Write About it Wednesday: Rubio Murders, Brownsville, TX

“If the building stays behind, it will always be a landmark of three children who were never given an opportunity to live, to see the sun rise one more time, to see the moon.”

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts dives into the city of Brownsville, Texas and the repercussions of a horrendous murder of three children and what happens to the building where a crime of such nature is committed. This true crime novel is written in a unique way that focuses outside the murder itself and shows what is left behind. The author was asked to cover the potential demolition of the site of the murders but saw a story that went much deeper. This led to a six-year journey into the effects on the city in the aftermath, the larger significance of such crimes and an exploration of social issues such as poverty and mental illness. John Allen Rubio, with the aid of his common law wife, murdered his three children after voices told him to. These were not simple, point and shoot murders but were gruesome in nature. These children suffered at the hands of their parents. My first question is always: Could this have been prevented? Were there signs?

Rubio had a rough childhood. His mother would use his disability checks to pay their rent instead of providing therapy and assistance. He was pushed into prostitution and moved in with girlfriends to get away from the abuse. He had dreams of going into the military after high school but failed the aptitude tests required for entry. He became addicted to drugs and was homeless on and off. He could not hold down a steady job. Tillman spoke with past teachers, coaches, neighbors, shelters that Rubio visited about his childhood and disability. She left no stone unturned. She even corresponded with Rubio through letters and visits to the prison. He sent her pictures and school reports and painted a picture of a loving father, dedicated to his children. So, what went wrong?

The neighbors believe the building where the crimes were committed is cursed, it has a bad energy that passes to those that come near. Tillman made countless visits to document the changes occurring in and around the building, but didn’t truly grasp the murders until she walked into the Rubio apartment. Her description of not being able to wear the shoes she walked through the apartment in anymore shares how deeply involved she became while covering this crime. She spent six years of her life on this project and it shows. The research is impeccable. As she describes the building, the community, the neighbors, the reader can truly feel the effects of the murders and begin to question their views and opinions on major issues such as poverty, mental illness, the death penalty and many more. These are uncomfortable topics that she doesn’t skip over but instead brings to the forefront and makes you think. He murdered his children. He is a monster in the eyes of most because that is how the media portrays him. Who could kill their own children? He deserves to die. What if you had to look him in the eye? What if you knew his whole story? Would it change your mind…?

I have been lucky in my nonfiction choices lately. I would easily add this book to my favorites list, not only for the content but the writing is something to learn from. As always, I did further research and considered various aspects of the story, the city itself and the coverage of the crime. It made me reflect on issues that I’ve always felt my mind was made up on. Isn’t that the power of good writing?

Cheers to another year of reading, writing and continuing to fly through a million pages…

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Write About it Wednesday: Serial Killers, Henry Lee Lucas

“I was bitter at the world. I hated everything. There wasn’t nothin’ I liked. I was bitter as bitter could be.”

Disclaimer: Violent crime content.

It is no secret that I love crime. Crime novels, crime podcasts, past crimes and all the in between. I found a copy of Serial Killers by Joel Norris at my local book sale. One dollar to read about the nature, personal statements and unifying patters of a serial killer? Sold! I’m covering this book in small increments because it is loaded with information. Although some of it is outdated, it allows me the foundation for branching out on my own for further research. I had not heard of Henry Lee Lucas before this book. One completely creepy fact before I dive in: We share the same birthday. I didn’t even realize until I was reviewing the text again to write this review…but whoa. Isn’t it weird when you share the same birthday with someone or is it just me? It peaked my interest in his case even more.

Henry Lee Lucas was starved, beaten, forced to watch his mother have sex, even forced to wear girls’ clothing for his mother’s amusement. He watched his mother shoot one of her clients with a shotgun while blood splattered on him. His mother would kill or break anything he liked, just for the sake of taking his happiness away. Her abuse went so far as beating him over the head with a 2 x 4 piece of wood so hard that he laid in a semi-conscious state for over 3 days. The brain damage would later be linked to his lack of control over his violent behavior and ability to manage emotions. He finally killed her. He was sentenced to prison for the murder but was later released.

