So anyway, in the March issue of Texas Monthly, the editor decided to put one of my crime stories, of which I write about two to three a year for the magazine, on the cover. The story was about the questions swirling around the mysterious death of a pretty young blonde Baptist preacher's wife in Waco. Did she, as the police originally believe, commit suicide? Or was she murdered by her husband, who led a secret second life in Waco, the home of Southern Baptists, as a sexual predator? You can find the story, "The Valley of the Shadow of Death," in the archives at http://www.texasmonthly.com/
It is rare that Texas Monthly goes with crime stories on the cover like it did in previous years - say, like, the 1970s and '80s - mainly because there is so much crime writing and true-crime television shows today that cover the territory. I mean, if I'm onto a crime story that's pretty decent, I'm competing almost immediately with big-city newspapers that send a reporter to do a long piece and I'm also competing with producers from the network magazine shows. I literally had the Waco Baptist preacher story to myself for a couple of weeks and suddenly here comes 20-20, Dateline, 48 Hours - and even a new true-crime show that TNT is producing for its fall schedule. It's called "Shadow of a Doubt," and according to show's producer who sent me an e-mail: "The program will be taking a fresh look at the most riveting true crime stories that captured the nation. Our series will profile cases that have a notable degree of reasonable doubt."
I'm not sure the story would have made the cover were it not for another story I wrote that was also put on the cover back in July 2007, about a nurse in a small north Texas town who suddenly decided to kill everyone who came into the town's hospital. She became one of the most prolific serial killers in Texas history, knocking off more than 20 residents in a four-month period before getting caught. (See "The Angel of Death," which can also be found in our archives.) In that case, the television shows didn't go after the story. (They were probably tired of killer nurses.) The newspapers didn't stay on the story either after the initial headlines, mainly because the nurse refused to give any interviews or provide any insight into why she went on such a murderous rampage. For once, I had everything to myself - truly a rare treat. And I had the time to win over the nurse and get her talking - and what she said provided truly tantalizing clues about her determination to bring down an entire town. The editor of the magazine, whose original cover story for July wasn't working out, made a gamble and decided to stick the nurse story on the cover. To all of our surprise, it sold like gangbusters.
The final results are still not in on the sales for the Baptist preacher story. But since then, I've already made another pitch for a crime story to be put on the cover. The editors thought about it, and they decided to run it as a 2,000 word column. Oh, well, can't win them all.