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True Murder: The Most Shocking Killers

True Crime

Every week host Dan Zupansky will interview the true crime authors that have written about the most shocking killers of all time.


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Every week host Dan Zupansky will interview the true crime authors that have written about the most shocking killers of all time.



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David Kulczyk’s eighth book, Deadly California is another tome of off the wall murders, accidents and robberies gone wrong that have happened in California. With true crime tales stretching from 1912 to 1964, occurring in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Northern and Southern California, and Sacramento. Unforgettable stories such as When Sally Shot Harry; Double Murder on O Street; Keller and Sergeant Liquor Store and Corpus Delicti. DEADLY CALIFORNIA: Murders, Accidents, and Robberies Gone Wrong-David Kulczyk


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Late one evening in the summer of 1922, Henry Wilkens burst through the doors of the emergency room covered in his wife’s blood. But was he a grieving husband, or a ruthless killer who conspired with bandits to have her murdered? To find out, the San Francisco police turned to technology and a new machine that had just been invented in Berkeley by a rookie detective, a visionary police chief, and a teenage magician with a showman’s touch. John Larson, Gus Vollmer and Leonarde Keeler hoped the lie detector would make the justice system fairer – but the flawed device soon grew too powerful for them to control. It poisoned their lives, turned fast friends into bitter enemies, and as it conquered America and the world, it transformed our relationship with the truth in ways that are still being felt. As new forms of lie detection gain momentum in the present day, Tremors in the Blood reveals the incredible truth behind the creation of the polygraph, through gripping true crime cases featuring explosive gunfights, shocking twists and high-stakes courtroom drama. Touching on psychology, technology and the science of the truth, Tremors in the Blood is a vibrant, atmospheric thriller, and a warning from history: beware what you believe. TREMORS IN THE BLOOD: Murder, Obsession, and the Birth of the Lie Detector-Amit Katwala


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On an unseasonably warm April evening in 2001, the headless body of a tiny girl was found discarded in a makeshift dump site in the woods on the southeast side of Kansas City, Missouri.One long night turned into four long years for Sgt. David Bernard and the Kansas City Police Department’s 1020 Squad. They followed 1,500 leads, had a replica of the child’s head sculpted from her skull, and ultimately conducted the single most extensive area canvass in the KCPD's history. Erica Michelle Marie Green, aka “Precious Doe,” captured the hearts of not only the dedicated detectives who fought tirelessly to identify her and her killer but of an entire community. PRECIOUS FEW CLUES is a candid and touching account of the painful impact that this brutal murder had on Sgt. Bernard, his family, and the KCPD’s 1020 squad. It chronicles the all too frequent story of child abuse, failed social services, a flawed court system, and battered women who sacrificed their own children to shield their abusive lovers, echoing the same preposterous explanations of “…but I love him.” PRECIOUS FEW CLUES: The True Crime Investigation of Kansas City's "Precious Doe" Murder-Marla Bernard


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KORESH-Stephan Talty

No other event in the last fifty years is shrouded in myth like the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Today, we remember this moment for the 76 people, including 20 children, who died in the fire; for its inspiration of the Oklahoma City bombing; and for the wave of anti-government militarism that followed. What we understand far less is what motivated the Davidians’ enigmatic leader, David Koresh.Drawing on first-time, exclusive interviews with Koresh’s family and survivors of the siege, bestselling author Stephan Talty paints a psychological portrait of this infamous icon of the 1990s. Born Vernon Howell into the hyper-masculine world of central Texas in the 1960s, Koresh experienced a childhood riven with abuse and isolation. He found a new version of himself in the halls of his local church, and love in the fundamentalist sect of the Branch Davidians. Later, with a new name and professed prophetic powers, Koresh ushered in a new era for the Davidians that prized his own sexual conquest as much as his followers’ faith. As one survivor has said, “What better way for a worthless child to feel worth than to become God?”In his signature immersive storytelling, Talty reveals how Koresh’s fixation on holy war, which would deliver the Davidians to their reward and confirm himself as Christ, collided with his paranoid obsession with firearms to destructive effect. Their deadly, 51-day standoff with the embattled FBI and ATF, he shows, embodied an anti-government ethic that continues to resonate today.Now, thirty years after that unforgettable moment, Koresh presents the tragedy at Waco—and the government mistrust it inspired—in its fullest context yet. KORESH: The True Story of David Koresh and the Tragedy at Waco-Stephan Talty


