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7 True Crime Books About Romantic Rivalry Turned Deadly

I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.

Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned.

Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned.

1. A Knife in the Heart by Michael Benson

Joshua Camacho was a little man with no job, but he knew how to woo the teenage ladies. At any given time, the mini-Svengali was bedding three or four girls, and his narcissistic personality enjoyed all the fighting going on between them.

A Knife In the Heart by Michael Benson

A Knife In the Heart by Michael Benson

Two of his greatest contenders were Rachel Wade and Sarah Ludemann.

Rachel was out of control by the time she attached "teen" to age number. Having been a constant runaway and involved in violent fights with her mother, Rachel moved out at the tender age of 16, dropped out of school, and earned her GED. But just because you're living like an adult doesn't mean you act like one.

Rachel was angry when Sarah and Joshua "hooked up" and relentlessly harassed her rival through texts, voicemails, and MySpace. Sarah, having suffered weight issues her entire life, was thrilled to have her first boyfriend, and no one was going to keep her away from him.

Then on April 15, 2009, it would all come to a head. Sarah Ludemann was supposed to have already been home, but she'd stayed at Joshua's house longer because several people saw Rachel make a few drive-bys, and she feared a confrontation.

Joshua sent a few texts to Rachel telling her to go home, but she outright said she was waiting for Sarah to come out. But when Sarah finally left, with Joshua's sister and another girl, she didn't head home. Instead, the group rushed toward the home of a friend where Rachel was supposed to be. Bringing the minivan she was driving to a dead stop, Sarah and the other two jumped out and rushed at Rachel.

It may have been three on one, but Rachel followed through with a previous promise to "murder" Sarah. The first punch hadn't even been thrown when Rachel plunged a kitchen knife into Sarah's body, pulled it out, and stabbed her again.

Sarah died within an hour of being rushed to the hospital.

How can girls so young become so intense over a teenage boy who would be a total turnoff to others? And why are they willing to risk their lives and freedom in the name of being able to say the unemployed, absentee father is their "man"?

Author Michael Benson attempts to answer these questions in his book A Knife in the Heart. I'm not typically a Benson fan, being as most of his books lack personal research and are written straight from court records, but this is one I'm going to recommend.

2. Murder at the Brown Palace by Dick Kreck

A True Story of Seduction and Betrayal

Isabel Patterson Springer was, in 1911, what today we would call a gold digger—as well as a few other choice names.

A Murder at Brown Palace by Dick Kreck

A Murder at Brown Palace by Dick Kreck

Isabel was a beautiful young divorcee from St. Louis when she met the widowed John Wallace Springer, a wealthy businessman from Colorado. Despite the 20-year difference in their ages, the couple (or at least John) was smitten, and they, within months of their meeting, returned to his Colorado mansion.

But while love can buy a lot of things, it can’t buy fidelity—especially for a young socialite who was used to getting plenty of attention.

Whether it was loneliness or just being outright uncaring, Isabel reignited an old flame: Louis Sylvester “Tony” Von Phul.

While Isabel was an early-20th-century gold digger, Von Phul was a player. Isabel was only one of many married women Von Phul was balancing, but considering she was a past romance, he did make somewhat more effort with her. What he did not realize (or maybe he did) was that she had other men in the stable, including Harold Francis “Frank” Henwood.

No one may ever be certain whether it was Isabel pitting two lovers against one another or if she was truly seeking help to end her affair with Von Phul, but what is certain is it turned into a bloody murder at Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel and a story that has continued to be shared through and fascinated the generations.

Author Dick Kerk recounts the convoluted tale of Isabel Springer and her dueling beaus in his 2003 book Murder at the Brown Palace: A True Story of Seduction and Betrayal.

3. Kiss of the She-Devil by M. William Phelps

Donna Trapani was in love with married business associate George Fulton, and he had, at one time, said the same about her. But when push came to shove, George had returned to Michigan and decided to work on his marriage.

