Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Author Guest Post: Caitlin Rother, Author of Lost Girls

In association with Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Publicity Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews welcomes Caitlin Rother, author of Lost Girls!

Why I Felt Compelled To Write Lost Girls
by Caitlin Rother

First I have a confession to make. After writing Body Parts, a book about serial rapist-killer Wayne Adam Ford, I really didn't think I'd ever be able to stand getting into the head of another man like him, let alone one who had molested, raped and killed teenagers. I also have a standing rule: I cannot and will not write stories about young murdered children. I just can't stomach it.

But on March 4, 2010, the day after John Gardner was arraigned for killing Chelsea King, and the same day he quietly told his attorneys he could lead them to Amber's body (which remained a secret for six weeks), I got an e-mail from an editor from The Daily Beast, asking if I'd be interested in covering this case for them.

I said yes, and spent fourteen hours researching and writing the first article. The following week, I wrote a second one, which was difficult because District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis had issued a "gag order" e-mail, and the judge had also put an actual gag order in place. But, after watching my own community reeling from the emotional fallout of this case, I was feeling it too. I felt in my gut that I really wanted to tell this story - both sides of it, and very much in-depth.

For me to move forward and get past my own rule, I had to convince myself that Chelsea and Amber weren't children, even though some folks might disagree. Still, because of their age and out of respect to their families, I knew I had to be extremely sensitive and thoughtful about how I wrote this book. 

Following my usual methodology, I read every article and collected every piece of information I could, trying to determine if I could go further than the mainstream media. With the crazy amount of coverage, I was a bit worried at first. However, after a long series of calls and e-mails, I was able to persuade John Gardner's family to open up to me. They were paid no money for telling me their story, they did it because they wanted it to be told accurately and in full detail, not in sound bites, and not taken out of context by the media.

Knowing that I could tell the back story of how Gardner evolved into the man who could commit these heinous acts, I felt I could go deeper than any reporter had gone before me. And despite the dark subject matter, the investigative passion of revealing new facts energized me. I felt this book was more important than some of my earlier works because people are so scared of losing their children to sexual predators, and I felt we could all benefit from knowing why this happens. We, as a society, seem to have so little understanding of these men and how to deal with them. For some, I believe, it is just too repulsive and difficult a subject to ponder, but burying our heads in the sand won't stop these crimes from occurring. 

The Gardner-Osborn family and I share a hope that this book will help educate people by delving into all the factors that contributed to making John Gardner into a man who could not control his sexual and homicidal compulsions, and by casting a spotlight on the flawed system that allowed him and predators like him to roam free to prey on children, teenagers and grown women.

Although they've since become pessimistic that anything they say will help, I'm still hopeful that the idealism that drove me into journalism years ago was right and true, and that this story will give unprecedented insight into all the facets of a sex offender like John Gardner - the sweet, nurturing, loving and goofy guy his family once knew, the guy who seemed friendly and normal to people at the dog park, as well as the angry, manipulative and violent man who brutally killed these poor girls.

I hope that we, as a society, can find ways to help people like him before they get to a breaking point or to stop them from doing harm after they've reached it. And I hope that with this book, we can learn something that will help protect us and our families from falling to the same fate as Amber Dubois, Chelsea King and Gardner's third victim, Candice Moncayo, who lived to deliver a powerful victim impact statement to him during the sentencing hearing. 

I did try to speak with Candice, as well as Chelsea's and Amber's parents, so I could pay a more personal tribute to each victim by hearing their stories directly rather than piecing them together from other sources, but they chose not to be interviewed. (I can't tell these stories without writing about the victims and their families - they are why we tell these stories in the first place.) Instead, I respectfully crafted their stories from their own words in public comments to the media, public records and details I collected from interviews with law enforcement and other sources.

I understand that this was an enormously traumatic event in these families' lives, and I hope they will understand that I had only good intentions in writing this book, that my goal was to educate people and to help prevent tragedies like this in the future. Some victims and their families have cooperated fully with me in my previous books, they have told me they found relief in doing so, and they have thanked me for my sensitive approach. I can also see that others might find it too painful to do the same. I'm sure these events are still fresh in their minds and that they are still grieving. 

I think we all want to change the system in a positive way, to save lives and to keep this from happening again. This is my way, and I hope they find some peace and success in theirs. 

