CrimeReads: Three L.A. True Crime Stories That Went From Reality to Books to Films

CrimeReads: Three L.A. True Crime Stories That Went From Reality to Books to Films. https://crimereads.com/three-l-a-true-crime-stories-that-went-from-reality-to-books-to-films/

Tune in Tomorrow to Hoosier History Live as I Discuss America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness

If you have time, tune in tomorrow Saturday, October 23rd when I talk to host Nelson Price of Hoosier History Live about my new book America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness. The show airs live from noon to 1 p.m. ET each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. Or you can stream audio live from anywhere during the show.

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness

A Norwegian farm girl, her family so poor, they often went hungry, is seduced by a rich landowner’s son. But despite her dreams, he has no plans to make her his wife. Abandoned, she sees only one path forward or she’ll sink into the black hole of her family’s poverty. But her first goal is revenge and after the landowner’s son dies a horrid death amidst whispers of poison, she boards a boat and sails to America. Norway’s gain is America’s loss.

Her name changed through the years but after the mysterious deaths of two husbands, numerous men, women, and children, she goes down in his as Belle Gunness.  An entrepreneur whose business was murder, Gunness felt no qualms seducing men for their money and dispatching them with her axe—filling her farmland with her victims.

As her crimes were about to be discovered, her solid brick home burnt to the ground and workers battling the smoke and flames discovered the bodies of her three children and a woman without a head.  Was it Belle  or did she get away with one more murder, absconding with close to a million dollars. It’s a question the world has been asking since 1908.

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness (Indiana University Press/Red Lightning Oct. 4, 2021; $20).

What people are saying about America’s Femme Fatale.

Ammeson uses astute research and punchy prose to chronicle Belle’s transformation from destitute farm girl to one of history’s most egregious female serial killers. . . . Compact and captivating, this salacious tale of murderous greed during the early twentieth century will be devoured quickly by true-crime fans.– Michelle Ross ― BOOKLIST / Amer Library Assn

It’s a mesmerizing cautionary tale I had to keep reading despite the late-night hour. . . . Ammeson writes narrative nonfiction with a sense of drama to propel us along the unbelievable.– Rita Kohn ― NUVO

America’s Femme Fatale is the detailed story of Belle Gunness, one of the nation’s most prolific mass murderers. Ammeson recounts the horrific events with dry wit and corrects many errors found in previous accounts. Gunness stands out in an infamous crowd because she was a woman; she killed men, women and children rather than choosing from among one narrow section of victimology; and her murders seem to have been rooted in greed rather than lust, the serial killer’s usual motive.– Keven McQueen, author of Murderous Acts: 100 Years of Crime in the Midwest

Jane Ammeson will be on Hoosier History Live talking to the show’s host Nelson Price about Belle Gunness. The show airs live from noon to 1 p.m. ET each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. Or stream audio live from anywhere during the show. For those who miss the show, it’ll be available by podcast as well.

‘True crime’ inspires fiction thriller

“I’m destined to disappear,” Rachael Bard tells the listeners of her true crime podcasts.

Eliza Jane Brazier

For Sera Fleece, whose life is tumbling down around her as she dwells upon each of her many perceived failures and seldom leaves her home, her time is totally focused on every episode — each one dedicated to a missing or murdered woman. She thinks in terms of the episodes and absorbs the details Rachel reveals about her personal life. Sera knows she lives on Fountain Creek Ranch in the yellow house somewhat distant from her parents’ home and the barns, stables and quarters for the campers who fill the ranch in the summer.

And then, one day it happens. There are no more podcasts and no more social media posts. Rachel has disappeared.

“I know, the first 48 hours are crucial,” Sera tells herself. (After all, she doesn’t talk to anyone else — not her ex-husband who still cares, or her parents, or even the clerks she interacts with when she finally is able to get herself out of the house to buy tea.) “And every hour you don’t update, I think, ‘Something is wrong.’ I think, ‘The case is going cold.’”

So begins “If I Disappear” (Berkley Hardcover 2021) by Eliza Jane Brazier, which follows Sera as she drives to northern California in search of Fountain Creek Ranch.

“I will use the things you told me,” she says to Rachel, promising to find her.

But it doesn’t look promising. Somehow she missed the turn for the ranch, and stopping in the little town where Rachel went to school and where her best friend disappeared when they were high school students, she finds that no one will even mention its existence.

Turning back, she finds the ranch’s entrance, noticeable because what is supposed to be a tourist attraction has signs reading “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” posted on the drive.

“The setting came from a job I took in northern California that got weird at an isolated dude ranch. I won’t go into details, but the truth is very nearly stranger than fiction,” Brazier said when I ask about the eerie setting she created. “The emotion came from finding myself single again after my husband died. And the hook came from my love of true crime.”

Like Sera, Brazier says she was looking for answers but in a different way than most.

“After my husband died, I found that the grieving process really replicated true crime podcasts: you are searching for answers,” she said. “I found a lot of comfort in them and still do to this day. For me it’s about facing your fears, making order out of chaos and also about control. In true crime, you know the bad thing is coming. It can be a way to address trauma and feel less alone in it.”

Playing detective, Sera is hired by the Bards to work with the horses, a job that allows her to search for clues to Rachel’s disappearance. Her searching arouses suspicions but startlingly, she realizes that no one seems concerned about Rachel’s disappearance besides Sera. Rachel, she learns, has disappeared before and will do so again. At the ranch, Sera finds meaning not only in her investigation but in working with the horses and her developing romance with the ranch manager.

