A federal lawsuit is in the wings. Schiller should have waited.

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CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE

A DEATH IN THE NIGHT

From investigative reporter Schiller (American Tragedy, not reviewed, etc.), an unsatisfying journey through a wrongful-death suit that turned into allegations of murder and then abruptly disappeared.

A Ford Explorer drives off the road and hits a telephone pole on a snowy winter night. Estimated speed at impact was 10-15 mph, but the driver, a pregnant, 37-year-old mother of one, is dead behind the wheel by the time EMS personnel arrive. Her husband is unconscious next to her, and their infant daughter is unharmed in the backseat. The husband, Eric Thomas, is a dentist in the town, Cape May Court House, New Jersey, and it is not long before he brings a wrongful-death suit against Ford, alleging that a faulty airbag killed his wife. Ford unleashes their formidable legal team to investigate and, lo, doubts about the good doctor start spawning like tadpoles. The most dreadful is that he may have strangled his wife: The nature of the bruises on her neck are suggestive, as is the affair he’s having at the time of the accident with the woman he will soon afterward marry, not to mention a timely increase in life insurance. Schiller starts the story as if he’s switching the ignition on a racing car, but then the engine turns over and over and never catches—lots of up-front energy that gradually wanes and disappears. Right when Ford’s lawyer is about to let the suspicion-of-murder assertion out of the bag—not even half way through this account—Schiller admits that the lawyer “knew he’d better be right before he mounted such a defense, but in truth, he had no idea what had happened that night between the Thomases.” Talk about the air being let out of the bag. After that point, the story is a lot of legal maneuvering, posturing, and delaying. Finally, everyone just goes home.

A federal lawsuit is in the wings. Schiller should have waited.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-000665-X

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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A well-reported, well-written chronicle of a botched criminal investigation and its disturbing aftermath.

FINDING CHANDRA

A TRUE WASHINGTON MURDER MYSTERY

Two Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists for the Washington Post document what went wrong during the investigation of the high-profile Chandra Levy case.

Upon her mysterious death in spring 2001, Levy had been serving as an intern at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons just before graduating from college. While visiting Congressional offices with a friend seeking a job, Levy met Gary Condit, an elected representative from California. Levy and Condit, a married man more than twice her age, became involved romantically, and only a few people knew about the relationship. But when Levy disappeared after telling her parents that she would return to their California home just before the college graduation ceremony, those who knew mentioned Condit to D.C. police. What began as a missing-persons case morphed into a criminal investigation with Condit as the lead suspect. Although Condit seemed like a natural suspect, tunnel vision prevented the investigators from considering other credible alternatives. Higham and Horwitz (co-author: Sniper: Inside the Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation, 2003) covered the case for the Post in 2001-02 amid the media frenzy. Police never arrested Condit and the case went cold, but the Post reporters kept looking for leads. Almost one year after Levy disappeared, a hiker in Rock Creek Park located Levy's remains in an area supposedly searched previously by law-enforcement officers. That portion of the park had experienced violent attacks on other women by Ingmar Adalid Guandique, a 19-year-old immigrant from El Salvador who eventually ended up in prison for two of the attacks. Some police and prosecutors believed the immigrant had killed Levy in a crime of opportunity. But those in charge continued to focus on Condit, and he lost his Congressional seat in the next election. The case is still not closed—and the publisher promises “new material on recent developments”—but the Post investigation forming the basis of the book strongly suggests that Guandique was the murderer.

A well-reported, well-written chronicle of a botched criminal investigation and its disturbing aftermath.

Pub Date: May 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-3867-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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