Friday, July 03, 2015

True-crime heavyweights release new Notorious Texas book!

Everything is bigger in Texas—even murder.

Two of your favorite crime writers, Gregg Olsen and I team up to tell the stories of a serial killer who slaughtered more people than any other psychopath of his day ... without ever being noticed; two of America's most shocking mass murders and how their grim echoes still linger today; and the chilling tale of a mother so desperate for attention that she killed one of her children and repeatedly tried to suffocate the other. Now on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and other e-readers.

Read the newest in the New York Times-bestselling Notorious USA series!

Click here for your Kindle edition  Only $2.99!
Click here for your Kobo edition Only $2.99!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Looking for love in all the wrong places (like prison)

It was a simple plan: Help a couple killers break out of prison, persuade them to kill your husband, then run off to Vermont and live happily ever after. Maybe a cottage by the sea. Just you and two fugitive psychopaths.

In New York today, prison worker Joyce Mitchell stands accused of helping two convicted murderers—Richard Matt, 48, and 35-year-old David Sweat—escape. And authorities now say the 51-year-old woman had sex with both men before they escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora on June 6. They remain at large, and Mitchell is facing several charges.

As weird as it all sounds, this isn’t anything new nor unusual. It’s illegal in all states, but every year hundreds of consensual sexual relationships are documented between inmates and prison staffers (and those are just the ones we know about). More than half of those proven acts of sexual misconduct behind bars are committed by female prison workers, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

As a talk radio host asked me just yesterday: What the hell?

Just last week, I spent two days interviewing a triple killer in prison. It was fascinating to watch the interaction and relationships between the inmate, guards, and staffers. It’s a delicate little dance they do, not really as coarse and brutal as Hollywood makes it seem. It’s necessary to the daily functioning of a prison.

But there are flawed souls on both sides of this dance, and it’s delicate enough that it doesn’t take more than a subtle, unseen nudge to throw it out of whack.

What draws some women to prison inmates? What thrills “serial-killer groupies”? Is prison really a good place to look for love?

First, there’s a word for some of this behavior. Hybristophilia is an erotic attraction to people who are dangerous or have committed heinous crimes. Serial killers get lots of fan mail—and marriage proposals. But that’s just one small reason some women are attracted to inmates.

Others are drawn to inmates, first, by moral activism. Maybe they are against the death penalty or want to save a soul for Jesus Christ. But when they reach out to a prison pen-pal, they are often easy prey for superficially charming manipulators for whom almost every interpersonal act is designed to get whatever they want.

Some women fear a cheating spouse who’ll run off with a perkier, younger girlfriend. Some want a boyfriend who can literally devote many hours every day to her. And because physical relationships are hard behind bars, the intensity of fantasy and emotion can make it all seem like a 35-to-life honeymoon. In short, being in prison can be the best quality in some men.

Are these women intolerably lonely? Are they ugly? Under-educated? Are they disappointed in “outside” love?  Are they slightly insane? Maybe all … and maybe none. There is no “profile” for a woman who falls in love with an inmate (even when she should know better). Some are beautiful, educated, and already in “normal” relationships. And they are almost always being played by the inmate for something that looks nothing like love.

Maybe they have a strong capacity for denial, and maybe they are moths drawn to a flame. But they are certainly not easily lumped in one holding cell. It isn’t a perfect love—not even close—but it’s a fact of life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The view from the top of a ladder

A long time ago, my parents were visiting for an early December weekend, a rare occasion since I’d moved north. But I had already committed to hanging the Christmas lights before the weather turned bitterly cold – which is when I normally put up my Christmas lights.

My father asked if he could help and my own son didn’t, so we gathered our tools and went to work. Almost before the ladder was unfolded, Dad clambered up a few steps and inspected the roofline.

“Let me go up, Dad,” I insisted.

He looked hurt. His eagerness turned to disappointment. But now his place was on the ground and mine was on the ladder.

How many times had I wandered around behind my father with his magnificently tangled wad of Christmas lights, my coat pockets stuffed full of spare bulbs, weighted down with tools he’d never use?

How tempted I was to turn the tables. Oh, how I wanted to send him off to the garage to retrieve a pop-rivet gun or an orbital sander or maybe a spark-plug remover!

“You think we could use the staple gun on this stretch of lights, Dad?” I asked him.

“Just don’t staple ‘em where you can see,” he advised. He shuffled around at the bottom of the ladder, ready to climb up. “Under there. Watch it that you don’t shoot it into the wire. No, no, no, up under there. Stick it on the one-by. There you go. That’s it.”

