Crime books spotlight best, worst of humanity

True crime is a book genre that has always caused me considerable dismay. Reading about grisly acts and criminal deviants is not way up there on my list of favorite things. But the aim of this column is to give exposure to the wealth of books and authors connected with our region, and since the Northwest has certainly produced its share of heinous psychopaths and a fair share of true-crime writers as well, I guess I can't bury my head in the sand any longer.

Ted Bundy was executed 20 years ago this month after a killing spree that went on for years and that extended from Washington across the country to Florida.

Now, sporting shamelessly lurid cover art and asking a surprisingly hefty price, a new softcover book called “The Bundy Murders” profiles the serial killer and his horrible deeds.

Working from old news accounts, legal transcripts and interviews with several of the detectives and prosecutors who worked on the various cases, author and retired minister Kevin M. Sullivan assembles a chronology of the dozens of murders committed, even as Bundy carried on another life as a law student and worker in this state’s Republican Party.

The book includes black and white photographs of some of Bundy’s victims and some former crime scenes.

Sullivan’s run-down is comprehensive, and he even pieces together new bits of information on a couple of the crimes. But does the reader come away enlightened as to how Bundy became so terribly warped in the first place? The answer is no.

Bainbridge Island writer Anthony Flacco’s newest true-crime book takes a different tack.

“The Road Out of Hell” is an account of the Wineville Murders that took place in the 1920s. As notorious as these crimes were at the time – at least 20 boys were kidnapped, tortured, raped and ultimately murdered over a two-year period – they might have faded into the mists of history by now had they not served as the basis for the 2008 movie “The Changeling,” starring Angelina Jolie.

Flacco centers his account on murderer Gordon Northcott’s unwilling and brutalized accomplice. At the age of 13, Sanford Clark had been taken from his home in Canada to work with his Uncle Gordon on a dusty chicken ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles. But Northcott’s main business wasn’t eggs and fryers, it was depravity – and he forced his nephew to dispose of his victims once he was done with them.

There are many, many utterly repugnant details in this account, but ultimately “The Road Out of Hell” is about redemption. Northcott was eventually apprehended, and Sanford Clark was rescued.

Instead of ending his story once the sensationalism had gone away, Flacco goes on to demonstrate how a handful of determined and compassionate individuals helped Sanford rehabilitate successfully. Emphatically breaking from the dysfunctional legacy of his ancestors, he became a beloved husband and father. Now that’s a story worth telling!

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Northwest. Contact her at