Kiss of the She Devil by M. William Phelps

Kiss of the She Devil by M. William Phelps

Donna was outraged. Her lies about being pregnant and dying of cancer had done nothing to sway her lover to stay in Florida with her. It was all Gail’s fault, Donna believed. George’s wife was too dependent on him. Gail, claimed Donna, used their adult children to guilt her husband. And, Donna told anyone who would listen, Gail was suicidal.

Yes, it was all Gail. And if something happened to Gail, Donna was sure she’d win the man she loved.

Using her powers of persuasion, or manipulation and bullying as it should actually be described, Donna Trapani convinced her friend Sybil Pagett to find someone willing to kill Gail for $15,000.

In his book Kiss of the She-Devil, true crime author M. William Phelps presents readers with the story of a mistress who felt entitled to a married man just because she had fallen in love with him.

The story revolves around a real-life Fatal Attraction that begins in sunny Florida and ends on a chilly October night in Michigan. Donna Trapani is even more mentally disturbed than Glenn Close’s character in the aforementioned movie.

Readers can only watch helplessly from the pages of this book as Gail mourns the loss of a 20-year marriage to an obvious psychopath—a woman who tells a story of being pregnant with George’s baby and insisting Gail raise the child as her own. And as her world comes crashing down around her, Gail is made out to be the crazy one of the bunch.

My heart ached for Gail and my anger seethed at the cruelty Donna heaped upon the broken-hearted woman. Quite frankly, Donna Trapani is the poster child for the death penalty, as her crime was as narcissistic as any I’ve ever read about.

Kiss of the She-Devil might start off a tad slower than I like, but in the end, it’s a tale that will elicit a great deal of emotion from readers and leave them thinking, “Truth really is stranger than fiction.”

4. Wasted by Suzy Spencer

Regina Hartwell so desperately wanted to be loved. So much, in fact, that she was willing to buy the love of any willing friend or lover.

And since her mother had died in a horrific accident when she was 12, from which Regina had a trust fund, there was plenty of money to spend.

Or maybe not.

Wasted by Suzy Spencer

Wasted by Suzy Spencer

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Kim LeBlanc had tried being a lesbian lover to Regina ; in reality, she was much too heterosexual, but she really liked the lavish lifestyle she lived on Regina’s dime—especially the drugs such money purchased. But the money was running out and Regina’s obsession with Kim was taking its toll. As a result, Regina was working up the nerve to sever her ties with Kim LeBlanc.

And then there was Justin Thomas, a drug-addicted vagabond with whom Kim had fallen in love.

Thomas liked Regina’s money just as much as Kim, but he’d grown tired of his girlfriend having to answer to Regina’s every beck and call. As the jealousy festered, so did the rage—until Thursday, June 29, 1995.

In the 1998 book Wasted (updated and republished in 2008), true crime author Suzy Spencer follows the sad lives of Regina Hartwell and Kim LeBlanc through their abusive childhoods to Regina’s deadly demise at the hands of an evil young man who wanted the girl and the money all to himself.

Spencer does a fantastic job of sorting out the mess of these young people’s lives, their dark secrets, and the "why" behind a horrific murder. From the first page to the very last, readers will be captivated by the insanity surrounding a colorful cast of characters, made up mostly from Austin’s LBGT community.

At times I found myself feeling unsympathetic and rather cold, blaming the personal choices of the main players, yet just as quickly I found my heart breaking for the obvious voids with which these lost and misguided ladies, especially Regina, were burdened.

Plenty of personal interviews, in-depth research, and a condensed trial section make Wasted a must-read for true crime fans.

5. Open Secrets by Carlton Stowers

A True Story of Love, Jealousy, and Murder

Everything is big in Texas...including your murder-for-hire defendant list!

It’s 1983 in Richardson, Texas. Larry Wayne Aylor is having an affair with neighbor Rozanne Gailiunas. They’ve filed for divorce from their respective spouses and have future plans to marry.

