Killer Year–The Class of 2007

My Top Five: The Year (so far) in True Crime
October 15, 2006, 8:45 pm
Filed under: Gregg Olsen, Killer Year Members

It’s no secret that a large percentage of crime fiction is inspired by true life events, which is a more genteel way of saying True Crime. Yup, the guilty pleasure from the back of the mystery section. I really don’t know where the other percentage spring from, but it must be something pulled out of thin air.

Or at least the author might claim such.

Since I know a little bit about TC, I thought I’d assess the year so far and give Killer Year blog readers my pick for the top five stories of the year in which we’re presently mired. If you’re old enough to remember Casey Kasem, conjure his voice as we count down to number one. If your countdown touchstone is TRL’s Carson Daly, I feel sorry for you.

But give it a whirl, anyway.

Number 5: Natelee Holloway and the Aruba story. Jeesh, didn’t we get enough of that? Didn’t carnival barker TV news harpies, Nancy Grace and Greta van Susteren dish us on every nuance of the blond Alabama teen that went missing on a senior party in 2005? The story was the Ever-Ready True Crime story—and for no good reason. It went no where, but generated more empty headlines and finger-pointing than any case in recent memory. There is a reason, of course.  Natalee’s blond and pretty. If she had been of color and fat, you’d never heard a peep about her. She is the epitome of the Missing White Girl Syndrome and all its troubling societal baggage. The reason she’s number five, is simply because every list must mention her. It is required.

Number 4: John Mark Karr, the queen who would be king of all TC crimes if he’d had only delivered on what he promised. He’d be number one with a bullet (in his head) if he’d actually killed JonBenet Ramsey as he’d promised while on a sex change mission to Thailand earlier this year. The man is disgusting, sure. What’s more revolting is how ABC and NBC have sucked up to him just to get the exclusive first interview. Limo rides around the old school where he taught in Petaluma, a new suit that showed of his trim (high) waist, and more eye shadow than a Queensryche comeback concert. I wish he’d killed JBR (if you’re not a TC reader, you must know that in the cult of celebrity she commands initials, like say JFK or PDQ.) I want someone to be arrested and put away for that horrendous murder nearly a decade ago. Too bad it happened in Boulder, Colorado. No one there seems to know how to do his or her job.

Number 3: John Grisham writes a TC book and all of a sudden a modern day classic has been released. This is very interesting. The book upon which he relied (and mentions in his acknowledgements) The Dreams of Ada actually was a modern day classic. But it wasn’t written by a mega-selling author and therefore must stay in its place—the literary dustbin. I loved many of Grisham’s early novels (this is not some snobby remark meant to indicate that I don’t care for what he’s done lately; I simply have author ADD), but honestly, why does it take his name to suddenly bring a supernova of brilliance to a genre? Isn’t it funny how crime fiction seems to escape the taint of trash? But really, can you read one more book about a cupcake murder or a crime-solving cat? (Aha! That’s the elusive percentage not inspired by true life events!)

Number 2: Florida rep Mark Foley and his penchant for IM-ing young pages could overtake my top pick for the year so far, should he torpedo the Republicans in the election next month. I don’t mind saying, I’ve got my fingers crossed as I type. Try it. It can be done.  Honestly, I don’t know what’s worse, Foley’s disgusting abuse of power, his lust for boys, or his excuse that the bottle is to blame. Have we finally reached the point where the booze excuse (file it with the abuse excuse) no longer holds any credence whatsoever? I’m not without sympathy for those who’ve had traumatic lives, but I’m fed up with feeling sorry for anyone whose own actions account for their troubles. We have free will. We can make choices. My choice would be to exile Foley to Boca Raton, where the average age is 90.

And now the top of the chart for the year so far…

Number 1: It has to be Shasta – as in the little Idaho girl who’d been kidnapped along with her brother by John Edward Duncan. You know the story—the family was murdered by a pedophile creep of the lowest order. Shasta was rescued when an alert Denny’s waitress recognized her and called the police.  The trial starts next week.  The reason this story is number one, isn’t because of the media that will flock to the Idaho Panhandle to cover it. It isn’t because Nancy and Greta and all the rest will be yapping about it for weeks. Shasta will face Groene in court. Only 9 years old, she’ll testify about what he did to her and her family. This is a story of courage and survival. She might not know it now, but the entire nation stands with her. At least I do. Here’s the thing: Shasta was held captive by evil. She’s going to face it head on and put a stop to all of it. This is not about retribution. It is about courage and how it can come in the form of a child.

It gives me hope.

