Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review of James Patterson's - Filthy Rich

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on (October 19, 2016)

In February 2005, 14-year-old Mary (not her real name) was a naïve and impressionable teenager. She desperately sought out attention and wanted to make a good first impression. The money she would earn in one hour for giving an old man a massage was more than her father made in a whole day.

“What she tells herself, over and over again, is: It’s not that big a deal.”

But of course, it is a big deal and her visit to the mansion of eccentric billionaire Jeffrey Epstein would result in one of the most scandalous criminal investigations in Palm Beach history. In Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal that Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein, James Patterson, one of the world’s most successful thriller authors in collaboration with John Connelly and Tim Mallory, tackle this deeply troubling and captivating case.

So who is Jeffrey Epstein, really?

Epstein was a highly successful financier, investor, and philanthropist who contributed millions of dollars to academic institutions around the globe. He funded numerous political campaigns and hob knobbed with a wide-ranging and diverse cast of characters that included Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and many others. He rose from humble origins to the heights of New York City and Palm Beach’s privileged and societal elites.

On the surface he appeared to have it all: fame, fortune, and achievement but behind closed doors he wanted more and for many years successfully concealed a perverse sexual appetite for pretty underage girls. This compulsion would eventually led to his downfall with allegations of abuse by dozens of young women whom he employed as “masseuses” at his opulent Palm Beach estate and other properties.

Backed by a plethora of high powered defense attorneys that included Gerald Lefcourt, Alan Dershowitz, and later, Ken Starr, this dream team masterfully orchestrated a plea bargain for Epstein who avoided serious charges in exchange for a guilty plea to felony solicitation of prostitution and the procurement of minors for prostitution.

He received a sentence of 18 months and was required to register as a class three sex offender. One other concession was the media would not be alerted to his ultimate release date, which occurred on July 21, 2009. This was a mere slap on the wrist for the atrocious crimes that were committed, and he served less than 13 months behind bars. Following his release there were lawsuits, seven of which were settled for undisclosed amounts prior to going to trial.

Patterson questioningly writes, “There never was any doubt that Jeffrey Epstein was guilty. The question is, what exactly was he guilty of?” Although Filthy Rich provides an adequate overview of the case in general terms it suffers from a lack of in-depth research of Jeffrey Epstein and other key characters. It ultimately fails to provide any definitive answers to the many questions it poses.

The reader must be cautioned that Filthy Rich is gritty and at times unseemly in its narrative, which devotes large sections of text to the lured transcript testimony of Epstein’s alleged victims. These chapters are extremely detailed and tend to wander through an overabundance of sexually explicit scenarios that appear on the surface to be a concerted attempt by the authors to embarrass Epstein, whom they categorically believe got off easy for the crimes he committed.

Although not one of Patterson’s better written books, Filthy Rich is a fast paced read with many chapters less that a page long. But on a useful note it does raise some deeply disturbing and timely questions about the unspoken rape culture and sexually exploitive views of women that exist within some segments of our society. The crimes for which Jeffrey Epstein were accused and ultimately convicted of are truly reprehensible, and the fact that he was able to use a network of well-connected friends to get out of trouble is even more appalling.

This book leaves the reader with a feeling of dread at the shameful realities of our deeply flawed legal system as it pertains to the haves and have nots. Reader be warned, more than soap and water will be necessary to wash away the sleazy grimness of this obscenely shocking tale. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review of "Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders"

Review first appeared at The New York Journal of Books (10/10/2016)

Seasoned homicide detectives are well aware that high-profile murder cases often attract numerous false confessions. They also know that unscrupulous officers under pressure from the media and other sources can coerce young, suggestible suspects to make false admissions.

“In 1991, Austin was on the verge of becoming what it is today, but back then nobody had a clue. While Houstonians liked to say Austin was hoping to become a grown-up city, too, someday, nobody here took offense. Who wanted to be like Houston? Then came Yogurt Shop. We lost our innocence that night became an official mantra . . . And then, when the crime remained unresolved year after year after year, it became a permanent part of our history.”