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THE CIGAR-Frank Dimatteo and Michael Benson

From real-life "Mafia Survivor" Frank Dimatteo, the gripping account of the life and crimes of the most feared mafia boss of all time: Carmine “Lilo” Galante, the prime mover behind the legendary French Connection. The brutal and blood-stained true story of one of the most feared bosses in American Mafia history, who rose from tenement street thug to notorious hit man to a prime mover behind the legendary French Connection. And the bodies piled up. The son of Sicilian immigrants, Camillo Carmine Galante was raised in Manhattan’s Little Italy and by all accounts born bad. At age ten his home away from home was juvenile detention. By fifteen he was terrorizing the streets of New York’s Lower East Side, scoring high marks for the “errands” he was running for his La Cosa Nostra elders. When he turned twenty, Galante was already one of the mob’s top enforcers­–a sadistic thrill killer and clinically diagnosed psychopath with big dreams: whack his way into controlling organized crime the world over, vowing to kill Mafia chieftains Tommy Lucchese and Carlo Gambino and take control of their mob families. Carmine “Lilo” Galante’s rise to Mafia star was infamous: hit man for the Luciano and Genovese crime families; named consigliere by Joseph Bonnano; he wiped out eight members of the Gambinos; on behalf of Mussolini he assassinated the publisher of an anti-Fascist newspaper. “The biggest dope peddler in the country” according to law enforcement, Galante helped orchestrate one of the largest heroin trafficking operations on record—a power move too dangerous for his rivals in the narcotics trade. The heads of the five New York families decided that the psychotic Galante had to be stopped. On July 12, 1979, finishing his lunch in a Brooklyn restaurant, Galante got what he’d dished out his whole life: a shotgun blast to the face, his trademark cigar still clenched in his teeth . . .THE CIGAR: Carmine Galante, Mafia Terror-Frank Dimatteo and Michael Benson ReplyForward


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On a spring afternoon in 1985 in Gary, Indiana, a fifteen-year-old girl kills an elderly woman in a violent home invasion. In a city with a history of racial tensions and white flight, the girl, Paula Cooper, is Black, and her victim, Ruth Pelke, is white and a beloved Bible teacher. The press swoops in. When Paula is sentenced to death, no one decries the impending execution of a tenth grader. But the tide begins to shift when the victim’s grandson Bill forgives the girl, against the wishes of his family, and campaigns to spare her life. This tragedy in a midwestern steel town soon reverberates across the United States and around the world—reaching as far away as the Vatican—as newspapers cover the story on their front pages and millions sign petitions in support of Paula. As Paula waits on death row, her fate sparks a debate that not only animates legal circles but raises vital questions about the value of human life: What are we demanding when we call for justice? Is forgiveness an act of desperation or of profound bravery? As Bill and Paula’s friendship deepens, and as Bill discovers others who have chosen to forgive after terrible violence, their story asks us to consider what radical acts of empathy we might be capable of. In Seventy Times Seven, Alex Mar weaves an unforgettable narrative of an act of violence and its aftermath. This is a story about the will to live—to survive, to grow, to change—and about what we are willing to accept as justice. Tirelessly researched and told with intimacy and precision, this book brings a haunting chapter in the history of our criminal justice system to astonishing life. SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN: A True Story of Murder and Mercy-Alex Mar


