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IN PLAIN SIGHT: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders

 
 
 
 
 
 

Today's the day. More than three years in the making, IN PLAIN SIGHT hits brick-and-mortar and Internet booksellers. This is such a fascinating case, I'm struggling with where to begin.

 

Let's start where I did, when I first heard about the case. In January 2013, I was home working on my last book, POSSESSED, when my husband shouted at me to come to the living room. Something big had happened, and news reports were breaking into regular programming to announce that a block from the courthouse in the center of the small town of Kaufman, Texas, someone had gunned down  an assistant district attorney named Mark Hasse. It happened as the workday began, in broad daylight. "Who would do that?" my husband wondered out loud. "I mean, who'd shoot an assistant DA, especially in such a public place?"

 

"Wherever you are, we'll find you!" I heard Mark Hasse's boss, the Kaufman County DA, threaten the killer the following afternoon. Clearly angry, Mike McLelland had the demeanor of a man who wasn't making idle threats.  With every ounce of his being, he intended to corral the gunman and take him down.

 

For weeks after, I was mesmerized by the case. Every morning, Good Morning America had an update. In the evenings, the national news reports mused about the possible killers. Most of the media attention focused on the Aryan Brotherhood or the Mexican Cartel. Then the news reports faded, and we were left wondering: What happened?

 

Incredibly, two months later, on the day before Easter, it happened again. Suddenly a breaking news bulletin flashed across TV screens and Internet sites: KAUFMAN COUNTY DA AND WIFE FOUND MURDERED.

 

Mike McLelland, the big man in the black cowboy hat who'd threatened his friend's killer, had been slain in his suburban home, along with his wife, Cynthia. 

 

From that point on, the case became the top law enforcement priority across the nation. President Obama monitored the investigation's progress in the White House. Someone had murdered an innocent woman and two prosecutors, declaring war on law enforcement throughout the nation. Again, the rumors swirled, speculation mounted, TV pundits railed about the dangers of the Aryan Cartel. But no arrests were made. Who could be behind it? And why?

 

Then, finally, answers. A month after the McLellands died TV news helicopters hovered over a one-story brick home on the outskirts of Kaufman, while inside a crime scene unit conducted a search. When it ended, Eric Williams, a former justice of the peace, was brought down to the county jail for booking. Days later, his wife, Kim, joined him. 

 

Such unlikely suspects. They weren't at all what the experts predicted. It seemed those who were supposed to know had been wrong about everything except for one aspect of the killings: the motive. There the experts hit the proverbial nail on the head when they said the killings reeked of revenge. 

 

Sometimes a case pops up that piques my curiosity. I wonder why things happen, and why the people involved made the decisions they did. What led to the murders? Why would a former lawyer and justice of the peace, along with his wife, plot three such terrible crimes. I had to find out. I wanted to understand. 

 

The result is IN PLAIN SIGHT. And with this book, I got very lucky. The two people at the center of the killings had turned down all requests for interviews, until I asked. Then over a period of a year and a half, I spent nine hours in prisons interviewing Eric and Kim Williams. These are their only interviews to date. 

 

In the end, that made such a difference. IN PLAIN SIGHT is a behind the scenes look at three of the most notorious murders of the century. 

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Why I wrote DELIVER US

I often have readers email to ask how certain books came about. It's an understandable question. I mean, just peruse your daily newspaper. I write about crime cases, real ones, usually murders. Sadly, newspapers across the U.S., actually, I suspect, around the world, are filled with possible subjects. Some, like the Jodi Arias or Casey Anthony cases, make news for months, even years. Others come and go, generating little more than a paragraph or two in the city section. No matter how much attention each attracts, they all have stories behind them, people involved, events that led to the killings, investigations that may or may not have led to killers.

So why write a book on the I-45/Texas Killing Fields? Why now?

For those of you who aren't familiar with the cases, the truth is that they've haunted me since soon after I landed in Houston, back in the eighties. Over the years, I've seen the articles in the Houston Chronicle, teenage girls abducted and missing on or near I-45. In the nineties, the Chronicle and the Galveston County Daily News both started running charts, showing the girls' photos.

From that point on, I knew one day I would have to write about the cases. I couldn't forget the girls. They lived in the back of my mind. As I wrote book after book, I always knew eventually I'd have to do my best to find out who the girls were, how they'd disappeared, and why their murders remained unsolved. I confess that it became something of a compulsion.

"But why now?" you ask. Some of these cases are more than forty years old. Why do they deserve attention at this point in time?

Why not now?

Ironically, I began my research at a time when some of the cases first started to come together. One actually led to a trial. While I worked on DELIVER US, I discovered that although they'd never entered a courtroom charged with any of the girls' murderers, there were suspects. So I did what I always do in my books; I gave the folks believed to have committed the murders the opportunity to talk. I went inside Texas prisons and sat down with men who described themselves as vicious serial killers. And I listened as they told me how and why they murdered their victims.

It was terrifying.

DELIVER US took me three solid years to research and write. I investigated eighteen murder cases. Attended two trials. Interviewed three inmates behind prison walls.

The result, I admit, is a troubling book. It's an unflinching look inside a tragedy, the continuing murders of teenage girls just outside America's fourth largest city. This isn't happening in isolation, but along one of the nation's busiest highways.