On December 6, 1991, the naked, bound-and-gagged bodies of four teenage girls were found shot to death at the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! shop in Austin, Texas. This case captivated the Austin community and frustrated both police and the families of the four victims. The search for the killers resulted in numerous suspects.

Eight years after the murders and under intense pressure to solve the case, four young men were arrested and charged with the crimes. Two of the accused were convicted, but the verdicts were later overturned on appeal due to gathering of false statements and coerced confessions. Today, the Austin Police Department insists that the four men arrested for the crimes were guilty of the murders, but the case remains open. Beverly Lowry, the author of six novels and three works of nonfiction that includes Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir (2002), revisits this thought provoking and captivating case in Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.

The author’s gripping examination raises serious doubts about law enforcements handling of the case and after expertly recounting the horrifying specifics of the murders, meticulously scrutinizes the countless blunders encountered by police during the investigation such as evidence gathering errors, inept and unethical interrogation practices, and failure to follow-up on even the smallest of leads.
Although the central narrative of this book is most certainly the coerced confessions of the defendants and reversal of their convictions, this study raises many tantalizing questions, and the reader is left to contemplate highly controversial issues such as police misconduct and society’s role in preventing its youth from committing savage crimes. But in the end, four innocent young girls were murdered in cold blood and their killers remain at large and unpunished.

So who did kill the yogurt shop girls? Lowry has several theories and powerfully states: “How do we know what we know (or even remember) and when can we be, if not certain, at least reasonably persuaded that we’ve hit on the truthful versions of what really happened? Maybe doubt is never reasonable and memories are closer to dreams than accurate recollections. Perhaps facts and solutions exist only in the science lab, and not always even then, and the best we can hope for is a perception that suits our individual temperament. In other words, what we’re prone to believe given genes, upbringing, class, culture and all the rest. And perhaps there’s no such thing as closure, in which case nothing ever ends anyway.”

Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders is well-researched and thought provoking. It is a terror-filled thrill ride which is captivating from start to finish. It is highly recommend for anyone interested in true crime, unsolved murder mystery, or American law enforcement policies and practices.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mob Boss Anthony Carfano was Murdered (September 25, 1959)

This week (September 19-25) in crime history – The Washington Post published the Unabomber’s manifesto (September 19, 1995); President James Garfield died from gunshot wound (September 19, 1881); Benedict Arnold committed treason (September 21, 1780); The Midtown slasher claimed his first victim (September 22, 1980); Billy the Kid was arrested for the first time (September 24, 1875); The Chicago Seven went on trial (September 24, 1969); Mob boss Anthony Carfano was murdered (September 25, 1959)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On September 25, 1959, mob boss Anthony Carfano, known as Little Augie Pisano was shot to death in New York City on Meyer Lansky’s orders. Lansky, one of the few organized crime figures who managed to survive at the top for several decades. The son of Russian immigrants, Lansky had an eighth-grade education, which put him far ahead of many other criminals. According to legend, Lansky was a straight arrow until one day in October 1918, when he joined a fight between teenagers Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano over a prostitute. After the three were charged with disorderly conduct, Lansky and Siegel became friends and began running a high-stakes craps game.

The two later expanded into bootlegging, car theft, and extortion, and helped form the New York “syndicate.” Lansky, a ruthless leader who would not tolerate disloyalty, ordered the murder of a thief who failed to provide an adequate kickback. Although he was shot several times, the thief survived to name Lansky as one of the assailants. Lansky then poisoned his hospital food, and though he survived a second time, the threat was enough to change his attitude toward testifying. Later, he even rejoined Lansky’s gang.

In June 1947, Lansky ordered the death of his old friend Bugsy Siegel in Beverly Hills, California. Siegel, who had been sent to the West Coast in order to establish a new mob presence, came up with the idea of building The Flamingo, Las Vegas’ first major casino. The casino had been built with mob money, and Lansky was angry over the pace of Siegel’s loan payments.

