UNGODLY by Ted Dracos


The Passions, Torments, and Murder of Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair
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The beyond-bizarre life and death of America’s most notorious atheist.

Broadcast journalist Dracos adopts a tabloid-TV style and tough-guy diction (“six-figure bequests came in like trained pigs”) in his rambling, sensational, idiosyncratic account of the rise and fall of the woman many Americans loved to hate. (She was the featured guest on Phil Donahue’s initial show and did not appear on his last only because she’d been murdered by then.) The author begins with the grisly discovery in a remote Texas location of the remains of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, her son, and her granddaughter. Then he returns to the birth in 1919 of Madalyn Elizabeth Mays, who rejected religion as a teenager, served as a WAC in WWII, and changed her name for the first time after she married a man named Roths, only to divorce him when she became pregnant by bomber pilot William Murray. She acquired a law degree—though she never passed the bar, sniffs Dracos—and was enraged to discover there was compulsory prayer in her son’s Baltimore school and filed suit. The US Supreme Court eventually ruled in her favor, banning school prayer, and her career was launched. Dracos charts her steps forward and back, discusses her surprising wealth, her free-spending life, and her flights to avoid prosecution. The author mercilessly depicts his subject’s ballooning weight, her lack of interest in personal hygiene, her abrasive language, her crusty ways. Covering the murder, Dracos depicts the insouciant Austin police as basically uninterested, crediting a young private eye and a couple of journalists for cracking the case. O’Hair’s killer was one of her employees, an ex-con named David Waters, whom she trusted completely. He and his accomplices kidnapped her and her family, held them until they liquidated their assets, then strangled and butchered them. Dracos captures the whole sordid tale in alarmist, colloquial, and crude prose.

A weird story, luridly related.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7432-2833-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2003