I just finished reading "The Long And Faraway Gone" by Lou Berney to review for William Morrow/Harper Collins.
This was a book that, when I found it in a sealed box on my doorstep, I did not remember ordering. When I opened it and looked at the back cover, chills went down my spine.
This book is, from what I can tell, loosely based on the kidnapping at the Oklahoma State Fair in 1981. It was never solved, and the two 13 year old girls were never found.
However this book's fictional victim is a 17 year old girl.
Also, the writer brings in a story about a mass shooting at night of the young employees at a movie theater. I believe this may be based upon, or has a correlation to, the Sirloin Stockade murders in the summer of 1978.
Part of this crime spree began in Purcell, Oklahoma, where a couple and their son were on their way to the husband's mother's funeral. They stopped to help a woman who seemed to be having car trouble.
It was a set up. They were all murdered by a man, his wife (the woman in the car) and his brother. The Sirloin Stockade murders would come a little later.
This book takes a circuitous route weaving the stories together, but not relating them to one another. I found it very compelling. But there is another reason why.
When I stood on my porch, after returning from running errands, and found that box with the book on my porch several weeks ago, the reason it hit me hard is because I investigated and wrote about the abduction of the two girls from the Oklahoma state fair.
A Wyoming truck driver, Royal Russell Long, was charged and brought to trial in Oklahoma City in 1985. He was then serving time in prison for the kidnapping of two girls there. One managed to get away and testified against him. The other girl has never been found.
Long had a history of sexual violence toward young girls.
He was not convicted of the OKC fair kidnapping case, even though there was fairly strong evidence.
There is a case from the seventies in which he also is a suspect in the disappearance of two girls.
Several years later, and after I had written my long feature about the girls, I wrote Long in prison. Thus began a correspondence that lasted for some time. I of course wanted information; closure for the family I met. I just couldn't stop thinking about it.
He promised to give me information if I'd meet with him in person. I was set to do that. But at the last minute, authorities shut it down. I was told the FBI was following the correspondence, and I suppose wanted it to continue.
Sadly, the cases have never been solved.
But I will never forget seeing the pain of uncertainty up close and personal. What a family looks like and sounds like that has a loved one that never came home. And never finds out why.
And I will never forget corresponding with a killer. He has since died. So the answers, if there are any, died with him.
Nor will I ever forget a phone call I received on a Saturday night in 1987 during the time of that correspondence, purportedly from a man in NY. He warned me to leave it all alone and step away. He insinuated that this was part of a much bigger crime ring of girls being kidnapped.
I was alone that evening when that very strange conversation came about. I never found out who he was or how he fit into the picture, if at all.
Yes, I have woven my own story into that of my review of Lou Berney's book. I don't know how I could not have, given the circumstances.
I will say that this is a book that you read rapidly because you want to know the answers. But at the same time, you don't want the book to end. Because the writing is tight and very good.
Berney was very clever in his plotting of these two stories, and how he constructed the endings. I will definitely be reading more of his books.
Berney is a television and screen writer, who now resides in Oklahoma, where he teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma (where I got my journalism degree) and at Oklahoma City University.
I can only assume the accounts of the two cases prompted him to write this book. Though it is different from the two real cases altogether, you feel that that was his starting point somehow.
Funny how things come back from long ago and strike a chord within you. Bringing back times in your life you've let settle down with dust. And then prompting you to wipe the dust away and look at them again.