Category Archives: Forensics

Police: Lone Shooter Kills 8 in Central Virginia

posted by: GeoT

Suspect in 8 Va. slayings surrenders after hunt
APPOMATTOX, Va. (AP) — A gunman suspected of killing eight people before disappearing into dense Virginia woods and firing on a police helicopter surrendered at sunrise Wednesday, ending an overnight hunt by dozens of law enforcement officers.

Christopher Speight, 39, approached officers at the scene of the shootings at about 7:10 a.m. and turned himself in, said Sgt. Thomas Molnar of the Virginia State Police.

This image provided by the Virginia State Police shows shooting suspect Christopher Speight, 39, who is being sought in connections with the fatal shootings of eight people in Appomattox, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Virginia State Police)

Associated Press/Larry O’Dell

~Police with dogs and heat-sensing equipment hunted for a man they say shot eight people to death Tuesday and then nearly took down a police helicopter that was trying to flush him out of the woods near this central Virginia town.

State police said officers had the suspect, Christopher Speight, 39, circled in the woods late Tuesday near the home where seven of the bodies were found and they believed he was still alive. An eighth victim was found barely alive on the side of the road — which led to police being called — and died on the way to the hospital.

All the victims were adults and both men and women were killed, state police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said. Three of the bodies were found inside the home, and four just outside it, Molnar said.

Police refused to speculate on a motive and would not say what type of weapon was used. Molnar also gave no background on the suspect. Speight’s last known address was along the block where the shootings occurred, but Molnar did not know if the suspect was still living there. He also would not say if all the victims were shot at the home.

Virginia State Police gather while searching for a man that is possibly connected with multiple fatalities outside of a house on Snapps Mill Road in Appomattox County, Va.

The drama paralyzed the rural area as police swarmed forests trying to catch the suspect who fired at a state police helicopter, forcing it to land with a ruptured fuel tank, police said. No police were injured after one or more rounds struck the helicopter.

A National Guard helicopter with thermal imaging equipment were being used to search the woods.

They are searching the area and will continue until the suspect is apprehended,” Molnar said.

The violence began shortly after noon when the injured man was found on a rural stretch of road. A deputy who went to investigate fled after he heard gunshots, police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said.

When the deputy arrived on the scene, that’s when he heard several shots,” Molnar said.

Police did not release the victims’ names or the suspect’s possible relationship to them.

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2 in one week: DNA testing clears wrongly convicted

Donald Eugene Gates

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man who spent 28 years behind bars for a rape and murder he said he didn’t commit walked out of a federal prison in Arizona on Tuesday with $75 and a bus ticket to Ohio after DNA testing showed he was innocent.

The conviction of Donald Eugene Gates, 58, was based largely on the testimony of an FBI forensic analyst whose work later came under fire and a hair analysis technique that has been discredited.

“I feel beautiful,” Gates told The Associated Press by telephone after leaving the U.S. penitentiary in Tucson, Ariz.

Just hours before, the same judge who had presided over Gates’ trial years ago in D.C. Superior Court ordered his release.

Prosecutors had agreed Gates should be released. However, at their request, Senior Judge Fred B. Ugast delayed Gates’ formal exoneration until next week to give the government a chance to conduct one more round of DNA testing.

Ben Friedman, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, said Gates would be the first D.C. defendant who spent significant time in prison to be exonerated based on DNA evidence.

Gates was convicted of the 1981 rape and murder of Catherine Schilling, a 21-year-old Georgetown University student, in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

But the conviction was based largely on the testimony of FBI hair analyst Michael P. Malone whose work came under fire in 1997. At that time, the FBI’s inspector general found that Malone gave false testimony in proceedings that led to the impeachment and ouster of U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings in 1989.

Ugast was incredulous that prosecutors had failed to inform him after Malone’s work was called into question. He ordered the U.S. attorney’s office to review all its cases in which Malone testified – something he said should have been done earlier.

Sandra K. Levick, one of Gates’ attorneys from the D.C. Public Defender Service, said she came across the inspector general’s report while doing her own research for the case. She then obtained more information through a Freedom of Information Act request that showed the FBI had issued warnings about the work of Malone and 12 other analysts who were criticized by the inspector general. As part of a review requested by the FBI, prosecutors confirmed they had relied on Malone’s work to obtain Gates’ conviction.