When Lansky ordered the murder of Anthony Carfano twelve years later, Carfano had been intruding on Lansky’s gambling interests in Florida and Cuba. His death eliminated all competition and opened up emerging markets for Lansky in South America. During the 1960s and 1970s, Lansky made a special effort to stay out of the public eye and was fairly successful. He died of lung cancer in 1983.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review of "Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?"

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on September 12, 2016

Who murdered the women known as the Jeff Davis 8? Is an unapprehended serial killer stalking the wetlands and byways of rural southern Louisiana? These are intriguing questions that have dogged law enforcement officials for nearly a decade. Located primarily in the southern reaches of Louisiana, the bayou is a defining feature of this unique region of the American South, and unlike the rest of the state, has its own pace, culture, and rules. The swamps and alligators might not be for everyone, but the Cajun people of the bayou feel right at home. Shadowy and often misunderstood, this region is often shrouded in mystery.

In 2014, HBO’s wildly successful and critically acclaimed television series True Detective debuted starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. This series was instrumental in bringing renewed interest to this secretive section of the country. The show focused on a mismatched pair of Louisiana state police investigators hot on the trail of a serial killer who is preying on young women deep in the heart of Cajun country. Although this quirky series is a work of fiction, it is alleged to have been inspired by a series of real life unsolved murders that have occurred in and around Jefferson Davis Parish. These murders are collectively and nationally known as the Jeff Davis 8.

Between 2005 and 2009, the bodies of eight female prostitutes were discovered in and around the outskirts of Jennings, a small town and seat of Jefferson Davis Parish. The bodies of these young women were dumped along highways, dirt roads, swamps, and canals throughout the area. Ethan Brown, an investigative journalist, private investigator, and author examines this riveting and spellbinding case in his new book Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?

“The many threads that linked the Jeff Davis women in life (sex work) and in death (elevated levels of cocaine and anti-depressants, possible death by asphyxia) led local law enforcement to investigate the Jeff Davis 8 as a serial killer case.” But Brown’s multi-\year investigation has raised serious doubts about such an idea. He provocatively speculates that the Jeff Davis 8 were murdered for “knowing too much,” and that these homicides were the direct result of Jennings' brutal criminal underworld. Although Jennings resembles a sleepy, out of the way place, looks can be deceiving. For many decades the area has been the epicenter of violent criminal activity centered on the Interstate 10 corridor that connects the Texas border to Lafayette.

“To most Jennings residents, the Boudreaux Inn was simply a dingy motel off the interstate. But to workers at the motel and players in the South Jennings underworld, the rundown inn had an outsized reputation. Powerful people, it was whispered, patronized the motel. Those who ran the business were well connected in Louisiana politics.” Brown goes even further, disturbingly suggesting that there is a connection between local law enforcement and other powerful players to keep the case unsolved due to involvement in the profitable drug trafficking and sex trade.

“In life and in death, the Jeff Davis 8 were cast as outsiders by the ruling elite. Sheriff Ricky Edwards infuriated friends and family of the victims by publicly proclaiming that the Jeff Davis 8 all shared a high-risk lifestyle. Most interpreted this to mean that they were unworthy of sympathy or significant law enforcement resources.” Brown goes on to write, “It’s a staggering body count for a town of approximately ten thousand residents. . . . Complex murder cases such as the Jeff Davis 8 can remain open for years, sometimes even decades. But it should have been obvious all along that the Jeff Davis 8 killings were not the handiwork of a serial killer.”

The narrative of Murder in the Bayou is well researched and easy to read. The author uses thousands of pages of public documents and records as well as hours of interviews to doggedly investigate and arrive at his titillating assumptions on how and why each of these women were murdered. This book is thought provoking and explosive. Its mesmerizing allegations and scandalous conclusions revolving around the realities of modern day class division and brutalities of the rural South will captivate true crime enthusiasts as well as anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery with political intrigue.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Review of "Existentialism and Exess" by Gary Cox

Review first appeared at on September 7, 2016

“Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: With great power comes great responsibility. This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I'm Spiderman.” Actor Tobey Maguire spoke these words in the final scene of Columbia Pictures 2002 movie blockbuster Spiderman.