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Chris Thomas is not yet thirty years old when he finds himself managing the immense pressure, eccentric personalities, and extenuating circumstances of an international story, where one small misstep could adversely impact the search for a missing teenager and the reputation of her family. Now, twenty years later, Thomas takes readers behind the scenes, providing new details, perspectives, and commentary on finding Elizabeth Smart. In the process of reflecting on Elizabeth's search and rescue, Thomas discovers how growing up in the culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Mormon) helped push him to develop the exact kind of intuition needed to manage Elizabeth's kidnapping and rescue, and to do so while the world watched. Unexpected juxtaposes crucial events from the Smart case with Thomas's experience growing up in the Latter-day Saint culture, including coming to understand the secret of a broken war hero before it was too late. UNEXPECTED: The Backstory of Finding Elizabeth Smart and Growing Up in the Culture of an American Religion-Chris Thomas


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On December 9, 2001, Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her Durham, NC home. Her scalp was laced with deep incisions, and her blood was strewn from outside to inside the house. The sinister truth of that night turned her murder into North Carolina's most enigmatic criminal case, capturing media attention across the globe. Police zeroed in on Kathleen’s husband, Michael Peterson, and charged him with murder. But Was It The Truth? A neighbor, Larry Pollard, came up with an alternative “killer;” he claimed an owl had attacked Kathleen outside her house. He said it sliced her scalp with its fierce talons and caused her to run inside, collapsing at the stairwell, and bleeding to death. When the media heard about his theory, Larry was mocked. And Michael was convicted. Now, twenty years later, author Tiddy Smith explores Pollard’s theory and questions whether law enforcement ignored, or even hid, evidence to convict Michael Peterson. And was an owl, in fact, the real killer? DEATH BY TALONS: Did An Owl 'Murder' Kathleen Peterson?-Tiddy Smith


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M'Linda Kula is very familiar with this SECRET SANTA and the many links that tie him to JonBenet Ramsey. Each link is carefully explained within this book, to lead from one connection to the next between JonBenet and the SECRET SANTA. Follow the pieces of the puzzle to find out who this SECRET SANTA is and how this chameleon was able to evade the authorities. Included within is a pair of government generated documents for the same man under different aliases/assumed names. This alone should raise a red flag for authorities. This same individual also used a term of endearment common to the Ramsey family for JonBenet, in front of his peers and classmates at a karate school. When asked if he was "related to that girl found in a basement" he responded with "I don't know no Johnny B!" No one knew this term of endearment until it was used in the book The Death of Innocence by John Ramsey. Planned murder indicates that the killer knew the victim's schedule. Overkill is usually a message intended for someone else, other than the victim. Who was the overkill message intended for and why? DNA Phenotyping can be used to help generate an image of the killer's face, which may match up with some of the images found within this book, raising some serious questions.The true name of this SECRET SANTA is listed on Detective Lou Smit's suspect list. M'Linda has compiled the list of links to send out to the public, so that you may decide for yourselves if the information found within warrants interest and possibly an arrest. Perhaps together we can finally bring an end to this case, and justice for JonBenet Ramsey. JonBenet's SECRET SANTA, MY MURDERER?: The "True" JonBenet Ramsey Completed Puzzle-M'Linda Kula


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The Angel Makers is a true-crime story like no other—a 1920s midwife who may have been the century’s most prolific killer leading a murder ring of women responsible for the deaths of at least 160 men. The horror occurred in a rustic farming enclave in modern-day Hungary. To look at the unlikely lineup of murderesses—village wives, mothers, and daughters—was to come to the shocking realization that this could have happened anywhere, and to anyone. At the center of it all was a sharp-minded village midwife, a “smiling Buddha” known as Auntie Suzy, who distilled arsenic from flypaper and distributed it to the women of Nagyrév. “Why are you bothering with him?” Auntie Suzy would ask, as she produced an arsenic-filled vial from her apron pocket. In the beginning, a great many used the deadly solution to finally be free of cruel and abusive spouses.But as the number of dead bodies grew without consequence, the killers grew bolder. With each vial of poison emptied, a new reason surfaced to drain yet another. Some women disposed of sickly relatives. Some used arsenic as “inheritance powder” to secure land and houses. For more than fifteen years, the unlikely murderers aided death unfettered and tended to it as if it were simply another chore—spooning doses of arsenic into soup and wine, stirring it into coffee and brandy. By the time their crimes were discovered, hundreds were feared dead. Anonymous notes brought the crimes to light in 1929. As a skillful prosecutor hungry for justice ran the investigation, newsmen from around the world—including the New York Times—poured in to cover the dramatic events as they unfolded.The Angel Makers captures in expertly researched detail the entirety of this harrowing story, from the early murders to the final hanging—the story of one of the most sensational and astonishing murder rings in all of modern history. THE ANGEL MAKERS: Arsenic, a Midwife, and Modern History's Most Astonishing Murder Ring-Patti McCracken