So really, who knows what will happen with any of these picks? Maybe Grisham’s book will come and go and not be the harbinger of a new trend of novelists switching to nonfiction crime? Maybe Mark Foley will make a comeback five years from now and guest host on Jim Bakker’s TV show? Maybe Natalee will be found? Maybe she’s been sold into slavery in Columbia? Hey, Mark Karr might get that sex change and take a job as schoolteacher somewhere until he’s caught with a student, of course. That’s another story, however. More than anything, I hope Shasta Groene is surrounded by the love of her fragmented family. Maybe they can rise to the occasion, as she has. I hope that when we hear of her ten years from now, she’s a college student somewhere pursuing dreams of her own. And that she’s no longer on anyone’s list.

Even mine.

Gregg Olsen
Author of A Wicked Snow
Available March 2007


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I hate to disagree with you about Natalie. As a mother of a son who just graduated from HS last year, I think it has gotten so much attention because Natalie disappeared during her HS graduation trip.

HS graduation is a milestone that most parents have waited a long time for. It is a time when parents get a reward for their hard years of parenting. The fact that graduation day was right around the corner and suddenly this time of celebration turned into a nightmare, is something that most parents of teens can relate to.

Therefore, it is for this reason that I think the case got so much media attention. I really hope that some day we will find out what really happened to her so her family can get some closure on this case.

Comment by Nelly

Oh yes, Nelly, the circumstances surrounding her vanishing is a factor in the media coverage. The senior party angle is something most of us, myself included, can wrap our brains around. It could have happened to our children. My girls are 21, so this cuts close to me. Crimes taking place on major holidays (think JBR and Laci Peterson’s murders) always grab our attention. But the point here on Natalee is that there are hundreds of missing kids at any one time in this country. Like it or not, only the pretty, light skinned, young, and female, have much of a chance to score the media’s attention.


P.S. I really wanted to open my comment here with Whoa Nelly… I bet you get at all the time. 🙂

Comment by Gregg Olsen

[…] To see the other four on my list, you have to go there. Click here. […]

Pingback by Crimerant » Blog Archive » For the Rest of the Story . . . go to Killer Year

Great entry, Gregg. And I agree about the all Natalie all the time. Blond and white. Girl next door. There’s really no other reason for the frenzy. And I think it says a lot about the media.

Comment by Rob Gregory Browne

The booze excuse has really been overplayed of late, I think. Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham come immediately to mind when you mention Foley, but we can’t forget Mel either.

I don’t want to sound insensitive, but the booze excuse doesn’t hold much water for me. “I was so drunk all the time I accidently wrote a menu of bribes I would accept.” Um, yeah, right. Obviously alcohol lowers inhibitions, and any of us who’ve had an excess of drink knows that we say and do things more readily than we might have sober. But those things are in us. When we drunkenly tell our friends, “I love you, man, no really * hic * “, it’s not the booze talking, it’s the booze lowering the barriers that ordinarily stop us from expressing ourselves that way.

Mark Foley is a pedophile. Booze didn’t make him a pedophile, though it may have made it easier for him to go banging on the door to the page dorm. And booze didn’t make Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham accept bribes.

I believe a history of abuse, trauma, or substance abuse can certainly have explanatory power and it’s important we know about. It can even have mitigating power. But I’m getting fed up with major public figures committing crimes and then at the first hint the light is about to shine on them they charge off to treatment all weepy and apologetic. Especially since the apology almost always amounts to, “I am so deeply sorry you caught me.”

(Can you tell this is a topic of some interest to me?! Heh.)

Comment by Bill Cameron

I never realized TC got a bum rap until I grew up. I started my life-long love affair with TC when I was 13 and read IN COLD BLOOD followed by HELTER SKELTER.

I’m with you on Shasta. That story almost broke my heart.

Comment by Allison Brennan

(I posted this on and am re-posting here.)

I agree 100% with your comments on Mark Foley. It makes me ashamed to be living in Florida once again. It seems that every time we make National news. it is because of a ludicrous and embarrassing situation.

Remember the Elian Gonzalez case and the awful picture which will be in people’s memories forever. Also, the time we held up the year 2000 National Elections because of irregularities in the state’s system of counting votes.

Mr. Foley has no excuse for his past actions and should be removed from his position as a Florida State representative ASAP. I really do wish he would get exiled, however I think Alcatraz would be a better choice for him. 🙂

By the way, after re-thinking the Natalie situation, I now believe that you were right about why this case has gotten so much attention. I guess I am just in denial that racism is still alive and well in the USA.

Comment by Nelly

This is excellent stuff, Gregg. Thank you for the round up.
Bill, btw, Foley is an endophile, not a pedophile (he’s attracted to older boys, a post-pubescent child rather than pre-pubescent. It’s awful, but there is a difference.)
I’m rooting for Shasta, she is an amazing girl.

Comment by JT Ellison

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Comment by Meagan

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