Hey, wait a minute! I was on the ladder and the Ladder Guy gets to be the boss. He got to be the boss when he was the Ladder Guy, but now I was the Ladder Guy.

“That’ll work OK, won’t it, Dad?” I asked.

“But you gotta make it tight,” he said.

His foot rose for a split second, brushing the bottom run, but it didn’t light. He wanted so badly to be up there … up where he’d once stood over me, barking orders and cursing the knotted wires that he zipped across the eaves of our house so quickly that I couldn’t keep up.

Now he was a grandfather. Another father had taken his place on the ladder.


The Ladder Guy.

“Just pull on it,” he grumbled impatiently. “It’s all rubber these days, so it stretches real good. Pull on those lights to stretch ‘em out, then shoot a staple in there.”

I hung a run of lights, then moved the ladder.

“You wanted me to do this one?” Dad asked me.

“The ladder’s kinda wobbly, Dad,” I told him. “I’d feel better if I went up.”

“I could go up on the roof and hand stuff to you,” he offered.

“No need.”

“That gutter’s kinda sagging down there,” he observed. “Why don’t you go get me a drill and some gutter nails? I’ll fix her up for you in a jiffy.”

“It’s OK, Dad. The lights aren’t that heavy.”

“You need to cut your shrubs back,” he said. “You could put the ladder closer.”
“I just cut them last spring, Dad. We can get close enough.”

“Did you plug those in? Don’t want to hang ‘em and find out they don’t work,” he said.

He got me.

He knew he got me, too, from the look on my face. The Old Pro beats the Ladder Guy every time. A smile flashed across his face and was gone in a twinkle.

“Where’s your plug-in? They’re probably just fine. I’ll just make sure, he said as he hustled my pitiful wad of Christmas lights off to the garage for a pre-flight check while the Ladder Guy just stood there.

Dad didn’t need to go up the ladder after that. He was satisfied to stay on the ground, carrying lights as I strung them, foot by foot, until we were finished. Without saying a word, he picked up all the tools off the lawn and hung them over my workbench.

Later I plugged in the lights and found they didn’t really stretch. The Ladder Guy had tugged a little too hard, but he’d done it under the supervision of the Old Pro. And that was the way it should be.

I fixed the lights one night after my Dad went home.

I worked all alone in the dark, surrounded by twinkling lights at the top of the ladder. Stuck between earth and sky. I began to see some things better than I ever had before.

The Ladder Guy.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Day the Music Died ...

Nine years ago, I journeyed to the site of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper on the "day the music died" -- February 3, 1959. With me was the Bopper's son, who'd never met his famous pop-star father. Here's the story I wrote.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In Defense of Ebenezer Scrooge

This essay originally appeared in 1998. It appears here today with a few minor but festive updates.

No businessman in the history of literature has been as misunderstood as Ebenezer Scrooge.

His very name is now a synonym for pinch-fisted churlishness and humbuggery. Why?

Certainly because that was Charles Dickens' aim when, in his classic 1843 "A Christmas Carol," he caricatured every vulgar tendency of the merchant class in bleak, 19th century London. Admittedly, it was not the best of times for the poor working man.

And it's nearly impossible to defend some of Scrooge's more malignant personal qualities: He was a bitter, greedy, corpse-cold sociopath. Even by Industrial Revolution standards, he was a terrible boss, a menacing manager sorely out of touch with the generous foundations he learned as an apprentice to Old Fezziwig. On top of that, he hallucinated, exhibited all the symptoms of manic-depression, and didn't eat right.

But isn't Scrooge also an anachronism -- an outdated Ghost of Christmas Past?

Humbug! The Great Recession and progressive politics have kept him alive. Even in the age of 401k pension plans, union protection, sensitivity training for bosses and paid time-off that exceeds the growing season of most Northern Hemisphere nations, the unredeemed Ebenezer still occupies an especially cold corner in workers' hearts. Today, anything less than a four-day fully-paid Christmas holiday automatically qualifies any boss as a "Scrooge."

"Scrooge is alive and well," a spokeswoman for a liberal national lobby on workplace issues once told me around Christmas time. "There are plenty of laws to protect today's worker from the kinds of exploitation that Bob Cratchit suffered, but bosses today are basically the same old Grinch-y white men that Scrooge was."

Despite mixing metaphorical Christmas curmudgeons, hers was hardly a courageous criticism at a time when Goldman Sachs' and Bernie Madoff's financial chicanery have bubbled in a distasteful stew that even Oliver Twist couldn't stomach. One must wonder who's grown more jaundiced since Scrooge's day: Bosses or workers?

