Friday, July 23, 2010

A Partnership in Crime

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.

We were fascinated by the psychology of real crimes more than the violence, and in exploring that place the Italians call chiaroscuro, where the darkness meets the light in human behavior. During 1992-93, we got married and had a son, while I worked on a book called Sweet Evil. It was about Jennifer Reali, a young wife and mother in Colorado Springs who’d dressed up in her husband’s camouflage army clothes and gunned down Dianne Hood, the wife of her lover. Jennifer had two young children and her victim had three. Joyce, a new mother herself at the time, attended Jennifer’s sanity hearing and the trial of Brian Hood, who’d used seduction and religious manipulation to get Jennifer to murder his spouse.

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.

As we drove to the penitentiary, Joyce reiterated how much she’d disliked Jennifer during her long-ago trial and wondered what she’d feel about her now. After three hours of our face-to-face discussion, we were both taken with her intelligence, sensitivity, and efforts to understand her crime and help herself and others not to follow her path. Eventually, she asked us to look over the manuscript she was writing about her childhood, relationships with men, and what had made her so vulnerable to Brian Hood’s scheme to kill his wife. While Jennifer had received a life sentence, Hood was given 37 years, but eligible for parole after twelve years.

Joyce (left) and Jennifer have been working on her book for about a year. Joyce feels her story is important to help women grasp what can happen when they give their power and identity over to a man in the name of love. This fall Joyce and I will be featured on a Discovery Channel program about women who kill. I’ll discuss the Jill Coit case and Joyce will speak about Jennifer.

Over the years we’ve constantly found that in the process of researching and writing books about crime, two heads and two perspectives, the male and the female, are better than one.

Stephen Singular, a two-time “New York Times” bestselling author, has written 20 books about high profile crimes, social criticism, and business and sports biographies. He’s appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” “Anderson Cooper 360,” FOX-TV, MSNBC, COURT-TV, ESPN, and many other media outlets. His latest book, THE WICHITA DIVIDE, about the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller, will be published by St. Martin's Press in early 2011. He and Joyce live in Denver with their son.


Burl Barer said...

While early life experiences leave lasting imprints that may be considered mitigating circumstances in a court of law, prevention is certainly preferable to mitigation. Recent research confirms that the human brain is not finalized by age six, but rather is most subject to influence during adolescence. Whatever you do in your youth, the brain develops hundreds more :"receptors" for that activity -- be it prayer, pot, humor or heroin. I would be most interested in the male/female relationships of these women during their 13-18 years. A brain scan would be nice too.

Kathryn Casey said...

Although I've interviewed nearly all the convicted murderers I've profiled in my books, I've only had one talk openly about her crime, Tracey Tarlton, who murdered Steven Beard at the urging of his wife/her lover Celeste Beard. All the others maintained that they were innocent, victims of the system and bad police work.

It's interesting that Jennifer wants to come forward, to, as we say, fess up. Did she admit her crime early on, Stephen, or is this a change of heart?

TNelson said...

I would love to read "When Men Become Gods" - I wish more publishers would offer digital book versions. Alas, at least at Barnes & Noble, this is not available in Nook format. I tried to reach the author but was unable to figure out his e-mail system. Hopefully he will read this and talk to his publisher about digital editions. I am also saving this post to look up some of the other books he and his wife have written.

Steve & Joyce Singular said...

Two days after Jennifer committed the crime she walked into the Colorado Springs police station and confessed everything. Twenty years later she's still trying to understand why she did this and we're helping her confront that through her book writing process.

Steve & Joyce

Steve & Joyce Singular said...


Please visit our website: and the email address on the contact page is:

the web page will give you a synopsis of all 20 books.


Steve & Joyce

Anonymous said...

Like the Stockholm Syndrome or what happens with domestic abuse, the polygamous FLDS women become brainwashed as to what is reality. Other excellent books on this subject is "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer and "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop. While the mainstream LDS Church wants to disassociate itself from the FLDS, they do not do much to end the rein of terror.

Lindsay Chipman said...
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