About The Author:

New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother has written or co-authored eight books, including Poisoned Love (Kensington, December 2011), Dead Reckoning (Kensington, February 2011), Twisted Triangle (Wiley, 2009), Body Parts (Kensington, 2008), Deadly Devotion (Simon & Schuster / Pocket, July 2011), NYT bestseller My Life, Deleted (HarperOne, October 2011), and Naked Addiction (Dorchester, 2007). Her latest true crime project, Lost Girls (Kensington, July 2012), chronicles the rape and murder of two innocents, teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, by sexual predator John Gardner. Rother, a Pulitzer-nominated investigative journalist with more than 310,000 copies of her books in print, has also been published in Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and The Daily Beast. She has done dozens of TV and radio appearances as a crime expert on Nancy Grace, the Jay Thomas Show, E!, the Oxygen Network, Greta Van Susteren's On the Record, Investigative Discovery, America at Night, American Radio Network, XM and numerous NPR/PBS affiliates. Rother also works as a book doctor/editorial consultant and teaches journalism and creative writing at University of California, San Diego Extension.

BUY THE BOOK: Lost Girls

Book Description: Lost Girls

The desperate search for two lost innocents, Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, led authorities to a brutal predator hiding in plain sight: John Albert Gardner, a convicted sex offender who could have been returned to prison several times over. Pultizer-nominated writer Caitlin Rother delivers an incisive, heartbreaking true-life thriller about a case that galvanized its community, first by grief and goodwill, then by anger and injustice, as it came to grips with a flawed system that failed ... and adopted a law that will forever change how we keep our children safe.

Book Excerpt: Lost Girls

                                                  Chapter One

John Gardner's mother was worried. The bipolar mood swings, erratic behavior and suicidal impulses that had periodically plagued her thirty-year-old son since he was a child were not only back but worse than she'd ever seen them.

When Cathy Osborn left her condo for her psychiatric nursing job the morning of February 25, 2010, John was asleep on the futon in her home office, where he stayed when he visited. Cathy called his cell phone and texted him numerous times throughout the day to see how he was doing, but she got no response. When he didn't answer his phone, something was usually up.

That evening after work, John was still missing in action, so she decided to combine her usual run with a search for her wayward son, an unemployed electrician and unmarried father of twin sons. Having completed fifteen full marathons, as well as fifteen half marathons, Cathy routinely jogged five to seven miles around Lake Hodges in nearby Rancho Bernardo Community Park. But she was so worried about John and his well-being that she didn't really feel like doing the full route.

She jogged about a mile through the neighborhood, turned at the white railing off Duenda Road, and started down the narrow path that widened as it left the residential area and fed into the vast, beautiful open space of the San Dieguito River Valley. Depending on the time of day, sometimes she couldn't see another soul for miles in any direction. It was so peaceful out there, far away from the stresses of the city. So isolated. So still. And so deadly quiet.

But her nerves were on edge that evening as she ran along the sandy trail at dusk. She jerked to an abrupt halt, startled to see a snake off to the right. Once she realized it had no head and posed no danger, she continued heading toward the slate blue of the lake up ahead, hoping to find John in one of his usual haunts. He'd told her that he liked to sit on the benchlike boulders that were positioned along the trails, posted with informational placards about the Kumeyaay Indians and the natural wildlife habitat. Knowing his two favorites overlooked a waterfall and the lake, she kept her eyes peeled for discarded beer cans and cigarette butts. But she saw no sign of him.

This is the wrong spot, or he's been here and he's just not drinking beer or smoking cigarettes, she thought.

Cathy had spent nearly three decades managing her son's medical and psychological treatment, ferrying him to countless doctors and therapists who had prescribed more than a dozen medications. Starting at age four, John had begun with Ritalin for his attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As he grew older, his behavioral problems became more complicated. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but he had experienced so many side effects to the drugs that he'd stopped taking them in high school. He had been on and off them ever since. Mostly off.

John also had a history of psychiatric hospitalizations, and by now, Cathy was very familiar with the danger signs that he was reaching a crisis point. In the last couple of months, he had totaled two cars, running one into a pole and the other into a cement barrier. So on February 8, she had driven him to the walk-in psychiatric clinic at the county hospital in Riverside, where both of them hoped he would be admitted as an inpatient. But even after John told the psychiatrist he might qualify as a "5150"—someone who is in danger of hurting himself or others—the doctor said he didn't think such treatment was necessary. He simply gave John some more pills and sent him on his way. Five days later, John went on a suicidal binge of methamphetamine and other illicit drugs, which landed him in the emergency room.