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SICARIUS: Sondra London

From his cell on Death Row in Florida, confessed serial killer Danny Rolling started writing and illustrating this novel about the Daggerman Sicarius in 1999, seven years before his 2006 execution for the five murders he committed in 1990. Drawing on years of research, Rolling follows zoologist Sir Winser Ashmole to the African island of Mauritius, to assist Dr. Borgum Konoff in saving endangered species. But the doctor is dabbling in sinister forces, torturing the island girls in a mad quest for immortality, as an alien relic gives him the superhuman powers of a Sicarius. Caught in the act, Konoff escapes to Boston, where he goes on a murder rampage. Ashmole helps police track him, but the power of the relic is still protecting the elusive Sicarius. As the Powers That Be close in on the crazed killer, a deal with the Forces of Darkness is brokered by a witch whose name is Cath... a nod to the woman who served as Rolling's muse in real life, at the time he dreamed up the tale. The novel was published in 2002 by Plotdigger Publications, a corporation owned by Canadian filmmaker Ryan Nicholson, who died in 2019 without renewing the copyright, so the book was orphaned until 2022, when Sondra London gave new life to this tale that Rolling had originally asked her to publish. SICARIUS: Sondra London Presents Death Row Fiction By a Serial Killer (Serial Killers Talk to Sondra London-Sondra London ReplyForward


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LOU AND JONBENET-John Wesley Anderson

On Christmas Night 1996, six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado. A ransom note was found in the home, but it was hours before her father, John, found her body in the basement. She had been strangled with a garrote and her skull was fractured. The media sensationalized the tragic death of the “child beauty queen” and public speculation and rumors ran rampant. What followed was one of the most notorious unsolved murder investigations in American history. Boulder police fixated on JonBenet’s parents as suspects. Needing investigative help, the Boulder DA brought in legendary homicide detective Lou Smit. However, he was soon disenchanted with law enforcement’s obsession with the Ramsey family as the primary suspects, excluding other possibilities. Smit resigned but continued to work on his own time, and at his own expense, determined to find justice for JonBenet. He determined the Ramsey family was not involved in her death but died in 2010 before he could identify the killer. Thousands of people attended his funeral service, including John Ramsey, and the detective’s lifelong friend and colleague, John Anderson. Along with a handful of retired detectives, Anderson and Smit’s family continue to pursue justice based on Smit’s work. Now, for the first time in LOU AND JONBENET, Anderson tells the story of Smit’s investigation and why the Smit family team now believes that the killer can be identified. LOU AND JONBENET: A Legendary Lawman's Quest To Solve A Beauty Queen's Murder-John Wesley Anderson


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On a cold morning in December 1960, 60-year-old Laura Mutch was found strangled behind a house in downtown Erie....At a time when the Gem City was at its peak, including a triumphant run for the coveted 'All-American City' award, the murder created a pandemonium. As the investigation progressed, attacks on women in and around the city of Erie continued, sending citizens - and seasoned investigators - to the brink of total chaos. Infamous attacks such as the brutal stabbing of 72-year-old Clara Carrig, the attempted strangling and knifing of Helen Knost and the strangling murders of Mary Lynn Crotty and Eleanor Free caused women to lock their doors and avoid the streets at night. The arrest of truck driver John Howard Willman in September 1963 was not the end of the story as soon the case attracted nationwide attention - including a lawsuit by the ACLU. Just who was Erie's infamous 'Backyard Strangler?' Would a technicality by police cause the suspected murderer to roam free again to kill more victims? Author Justin Dombrowski charts the harrowing attacks, investigations and mystery surrounding Erie's 1960s reign of terror. ERIE'S BACKYARD STRANGLER: Terror in the 60's-Justin Dombrowski


