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Book: Fear Came To Town - The Santa Claus, Georgia, Murders by Doug Crandell

Book Review: Fear Came To Town - The Santa Claus, Georgia, Murders by Doug Crandell

categories: Books, Nonfiction, True Accounts, Murder & Mayhem, true crime


 Social Autopsy Of A Murder

I've read Crandall's other books and loved them but hesitated briefly to read this one. Once I bought it for my kindle last week, I have not been able to put it down.

As a social worker and writer myself, I have a great amount of respect for Crandall's ability to blend his professional experience in the mental health arena and social service related fields and his ability to write in sentences that feel natural to the ear, like in regular conversation. He also keeps such a steady pace that the book is never boring but also doesn’t give too much away too quickly. He is a storyteller in this book and kept me spellbound. This book is a complete “social autopsy” of a murder, examining the backgrounds of the killer and of the woman and her family who were killed. He shows how close to the edge many children and young adults live and how one important person in the lives of these people could very well mean the difference between the killer in this book and the woman who beat all odds, becoming a foster parent. He also shows the friends and acquaintances who filled the roles of important influences (for good and bad) in the killer’s life and in the woman’s life he ended.

These friends and acquaintances in this book, like most of us, felt there was a potential problem with the man who ended up committing these murders, an odd gut feeling something about this guy wasn’t right, but were either second guessing themselves, felt they shouldn’t pry, or just felt they didn’t know enough to put in their opinion or assert their views of him. Perhaps we should all trust ourselves enough to listen to these gut feelings. I see it often and I cannot help but think that if Jerry Scott Heidler had been in Kim's home as a 2 year old instead of a troubled teen and NOT shipped back and forth into his mother’s home, his life and Kim's family would have had a much different outcome.

The book is as accurate as I have ever read of the mental health diagnoses and social circumstances of many of these people who get lost in a difficult system of social services, courts, and other checks and balances that often respects a parents rights of visitation and "parenthood" over a child's need to live in a stable and non-violent world. I thank this author describing a tragic event in a way that serves as a thorough study of what can happen if we turn our backs and refuse to see and really help these kids when they are 1, 3, 5, even 7-8 years old. We can't scratch our heads after murders like this or in ones similar to Columbine, and wonder what signs we missed that would have warned us.

Often, they are all around if only someone could combine what the neighbors, the cops, the social workers, the schools, and the mental health workers know. Without a thorough evaluation including all these areas, we are often only privy to a few rumors or maybe just enough information to know someone is different but not enough to know we should be worried about our lives around them. Maybe, after reading this book, a reader will go about their life and will actual notice some signs, will think how familiar a situation is to the man Crandall describes. I feel this book should be mandatory reading for all child welfare workers, teachers, mental health workers.

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