The Book of the Week is “Birthright: Murder, Greed and Power in the U-Haul Family Dynasty” by Ronald J. Watkins, published in 1993. This is a cautionary tale about an American public corporation whose founder failed to take steps to secure control of his company. L.S. Shoen “lacked the heart to dilute the shares of his oldest children. If he had issued himself more shares, he could have guaranteed he would always have control or if he had modified the rules, only a supermajority of shareholders could have ousted him.”
The company’s stock situation aside, the story began after WWII, when Shoen started his truck rental business. The business proved successful until his children attained adulthood, at which time, he favored two of his sons, who drained the company’s resources on their expensive hobbies. This bad situation led to a legal dispute among family members over company ownership, that resulted in murder. The newspapers mockingly reported the court battles as a family fight among “the idle rich”, as the majority shareholders were publicly viewed as heirs to the family fortune.
One of the sons was suspected of perpetrating the said murder. This is an extreme story, because even when American family members are fighting over company ownership, they rarely stoop so low as to terrorize the rival camp by killing someone.
The Book of the Week is “The Odds Against Me” by John Scarne, published in 1966.
This is the autobiography of a man passionate about gambling. Starting in elementary school, he exhibited an incredible talent for calculating figures in his head. As a teenager, Scarne gravitated toward performing magic tricks, and gambling. He developed expertise at manipulating playing cards. His parents were less than thrilled, as they wanted him to choose a noble profession.
Eventually, Scarne made a career of assisting law enforcement with identifying rigged games in casinos. In his book, he described a sting operation against a croupier who was using a magnetized roulette ball, and other dishonest behind-the-scenes goings-on in games of chance.
The Book of the Week is “The Red Parts” by Maggie Nelson, published in 2007. In this eloquently written book, the author writes about the murder of her aunt, that occurred years before she herself was born. New DNA evidence prompted law enforcement to re-open its investigation of the cold case. The crime had been committed around the same time as other murders committed by a serial killer at the University of Michigan, where her aunt was a student. The author attended the case’s later court proceedings in connection therewith, and reports on the outcome. She also provides autobiographical details about her family members and their quirky irreverence, and herself and her own relationships.
The Book of the Week is “The Case of Joe Hill” by Philip S. Foner, published in 1965. This is the story of the grave injustice perpetrated against Joseph Hillstrom (“Joe Hill” was the American-English translation).
In the early 1900’s, American managers of industry had politicians on their side and violent opposition to unions was commonplace. In 1914, the Swedish-American was wrongly accused of murder, and because he was a member of a vilified socialist labor organization, “International Workers of the World,” local authority figures (and possibly the Mormon Church) in Utah– where his trial was held– conspired to convict him.
He was a well-known, prolific writer of socialist songs. Despite the legal funds and political support from solidarity-minded labor groups around the world (support that included an urgent appeal to President Woodrow Wilson), the trial ended badly for him.
This account is reminiscent of the book, “Big Trouble” by J. Anthony Lukas, published in 1997, a 1905 case in which two union activists were wrongly accused of murder and denied due process, too.
The Book of the Week is “Our Little Secret” by Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie, published in 2010. This is a true murder story that took a long time to unfold, and the secret was not very little. The crime was committed in November 1985 in Hooksett, New Hampshire by a high schooler, Eric Windhurst, acting on behalf of another, Melanie Paquette. Many friends and family members of both the victim, Danny Paquette, and the shooter had reasons for not telling law enforcement all they knew about the incident. Some would argue there were many victims in the case, just a few of whom included Danny’s brother, Victor, Danny’s ex-wife, Denise, his stepdaughter– the aforementioned Melanie, and Eric’s half-sister, Lisa Brown. If the reader skips the back-cover blurb, the very first page, prologue and the pages of photos of this book, he or she ought to enjoy a well-researched, suspenseful saga of abuse, anger, fear, regret and finally, resolution.
The Book of the Week is “Walking After Midnight” by Katy Hutchison, published in 2006. This book tells the suspenseful story of how a woman channeled her grief over her husband’s death into a public service. Her twin daughter and son were four years old at the time. Eventually, she turned the tragedy that had befallen her family into a potentially life-saving endeavor. She began lecturing teens on alcohol-related behavior; the kind that led to the situation that killed her husband on New Year’s Eve (no, it was not drunk driving). Read the book to learn the details of this inspiring story.
The Book of the Week is “Safe Harbor, A Murder in Nantucket” by Brian McDonald, published in 2006.
This is the story of Thomas Toolan III’s murder of Elizabeth (“Beth”) Lochtefeld in October of 2004.
The killer (Tom) had been an alcoholic since high school. Before his relationship with Beth, he had had a few other relationships with women in which he was a jealous, abusive liar. He had worked in the past at an investment bank for a very few years. His parents had bailed him out, every time he got into trouble.
The victim (Beth) had been a workaholic expediter– a party that facilitates the paperwork required to do construction in New York. At 44 years old, she was still looking for a lifelong mate. It was unclear why she couldn’t find a permanent significant other– she was pretty, fit, brainy, well-traveled, very social, and wealthy.
Read the book to get to know the characters better, and learn the details of the murder.