Friday, July 23, 2010
by Stephen Singular
The night we met in the fall of 1990, Joyce and I spoke about my first book, Talked to Death, which chronicled the 1984 neo-Nazi assassination of Denver talk show host Alan Berg. She said she wanted to read it and a few days later I gave her a copy.
Independently, we’d early in life developed an interest in non-fiction crime books by reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and one day we’d journey together to Holcomb, Kansas, and the infamous Clutter farmhouse. After I gave her the Berg book, we started dating and launched a partnership in crime writing that has expanded over the course of two decades and 19 more books.
The hearing was packed with females of every age and description, who’d come to the courtroom to study the kind of woman capable of firing two shots into chest of another young woman very much like herself. Joyce spoke with the women in the hallways and restrooms, getting their impressions of the killer and victim, taking notes and adding them to the book’s research. She picked up details I’d missed and provided insights into Jennifer’s psychology, which were unique to her experience as a female. Like many women observing the legal proceedings, Joyce viewed the shooter in a highly negative light.
In subsequent years, we worked on a book about Jill Coit, the “Black Widow” killer from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who’d murdered her husband Gerry Boggs and may have been behind the deaths of several of her other spouses. Joyce attended Coit’s trial while I was busy with another project. We wrote about John Robinson, the first known serial killer in the history of the Internet, who went online and lured several women to a Kansas City suburb before ending their lives. This book, Anyone You Want Me to Be, was written in conjunction with ex-FBI profiler, John Douglas, but Joyce again attended Robinson’s trial and provided input on how he was able to manipulate so many females into extremely dangerous circumstances. She played a similar role in the creation of Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer, which came out in the spring of 2006. In looking at complex criminal situations involving the interaction of the sexes, we found that the combined male and female points of view always added to our understanding of a killer and his or her victims.
Right after Unholy Messenger was published, Joyce suggested we drive down to southern Utah and look into the case of Warren Jeffs, who’d just made it onto the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list as a fundamentalist Mormon polygamist accused of forcing underage girls into marriage and other crimes against women. I took her advice, resulting in the 2008 book, When Men Become Gods, the story of Jeffs’ and his capture and conviction. Joyce sent a copy to Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the Senate Majority Leader and highest-ranking Mormon in American history. He found the book revelatory about how women were being abused inside a religious subculture and invited me to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2008, where I talked about alleged federal crimes associated with polygamy. Going to Washington, meeting Senators, and speaking to the committee were among the highest of our highlights as book-writing collaborators.
Around that same time, we were contacted by someone who’d been in prison and gotten to know Jennifer Reali, now doing a life sentence in a Colorado penitentiary. He wanted several copies of Sweet Evil to give to her now-teenage daughters so they could know who their mother was before she disappeared from their lives (one daughter would later visit her in prison). Almost 20 years had passed since Jennifer had killed Dianne Hood and the man who contacted us suggested we go see Jennifer. This presented a unique opportunity because it had been almost impossible for us to interview killers, even after they’d been convicted, let alone have a chance to talk with one who’d read a book about them. The appeals process keeps most offenders silent for decades.