The character must have been reading a lot of stuff by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre when he imparted that little nugget of wisdom. Nearly 40 years since his death, Sartre’s philosophical ideas still resonate within modern society and pop culture. He was one of the greatest philosophical thinkers and most versatile writers of his time and alongside his longtime companion Simone de Beauvoir was one of the leading figures in the French intellectual community of the 20th century.

Sartre was a principal proponent of Existentialism, a philosophical theory that stresses the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices. Expanding on the 19th century writings of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Sartre determined that if man is the maker of his own morality, then his greatest power is the freedom of choice. In the 1940s and 1950s, Sartre through scholarly and fictional works promoted and brought to the mainstream public these existential themes. A complex and captivating figure, Sartre intricately binds together his life, writings, and revolutionary thoughts.

Gary Cox, a Sartre specialist and author of Deep Thought, How to Be an Existentialist, The Sartre Dictionary, and Sartre: A Guide for the Perplexed once again tackles Sartre in Existentialism and Excess: The Life and Times of Jean-Paul Sartre. This easy to read and thought provoking biography explores all of the key events of the legendary philosopher’s life and skillfully examines the close connections between his radical thoughts and philosophical works. The author reconstructs the existentialist crises that helped shape Sartre’s life and concisely capsulizes his complex philosophical concepts so that they are easy to read and understand.

“Humankind . . . is a futurizing intention. The destiny of each of us is in our own hands. We make ourselves through our choices. We are even free to choose what is happening to us, to take it on board rather than bemoan it, to realize to the full our being-in-situation.”

Throughout Existentialism and Excess, Cox perceptively identifies the major entanglements, love triangles, friendships, and affairs that engulfed Sartre over his lifetime. In an engaging and accessible manner, the author is able to convey these fascinating interactions into simple literary and biographical context.

He draws from a vast array of published writings and other sources to support research that reveals titillating insights into Sartre’s complex persona including the extent to which he juggled, depended upon, and supported his many mistresses and the compulsive need he had to seduce women far more beautiful than he, despite his tepid sensuality. Cox writes, “His sense that he was physically ugly . . . led him to feel that a woman could not really enjoy his body. His successes with various woman gave him new found confidence . . .”

The author also candidly scrutinizes Sartre’s complicated and avant-garde relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. She was the cornerstone of his social circle, an intellectual equal, life-long companion, and philosophical sparring partner. Cox writes, “What is undoubtedly true is that without her [de Beauvoir’s] influence, Sartre’s philosophical contribution would have been different and less impressive.”

This book also studies Sartre’s many political flip-flops, seduction and conversion to Communist ideology, and steady health decline and eventual isolation in the 1960s and 1970s. All intrigues aside, however, Cox concludes, “Despite his (Sartre’s) neurotic desire to become one of the gods and immortals of philosophy and literature . . . his desire to become a name to conjure with the like of Plato, Descartes, Nietzsche, Proust, Flaubert or Dickens . . . Sartre was wise and realistic enough to comprehend that there is no such thing as true immorality.”

But Jean-Paul Sartre did create a legacy that is memorable and does not matter simply because he was a great writer, although his exceptional command of styles and genres expertly complemented his purpose. Sartre matters because so many fundamental points of his analysis of the human reality are right and true, and because their accuracy and veracity entail real consequences for our lives as individuals and in social groups.

