Freelance journalist Van Meter recounts the grisly killing of an 18-year-old college student.
The murder of Katie Autry and subsequent arrests of two local men for the crime was a regional media sensation in May 2003. The victim, who moonlighted at a topless bar, was beaten, strangled and then set on fire in her dorm room at Western Kentucky University. Two 21-year-olds from nearby Bowling Green were later charged. One, a high-school dropout named Stephen Soules, eventually pleaded guilty and testified against the other suspect, a part-time drug dealer named Luke Goodrum. Van Meter follows events diligently, but his mechanical narrative proves more tawdry and depressing than revelatory. It’s difficult to find any redeeming qualities in either of the suspects, their families or, for that matter, the victim’s family. The grim landscape these characters inhabit is dominated by broken homes, casual sex, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and domestic violence. Flat, inert prose fails to infuse the tale with local color or dimension—surprising, given that the first-time author is from Bowling Green. Readers are rushed through events police-blotter style, and the skimpy account of the March 2005 trial provides few definitive answers to what actually happened in Katie’s dorm room. The most memorable aspect of the courtroom proceedings are the icy glares heaped on Katie’s dutiful foster parents by her biological mother and her aunts, whose air of superiority is at odds with the fact that they allowed Katie and her younger sister to be removed to foster care in the first place. Thanks to his well-monied stepfather, Goodrum got a quality defense team. Given his previous history of violence toward women, whether he actually deserved it remains unclear.
Readable enough, but disappointingly short on dramatic appeal or sociological insight.