Sally Chew - A Fatal Lie: A True Story of Betrayal and Murder in the New South

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A Fatal Lie - the Richmond, Virginia lesbian murder

Feb 6, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Complex case and telling this story could enhance the understanding of youth crime.

Cons:The writing is marginal, and the writer is off base with her veiled sentiments.

The Bottom Line: I've seen worse true crime books, but this one is certainly not one to seek out.


A Fatal Lie is the true crime story of the Richmond, VA “lesbian murder.” Six girls took a drive and only five returned. While some say it was a killing related to a love triangle, Domica (one of the killers) said it was just one those nights when “somebody had to die.” That one statement by Domica sums the whole horrible mess up about as well as Sally Chew does in her account of the case.

The big problem with this book is that the cast of characters is large, and none of them (with perhaps the exception of Turtle) is painted in any memorable way. The actual names don’t help. The girls in the car were Turtle, Tracy, Stacey, Stephanie, Domica, and Dana. With two T’s, two S’s, two D’s and with Tracy and Stacey rhyming, it was hard for some of the lawyers to keep the names straight during the trial. Adding to the confusion is the inclusion of photos, which could have helped on keeping the characters straight but didn’t because they weren’t labeled. Somebody sure dropped the ball there. They might as well forget the “eight pages of shocking photos,” because they didn’t bother to label the mug shots, and the other pictures were random and dull—things like the apartment and the cross placed after the murder.

For readers who want to read the book and hope to keep the characters straight, the author notes that people in the Richmond area simply called them the short one (Turtle), the tall one (Tracy), the black one (Domica), and the handicapped one (Stephanie). In the mug shots (inside and also on the cover), the two that are hard to separate are Turtle and Tracy. Both are white and have shaved heads. My best guess is that Tracy is the one in glasses and Turtle the one without glasses. Dana could be considered the passed-out-in-the-back-seat one (not charged in the murder), and Stacey—the dead one. It would be nice to have more personality to hang on each member of the cast, but the writer doesn’t include enough to make the players very vivid.

The basic story (as told anyway) is that Stacey showed up in town and fell for Turtle. Turtle and Tracy were lovers though Tracy had another steady girl on the side. T & T got mad when Stacey made up stories to push them apart. The two decided that Stacey would pay for her lies. Stephanie stepped in as the driver, and Domica was along for the ride. The girls hauled Stacey off in the woods and then hit, kicked, knifed, beat, and drowned the “liar.” It wasn’t a quick thing where they got mad suddenly and pounced. They beat her a little, drove her around in the trunk, got her back out, cut her some more, and then stomped her down in the mud where she died from bleeding and also from drowning in muddy water.

Though the author calls the box-cutters knives, they were really the plastic handles with slide out blades used to cut open cardboard boxes. Those were used to slice a trail up Stacey’s spine, to puncture lots of holes around her heart and to rip a tear across her throat. When you add these generally shallow cuts with the hitting, kicking, and the cinder block to the head, it added up to murder—a slow and certainly painful death. Though Stacey begged to call her mother and promised not tell about the beating, the killers continued to torture the girl who “got on their nerves.” This took a long time with plenty of opportunities for someone to say “enough.” None of the girls did that. They kept on and on until Stacey was dead.

A little background on the killers is tossed in. Generally, the readers learn that the girls in the story came from bad backgrounds and had experienced abuse. One example is that Turtle was raped by a group of boys at age 12 and gave birth at age 13. True, that is terrible. And, it’s true that all the girls seemed to be throwaway kids who didn’t have the love and guidance needed. Unfortunately, the author tosses out those tidbits in ways that seem to indicate that she excused the murders on some level. I don’t care what happened to those girls, nothing justifies or explains what they did to Stacey.

Another irritating thing about the style/format is that the writer includes passages at the beginning of chapters that really don’t fit. She pulls a quote from “Lord of the Flies.” Anyone who does much reading could make that literary connection, but most would not because it’s simply lame and flaky in this context. In some places she opens with block quotations. Then, she has a sentence or so in the text (but not the entire passage). It looks like Chew simply had some cards with notes, couldn’t quite fit them in the skimpy text, and jammed them at the beginning of chapters. She even includes a list of statistics on death row at the start of one chapter. I thought the book had abruptly ended with some kind of odd research tossed in to wrap up. Instead, the book rolled on for a few more short chapters.

This is an interesting case and could be enlightening in a culture where young people are often violent and for no apparent reason. As written, the story is simply hard to follow and lacking in depth and detail. As far as any insight, the writer does not provide anything other than a few “poor girl” inserts from time to time. She notes the backgrounds and that some researchers have considered the impact of “group think” on young people. Deeper text is reduced to a few sentences and is shallow at best and way off target even in the bland “unbiased” newspaper style used to deliver the details.

It appears that this book was written to capitalize on the shock value of girls murdering a girl and on the lesbian angle (“the new south?”—like we haven’t had lesbians around forever like other places). I would guess that St. Martin’s simply selected a reliable (though not very artistic) “stable” writer to go in and get the goods. The book lacks passion, and it comes off as a project that was assigned rather than one the writer was “driven” to cover. Given the material, it would be hard to turn this into a dull book, but Chew comes really close to making this a sleeper.


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