Nonetheless, Ebenezer Scrooge presumably transformed from a modestly happy child to a loathsome geezer for reasons other than Dickens' creative purpose. (That's what they teach in management sensitivity seminars that might have benefited Scrooge himself: Try to understand the person inside.)

What clues might help us understand the inner Scrooge that Dickens didn't describe? Was there a reason -- not an excuse, mind you -- for his shriveled soul?

Any modern business owner will tell you he or she is regularly beset with appeals for donations, not unlike the gentlemen who visited Scrooge on Christmas Eve for a charitable contribution. A rather generous business friend of mine recently declined a similar request and his visitors promised to boycott his shop. One is often tempted to forgo any good deeds when they become so expected and unappreciated.

Ebenezer also doled out coal one chunk at a time to his freezing employee, the personally blessed but professionally cursed Cratchit. Most employers will tell you that tight controls on utilities and supplies are keys to wise fiscal management -- although comfortable employees generally do better work than those with frost-bitten fingers.

And in the midst of these difficult economic times, we should emulate a man who is clearly a frugal supply-sider and hard-headed about economics. That's one thesis of Paul Davis, a retired University of New Mexico professor who wrote "The Life and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge" in 1990.

He adds a few more of Scrooge's qualities:

He was very witty (he doesn't just put down Christmas, he fantasizes about driving a stake of holly through its heart).

He's skeptical (a virtue to many).

And he keeps Christmas in Dickens' own fashion by reflecting on his personal losses (he is thinking about Marley on the anniversary of his partner's death.)

So maybe we rushed to judgment about the unredeemed Scrooge. We've held a grudge for 170 Christmases. Is that the fate Dickens intended for one of his most famous characters?
Probably not.

In the end, Scrooge was baptized in his own fearsome juices and eventually was born again. Professor Davis even believes Scrooge secretly wished he could be saved. That, too, is reason enough to defend the old coot: He was completely rehabilitated by the 12 Days of Christmas, not by a 12-step program.

After Scrooge's conversion, Dickens wrote that he "was better than his word." At this time of year, we should be able to find it in our hearts to understand, even forgive, Ebenezer.

If we can, God bless us.

Every one.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The darkest night, a lifetime ago

Becky (r) and Amy (front)

On this day 40 years ago -- September 24, 1973 -- everything changed.  My little Wyoming hometown was a place and time that doesn’t really exist anymore.  Now that I think about it, maybe it never did except in my memory.  On that day, the two girls who lived next door, sisters Amy Burridge and Becky Thomson, went to the store for their mother and never came home.  They were abducted by two strangers and terrorized into the night.  Sometime after midnight, they arrived at a steel bridge that crossed a sheer canyon  12 stories above a deep, dark river.  Amy, just 11, died when she was thrown into that dark abyss.  The two abductors raped Becky, 18, and then threw her off that bridge, too.  Miraculously, her body survived the fall, but after a freezing night in that canyon, half-naked and gravely injured, her spirit died.  In time, her body would die, too.

What have we learned in these past 40 years? God. Something, I hope. Personally, I now know evil is a force of nature, no more within our ability to deflect than a hurricane or an earthquake. Goodness can be turned aside and silenced, but wickedness is unstoppable. We must deal with it when it blows through, when it shatters our homes and lives. There is no insurance that will rebuild us, so we must struggle on our own to give it a proper meaning and weight, then go on.

Not forget. 

Just go on.


On a frosty February morning, thirty years after the crime, I visited Amy and Becky’s grave.  A fresh snow had fallen overnight.  Approaching the grave, I saw one set of footprints from the path to the grave, where someone had lingered and walked back to the path.  I don’t know who visited that morning, but it suggests the memory remains fresh.

And their story continues to echo in the small town of my childhood, and in many hearts, because in death they, too, were invested with memory and hope.  To me, they were literally the girls next door, but to everyone who felt the sudden, chilly wind of fear in the hours, days and months after the crime, they represented every girl next door.  Their fates were entangled in our fears.

Fremont Canyon Bridge near Casper, WY
What makes us resilient?

The first ingredient is calamity.  After a dark night of the spirit, resilience is genuine dawn, where we can begin to trust in an orderly and predictable universe again.

Some never survive until dawn, and others survive but never see it.

True survivors of extreme adversity — war, a life-threatening disease, rape, murder, childhood abuse and terrorism, to name a few — are able to repair themselves.  The rest die physically, emotionally or both.

What makes a survivor?

Bernard Kempler was born to Jewish parents in Poland in 1936.  As a mere child, he endured life in ghettoes and concentrations camps, a barbed-wire escape, a clandestine and penniless existence on the run, in which he dressed as a girl and hid in crawl spaces in burned-out buildings.  After the war, he emigrated to the United States and became an eminent Jungian psychologist.