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Fla. man exonerated by DNA after 35 years in jail

BARTOW, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man who spent 35 years in prison has been freed after DNA evidence exonerated him. James Bain was sentenced to life in prison in 1974 for kidnapping and raping a 9-year-old boy. He’s been pushing for DNA testing and he finally got it after the Innocence Project of Florida got involved in his case.

Tests released last week showed he could not have committed the crime. A judge ordered him freed on Thursday and he walked out of a courthouse a free man.

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**Breaking—Seattle police kill suspect in officer slayings

Police plan to arrest more people who helped Clemmons

SEATTLE (AP) – The man suspected of gunning down four police officers in a suburban coffee shop was shot and killed by a lone Seattle patrol officer investigating a stolen car early Tuesday, a sheriff’s spokesman said. Four other people were arrested for allegedly helping the suspect elude authorities during a massive two-day manhunt. A Seattle police officer came across the stolen car in a working-class south Seattle neighborhood about 2:45 a.m., Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel said. The officer approached the car, then detected movement behind him, recognized the suspect Maurice Clemmons and ordered him to show his hands and stop.
“He wouldn’t stop,” Pugel said. “The officer fired several rounds, took the person into custody.”

Police planned to arrest more people who helped Clemmons. “We expect to have maybe six or seven people in custody by the day’s end,” said Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County sheriff. “Some are friends, some are acquaintances, some are partners in crime, some are relatives. Now they’re all partners in crime.”
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44-D’s True Crime: Discovery Channel’s Jack the Ripper in America

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Reviewed by Audiegrl

The greatest serial killer in history has never been named. But what if we are looking in the wrong place?


In 1888, a deranged killer stalked his prey on the streets of east London at night. After 121 years since the murder and mutilation of at least five prostitutes, the case remains unsolved and the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been known. The world’s greatest criminal investigators have focused on searching for answers in London. However, in the 1890s a series of horrific murders took place across the United States in New York, San Francisco, Galveston and Atlanta, that mirrored the attacks in attacks in the UK. In this one hour special, Discovery Channel’s viewers will witness the new evidence, science and analytical techniques being used to reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

NYPD Cold Case Detective Ed Norris

The Discovery Channel’s documentary, Jack the Ripper in America focuses on Detective Ed Norris, former head of the NYPD Cold Case Unit, who investigates and uncovers new evidence not seen since the time of the murders. In trying to solve the 118 year old murder of New York prostitute Carrie Brown, he begins to note the similarities between her murder and the famous Whitechapel murders in London. Brown’s murderer had a three-stage MO (strangled, penetrating wound, pulled apart) Because of the unusual and gruesome nature of the crime, the press of the day, immediately began asking the question, “Is Jack the Ripper in New York“. Norris sees the same unusual ‘signature‘ in both the London and New York killers. They both kill prostitutes by strangling, cutting the throat, and eviscerating the body. For Norris this indicates that he might be looking at the same killer.

Carrie Brown aka Old Shakespeare

Carrie Brown aka Old Shakespeare

The key in all cold cases is finding the clues missed by the original investigators. Although, Brown was murdered on April 23, 1891, Norris decides to let a new set of eyes look at the evidence. Enter Dr. Jonathan Hayes, the Manhattan Senior Medical Examiner. Dr. Hayes combs through the autopsy report of Carry Brown. He reaches some interesting conclusions, including a special marking on the body, which I won’t reveal here, you’ll have to watch the show. On August 7th, 1891, another unidentified prostitute is murdered with the same MO as Brown, and pulled from the East river. Visiting the New York Municipal Archives, Norris finds that the old newspapers of that time, reveal another shocking detail. The killer actually wrote to the NYPD, before the murder of Carry Brown. His letter is recreated below:

Capt. Ryan,

You think that “Jack the Ripper” is in England, but he is not, I am right here and I expect to kill somebody by Thursday next, and so get ready for me with your pistols, but I have a knife that has done more than your pistols. Next thing you will hear of some woman dead.