Gary Cox’s Existentialism and Excess is a remarkably vivid and intimate biography that shows the existentialist legend had feet of clay, without in any way diminishing his contributions and greatness. If you are a fan of Jean-Paul Sartre, French intellectual life, philosophy, or biography, in particular, this first-rate account is highly recommended as a starting point for any study of this great man.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sacco & Vanzetti were Executed (August 23, 1927)

This week (August 22-28) in crime history – Irish revolutionary Michael Collins was assassinated (August 22, 1922); The Barker gang killed a Federal Reserve officer in Chicago (August 22, 1933); Sacco and Vanzetti were executed (August 23, 1927); Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced (August 24, 2012); Old west outlaw Bill Doolin was killed (August 25, 1896); Preppy murderer Robert Chambers killed Jennifer Levin in Central Park (August 26, 1986); NFL star Michael Vick pleaded guilty to dog fighting (August 27, 2007); Lord Mountbatten was assassinated (August 27, 1979); Danny Rolling murdered two coeds at the University of Florida (August 28, 1990)

Highlighted crime story of the week -

On August 23, 1927, despite worldwide demonstrations in support of their innocence, Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed for murder. On April 15, 1920, a paymaster for a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts, was shot and killed along with his guard. The murderers, who were described as two Italian men, escaped with more than $15,000. After going to a garage to claim a car that police said was connected with the crime, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and charged with the crime. Although both men carried guns and made false statements upon their arrest, neither had a previous criminal record. On July 14, 1921, they were convicted and sentenced to die.

Anti-radical sentiment was running high in America at the time, and the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti was regarded by many as unlawfully sensational. Authorities had failed to come up with any evidence of the stolen money, and much of the other evidence against them was later discredited. During the next few years, sporadic protests were held in Massachusetts and around the world calling for their release, especially after Celestino Madeiros, then under a sentence for murder, confessed in 1925 that he had participated in the crime with the Joe Morelli gang. The state Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict, and Massachusetts Governor Alvan T. Fuller denied the men clemency. In the days leading up to the execution, protests were held in cities around the world, and bombs were set off in New York City and Philadelphia.

In 1961, a test of Sacco’s gun using modern forensic techniques apparently proved it was his gun that killed the guard, though little evidence has been found to substantiate Vanzetti’s guilt. In 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation vindicating Sacco and Vanzetti, stating that they had been treated unjustly and that no stigma should be associated with their names.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Carol Bundy Confessed Role in the Sunset Slayer Murders (August 11, 1980)

This week (August 8-14) in crime history – Six German saboteurs were executed in Washington (August 8, 1942); Sharon Tate and four others were murdered by Charles Manson’s followers (August 9, 1969); The severed head of Adam Walsh was found in Florida (August 10, 1981); Son of Sam was arrested (August 10, 1977); Carol Bundy confessed role in Sunset Slayer murders (August 11, 1980); Jonesboro school shooters pleaded guilty (August 11, 1998); Yosemite Slayer, Cary Stayner was born (August 13, 1961); Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal was captured (August 14, 1994)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On August 11, 1980, Carol Bundy, a nurse, confessed to co-workers her connection to the “Sunset Slayer,” the killer who had been murdering and mutilating young women in Hollywood, California, all summer. “I can’t take it anymore. I’m supposed to save lives, not take them,” she reportedly said. Her confession was relayed to police, who immediately arrested Douglas Clark, Bundy’s accomplice and boyfriend.

Bundy and Clark met in a North Hollywood bar in January. Clark was a self-described “king of the one-night stands.” But when he met Bundy, he soon discovered that she was willing to assist and indulge in his sick fantasies.

In June, Clark abducted two teenagers, sexually assaulted them, and then shot them in the head. He dumped their bodies off the freeway and then went home to brag about it to Bundy. Two weeks later, Clark struck again, killing two young women in separate incidents. In the second attack, Clark cut the head off the woman and took it home, insisting that Bundy apply cosmetics to it. Because most of his victims had been abducted from the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the press had taken to calling the serial killer the “Sunset Slayer.”

Clark proved to be more of an influence than Bundy expected. When she blabbed about Clark’s activities to a former boyfriend, she felt compelled to kill the man to make sure that she wasn’t implicated. On August 5, Bundy stabbed John Murray to death and then cut off his head. Within a week, she was tearfully confessing to her fellow nurses. During his trial in 1981, Clark tried to pin all of the murders on Bundy, but the jurors found his story hard to believe and sentenced him to death. Bundy attempted an insanity defense, but she eventually pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 52 years-to-life.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of seven books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchase from Amazon through the following link: