of a well-organized network of pedophiles who, as a group and as individuals, sexually preyed on children are both unsettling and outrageous. A wealthy pedophile who owned North Fox Island in northern Lake Michigan registered his island as a boys' camp and received state and federal reimbursement for flying children to his camp where they were molested and raped
by paying members of his pedophile club. The author firmly believes the killer had connections with the Fox Island owner and the club. When it was finally uncovered by the Michigan State Police and they seized a membership list studded with influential names the list was lost or purposely destroyed.  Other evidence collected by Detroit and suburban police also had a way of disappearing. Eventually, the author comes to the conclusion police covered up crime scene evidence and intentionally or otherwise deflected attention away from prime suspects. 

One of the young female victims was last seen getting into a patrol car with a policeman before her body was found abandoned beside a road. Those who witnessed the girl getting in the officer's car or heard the story second-hand and called it in as a tip were later found dead from apparent suicides. One of the prime suspects and a known child molester was found dead in his bed, rolled up tightly in a blanket alongside a rifle. The man had a single, fatal bullet hole in his forehead. In spite of the fact that the man's arms were inside the blanket and there was no gunpowder residue on his hands the police declared it a suicide.

The author piles up one disturbing piece of damning evidence after another until the reader is left wondering if the thirty-year investigation of the killings was simply, but innocently and horribly mismanaged, or is a case of criminal mismanagement and a cover-up. One is also left contemplating the likely possibility that the four children were passed from pedophile to pedophile and finally handed off to a killer. The book raises many disturbing facts and questions, among the latter, is how deep, active, and widespread is the pedophile underground in today's society?

Woven within this horrific story is the author's struggle to come to grips with his own tormented childhood that was dominated by a cruel and unloving father who left his son emotionally damaged.

This is a powerful, shocking, and an emotionally charged true crime story. Yes, at times it is uncomfortable reading no matter how well written. But turning away from this book because it is unsettling is the equivalent of turning away from dealing with the threat of pedophilia in today's society because the subject is too upsetting. The author is currently adding the finishing touches to a four-part television documentary based on the Kill Jar.
The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and A Hunt for Detroit's Most Notorious Serial Killer by J. Reuben Appelman. Gallery Books, 2018, $24.99.

In Want of a Knife
by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli

A return visit to the fictional village of Bear Falls, Michigan, located somewhere between Traverse City and Charlevoix, is always fun. Although the author is rather non-specific when it comes to the town's exact location any traveler will know they have arrived because they will instantly realize Bear Falls' population has more eccentrics per capita than anyplace in America except our nation's capital. And unlike Bear Falls, those found in the latter are usually defined as eccentric simply by their overwhelming sense of self-importance.

Things are a-buzz in the village when a multi-millionaire moves to town with a small retinue of his own odd friends and calls a meeting to announce he is giving Bear Falls a two-million-dollar gift. The catch is the town's people must decide on what to spend the money.  Among those attending the announcement are the series three main characters; Jenny, back home from Chicago after her marriage went bad, Dora her mother with whom she lives, and their next-door neighbor Zoe Zola.   Zola is a "Little Person," a semi-famous writer of scholarly books on Jane Austin, and along with Jenny, the town's unofficial ace murder investigator.

It comes as a big surprise the town's new resident and benefactor is also a "Little Person." Unexpectedly the two "Little People" fail to see eye-to-eye, so to speak, in fact, they hit it off like roughly shaken nitro and glycerine. The town is also rocked by the discovery of a murdered girl and the disappearance of another young lady. Of course, Jenny and Zoe dive into solving the murder and disappearance. The town's sheriff has only one deputy and seems to expect the two women to help him solve the mysteries. 

In any other small town in Michigan in which a girl was murdered and another missing, it would be expected that the Michigan State Police and county sheriff investigators would be all over the case like down on a duck's back. But Bear Falls is eccentric and with official law enforcement mostly in the background, and contributing little, Zoe and Jenny out do Hercule Perot.  

So there must be some suspension of belief when it comes to the plot. The real charm of the book and what keeps one reading is the people of Bear Falls, the truly unique character Zoe Zola, and the friendship between the quirky Jane Austin scholar and a young woman trying to heal the wounds of a bad marriage and discover what and who she is.  This reader, although concerned by the incredibly high per capita murder rate of Bear Falls, would move there in an instant. Admittedly, I'm not a gambler and can't figure the odds of a coin flip coming up heads or tails. But really, when the fourth book in this Little Library Mystery series is published, what are the odds of yet another murder in this near idyllic and friendly town? 

In Want of a Knife by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli. Crooked Lane Books, 2018, $26.99

All books reviewed in this blog can be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

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