Yours truly,

Jack the Ripper

Richard Jones

Detective Norris wants to get into Jack’s head, and walk in his foot steps. He feels that he was an organized killer that took advantage of the conditions of the time: no ambient street lighting, a black curtain of smoke over the city caused by burning low quality coal, and counting on his victims to naturally take him to the dark, secluded places used in the prostitution trade. Norris takes viewers through a summary of the Ripper murders by using re-enactments and walking through the crime scenes. Next, Norris consults London historian Richard Jones, owner of Ripper Walking Tours and author of Uncovering Jack the Ripper’s London. Jones has spent more than two decades investigating the Whitechapel murders. He asks Jones if any of the serious Ripper suspects had ever traveled to the United States after the death of Mary Kelly. Jones provided him with three names: Severin Klosowski, Francis Tumblety, and James Kelly.

Known as the From Hell or Lusk Letter

Norris then consults with Sheila Kurtz, a Forensic Hand Writing Analyst, Master Graphologist and President of Graphology Consulting Group. Kurtz had successfully worked on the Son of Sam case among many others. After reviewing samples of the Ripper’s hand writing, Kurtz identified the writer as a very disturbed individual, who she said, “I wouldn’t want to be in his company“. For additional details on her analysis please visit her blog. The graphic to the left shows the letter was purportedly written in 1888 by Jack the Ripper.

Dr Thomas Bond

Dr. Thomas Bond

Norris then paid a visit to Britain’s National Archives. The archives hold thousands of original documents in the Ripper case. There, Norris discovers a document not previously used in the investigation. A profile of the killer. Sir Robert Anderson, the head of the police Criminal Investigation Departments, asked Dr Thomas Bond, Britain’s top police surgeon in 1888 to examine material connected with the Whitechapel murder investigation. Bond wrote a 19th-century version of a modern day unsub profile, based on personally examining the body of Mary Kelly and reading the autopsy reports on the first four victims. In the report, he describes in detail the type of person they should be investigating. Dr. Bond was sure that all five women had been killed by the same hand, because the throats of all victims had been cut in a similar way and the victims were presumably lying down when murdered. (for additional details on Dr. Bond’s profile, click here to read the report) Norris ultimately uses this 121 year old profile to narrow the three suspects down to one name. James Kelly. In the world of police parlance, Norris says that “Kelly looks good“.

Jack the Ripper victims: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, Mary Kelly

In 1883, James Kelly only one month married, argues with his wife and accuses her of being unfaithful. In a psychotic rage, he uses the methods of strangulation and throat slashing to kill her. Kelly is caught, convicted and sentenced to die by hanging. Then his employer comes forward and explains that he believes Kelly is mentally disturbed. Kelly was then examined by a alienist and committed to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Kelly’s psychiatric report has been sealed for over 125 years, until Norris examines it.

Broadmoor Old Gate

Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum

In 1863, Broadmoor was the first custom-built asylum to house criminal lunatics. In Broadmoor, Kelly is a outwardly a model prisoner, but at the same time he is secretly planning his escape. Working in the asylum’s carpentry shop, he cunningly uses a piece of medal he carved into a key to aid his escape. In January of 1888, Kelly escaped and just disappeared. At that time a series of stabbings and slashing attacks of women start in London. Three victims: Annie Millwood, (February 25, 1888, stabbed repeatedly, but survived), Ada Wilson, (March 28, 1888, slashed in the throat, but survived), and Martha Tabram, (August 7, 1888, stabbed 23 times, did not survive). Norris feels these are the early attempts of Jack the Ripper, who like many serial killers, escalates and only gets more brutal over time. After these three attacks, the first London Ripper murder occurs. Surprisingly, Kelly was once considered a suspect by London police, but after only minimal checking at his old residence, they simply gave up, and were never able to find him. With the huge amount of pressure they were under, the case against Kelly went cold…

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Astonishingly, in 1927…forty years later, a much older Kelly voluntarily returns to the insane asylum and began to chronicle his travels. A typed copy of Kelly’s confession letter survives in the National Archives, and Norris is the first detective to read it. In the letter, Kelly describes having “problems dealing with society“, and being “overtaken with feelings of envy, jealousy, and malice“. Kelly states, “the thing has been hard because of all kinds of ‘skank’” (a term he uses to refers to women of low moral character) and “I’ve been on the warpath since I left Broadmoor Asylum.” Also in his letter, he admits to traveling to London after his escape, and more interestingly he tells of traveling to the United States and arriving in New York conveniently before the Carrie Brown murder. He was by profession, a trained upholsterer, and would have known quiet a bit about knives and how to use them effectively for the purpose of murder. Kelly also mentioned traveling to many cities in the US before returning to England and admitted that he came to the US many times over a period of 40 years.

USS Zaandam

First Norris wanted to check to make sure that Kelly’s confession matched up with actual travel records of the day. In Britain’s National Maritime Museum, they kept track of every ship that came to the United States. Kelly said he traveled to America aboard an Anglo-German steamer named the Zaandam that sailed from Rotterdam to New York. At the museum, Norris not only confirmed the ship existed, but that it sailed from Rotterdam to New York on October 7, 1890—two years after the last Ripper murder in London (11/88) and months before the April 23, 1891 murder of Carrie Brown in New York. You might be thinking, “How does a ‘wanted man’ get into the United States without detection?” Professor Dan Citrum is an expert in 19th-century immigration and explains how easily it could have been done. Remember this was before Ellis Island was established, so getting in and out of the country was very easy. No drivers licenses, no passports, and no photo id whatsoever. Many people back then, came to this country to start over, and remake themselves and get lost in the huge crowds of New York city. In his confession, Kelly admits to changing his name once his ship arrives to ‘John Miller‘, one of the most common names both then and now. Kelly used his new name like a disguise to blend in and escape police scrutiny.

Knowing from experience that many serial killers travel extensively, to avoid detection, Detective Norris plots the cities Kelly claims to have visited against the murders written about in the newspapers. He begins to see similarities in Ripper-like murders committed in other cities: New York NY, Trenton, NJ, Galveston, TX, New Orleans, LA, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Jackson, CA, San Francisco, CA, Denver, CO. Each of these murders occurred during the time that Kelly, thorough his confession letter, said he was in that city. Even the city newspapers asked the same question “Is this the work of Jack the Ripper” and “Is this the fiend of Whitechapel?” and “Has Jack the Ripper Invaded Texas at Last“. Detective Norris identified twelve murders across five states in just four years…and remember, Kelly was gone for forty years…you can do the math. To read an amazing collection of news reports, please visit Casebook: Jack the Ripper.

Using a asylum photo of Kelly provided by the National Archives, he was able to see what Kelly looked like at age 67. Norris then contacted Steve Mancusi, a NYPD senior forensic artist who has helped solve the most difficult cases for the last 30 years. He wanted Mancusi to use forensic imaging technology normally used for age-progression in missing child cases, but with this case, he wanted him to reverse the effects of aging, to show what Kelly would have looked like in his 30’s. The striking illustration below on the right is based on their findings.

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Both illustrations of Jack the Ripper

The left composite, was drawn based on 118 year old eye-witness accounts of Jack the Ripper in London. They examined different witness statements and used modern day forensics to come up with a portrait of the killer, even indicating what type of hat he wore.

The drawing on the right, is the result of Mancusi shaving 40 years off of James Kelly’s photo at age 67. As you can see, once they added the type of hat mentioned by eye witnesses, the drawings are a very close match.

In the end, there is no doubt in Norris’ mind that he has found Jack the Ripper. We may never know. John Kelly died of natural causes in 1929 inside Broadmoor Asylum and took his secrets to his grave. In my opinion, Jack the Ripper in America was very well done and is a must-see for all forensic buffs and amateur Ripperologists. I’m interested in seeing further research, analysis and discussion of Norris’ theory. Regarding any factual errors in this post, I apologize in advance, and encourage everyone to let me know what needs to be corrected.