He credits his survival to his flexible psyche as a child, not taking the horrors personally, a sense of spiritual protection, his temperament, and his ability to dissociate from the terror at hand.

When psychiatrist Dr. Robert Lifton studied survivors of Hiroshima and the Holocaust, he also found that truly resilient people have many adaptive mechanisms.  His conclusions: They are able to integrate seemingly incongruous ideas and actions, seek consistency and ordinariness, remain connected to human events, and search for spiritual meaning.

Becky tried.  For almost nineteen years, she struggled to wriggle free from her demons, waiting for the first light to break, just as she had on her horrific night in Fremont Canyon.

But in the end, the dawn was false.

It never really came.

I have known this story for more than thirty years, and found a place for it on a shelf in my heart where it wouldn’t be forgotten, but where it also didn’t trip me up every single day of my life.  When I first began to write it down, I mistakenly thought it was about the coming of evil to my town, but I was wrong.

Evil had existed in Casper, Wyoming, long before me, and all around me.  I hadn’t seen, heard, tasted, felt nor smelled it, but it was there.  Ronald Kennedy and Jerry Jenkins were from that town, just like me.  They’d always been there.

No, this was a story about evil coming to me, to my heart, not my town.  It would have come sooner or later anyway, as it does for each of us.  Whether it settles in like dust or blasts through like a tempest, we cannot avoid it.  We can only build our homes and our hearts strong enough to weather it when it comes, and hope the damage is reparable.

Survival is an instinct, not a choice.   Perhaps Becky’s courage came from fear:   She was afraid to die.  Her only hope — hope distilled to its ethereal essence — was the next breath.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week.
But we all fall eventually.

Like gravity or wind itself, evil is a force of nature.

Excerpted from THE DARKEST NIGHT  © 2007 


Friday, September 06, 2013

Win a signed collection of CRIME BUFF'S GUIDES!

To celebrate the release of THE CRIME BUFF'S GUIDE TO OUTLAW PENNSYLVANIA, I'm giving away one complete set of this fun, intriguing series -- four books! -- to one lucky crime buff!

From America's first school shooting in the 1700s to modern-day serial killers, a new book from a bestselling crime-writer and a local historian covers the fascinating gamut of mayhem in the Keystone State's past.  This book will cause even the buffest PA crime buff to say, "I didn't know that!"

On October 1, Globe Pequot Press will publish
THE CRIME BUFF'S GUIDE TO OUTLAW PENNNSYLVANIA, a romp through PA's criminal past. It's a kind of travel guide for crime-history buffs, including hundreds of historic and fascinating crimes, figures and events, with photos, maps and GPS coordinates for significant spots in each intriguing tale.  The San Antonio (TX) Express-News called it "the ultimate guilty pleasure book" and the series has won Book of the Year honors for three consecutive years at!

And it's all there: the first school shooting in American history (1764 in Greencastle) ... Pennsylvania sites tied to the Sundance Kid, Doc Holliday, Ted Bundy, Al Capone, and Elliot Ness, among others ... the Molly Maguires ... high-profile mob hits ... a serial killer dubbed Gorilla Man ... a murderous hippie guru known as The Unicorn ... groundhog skullduggery ... torture-killer Gary Heidnik ... sites of America's first bank robbery, armored car heist, and child kidnapping for ransom ... and dozens of other true-crime tales.

So how can you win? It's easy.

Yes, anybody win a signed set of the CRIME BUFF'S GUIDES so far (Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania)!

First, go to the OUTLAW PENNSYLVANIA web page and find the Entry Code. Put it in the Subject line of an email and send it to me at before midnight Sunday, Sept. 8. One entry per person, please.  I'll draw the winning name and announce the winner on Facebook Sept. 9.

Want to double your odds of winning?  I'll give you an extra entry in this contest if you post a link to OUTLAW PENNSYLVANIA's Amazon page on your blog, your Facebook wall, or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Just do any of those things and send me another e-mail saying "I shared." You'll get a SECOND entry for it!

Good luck, crime buffs!

UPDATE 9/9/2013: And the winner is ... J.O. Fickling of Greenville SC! Congratulations and happy reading!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is Chris Lane's killing less outrageous than Trayvon Martin's?

A 40-year-old mass murder might offer clue

Social media -- if not the mainstream media -- are twitching uncomfortably about the thrill-killing of Christopher Lane, a promising young college baseball player in Oklahoma. Three teenagers -- two of whom are black, including the alleged shooter -- are accused of slaying Lane out of boredom, for fun, "just because."

