Real killers, children, lovers, plots

January 09, 2000|By Elsbeth Bothe | Elsbeth Bothe,Special to the Sun

True crime alert: The birth of Christ and the third anniversary of the death of JonBenet Ramsey coincided. News of the sensational killing of the 6-year-old beauty queen found the day after Christmas 1996, bludgeoned and garroted in the basement of her family's mansion in Boulder, Colo., received some of the same fervent lament accorded the One who was crucified.

While most of the 1,038 pieces of evidence keep fingers pointed at parents John and Patsy Ramsey, no one has been charged.

Notwithstanding exhaustive forensics, such issues as whether the child was sexually abused, whether the ransom note is Patsy Ramsey's handwriting, whether there is any incriminating DNA and whether the house was secured remain eternally debatable. Last October a specially convened grand jury adjourned without a recommendation. Lacking much mystery and without fulfillment, the killing of JonBenet is unlikely to place among the notable crimes of the 20th century.

Too bad for Lawrence Schiller. Spurred by the prospect of profiting from a sky-profile homicide (as with his book on the O.J. Simpson defense), Schiller made a big investment in JonBenet. After two years, 571 interviews recorded on 25,000 pages, chatting up 300 JonBenet Web sites, worming into the confounding conflicts of the law enforcement players, he was left in limbo, forced to release his myriad material to a tome ironically titled: "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenet and the City of Boulder" (HarperCollins, 598 pages, $26). The book contains plenty of fodder for remaining JonBenet junkies -- just about everything that happened to the point of publication is there somewhere. Oh, for an index!

Ann Rule grabbed a good case and handles it effectively. "And Never Let Her Go: Thomas Capano: The Deadly Seducer" (Simon & Schuster, 479 pages, $25) opens on June 27, 1996, when Anne Marie Fahey, the lively, if anorexic, scheduling secretary to the governor of Delaware, turned up missing. She was last seen dining with prominent attorney Tom Capano, who immediately became the prime suspect.

The target was a member of a wealthy, influential family, father of four loving daughters, civic leader, partner in a prestigious law firm, former assistant attorney general, prosecutor and public defender. He was also a relentless and ruthless consumer of women. When she disappeared, Anne Marie, having developed a more promising liaison, was trying to wriggle free from two years of Capano hegemony. What if she had known of his ongoing intimacy with socialite Debby MacIntyre, or that rejected by Linda Marandola, he had propositioned a hitman "to knock her over the head or have her run over by a car," or that at least one other woman was currently being threatened and harassed after declining his advances?

No body, no weapon, no eyewitness. It took a lot of doing to overcome Carpano's seductive skills to extract evidence from his vulnerable mistress and siblings. Gerry Capano divulged that his brother had urgently enlisted him to help take a styrofoam fishing cooler out to sea. When the cooler wouldn't sink, Tom dumped its grisly contents as the vomiting Gerry "saw a foot sinking into the deep."

Three months of trial (ending early last year) rarely present a dull or predictable moment. Whether or not you believe in capital punishment, the verdict provides an ideal ending for an excellent true crime book.

Were it not for Bill Clinton's promotion from Arkansas politics, the 1987 deaths of two teen-agers run over by a freight train 25 miles from Little Rock, would be lost to history -- even if they were murdered, as seems to be the case. Through "The Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial and a Mother's Crusade to Bring Her Son's Killers to Justice" (St. Martin's Press, 346 pages, $25.95, Arkansas journalist Mara Leveritt takes off to expound a conspiracy that could choke a certified paranoid.

The plot gets under way with Linda Ives' suspicion of foul play in the killing of her son Kevin and his friend Donald Henry. State medical examiner Fahmy Malak determined the manner of death was a combination suicide-accident. According to him, the boys lay down to die in marijuana-induced stupors -- a comparatively reasonable deduction, coming as it did from a coroner who on other occasions decided that a headless corpse expired from ulcers, and a bullet-ridden body from self-inflicted wounds.

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