Time After Time

On a lighter note, anybody remember the movie “Time After Time” starring Malcolm McDowell, John Warner and Mary Steenburgen? McDowell played H.G. Wells, who uses his time machine to chase his friend, Warner (aka Jack the Ripper) through the streets of modern day (1979) San Francisco. After watching Norris’ documentary, maybe Hollywood’s silly (but entertaining) version of the Ripper story had a sliver of truth to it after all. 😉

The Secret of Prisoner 1167: Was This Man Jack the Ripper? by James Tully


Hat tip and special thanks to Roy Corduroy for his suggestion to add this book to this post. Casebook: Jack the Ripper gives this book a three-starred review:

A triumphant achievement on the part of Jim Tully, well-researched and written. James Kelly is his suspect, a lunatic upholsterer and wife-murderer who is actually in the Guinness book of world records for his escape from Broadmoor asylum. Tully weaves a fascinating story, regardless of your feelings on Kelly as a suspect. Recommended.

Related Articles and Sites

Casebook: Jack the Ripper

Maps of Whitechapel, 1888-1894

Ripperological Preservation Society

Jack the Ripper Tours

Serial Killer Database – Jack the Ripper

The Whitechapel Society

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44-D Book Diaries with Audiegrl: Chelsea Cain’s Evil at Heart

NYT Best-selling author Chelsea CainToday’s interview features New York Times Best-selling author Chelsea Cain, discussing her profoundly addictive and disturbing new novel, Evil at Heart.

If you think Hannibal Lechter is scary? Check out serial killer Gretchen Lowell who is beautiful, brilliant, and cunning. This fall, Cain will carve out a place for herself on bookshelves everywhere with her new novel.

Evil at Heart is the third novel in Cain’s highly praised Gretchen Lowell/Archie Sheridan series, which heralded the birth of the new captivating face of evil and psychological suspense.

In my interview with Chelsea, I got to ask her some questions her fans dying to know.

AG: So serial killers and journalism: Are these two of your top interests?

CC: Right up there with infanticide and cannibalism. I’m kidding, of course. I wouldn’t include either serial killers or journalism in my top interests. Though if I did, serial killers would be way higher on the list. I just really like thrilling stories and these seem to lend themselves to that genre.

AG: Your inspiration for the book came from the Green River Killer case, but how did you come up with Gretchen Lowell? She’s pretty twisted.

CC: I actually remember reading stories as a kid about the Green River Killer in the Bellingham Herald. The idea of this unidentified killer being pursued by a task force of cops really captured my attention. I wanted my killer to be a woman because it made the obsessive nature of the cop-killer relationship instantly more complicated. But I wanted her to kill violently, like a man, because she enjoys it. Culturally we demand an explanation from our female killers. We want to blame their motives on a man – a bad father, a bad boyfriend. I didn’t want to provide an easy explanation for Gretchen’s homicidal tendencies. It’s way scarier to not understand her.

AG: How did you do the research for this book? Did you talk to any serial killers?

CC: No, and I hope I never do. I also didn’t actually torture anyone, though it probably would have lent some verisimilitude to the narrative. Maybe I’ll consider it for the sequels. I did read a lot of case studies about psychopaths. There is a great cannon of interviews with jailed psychopaths that is incredibly disturbing and illuminating. I also read a lot of forensic pathology texts, visited a billion web sites, talked to doctors, and read police handbooks. But the great thing about fiction is that if you find a few details that ring especially true, readers tend to go along with all the stuff you make up. (She says, fingers crossed.)

AG: It seems like you have a few things in common with the character of young reporter Susan Ward. How alike are you two?

CC: Susan and I share some of the same insecurities and preoccupation with fashion. She writes for The Oregon Herald. I write for The Oregonian. But she is way, way, way more damaged than I am. And my past is not nearly as complicated.

AG: The first thing I thought about when I read the first book Heartsick was Hannibal Lector. Are you hoping to turn Gretchen Lowell into a movie star any time soon? Who do you think could play I her?

CC: Heartsick has been optioned to be a movie, so there is a production company working very hard to get it made. They’ve got a script in development right now. Honestly, I’m pretty open-minded in terms of casting. Anthony Hopkins? Sure! The names that readers most often suggest are Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie. Any of those actresses would be terrific. I also really like Storm Large (the performer who portrays Gretchen on the website). She looks exactly like the Gretchen of my imagination. Which is sort of scary.