Lucas claims he committed his first murder, a 17-year-old female, when he was just 15 years old. He had sex with animals, sex with his half-brother and later married his 12-year-old cousin. Beth was originally raised as his “daughter” but the two claimed to be common law married up until her death by Lucas. In a heated argument about her desire to return home, he stabbed her in the chest and then cut her into pieces in Montague County, TX. Although he ended up confessing to 100s of murders along Interstate 35, his only other known kill was Granny Rich who was the only person close to him remaining. Many of his claims turned out to be false, but investigators had to rely on the information they had.

This book does an excellent job of listing out the many reasons behind his behavior. He was unable to cope with negative stimulus and was prone to blackouts. The propensity for violence was there at an early age, and given the constant abuse from his mother, only intensified. He noted that he only committed murder after drinking large amounts of alcohol. That mixed with his brain injuries led to little to no control over his emotions. He did not feel any remorse until he was acclimated to the prison system where his diet, routine and personality development could be nurtured.

How does this type of abuse go unnoticed? How do brain injuries go untreated or acknowledged? I found this case to be interesting for two reasons, a) the amount of research performed on his body, diet, etc. and how it related to his crimes and b) his outright confession to so many murders. We may never know how many he truly committed but that is only half of the story. 

What is everyone reading this month? Any spooky Halloween recommendations? I’d love to hear from you!

Book Review Saturday: The Body in the Marsh

“Life is out there and has to be lived.”

Body in the Marsh has an excellent cover. I know the old saying, but that is truly why I picked this book. I was expecting a detective novel, but didn’t realize it would be based in Surrey and Kent. It starts out with Detective Craig Gillard rescuing an unknown woman who gets trapped on a mountain during a winter storm. I was thrown off by this part of the story and was hoping to dive right in to the mystery and intrigue. It was no shock when they developed a somewhat dysfunctional relationship that continues throughout the story. For me, the story began when Craig becomes intrigued by a missing person report. It turns out to be an old girlfriend that broke his heart. He still carries around the baggage and can’t see past the love he still feels for her. Most of the time a relationship would mean that he was taken off the case but he hides it from his boss. The author does a good job of leaving trails of clues along the way, but I called the ending early on. I kept reading because I enjoyed the investigation. The side story of Girl F who reported abuse but was dismissed and later killed herself tied in nicely with the missing person case. Overall, I liked that it had a broader focus but I could take it or leave it.

I am always hesitant to review crime novels because I have read so many. When I discover an ending within a few chapters it makes me wonder if my fellow book lovers do as well. I couldn’t get past Craig’s love for Liz, the missing person. He held on for so long and was STILL in love with her after 30 years. I may be doing love wrong, but this seems a bit excessive for a high school love story. I know Nicholas Sparks would disagree but I like my romance to be a bit more realistic. The cases seemed plausible, but I flagged a quote in Chapter 13 for further review. I have a question for all my fellow crime novelists, detectives, lovers of the law:

“First, we’re monitoring every number on his contact list from the original phone. If any of those numbers is called by a number that’s new to them, we’ll get a copy of the metadata.”

Is this legal? Can the investigators really track calls to all the contacts in a person’s phone? Let’s say I had 5 contacts on my phone, then they would tap into those 5 contacts list to see if any new numbers called? This seems a bit farfetched even with our recent Patriot Act, but maybe this happens? I would hope it would at least require a warrant. I’m interested in your thoughts and opinions! Let me know what you think.

A Novel Way to Die

“I guess that after running into that terrible woman, we should just count ourselves lucky to be alive.”

I ran across this book while searching my library catalog for “criminologist,” and must say I was happily surprised. My first thought was that the book must have been low on the publishing priority list because of its white pages, and binding. Have you heard of Five Star Publishing? Why do some books take priority over others? Why are some books published, while others are not? This book brought questions of why I read certain novels over others, and why we trust the big publishers over the small, local ones. If not for my random catalog search, I never would have found this book that captured me from the first chapter.
The story starts off with a mystery novelist found dead in her home by a close friend. Molly, her daughter, seeks to find the truth surrounding her mother’s death while struggling to keep her family together after her husband’s indiscretions. Many believe the death to be a suicide, including Molly, until evidence begins to arise of a stalker and motive from people close to her. As more people begin to die, Molly must hurry before she is next! I finished the story in one day, because it was easy to read and kept me guessing. There are several viable options when it comes to choosing the killer, and it unfolds perfectly as you continue reading.
The author of this story, Karen Hanson Stuyck, gives me hope that I may one day write a novel that will be published. I hope more will pick up her work, and give small time authors a chance!