A suspenseful, well-researched account of the life and trial of a man accused of smothering his babies for the insurance money.
Was Garrett Wilson really a cold-blooded murderer, or simply an incorrigible ladies’ man who became the target of a vengeful ex-wife’s ire? Havill (Deep Truth, 1993, etc.) explores Wilson’s life in detail but carefully withholds the answer to that question until the final pages. He opens with Wilson’s arrest in 1998 and then shifts to the 1920s and examines the backgrounds of Wilson’s mother and father. He takes the reader through Wilson’s middle-class childhood, his brief teenage marriage in 1976, his second marriage in 1980 (to a five-months-pregnant teenage bride), and his ever-present money problems. In March 1981, a month after his daughter Brandi was born, Wilson took out two insurance policies on her life, and in April the baby was found dead in her crib, the diagnosis being sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. During these years, Wilson was arrested twice for theft of bank funds, and in 1982 he was sent to federal prison. More adept at wooing women than at holding a job or balancing a checkbook, Wilson married again in March 1986. A month after his son Garrett was born, he again purchased two insurance policies on his child’s life, and that child’s death at age five months was also attributed to SIDS. Wilson’s subsequent divorce was followed by yet another marriage and the birth of another child. On learning of this, his discarded second wife launched her dogged campaign to have her ex-husband arrested for murder. Years after the two infants’ deaths, the autopsies were reviewed and revised to homicide, Wilson was arrested, and in 1999 a trial took place. Havill’s close reporting of the trial captures the personalities of those involved—judge, lawyers, witnesses—and keeps the reader completely in the dark about the outcome until the jury announces its verdict.
Extraneous details sometimes clog the background reporting, but the courtroom drama is gripping.