I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
1. Family Blood: The True Story of the Yom Kippur Murders: One Family’s Greed, Love, and Rage by Marvin J. Wolf and Larry Attebery
Gerald Woodman had a strong business mind. He knew how to compete in tough markets and walk away with millions. He also knew how to balance two sets of books for tax purposes and put his pricey assets in wife, Vera Woodman‘s name so as to dodge any judicial judgements.
As his sons, Neil and Stewart Woodman grew from little boys to young men, he taught them the tricks of his trade – a mistake that would prove very, very costly.
When the brothers grew weary of their fathers mismanagement of money and mishandling of business affairs, they bonded together to oust the man who had taught them everything they knew. Using some of the same backhanded practices taught to them by their father, the duo successfully won ownership of the family business through the Los Angeles County courts.
Gerald Woodman wasn’t a man to just walk away, however, even if he a judge had officially declared the battle over.
It was after their father established a competing business and took to stealing their employees and clients that Neil and Stewart turned to desperate measures to make it end. Those desperate measures were a hitman known as Steven Homick and the end result would become known as “The Ninja Murders” and also the “Yom Kippur Murders” – the latter because they occurred on the evening of the most important Jewish holiday.
In Family Blood: The True Story of the Yom Kippur Murders: One Family’s Greed, Love, and Rage by Marvin J. Wolf and Larry Attebery, the murders of Gerald and Vera Woodman are recalled with much detail as readers are given a bird’s eye view into the dynamics of the Woodmans, a successful, Jewish family living in Los Angeles, California.
Just as no one wins in marital divorce, no one wins when family members decide to “divorce” one another because of business-related disagreements. After reading Family Blood, if you’re on good terms with your family, hug them and be grateful you weren’t born into the Woodman family where money was thicker than blood.
2. Cold Kill by Jack Olsen
Cindy Ray, daughter of murder victims James and Virginia Campbell, is a case study in mental disorders; and, one must assume, the dangers of being not being diagnosed and untreated.
David West is a psychiatric case study all his own. Growing up with a mother who was a friendless highfalutin’ snot and a father who opted to be mentally absent rather than deal with the arrogant woman he had married, West was easy target for a predator like Cindy Ray.
Of course, his superiority complex and self-proclamation of being an avenger for the downtrodden coupled with the violent nature refined by his Marine training provided a warm welcome for Ray’s fatal seductions without conscience.
Cold Kill is a 376-page fast paced, can’t-put-it-down true crime that is a must read for any true crime fan.
3. Cruel Doubt by Joe McGinniss
Life hadn’t always been easy for Christopher Pritchard. As a young child, his father had left and seldom visited or contributed to his financial well-being. As a result, his mother had to work long hours and he was often left to be tended to by grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
Yet Bonnie Von Stein gave all she could give to her son, Chris, and his younger sister. She sheltered them and loved them, as much as her guarded state of mind would allow.
When Lieth Von Stein swept Bonnie off her feet, not only was she thrilled to find love again but she was certain he would be the father figure for which Chris and Angela had longed. And, indeed, he was.
At least until Chris went to college.
When a young, over-indulged, naive Christopher Pritchard went off to North Carolina State University, he began traveling a dangerous path of drugs and became obsessed with the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Rather than getting the education his mother and stepfather was paying for, he spent long hours in the steam tunnels beneath the school acting out the character he’d created.
His irresponsibility and wasting of money angered his stepfather and Chris was told his schooling would no longer be funded if this lifestyle continued.
Lines were crossed. Fantasy and reality were blurred into one another. On a sweltering July night in 1988, everything changed at the home of Chris’s parents.
While Bonnie and Lieth lay sleeping, intruders entered their home and brutally beat and stabbed the couple; Lieth was murdered and Bonnie lay near death as she called for help.
Even veteran officers were taken aback as they entered the Von Stein bedroom. The sheer brutality of it all was astonishing. The why, however, would be even more frightening than the crime scene itself.
Author Joe McGinniss was approached by Bonnie Von Stein’s attorney in 1990 to write about the case which changed her life in ways she could have never imagined and the result was Cruel Doubt.
4. Beyond Reason: The True Story of a Shocking Double Murder, a Brilliant and Beautiful Virginia Socialite, and a Deadly Psychotic Obsession by Ken Englade
Derek and Nancy Haysom had raised their blended family while living in different countries, had retired, and were now enjoying retirement in Nancy’s hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. They spent their days gardening and playing Bridge with friends.
It was a quiet, simple life.
Until the evening of March 30, 1985.
On this evening, as the couple enjoyed a few pre-dinner drinks and Nancy prepared their final meal of the day, a knock sounded at the door. It was unusual for the Haysoms to have visitors at this time of night and Nancy watched anxiously from the kitchen as her husband went to the front door.
At the door stood Jens Soering, boyfriend of their daughter Elizabeth. Jens was well aware the Haysoms did not like him and he had come to rectify the situation.
Author Ken Englade recalls the 1985 double homicide that stunned the community of Boonsboro, Virginia, and the hunt for the Haysoms’ killer in his 2004 book Beyond Reason. The books recounts the hardwork of detectives which takes the from the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia to the bustling streets of London in their chase for an overly dramatic British prep-schooled daughter and her Nazi-loving German-born son-of-a-diplomat boyfriend.
5. Family Blood: The Murder That Shattered an All-American Home by Lyn Riddle
Despite his typical, middle class upbringing, James “Jimmy” Robertson was a spoiled brat. His parents, Earl and Terry Robertson loved their son dearly, despite his being a slacker and the constant criminal charges centering around drugs and petty theft. They wanted to help him, so they allowed him to move back in with them at their Rock Hill, North Carolina, home.
Just two days before Thanksgiving on November 25, 1997, their good deed would not go unpunished. Calling his girlfriend, Meredith Leeann Moon over to the house, Robertson set about slashing his mother’s throat and beating his father to death with a claw hammer as he showered.
Lyn Riddle recounts the sad story of one more set of parents doing all they can to help their child who die a horrendous death for their valiant efforts in her 2003 true crime book Family Blood: The Murder That Shattered an All-American Home.
© 2016 Kim Bryan