Colorado-based journalist Eastburn catalogues events before and after the brutal murders of a schoolboy and his grandparents in the first few hours of 2001.
Killings weren’t exactly commonplace in the sleepy Colorado town of Guffey, “the kind of place the word hamlet was invented to describe.” But with memories of the mass murder in nearby Columbine High School still fresh in locals’ minds, painfully familiar feelings were roused when the police identified three teenage boys as the likely killers of Carl and JoAnna Dutcher and their grandson Tony. The author dispenses a few facts about the actual murders, then moves on to describe its perpetrators and the ensuing court cases. She spends considerable time explaining how charismatic teenager Simon Sue, whose extended family lived in Guyana, corralled high-school classmates Isaac Grimes and Jon Matheny into joining an organization called Operations and Reconnaissance Agents (OARA). According to Sue, OARA was part of an international paramilitary group that would rise to defend the Guyanese government in the event of a coup. Investigations showed that OARA existed only in Sue’s fertile imagination, but Grimes and Matheny both joined, and they carried out the Dutchers’ murders under Sue’s instruction. Questioned by the police, Grimes confessed, and Eastburn devotes the second half of the book to the lengthy trials that followed. Grimes’s confession yields an explosive account of the murders, but the subsequent, laboriously detailed descriptions of the three court cases slow the narrative pace. Given the bizarre nature of the crime, it’s surprising that the author barely discusses the killers’ motives. She also fails to penetrate the mysterious character of Sue, who exerted a Manson-like grip over the boys but never comes to life here.
A dissatisfying account of an intriguing case.