While hanging out at a used book store, I recently purchased Ann Rule's 2001 true crime book, Empty Promises: And Other True Cases. I've spent the last ten days or so reading this book, which follows Rule's usual formula. Empty Promises consists of ten true crime stories, one of which is the "main feature". I enjoy Rule's writing, which is usually detailed almost to a fault, yet classy and empathetic. Having read a large portion of Rule's catalog, I tend to prefer her full length true crime books more than her books of shorter true crime stories. Even though Empty Promises is a book of shorter true crime stories, I found it to be an entertaining read. Usually, when Ann Rule groups short stories together in one book, they follow a certain trend. The trend I picked up on in this book is that all of the stories are about people who aren't as they seem.
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Bitter Harvest is the title story of this collection. This sad tale is about Jami Hagel Sherer, a tiny, beautiful, successful woman who seemed to have everything, including a handsome husband and son. But Jami was hiding a terrible secret. Her husband was an abusive monster.
Jami Sherer had a burgeoning career at Microsoft when it was still an up and coming company and she had stocks that would one day be worth a fortune. Her husband, by contrast, was living the life of a criminal, stealing, cheating, doing drugs, and beating women, including his ex girlfriend. Jami kept herself thin, got her breasts enlarged, and dyed her naturally dark hair blond to keep her creep of a husband happy. It wasn't enough. When Jami finally started making plans to leave Steve, she disappeared.
Bitter Lake is another story about a woman trying to escape a possessive and abusive partner. Rule initially presents this story through the eyes of an old man who witnessed the violent argument and assault at Bitter Lake that led to the woman's murder. Kathi Jones and her toddler son, Kris Haugen, lost their lives that day at the hands of Patrick David Lehn, a man who wouldn't take no for an answer.
I found Young Love to be one of the more interesting stories in this book, even though the tale is sadly familiar to a lot of people. Eighteen year old John Stickney and Leigh Hayden were teenaged lovers in their hometown of Mercer Island, Washington. But when Leigh went away to school at Washington State University in Pullman, they grew apart. John Stickney just couldn't let go of their relationship and stalked the poor woman until he was ready to explode... literally.
Love and Insurance is the tale of Larry Dwayne Duerksen and Gareth Stuart Leifbach, two young gay men who were thrown together as a result of the controversy surrounding gays in the military. Leifbach was making headlines because he was a fine Soldier who happened to be gay. As an Air Force veteran, Duerksen was attracted to Leifbach's story and the two ended up having a relationship. Leifbach was handsome and well spoken. He was becoming a media star and Duerksen was flattered that he'd want to be with him. Little did he know, his new boyfriend was going to be the death of him... all over an insurance policy.
The Gentler Sex is another fascinating tale, this time about a couple whose marriage went sour. Carole and David Hargis had high hopes when they first got married during the Vietnam era. David Hargis had reupped in the Marines to help pay off some debt and agreed to help Carole raise her sons for a previous relationship. David took out a $20,000 double indemnity life insurance policy because he was in the Marines and worried about getting killed at war. The Hargis' next door neighbor, Teri Depew, was a lesbian, unemployed physical therapist, and one of Carole's friends. As time wore on, Teri and Carole became very close and David was on the outside looking in. The two women were frustrated because David hadn't been sent to war. Teri didn't have a job and Carole had no skills. Neither of them wanted to get jobs. The insurance money seemed like the perfect solution to their problem. They came up with ridiculous schemes in a bid to kill David for the insurance money. David was none the wiser that his marriage was not only on the rocks, but his demise was being plotted.
The Conjugal Visit is a hairy tale about a well meaning prison program that went way awry. Rule explains how warm and fuzzy programs meant to keep prisoners in touch with the outside world and their families can lead to disaster.
Killers on the Road is one of Rule's first stories as a true crime writer. It's about roving killers murdered Deanna Buse, a pretty, hardworking young woman in 1967. After brutally killing the woman by shooting her in the head, they went on to attack Susan Bartolomei, another lovely young woman, by shooting her in the head. They left her for dead, but didn't complete the job. Miraculously, Susan managed to find help before she died. Ann Rule writes the compelling story of how everyone in the courtroom got to experience what it felt like to be the victims.
A Dangerous Mind is the heartbreaking story of Jannie Reilly, a pretty seven year old blonde child who was murdered by strangulation in June 1981. Rule writes that in some ways, this story is similar to the JonBenet Ramsey case, except Jannie's killer was eventually found.
To Kill and Kill Again is the eerie story of one man and his four separate victims. The killer seemed to be a gentle, unassuming man. But rage lurked beneath that peaceful surface.
The Stockholm Syndrome is the final tale in Empty Promises. I found this story from 1976, which highlights what happens to people who are brainwashed, to be very sad. A young couple with a collie and no money stopped for the night at a campsite near the Clackamas River in Oregon. While scouting for a fishing spot, they ran into a murderous stranger who seemed friendly enough at first. After he killed sixteen year old Robin Marcus's husband and shot their dog, he threatened Robin. It wasn't long before Robin was grateful to her captor just for not killing her.
I mentioned earlier in this review that I tend to prefer Ann Rule's single subject books because I get more of a sense of the people involved in each case. However, for a book of ten shorter true crime stories, I found Empty Promises to be a fairly compelling read. It's not among my favorite books by Ann Rule, but it's certainly worth reading if you like true crime. And I also think this book would be good for those who don't like Rule's longer, more convoluted books. Empty Promises is great for those who have less patience for lengthy stories.
Ann Rule's Web site: http://www.annrules.com
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