Several years ago I was chatting on Facebook with my readers about real-life cold cases — unsolved mysteries that stuck with them over the years. Many people shared stories about missing persons who had never been found — and why and how those disappearances impacted them.
I remember when Lacey Peterson disappeared. She was pregnant — I was pregnant at the same time. I followed her case partly because she lived only 60 miles from me, and partly because I felt some vague kinship with the pregnant woman. I rarely follow trials, but I followed the trial of Scott Peterson. I still think of Lacey from time to time, sad for the lives that were extinguished that day by a selfish man.
Just as troubling as the missing are the dead. People we know, know of, or read about — people who either share something with us (our community, for example, or our generation, or we can see ourselves in them or in their life — or in the surviving family.) Human beings have a capacity for love and empathy that often surpasses expectations, that remind us that we are not alone in the world, and that we grieve when lives are taken too soon — even people we didn’t personally know. Our empathy makes us human.
Which is why, I think, we despise and fear those who have no empathy, who hurt people for pleasure or greed, who destroy that which is good for their sick and twisted reasons.
One reason I write mystery thrillers is because I have always craved answers to universal questions. How can people be cruel to others? How can one person hurt, maim, kill another person without remorse? How can families and friends survive such a loss? How do relatives of a killer feel, think, believe? It’s a universal truth that there is good and there is evil, and there is a lot of blending of good and evil until sometimes, we don’t see what is right in front of us.
So when I asked the question about haunting cold case mysteries, one reader mentioned the Jeff Davis 8. I had never heard of the cold case, but it sounded both tragic and interesting.
Between 2005 and 2009, eight women were murdered in the bayou in the heart of Jefferson Davis Parish. They were prostitutes, drug addicts, doing what they had to do to survive, before they were brutally murdered.
These murders were never solved.
Years later, I was still thinking about this cold case, and had a spark of an idea for SEVEN GIRLS GONE. I wanted to solve these unsolved crimes, and my mobile response team was just the people to do it. Of course, my book is fiction. And even after reading everything I could about the real-life case, I still don’t know who is guilty. The only resemblance my book has to the true story is that the victims were society’s throwaways living —and dying — in the heart of the bayou.
We empathize with people who struggle — physically, emotionally, spiritually — because we have all struggled at one point in our lives. And sometimes, it’s people who are struggling, who are trying to better themselves and their circumstances, who we relate to the most, even if we’ve never walked in their shoes.
This is why I wrote SEVEN GIRLS GONE. I wanted to understand not only the killer (or killers) but to see the victims as they were — their flaws, certainly, but also their humanity. This backdrop provided my characters in the FBI mobile response team more than just a case to solve. They became invested in the outcome, in the small community of St. Augustine, and learned a lot about each other as well.
I just received the final cover for SEVEN GIRLS GONE, the 4th Quinn & Costa thriller. I love it. It’s eerie and suspenseful and I hope you love it to. What do you think?
Are there any cold cases that have haunted you over the years? Share in the comments.
Pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, IndieBound, or anywhere you buy books. More bookstore links are on my website.
You can pre-order a signed copy of SEVEN GIRLS GONE through Poisoned Pen in Arizona (they ship everywhere!)
Thank you for reading!
Thanks for reading Murder She Writes! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
The official cover copy:
For three years, women have been disappearing—and eventually turning up dead in the small bayou town of St. Augustine, Louisiana. Police detective Beau Hebert is the only one who seems to care, but with every witness quickly silenced and a corrupt police department set on keeping the cases unsolved, Beau’s investigation stalls at every turn.
With nobody else to trust, Beau calls in a favor from his friend on the FBI’s Mobile Response Team. While LAPD detective Kara Quinn works undercover to dig into the women’s murders and team leader Matt Costa officially investigates the in-custody death of a witness, Beau might finally have a chance at solving the case.
But in a town where everyone knows everyone, talking gets you killed and secrets stay buried, it’s going to take the entire team working around the clock to unravel the truth. Especially when they discover that the deep-seated corruption and the deadly drug-trafficking ring at the center of it all extends far beyond the small-town borders.
Thank you. I love reading your books.
Who really killed the West Memphis boys? Not, I believe, the three who were charged and did time for it. Not considered unsolved, but I studied the case during my adult college classes in mid 2000's and was shocked at flimsy and biased evidence.