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THE BEST NEW TRUE CRIME STORIES: Crimes of Famous and Infamous Criminals-Mitzi Szereto

Actors, musicians, TV personalities, and other public figures in the spotlight aren’t always who they appear to be. You might be surprised by just how many have led nefarious, double lives, and have become infamous criminals!Power, status, and a rich lifestyle aren’t barriers to criminal behavior. Yes, people from all walks of life commit crimes. But the people featured here are not your typical neighbors or subway passengers—they are household names and Hollywood stars. Get the stories behind these public figures, both contemporary and historical, who have traveled down the murky pathway toward criminal activity. After committing their crimes, the world may have kept on turning, but their legacies as infamous criminals remain strong worldwide. This book offers a fascinating assortment of true crime cases from around the world and from various time frames. Like the previous anthologies in The Best New True Crime Stories series, this volume contains all new and original nonfiction accounts penned by international writers from across the literary spectrum, including true crime, crime fiction, and journalism.Inside, you’ll find: The Best New True Crime Stories: Crimes of Famous & Infamous Criminals-Mitzi Szereto.


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What happens when ordinary people, in real-life murder clubs, set out to investigate crimes, both recent and cold cases?The Netflix hit Don’t F**k with Cats was based on the 2012 Montreal murder of thirty-three-year-old Lin Jun by his porn-star boyfriend, Luka Magnotta. Previously Magnotta had anonymously posted videos of himself killing kittens. This spurred horrified Facebook sleuths into working tirelessly to uncover his identity and location.Other investigations include: Sometimes citizen sleuthing goes wrong, though, with innocent people being targeted, or accused of crimes they haven’t committed, with tragic results.The real-life version of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club is grittier, with intrepid amateur investigators delving into truly gruesome unsolved crimes in pursuit of justice. THE REAL-LIFE MURDER CLUBS: Citizens Solving True Crimes-Nicola Stow Get $100 off your first month at TRUEMURDER


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John Edward Swindler never learned to read or write and instead became a bona fide criminal at the age of fifteen. His crimes quickly advanced from car theft to arson. At three hundred pounds, with long, fuzzy red hair and pimply skin, his appearance was so frightening that he intimidated fellow inmates into performing crimes from their jail cells. He sodomized other convicts, who dared not refuse him. He was moved in and out of solitary confinement in an attempt to break him of his violent ways. It failed. Released from prison because he was uncontrollable, he began a multi-state crime spree that culminated in the rape and murder of three young people and the shocking assault on a Fort Smith, Arkansas, policeman named Randy Basnett. In a matter of days, Swindler’s lust for death grew into an unforgettable KILLING SPREE. On September 24, 1976, two men—John Edward Swindler, a force for evil, and Officer Randy Basnett, laying his life on the line for good—came together. The result altered their lives, and the lives of many others. This is their story. THE KILLING SPREE: A True Story of a String of Brutal Murders, Rapes, and the Cop Who Tried to Stop It-Anita Paddock


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BUTCHER'S WORK-Harold Schechter

A Civil War veteran who perpetrated one of the most ghastly mass slaughters in the annals of U.S. crime. A nineteenth-century female serial killer whose victims included three husbands and six of her own children. A Gilded Age “Bluebeard” who did away with as many as fifty wives throughout the country. A decorated World War I hero who orchestrated a murder that stunned Jazz Age America. While other infamous homicides from the same eras—the Lizzie Borden slayings, for example, or the “thrill killing” committed by Leopold and Loeb—have entered into our cultural mythology, these four equally sensational crimes have largely faded from public memory. A quartet of gripping historical true-crime narratives, Butcher’s Work restores these once-notorious cases to vivid, dramatic life. BUTCHER'S WORK-True Crime Tales of American Murder and Madness-Harold Schechter