Yet that doesn’t stop her search for Rachel, or the overwhelming feelings that there are many dangerous unknowns surrounding her. Was Rachel involved with the ranch manager and what happened to his wife? Did she really go back to Texas like he says. Is it possible he’s a murderer?

Brazier, a screenwriter and journalist who lives in Los Angeles, is currently developing “If I Disappear” for television and writing another mystery.

“It’s a brutally funny thriller about very bad rich people,” she said.

Online events

This story previously appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times:

https://www.nwitimes.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/books-true-crime-inspires-fiction-thriller/article_acce7dc7-16c5-5e85-8824-7862f579cf62.html

“The Belle of Bedford Avenue: The Sensational Brooks-Burns Murder in Turn-of-the-Century New York”

The year was 1902 when Florence Burns, who craved excitement frequented dance halls, drank in roadhouses, and even smoked in public—a truly decadent act, discarded the standards of her well-to-do family to hang with the Bedford Avenue Gang.

Virginia McConnell

            A rich young woman running wild, her boyfriend left for dead in a low-rent hotel room and lurid headlines such as “Brooklyn is a Modern Sodom”  might seem like a contemporary made-for-television movie. But it’s all straight out of history in Virginia McConnell’s latest historic true crime book, “The Belle of Bedford Avenue: The Sensational Brooks-Burns Murder in Turn-of-the-Century New York” (Kent State University Press).

            The year was 1902 when Florence Burns, who craved excitement frequented dance halls, drank in roadhouses, and even smoked in public—a truly decadent act, discarded the standards of her well-to-do family to hang with the  Bedford Avenue Gang.

            Society was changing with the advent of public transportation in big cities like New York and young women like Florence didn’t have to wait to be introduced by a chaperone to “suitable” young men. Instead she chose gang member Walter Brooks who was found with a bullet in his head and died the next day.

            Ironically, though Florence loved the freedoms of the new century, she escaped punishment for Walter’s death because of old norms of an “Unwritten Law” that was frequently used to justify murder. That, says McConnell, kicked in when Walter refused to marry Florence after they’d had sexual relations—hence it was, though unspoken, retribution for his dishonoring her. Taking this into consideration, the prosecutor didn’t even bring charges against her.

            If only Florence had learned from this brush with the law but alas, she didn’t. And reading about her exploits is a fascinating true crime story as well as insight into a world so much different than ours.

McConnell, a college English instructor at Walla Walla Community College-Clarkston Campus in Washington, is the author of other historic true crime books including “The Adventuress: Murder, Blackmail, and Confidence Games in the Gilded Age” which was a 2011 Gold Medal-Independent Publisher Book Award/True Crime Category.

            Drawing upon scandalous but long forgotten crimes, McConnell says that at first she didn’t think there would be enough material to write “The Belle of Bedford Avenue.

She had to go beyond what she could find in the New York Times to ferret out more about the case, reading through lots more newspapers, many that were only available on microfilm through Interlibrary Loan.

“But when I dug into it, there were a lot of interesting items – such as, the hotel’s being at Ground Zero and the teenagers hanging out at Coney Island and then I found the reference to her subsequent incarcerations,” she says, adding that she had to order the microfilm of one of the trial transcripts from the John Jay College, because the topic was so racy that the newspapers wouldn’t print it.

“There were times when I’ve expended a lot of energy on a case that interested me, only to have to abandon it because it simply didn’t have enough material for an entire book,” says McConnell, describing herself as lucky to have connected with the grand-nephews of Belle’s first husband, who had a lot of information on their great-uncle Tad. 

It was also lucky for those of us who like a well-written, intriguing true crime story.

Virtual Book Event: Ask Me Anything with True Crime Authors

Log on to Reddit on Saturday August 22nd at 4:30 p.m. for “Ask Me Anything with True Crime Authors,” featuring four best selling authors who will be answering your questions live!

Submit your question about writing, work, real-life crimes, cover-ups, covert operations, all-time favorite snacks, and anything in between and read through responses as the authors write them!

Registrants will receive a direct link to the Ask Me Anything hosted on Reddit.com; in order to ask a question, please note you will need access to a free Reddit account.

This text-only event will be hosted on a specific Reddit page. You can access this event by clicking the orange “GO TO ONLINE EVENT PAGE” button in your Eventbrite email confirmation or by following the direct link that will be shared via email about 10 minutes before scheduled start time.

Visit BookYourSummerLive.com for more information!

Maureen Callahan, author of American Predator, is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, columnist, and commentator. She has covered everything from pop culture to politics. Her writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, New YorkSpin, and the New York Post, where she is currently critic-at-large. She lives in New York.

Amaryllis Fox, author of Life Undercover, had a CIA career in the field and now covers current events and offered analysis for CNN, National Geographic, Al Jazeera, the BBC, and other global news outlets. She speaks at events and universities around the world on the topic of peacemaking. She is the co-host of History Channel’s series American Ripper and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.

Dr. Lee Mellor Ph.D. is a criminologist, lecturer, musician, and the author of seven books on crime including Behind the Horror. He received his doctorate from Montreal’s Concordia University after specializing in abnormal homicide and sex crimes. As the chair of the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases’ academic committee, he has consulted with police on cold cases in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, and London, Ontario. He resides in Ontario, Canada.

Ariel Sabar, is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The Washington Post, and many other publications. He is the author of My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He also authored Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.

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