AG: I love the Gretchen Lowell fan site. Especially all the Gretchen sightings. What kind of response are you getting from fans?

CC: The people who find it really seem to like it. I’ve always thought of that site as a sort of DVD extra – readers who take the time to look up the url that’s mentioned as a plot point in Evil at Heart get rewarded with this funny and twisted ode to Gretchen. For the Gretchen sightings, our designer just went downtown and photographed blond women with their faces turned. In about an hour she had all the photos we needed.

AG: I’m a huge fan of HBO’s True Blood series. During one of the last episodes, Maryanne was sitting at the kitchen table reading a copy of Heartsick! I was so surprised…true story…I got up and did a victory dance. Please give me the scoop, were you as surprised as the rest of us, or was this something HBO contacted you about in advance? How has being featured on the show affected the book?

CC: That was pretty fucking awesome. I had no idea. We TIVO it so weren’t watching it live, but my husband’s mother called and left a message saying that she’d seen the book on True Blood, and my husband told me and I was like, no way, she’s wrong, she just thought she saw it. And then my husband’s father called (they’ve been divorced for thirty years, but apparently still watch the same TV shows), and he said the same thing. So we ran home and watched it, and sure enough there was Maryanne reading Heartsick! I peed my pants a little. As for sales, I have no idea. There was definitely increased web chatter about the book. And people continue to see it and bring it up to me. I love True Blood, so it was a huge thrill to be a tiny part of that show for a moment.

AG: Finally, what do you hope to do after this series is over?

CC: Over? I plan to write these suckers until someone makes me stop. But I am planning on starting another series to juggle along side it – more thrillers set in Portland. So stay tuned.

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Chelsea CainIf you would like to learn more about Chelsea Cain and her books please stop by ChelseaCain.com. For the hard-core Gretchen Lowell fans among you, since her escape, she’s been spotted in Oslo, Munich, Shanghai, and Ontario. Please stop by I Heart Gretchen Lowell if you need to send her a message or report a sighting.

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Heartsick by Chelsea CainDet. Archie Sheridan led the Beauty Killer Task Force for ten years, before the Beauty Killer (Gretchen Lowell) caught him, tortured him for ten days and then mysteriously let him go and turned herself in. Now it’s two years later and Archie, addicted to pain pills and still obsessed with Gretchen, is called off medical leave to hunt a second serial killer. Pink-haired girl journalist Susan Ward is assigned to profile Archie. She knows he’s hiding something. But what? (It’s bigger than a breadbox.)

“In her dynamite first thriller, Cain introduces one of the most seductive and original psychopaths since Hannibal Lecter.”–Entertainment Weekly

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Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain

Sweetheart by Chelsea CainWhen the body of a young woman is discovered in Forest Park, Archie is reminded of the first corpse he discovered there a decade ago: it turned out to be the Beauty Killer’s first victim, and Archie’s first case. Then, the unthinkable happens: Gretchen escapes from prison, and once the news breaks, all of Portland goes on high alert…but secretly, Archie is relieved. He knows he’s the only one who can capture Gretchen—and now he has a plan to get out from under her thumb once and for all. Even if it means becoming her last victim…

“We’ve been down Hannibal Lecter Avenue many times, and these two books shouldn’t work . . . but they do. Chalk it up to excellent writing and Cain’s ferocious sense of humor. The Portland (Ore.) setting is refreshing too.”—Stephen King

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Evil At Heart by Chelsea Cain

Evil at Heart by Chelsea CainGretchen is still on the loose and Archie is still hospitalized after his ploy to catch her went spectacularly wrong. They’ve entered a detente of sorts: Archie agrees not to kill himself if she agrees not to kill anyone else. But suddenly there’s something else to contend with that might be worse – a zealous fan of Gretchen’s, paying homage to the Beauty Killer by luring Archie and reporter Susan Ward to the scene of a grisly murder. At least they hope it’s the work of someone new, for the prospect of Gretchen breaking her promise is more than Archie can bear.

“Cain delivers her usual blend of organ-ripping, blood-soaked gore and compelling flawed heroes—and antiheroes.”–Publishers Weekly

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