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TRIAL LAWYER-Richard Zitrin

Internationally known legal ethics professor Richard Zitrin's work as a trial lawyer placed him on the front lines of fighting systemic racism, pervasive elitism, and injustice against individuals in the legal system. In Trial Lawyer, he shares details of the most compelling cases he's encountered and exposes the dilemmas he faced throughout his one-of-a-kind career. The profound, the consequential, the shocking, the bizarre, and even the humorous, Trial Lawyer brings to life what it means to represent people against power.From his first case as a young law student on the famous and highly politicized San Quentin Six case and throughout his forty-year career, Zitrin has worked on dozens of cases that underscore the inherent biases of the legal system - towards people of color, the poor, the less educated, and those who just don't appear to fit the mold of whatever society considers "normal." His personal stories about him bring the reader inside the courtroom to experience a unique cast of characters, strange-but-true facts, brilliant trial tricks and tactics-and not-so-brilliant ones that failed miserably. Each had its own lessons: about social justice, fairness, strategy, ethics, morality, and more. TRIAL LAWYER: A Life Representing People Against Power-Richard Zitrin


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Wondery Presents: Frozen Head

Hosted by Ash Kelley and Alaina Urquhart from the hit show Morbid.When 90-year-old Laurence Pilgeram drops dead on the sidewalk outside his condo, you might think that’s the end of his story. But, really, it’s just the beginning. Because Laurence and others like him have signed up to be frozen and brought back to life in the future. And that belief will pull multiple generations of the Pilgeram family into a cryonics soap opera filled with dead pets, gold coins, grenades, fist fights, mysterious packages, family feuds, Hall of Fame baseball legends, and frozen heads — lots of frozen heads. From Wondery, comes a story about life, death, and what comes next.Follow Frozen Head on Amazon Music or wherever you get your podcasts. Binge early and ad-free by subscribing to Wondery+ in Apple Podcasts or the Wondery App. Listen to Frozen Head:


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No body means no crime, which makes this the perfect murder. Doug Stewart even has an ironclad alibi. He's been seen hundreds of miles away when his lovely wife, Venus, vanishes. What better plan could any murderer hope for? But Doug's forgotten one thing: the power of a mother's love. Venus' mother believes her daughter's husband lured her outside. They fought. He won. Venus' mom wants her daughter back, dead or alive. Never Forgive, Never Forget: A Shocking True Crime Story by Rod Kackley tells the true story of a woman whose fear of her husband seems to turn out to be justified. It's also the story of a mother’s quest to win the return of her child — her best friend — even if it’s only to bury her. The disappearance of Venus Stewart is a shocking true crime story that rocked southwest Michigan and eventually the nation. Hundreds of volunteers spent thousands of days searching for the mother of two young girls. The police and her mother were sure Venus’ husband killed her. But he was in Newport News, Virginia when the crime was committed in Michigan. The neighbors saw him. He used his credit cards and even paid on his account at his lawyer’s office. And it wasn’t just the day that Venus disappeared that her husband was seen in Newport News. He was spotted the next day too. How can anyone be in two places at one time? Here’s something else: no corpse. That’s right, the police don’t have a body. How can investigators even be sure Venus is dead? Her mother had to wait more than eight long years before finding out what had happened to her child. A community rose up to stand by Therese McComb and her mission to learn the truth, and after searching for Venus hundreds of times, they stood by Therese at the very end. Never Forgive, Never Forget: A Shocking True Crime Story is a hard-hitting tale of a mother’s undying devotion and love for her child; and two police officers’ refusal to give up. It's a story that you will never forget. This gripping book will also leave you with a question. If you were Venus' mother; could you ever forgive? NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET: A Shocking True Crime Story-Rod Kackley.