All of this made for a complicatedly close relationship between John and his mother. Things had escalated recently after he'd started using methamphetamine and increasing his drinking. The crazier he acted, the crazier Cathy's own emotional roller coaster became. If she didn't watch over him, she feared he would go right back to the same druggie friends he partied with during his nearly fatal binge, a pattern she'd seen over the past eighteen months. Or worse yet, he'd be successful and actually kill himself.

John had been "living" at his grandmother Linda Osborn's house in Riverside County since January, going back and forth to his mom's condo in Rancho Bernardo, a San Diego suburb, an hour south. But because Linda had also been admitted to the same hospital as John, Cathy decided on February 19 to take him home with her for a few days. Clearly, he was in no state of mind to be left to his own devices at his grandmother's, or in the care of his aunt Cynthia, who had her own emotional problems.

"It's time for you to get some more intense treatment," Cathy told him.

John agreed, saying he'd been trying to get help, but not succeeding. "I need you to help me because I can't seem to get it done on my own," he said.

He claimed that he'd already tried to find a mental-health or drug addiction facility in San Diego or Riverside County that would take him, but he would try again. As soon as he was feeling better on February 20, she gave him a list of phone numbers, then listened from the kitchen while he made the calls.

Cathy felt John's mental-health issues should take precedence over his substance abuse, but he was convinced that he needed to go to drug rehab first. In the end, though, it didn't matter because no place would take him. Either they had no room, or as soon as he told them he'd committed a felony and was a registered sex offender, they said they couldn't treat him.

With every rejection, John's anger mounted. He cussed and paced around her living room with frustration, and it was all Cathy could do to try to soothe him so he could make the next call.

"It's the same old thing," he groused. "I can't get any help."

"We're going to keep trying," Cathy said.

John made more calls the next couple of days with no luck, growing so discouraged that he finally gave up. She tried calling a few places herself, but they wouldn't talk to anyone but the adult who needed to be admitted. 

Meanwhile, John was complaining about the side effects of his new medications: Effexor, an antidepressant, and Lamictal, an antiseizure medication for his mania. He said he felt mentally revved up and wasn't sleeping, which didn't surprise Cathy; he'd been pacing back and forth in her condo, flushed in the face, and taking her dog on walks around the lake for five hours at a time. Poor Hallie, a ten-year-old beagle-shepherd mix, was so exhausted that Cathy and her husband finally told John to give the pooch a rest.

Cathy decided not to push him too hard to make more calls because she'd already seen some improvement with the new meds. But on the evening of February 23, he showed her a rash on his stomach, chest and arms. Given his persistent manic symptoms, she agreed he should stop taking the pills until she could follow up with the doctor. After his grandmother was hospitalized again, she and John drove the two hours north to Los Angeles County to see her. They didn't get back until after one in the morning, on February 25, so Cathy never got to make that call.

While she was still out looking for her son on the trails that evening, he finally called her back, around five-thirty. "I'm on my way home," he said. "I should be there in a little bit."

John had spent five years in state prison after pleading guilty to committing forcible lewd acts and false imprisonment on a thirteen-year-old girl, who lived next door. Although he initially denied any wrongdoing, he finally admitted to his family that he'd hit the girl, but he still insisted he'd "never touched her sexually." Bolstered by a concurring recommendation from the psychiatrist who had originally diagnosed John as bipolar, Cathy pleaded with the court for mental-health treatment and probation. She'd always thought the girl next door was troubled and had an unconsummated crush on her son, so she believed his story. However, the request for probation was rejected, and even after he signed the plea deal, John's entire family believed that he'd been wrongfully prosecuted and inadequately represented by his attorney.

During John's time in prison, he had a psychotic break and was sent to a state mental facility. At the time, he told Cathy about some of the paranoid, homicidal and delusional thoughts that were going through his mind. But this time was different. This time, he'd been shielding her from the worst of it. This time, he didn't tell her about the compulsions that had been driving his recent behavior, so she had no clue that he was following through on his violent urges during those walks around the lake.

Although Cathy felt somewhat relieved to get John's call that night, she turned around and headed home, too anxious to finish her usual ninety-minute run. After taking a shower, she and her husband decided to wait on dinner until John got back. But as the minutes ticked by, Cathy was too upset to eat. When he still hadn't shown up by seven-thirty, she turned to her husband and broke into tears.

"This is killing me," she said. "I can't take this."

Where is he? she wondered. What is he doing out there? 

No comments:

Post a Comment