Open Secrets by Carlton Stowers

Open Secrets by Carlton Stowers

But on October 4, 1983, Rozanne is raped, beaten, and shot in her home as her preschool son sleeps in the next room. Peter Gailiunas, Jr. would later find his mother unconscious and call for help—to no avail, however, as she would die in the hospital two days later.

Rozanne’s husband pointed the finger at his wife’s lover. Larry, in turn, blamed the husband. They were both wrong, more than they could have ever imagined.

The answer would come after Larry was ambushed by two gunmen on his ranch. Coincidentally, it came when he and Joy were again considering divorce (they had reconciled after Rozanne’s murder).

True crime author Carlton Stowers does an excellent job of relaying the story of Joy Davis Aylor, a Texas socialite sociopath who wants what she can’t have and doesn’t want anyone to have what she doesn’t want. (The actual, spelled-out reasons for the murder will shock the pants off readers!)

Though it takes almost a decade to solve the case of Rozanne Gailiunas’ murder, readers are taken on an interesting trip with police detectives as the conspiracy ring keeps growing and growing; until it comes full circle with the capture of Joy Aylor in the south of France.

6. Evidence of Love by John Bloom and Jim Atkinson

It was 1979. Candy Montgomery was a wife, a fulltime mother to two young children, and very active in the Lucas, Texas Methodist church—but she was bored.

Feeling that her marriage to Pat Montgomery was the source of her boredom, Candy went looking to have an affair. Her first lover would be Allan Gore.

Evidence of Love by John Bloom and Jim Atkinson

Evidence of Love by John Bloom and Jim Atkinson

Like Candy, Allan believed his marriage had gone stale, but he wasn’t looking to cheat until Candy made her proposition.

The affair would last for a few months before Allan called it quits, deciding to refocus on his wife, Betty Gore.

Unfortunately, that would not simply be the end of it.

In June 1980, Betty was found murdered in the utility room of her home, butchered to death by 41 whacks from an ax.

Authors John Bloom and Jim Atkinson make no effort to hide the killer’s identity right out of the gate in their 1984 true crime book Evidence of Love. Nope, readers know Candy is the killer.

But before they disclose why Candy killed Betty (and it isn’t as simple as the affair with Allan), readers are taken on an intense journey that scrutinizes the lives of real desperate housewives.

Nothing is left untold in this book, unlike many of the news reports and made-for-TV movie of the day. The childhood histories, the search for husbands, the secrets between friends, the contractual-style affair, the steamy seductions, the image maintenance—oh yeah, it’s all there!

Evidence of Love is one of the best true crime books of all time. The ultimate disclosure, perfectly woven story with a bang ending will make you want more—it’s a true crime classic that you don’t want to miss.

7. Triangle by Irene Pence

Warren Miles Bondurant was a Texas millionaire. After divorcing his first wife of 18 years, he went through a series of younger, gold-digging women that left him feeling used and unappreciated.

When he turned to the personals ads, he met Sandra Coburn Underhill. Incarcerated for drug crimes with a long history of abuse, she was desperate to find a man who would care for her.

Of course, nothing comes free.

Bondurant was willing to provide her with a nice home, cars, and plenty of spending money as long as she danced to his tune.

But once an addict always an addict, and when things got tough, Sandra frequently returned to drugs.

It was during one of her rehab stays that Sandra met Carrie Coppinger, an open lesbian who fell in love with Sandra.

Although an intimate relationship between the two was short-lived, they developed a friendship that would last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, a lifetime wasn’t very long for Carrie.

Irene Pence tells about a Texas love triangle that became a little too crowded in her 1998 true crime book titled Triangle.

While Pence produces a very gripping story, her bias is obvious in how she sells Sandra as a poor little abused woman just seeking love. I personally wasn’t buying it, believing Sandra to be a very volatile participant in the stormy relationship with Miles. That aside, Triangle is an interesting story and one I would recommend.

© 2016 Kim Bryan

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