I looked at this phenomenon from all sides: survivors, victims' families, investigators, and the alleged killers. And in the end, this book changed me in ways I couldn't have predicted.

I hope you'll read the prologue to DELIVER US, now available by clicking the link under excerpts in the left-hand column of this Website. And if you like the sample, that you'll read the book.

Why? These are important cases, exposing evil at its core. And the girls deserve to be remembered.  Read More 
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My day with the TV crew

Monday was a big day for me. I left my office! Writers spend a lot of time locked up in our home offices, shutting out the rest of the world. But this past Monday, I departed my Houston home mid-morning for a drive to Katy, Texas, the location of the house where David Temple murdered his wife Belinda. The Temple case is the subject of my true crime book SHATTERED. The reason for my drive to Katy? A producer for the ID TV series DEADLY SINS wanted to interview me about the case for an upcoming episode.

What's it like doing television interviews about crime cases? That's what a Facebook friend asked when I mentioned my experience on social media. Well, it's usually pretty interesting. The process actually starts long before the day of the filming, when the producer, in this case a woman named Tania, conducts a pre-interview on the phone, asking  Read More 
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A favor, if you don't mind

I don't usually do this, and I apologize if it offends anyone, but I have a favor to ask. I just read an article about the importance of on-line reader reviews. I'm not surprised that people take them seriously when deciding what to buy. I've always believed that word of mouth is the most important factor in selling a book. And that's really what on-line reviews are, advice from readers to readers. Now it appears that on-line reviews have a lot more importance than I'd ever imagined.

As many of you know, I have a new book out, Deadly Little Secrets. It's doing very well, but I'd so like to get it higher on the bestseller lists. It took me forever to write. (I know. I'm a bit slow.) And I really believe in this book. It has such an incredible message to tell. It's an important story, one of tragedy and redemption.

I would sincerely appreciate it if those of you out there who've enjoyed the book would take the time to write a review on an on-line retailer: Amazon, BN.com, iApple, Goodreads, any of those available on the Web. It would help in getting the word out. Anonymously or with your own name works. No preference. Thank you either way! Read More 
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Fifty Shades’ Christian Grey: A Hero or an Abuser?

A few weeks back I wrote a post that ran on Forbes about the wildly popular book Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in the mega-hit 50 Shades series. My premise was that I find the book troubling because the main character, Christian Grey, reminds me of many of the abusers I’ve reported on over my decades as a crime writer. I’m concerned that women and men  Read More 
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The high point of Easter Dinner: Dessert

Hi, All!

We just finished Easter dinner, and it was so good, and I simply have to share another recipe with you. The high point was dessert. We made Bananas Foster ala Brennan's, the New Orleans/Houston restaurant that's synonymous with this amazing dessert. Oh, my gosh, so good. So whenever you're up for  Read More 
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My Favorite Recipes: Crawfish Etouffee

Today I made one of my favorite recipes, and it turned out so well, I thought it would be fun to share the recipe. I can't take credit for it. This recipe for crayfish etouffee came from a friend in Louisiana.

Ingredients:

1/4 pound butter Read More 
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One Little Girl: Caylee Anthony and why we care

Lately, I've had a hard time concentrating on work. I keep wondering what the heck is going on in Florida.

Of course, you all know what I'm talking about. I'd bet the majority of folks in the U.S. have at least heard of the tragic death of two-year-old Caylee Anthony. We first learned in July 2008 that this precious child was missing, when her grandmother, Cindy, called police, saying Caylee hadn't been seen in a month. For the past three years, we've been mesmerized by the search for the child, the discovery of her body, and the bizarre behavior of Casey, little Caylee's mom. Now our attention has turned to the courtroom drama as Casey is tried for her daughter's murder. A guilty verdict could bring the death penalty.

Apparently I'm not the only one  Read More 
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Relief: Finally finished

I slept well last night. Perhaps because yesterday I sent off my latest manuscript to my editor at HarperCollins, my new true crime book on the Matt Baker case. Matt was a Baptist minister in Waco, TX, who's been convicted of murdering his wife, Kari, and staging it to look like a suicide. It's a heartbreaking case.

I admit it: there were times I thought I'd never finish! I've spent 17 months on this book, and it's one of the most difficult I've written. There were so many setbacks! At first hardly anyone wanted me to write the book. I found out later that they had their reasons, and I understood. Eventually, I think they realized that someone was going to write a book on this case and that I would work hard and do my best.

By the end, nearly everyone on all sides of the case talked to me. A few months back, I even drove north to Livingston, TX, and interviewed Matt Baker in prison.

It's been a long  Read More 
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True Crime Writing 101 -- Part two

Last week my post addressed those of you who envision yourselves writing true crime books. If I didn't dissuade you from that endeavor, let's take this a step further.

Now that you've decided you're up for the research and the seclusion of sitting at your computer day after day, the first thing you have to do is pick which case to cover. I bet that sounds easy. In a sense, unfortunately, it is. There never seems to be a dearth of sensational murders in America, perhaps the world. That's a bad thing, obviously.

Unfortunately, we can't change the reality that murders do happen. We're just reporting what's already taken place. So let's talk about how to pick  Read More 
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