James Edwards, 15, and Chancey Allen Luna, 16, were charged with first-degree murder. Police say Edwards danced while they were booking him; then they found Tweets in which he'd written "90% of white ppl are nasty #HateThem" (and that, incredibly, isn't the worst of it).  Luna is the suspected shooter.  (A third teenager, white, faces lesser charges as the driver of the getaway car.)

America just endured a year-long spasm of racial agony that followed a different shooting.  When neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman, a Hispanic, shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in a Florida scuffle, the reaction by media, celebrities, and race profiteers was swift.  Long before Zimmerman went to trial he was pilloried as a racist, wannabe cop who stalked and murdered a defenseless, gentle child in cold blood.  Evidence eventually showed neither characterization was true, but it didn't matter.  Sides had been drawn and nobody was budging.  Even after Zimmerman was acquitted, the airwaves were filled with continued angsting about the case.  Justice, some of them said, didn't happen because the jury didn't come to a different conclusion.

So far, the media hasn't been angsting about the tragic Oklahoma ambush, at least nowhere near its wall-to-wall coverage of the Zimmerman case. No celebrities have printed T-shirts demanding "Justice for Chris Lane." The president hasn't mused wistfully that he might have been Chris Lane.  The Attorney General hasn't recalled a time he was jogging and got shot in the back.  The Justice Department hasn't mobilized to investigate whether Chris Lane's civil rights were violated.  The race profiteers, who show up like corpse flies in white-on-black crimes, are silent and absent.  No surprise there for the people who think the media, politicians, and pop culture refuse to divert from their perversely and politically correct narrative.

Guess what? It isn't new.

Kansas kid Mark Essex
reportedly encountered
racism while in the Navy

In January 1973, a radicalized black militant named Mark Essex, filled with Black Panther rhetoric and hatred for white people, set fires in the New Orleans Howard Johnson Hotel, then began methodically killing only white hotel guests, firefighters, and cops amid the chaos (he specifically skipped over black housekeepers he encountered).  When his day-long siege ended, nine people were dead and 13 others wounded in one of the worst mass murders in American history to that time.  Essex himself was killed in a final, spectacular airborne assault on the hotel's roof, and to this day some cops believe he couldn't have done all that damage by himself.

When I researched this mass shooting for my 2011 book, DELIVERED FROM EVIL, I found surprisingly little press coverage of the event, and even less analysis in the months that followed.  But while mainstream media were comparatively quiet about the massacre, black outrage erupted within hours of Essex’s death.

Even before Essex’s body had been shipped back to Emporia in a simple wooden crate, black militant leader Stokely Carmichael praised Essex for “carrying our struggle to the next quantitative level, the level of science.”

And within days, columnist Phil Smith of the Chicago Metro News, an activist black weekly, eulogized Essex as a “new hero in an old struggle.”

“Essex may not have been in love with white people, but that made him as normal as thirty million other Black people,” Smith wrote.

He suggested Essex was framed by a “sick white racist society” bent on the “systematic  extermination of young Black men.”  No young black man, he said, would ever “go berserk and kill white people for no reason.”

"White people hate the idea that Black people, by virtue of their very existence, force whites to deal with their own dishonesty, deceit and criminal intent … White people truly believe ‘the only good nigger is a dead nigger,’” Smith seethed.  “If there was one lesson that [Essex] had learned in his short life, it was that Black men are the most dispensable item in this country.”

Mark Essex's New Orleans apartment had racist and
radical slogans on its walls
Essex’s mother, resolute in her conviction that racism had transformed her cheerful little boy into a monster, was almost defiant when she spoke to reporters a week after the rampage.

“I do think Jimmy was driven to this,” she said.  “Jimmy was trying to make white America sit up and be aware of what is happening to us.

“I don't want my son to have died in vain,” Mrs. Essex continued.   “If this terrible thing will awaken white America to the injustices that blacks suffer, then some good will have come from it.”

Although the Howard Johnson attack swiftly resurrected the ghosts of Charles Whitman’s 1966Texas Tower massacre, it quickly fell out of the national media spotlight.  Many observers believe stories about black rage ran counter to the media’s efforts to portray a nation where African-Americans should be seen as innocent, noble, civilized victims of white oppression, more Rosa Parks than Nat Turner, a messianic slave who, inspired by an eclipse of the sun, led the mass-murder of fifty white people in 1831.

