ESTHER: Her Murder Haunts a Small Town in Oklahoma by Leonard Sanders

ESTHER: Her Murder Haunts a Small Town in Oklahoma

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Sanders (Fort Worth, 1984, etc.) puts the novelist's eye for detail and a sharp sense of pace to good use in this outstanding true-crime narrative about the rape and murder of a retired Oklahoma schoolteacher. Esther Steele returned home from services at the First United Methodist Church one April night in 1986 and resumed reading essays for the town of Granite's (pop. 900) annual contest. Sometime after she went to bed, David Wayne Sadler, 20, or Pat ""Bugs"" Adams, 27 -- or both, as some surmised -- entered the unlocked house, raped the 73-year-old Steele, stabbed her to death with a fish-fillet knife, and took her billfold with the intention of buying some more beer. They might have gotten away with it had they not drunkenly overturned their pickup truck, requiring police and emergency assistance. As part of the routine canvassing of local occurrences on that night, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents learned that Sadler had once been accused of, though never charged with, ""assault robbery"" of his elderly grandmother. Adams immediately confessed to driving Sadler to the home of his former schoolteacher to commit a burglary, but he claimed he had no idea that Steele was dead until the next day. Sadler said Adams was the one to leave the truck and enter her home. Most of the circumstantial evidence, however inconclusive, pointed to Sadler. But Adams, afraid a trial might lead to the death penalty, plea-bargained for a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against his drinking buddy. Sadler, in a complicated and grippingly related trial, was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. When interviewed by Sanders six years later, both men stuck with their respective versions of the events leading up to the murder. Excellently handled by Sanders. Suspenseful and awful in its grisly details, but done with good taste and compassion.

Pub Date: July 13th, 1994
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt