Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Best Woman in the World?

by Diane Fanning

I got a very unusual email last week from someone who was quite mad at me—I assume he was angry because of the careful and frequent use of capital letters in his message. Writing True Crime books opens an author up to a lot of unwarranted criticism from two divergent groups of people with dissimilar world views.

The first are those who object to the guilty verdict awarded to a perpetrator and of course, the author who doesn't call it a wrongful conviction. WRITTEN IN BLOOD created a lot of these category of critics. Michael Peterson beat his wife to death at the foot of the stairs in his Durham mansion. He received a guilty verdict, based largely on forensic evidence, and has lost his appeals in the courts.

Yet, there are a number of family, friends and others in the general public who still support his innocence. In doing so, some cling to the most outrageous theories—like the owl as killer story. Yes, they actually believe an owl flew into the home and killed Kathleen as she walked up the stairs. It doesn’t matter that the theory does not explain the presence of red neurons in Kathleen’s brain, or the blood spatter on the inside of Michael’s shorts or the fact that sixteen years earlier, another woman was found dead at the foot of a different set of stairs with the same injuries to her skull and Michael was the last person to see her alive. Nope, an owl did it—don’t confuse them with the facts!

Another group--folks in some towns who don’t think a book should be written at all. They don’t want anyone to know about a crime that happened in their backyard. These very same people often praise any media help in finding a missing person, and when the body is found they waste no time insulting newspaper staff, broadcasters and book writers who dare report on the story.

I saw a book on Amazon this past week that seemed to come under attack just because it existed—MURDER IN CONNECTICUT by Michael Benson. I don’t know Benson and can’t attest to his motivation and I haven’t read the book so have no opinion on its quality. But when I read lines from reviews like: “Amazon remove this book from your site…this is a disgusting attempt by a pathetic author and publisher to profit from a family that was tragically murdered,” or “Evil has many faces. Profiting from an unauthorized book on crime is one of these faces.”

I feel badly for Benson, whoever he is, for these unfair assaults. Do these same people criticize journalists who write for newspaper, magazines, radio or television? The police officers and detectives who get a paycheck for working the crime? For the District Attorney who prosecutes the perpetrators? Probably not. But they “profit” from the crime in the same way a true crime author does—and yet the only one criticized is poor Michael Benson.

The email I received this week, though, was quite different. It was written in the defense of Nina Sells, the mother of Tommy Lynn Sells, a serial killer residing on death row in Texas. The author of the e-mail accused me of not checking sources for my book, THROUGH THE WINDOW. He wrote that I “degraded one of the best women in the world.”

Who were my sources? Law enforcement officials and victims' family members across the country as well as to Tommy Sells and many members of his family, including Nina Sells, who didn't deny anything the others told me. I learned what she did and who she was from multiple sources.

Nina, abandoned Tommy with an aunt when he was 18 months old. She never visitied him. Yet two and a half years later, when the relatives wanted to adopt Tommy so that they could enroll him in school, Nina jerked her son out of the only home he could remember. From that point on, she wouldn't let him see those family members again.

Then when Tommy was 7 years old, she turned him over to a predatory pedophile. The writer of the email claimed that Tommy wanted to go over to his molester’s house and his mother couldn’t stop him. Really? I’m sorry as a mother, it stretches my imagination to think I could not control any of my kids when they were seven or eight years old—or that I’d let a child of mine go live with a pedophile because that’s what the child wanted.

Even after writing ten true crime books, the cruelty, depravity, arrogance and narcissism of killers still shocks me. But I have gained some understanding of how their minds work and the sociopathic personalities that allow them to commit acts of evil without a scintilla of remorse. I don’t think, though, I will ever be able to understand people who defend these killers or the neglectful and abusive parents who are sometimes responsible for the monsters in our midst.


Cheryl said...

Good Morning Diane. Just out of curiousity, did you respond to the guy that sent you the email?

Sam said...

A really informative post.

Diane Fanning said...

No, Cheryl, I didn't respond. I didn't know what to say to someone that deep in denial without provoking an argument.

Thanks, Sam.

Jan Williams said...

It doesn't do any good to respond to angry emails and posts, and you usually end up causing yourself a lot of grief for no result. This I have found out the hard way.

However, I will say, that it is extremely hard to reconcile yourself to the fact that someone you knew and loved has committed a horrible crime. And it is also hard to have your seemingly ordinary and private life suddenly a topic of news stories and bloggers. This I have also found out the hard way.

Helen Ginger said...

Writers like you who write true crime amaze me. You investigate, spend hours listening to trials and interviewing people the rest of us would not want to be in the same room with, let alone delve into their minds, and you write books that tell the truth. No matter what a writer writes s/he will get some kind of criticism, but it must be especially difficult when you're writing about real people, real events, and doing everything you can to tell the truth.

Straight From Hel