And the current narrative in the mainstream media hasn't changed much. It wants to perpetuate certain myths, or at least not destroy them.  It covers Zimmerman in depth, but barely notes hundreds of other crimes in which the killers and the victims don't fit the casting call.  The editors and producers exploited Trayvon Martin and caricatured George Zimmerman into a despised symbol of white oppression, but have fumbled cases such at the New Orleans mass murder and (so far) the thrill-killing of Chris Lane because they didn't fit the politically correct narrative.

The point should be justice, not color-coding. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

'Poisoned Passions: Sacrificial Evil' airs July 13

Adolfo Costanzo was a charismatic shaman, a high priest of a ritualistic faith that believed in human sacrifice. And Sara Aldrete was in love with him.

A vat containing human remains was found
How far would Sara go for her mesmerizing love?

Investigation Discovery explores the dark world of black magic and drug trafficking in "Poisoned Passions: Sacrificial Evil," debuting at 11 pm ET on July 13. Check your local listings for exact times in your area.

When American student Mark Kilroy was found murdered in Matamoros Mexico in 1989, Mexican authorities were horrified when they also found a graveyard full of slaughtered people who were all recently missing, too. Their investigation led them deep into the belly of a horrifying cult where drugs, strange gods, and human sacrifice were tangled.  The Matamoros Ritual Killings gave a horrible new meaning to murder.

Ron Franscell, author of bestselling true-crime THE DARKEST NIGHT, is among the commentators on this program.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

UMaine film student wins rights to Franscell short script AIR

 PRESS RELEASE:  May 30, 2013
Yannick Moutassie of Orono, Maine, has won film rights to AIR, a short script by bestselling American author Ron Franscell.

Yannick Moutassie of Orono, Maine
Born in Cameroon (Central East Africa), Yannick fell in love with movies as a child and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 18.  The 31-year-old husband and father is now a graduate film student in the University of Maine in Orono, with a special interest in the role of music and sound in filmmaking.   He has already made two short student films, “Code” and “La Berceuse.”  He’ll graduate in August 2013.

This spring, Franscell offered AIR’s film rights free to a young filmmaker who could best express, in words, his or her vision for the short film project.  Franscell has described AIR as “a fleeting contemplation of birth, innocence, happiness, rain, love, disappointment, barking dogs, confusion, pain, courage, missed buses, faith, anger, redemption, neglected opportunities, inspiration, devotion, grief, dust, loneliness, and ultimately, death.”

Thirty-seven young filmmakers competed for the free rights to AIR, each submitting essays about the story, which is told completely without words.  Along with Yannick, film student Angela Franklin of Cincinnati, Ohio, and videographer Geoffrey Villand of Los Angeles were also finalists.

“AIR is a universal story,” Yannick said. “I have recently become a father.  I’m not saying that I know it all, but I am in the thick of it as a young adult, trying to find my path while looking to provide for my family. I know about the courage that it takes to be a man in our world and our generation. I know the feeling of seeing your son being born.  I know about redemption as my parents told me that I could not make a living being a filmmaker … and I am working to prove them wrong.”

Yannick plans to begin pre-production of AIR immediately, with principal shooting this summer.  He has already scouted locations and assembled some of his cast.  The final cut will be submitted as part of his graduate work and be shown at film festivals.

“Yannick spoke to me from his heart,” says Franscell, author of the bestselling true crime THE DARKEST NIGHT and road memoir SOURTOE COCKTAIL CLUB, among others.  “If this little story is ever going to speak to another human heart, it will require an interpreter who knows that language.  I genuinely look forward to seeing how Yannick brings AIR to life.”

# # #


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New cover for THE OBITUARY debuts at Nook!

The new cover art for THE OBITUARY
A new cover for Ron's popular mystery THE OBITUARY has debuted at's Nook store! The new art reflects the book's intense, fast-paced, head-long storytelling.

Available only in Nook and Kindle editions, THE OBITUARY is a sequel to Ron's thrilling first mystery, THE DEADLINE. History and mystery entangle small-town newspaper editor Jefferson Morgan when the grave of a reputed Old West outlaw queen divulges its unexpectedly grisly secret — and Morgan is plunged into a world of satellite-savvy highway pirates, Internet porn and old-fashioned corruption.

Bestselling author John Lescroart raves about THE OBITUARY, saying "gorgeously written, complex and satisfying — a damn near perfect mystery."

At $2.99, THE OBITUARY could be the most thrilling mystery you'll read this year! Check it out on Nook or Kindle.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Film students, want to win a free script?

Because life unfolds from one breath to the next.


a short screenplay by Ron Franscell

Can you capture birth, innocence, happiness, rain, love, disappointment, confusion, pain, courage, missed buses, faith, anger, redemption, neglected opportunities, inspiration, devotion, grief, loneliness, and ultimately, death ~ in three minutes? Convince Ron that you're the perfect young filmmaker for AIR and he'll give it to you for free. That's right. You'll get theatrical rights without cost if your past work and your vision is good enough.  I am offering my short-short script AIR to a budding filmmaker or film student who can. And it's free! Read all about it at my website.

The winner will be announced May 30
(but there'll be plenty of contenders so get the process started now!)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ruth Steinhagen house, Chicago

This is where obsessed baseball groupie Ruth Ann Steinhagen--whose 1949 shooting of ballplayer Eddie Waitkus inspired Bernard Malmud's The Natural--lived ou the rest of her deluded life.  She died in obscurity last December, but the death was only just discovered accidentally by a Chicago Tribune reporter. Read about it here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Check out the new web page for OUTLAW PENNSYLVANIA!

THE CRIME BUFF'S GUIDE TO OUTLAW PENNSYLVANIA -- fourth in bestselling crime author Ron Franscell's crime/history/travel series from Globe Pequot Press -- will be published this fall.

OUTLAW PA continues the popular series that critics, true-crime fans, historians and travelers have hailed as “the ultimate guilty pleasure,” “thorough and unflinching,” and “the best damn crime travel series ever published!” This rollicking romp across the historic Pennsylvania landscape promises all the can’t-look-away allure of its predecessors … and a few surprises! The dozens of fascinating stories in OUTLAW PA are told in the same fast-paced, enthralling voice that has made Ron Franscell one of America’s most respected crime writers. Co-author and Pennsylvanian Karen Valentine is a researcher who’s long been drawn to the irresistible historical lessons to be found in some of America’s darker corners.

Praise for the CRIME BUFF'S GUIDE series

"The ultimate guilty pleasure book."

"What’s not to love? Don’t miss the adventure!"

"The research in this book is simply amazing! Ron Franscell has basically re-mapped Texas, specifically pinpointing where all of our most notorious outlaws lived, performed their gruesome deeds, and died. On top of that, he's uncovered riveting stories about outlaws in far away corners of the state that very few us even knew about. For everyone interested in Texas' great outlaw past, this is an indispensable guide."
— Skip Hollandsworth, executive editor of Texas Monthly

"Little-known details peppered throughout the book are what readers of true crime long for. Now, tourists and adventurers alike can also take this new brand of D.C. tour. Whatever their interests, they’re in for a real treat -- and they’re bound to learn something new."
— Cathy Scott, Publishers Marketplace

Thursday, December 20, 2012

We'll always have mass murder

Journalist Ron Franscell is the bestselling author of DELIVERED FROM EVIL, a vivid exploration of the lives of 10 mass-killing survivors. His website is

By Ron Franscell

 This is America, dammit, and we have a God-given right to fool ourselves.

The bodies of dead children hadn’t even been cleared from the classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary before various lobbies began trumpeting their end-all solutions to mass murder—just as they have since 1949, the dawn of mass murder’s modern era.

George Hennard's jammed handgun, Luby's 1991
 Not all of these fixes are bad ideas, but they simply won’t halt mass murder.  At best, we can hope to thwart some massacres and save some lives, but determined, angry killers will still exist and occasionally wreak havoc.  At worst, we could surrender a lot of freedoms--and still not stop these horrific, frustrating massacres.

Since 1900, America has suffered about 150 public mass murders. Some are now code words for national tragedy: Columbine, Texas Tower, Luby’s, Sandy Hook.  The death toll has been less than 1,000 people, accounting for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all murder in America in the same period.  Statistically, we have much bigger problems. 

Yet mass murder grabs us by the throat every time.  It’s partly because it often happens in familiar, “safe” places … a McDonald’s restaurant, a church, a shopping mall, government offices, schools, festivals.  And its victims are almost always innocents who, like us on any ordinary day in any ordinary place, were not expecting to die.  We can easily imagine being in their place.

Plus, we’re always flummoxed by the enigma of mass murder.  Too often, nobody’s left to explain why it happened.  And in those rare times when we’ve gotten answers, they are historically confusing, irrational, and disappointing.  We spend a lot of energy trying to explain the unexplainable.

Mass murderers tend to be angry young men who are retaliating against personal rejections, failures, slights both real and imagined, and a perceived loss of independence.  They are usually loners but not necessarily unsociable.  Most are disturbed, but not necessarily psychotic.  Their crime is usually triggered by a major loss or disappointment, such as a break-up or job loss.

Charles Whitman, Texas Tower shooter, 1966
The revenge-oriented mass killer is trying to get even with specific people, particular categories or groups of individuals, or society at large. He is trying to regain some measure of control over a life he sees spiraling out of control.

So we know plenty about mass murderers … but we have not yet developed any science that can foil a murderous rampage that leaves no trace until too late. Sadly, most mass murderers -- right up until they kill -- do nothing that would cause a reasonable society to identify and restrain them.

The default “fix” has always been gun control.  Ignoring that seven of the 10 deadliest mass murders in American history were not committed with guns, this isn’t as much a rational debate as an uncivil war. The trenches are dug deep and the battle lines shift by inches, not miles.

Yes, we should be more pro-active about preventing lunatics and criminals from owning guns. But we already know that will be an uncomfortable process in a country where even being scanned by an airport machine is considered an intolerable intrusion by many.

And taking away guns won’t remove the root causes of mass murder, merely limit one of the killers’ tools, which have also included fertilizer bombs, knives, fire, poison, water, cars, boats, crossbows, and woodworking tools.   A determined killer might be slowed down, but not stopped by  more gun laws, but even if guns were outlawed completely, determined killers have always found ways to kill.

More/better/cheaper/quicker mental health care?  Certainly.  But very few of America’s most prolific mass murderers – or the people around them -- believed they had mental-health issues. Few would have voluntarily sought help, and the mere suggestion that they were crazy would have exacerbated their feelings of rejection, failure, and loss of control.

Fortifying schools?  That might have stalled Adam Lanza, but most school massacres have been done by students who were already inside, not monsters from the outside.

A crappy economy, desensitization to violence in the media, and deteriorating civility are also contributing factors.  “Fixing” those things poses more daunting challenges than mass murder.

Another unique obstacle is our collective social ADD.  When the next massacre happens, we’ll be shocked.  In time—maybe a week or two—we’ll be distracted.  Soon enough, we’ll forget altogether.  Time erodes feeling and creates indifference.  Americans are condemned to be shocked, to grow complacent, then to forget … then to be shocked all over again.  It keeps us from the long, arduous work of solving a complex problem.

Is it not fascinating that one of America’s deadliest public rampages—a madman’s 1927 school bombing in Bath, Michigan, that killed 45 people, mostly children—is all but forgotten in the Twenty-first century?

Yes, we owe it to the innocent dead to seek answers.  We should devote ourselves to saving as many lives as possible while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding people.  It’s a delicate balance that won’t lend itself to 144-character Tweets or glib Facebook updates.

But no matter what “fixes” we introduce, we should not fool ourselves that we have ended mass murder.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

OUTLAW DC hits the streets!


Washington D.C. isn't known as the "District of Crime" or "Murder Capital of America" for nothing. Though the capital city's motto is "justice for all," D.C. has a darker side, including an extensive history of crimes and misdemeanors, some political and some not. The Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Washington D.C. is the ultimate guidebook to the criminal and seedy history of the nation's capital -- plus Maryland, Northern Virginia and (ironically) Arlington National Cemetery. It also contains an entire chapter pinpointing key and little-known sites in the Lincoln Assassination. With photographs, maps, directions, and precise GPS coordinates, this collection of outlaw tales serves as both a travel guide and an entertaining and enlightening read. It is a one-of-a-kind exploration into well-known and more obscure sites in D.C. that retain memories of bandits, corpse-snatchers, murderers, snipers, bootleggers, assassins, rogue scientists, spies, mobsters and corrupt politicians -- even a legendary serial killer dressed in a bunny suit -- and their scandalous deeds.

Already getting rave reviews as an exciting crime/history/travel guide, you can pick yours up at any bookstore anywhere -- just in time for Election Day! If you buy online, here are some helpful links:

Saturday, July 28, 2012



By Ron Franscell (Globe Pequot Press, 2012)

Washington D.C. isn't known as the "District of Crime" or "Murder Capital of America" for nothing. Though the capital city's motto is "justice for all," D.C. has a darker side, including an extensive history of crimes and misdemeanors, some political and some not. The Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Washington D.C. is the ultimate guidebook to the criminal and seedy history of the nation's capital -- plus Maryland, Northern Virginia and (ironically) Arlington National Cemetery. It also contains an entire chapter pinpointing key and little-known sites in the Lincoln Assassination. With photographs, maps, directions, and precise GPS coordinates, this collection of outlaw tales serves as both a travel guide and an entertaining and enlightening read. It is a one-of-a-kind exploration into well-known and more obscure sites in D.C. that retain memories of bandits, corpse-snatchers, murderers, snipers, bootleggers, assassins, rogue scientists, spies, mobsters and corrupt politicians -- even a legendary serial killer dressed in a bunny suit -- and their scandalous deeds.

Coming September 4, 2012!