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Book Review: Charmer by Jack Olsen

Charmer: The True Story of a Ladies' Man and His Victims
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Charmer: The True Story of a Ladies’ Man and His Victims by Jack Olsen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Minus one star for the misleading (and arguably offensive) title and subtitle. The only way “Ladies’ Man” applies is if you are looking at the “Charmer” as an incel pickup artist. Which may be the point–I don’t know. He’s a scam artist, a profligate user of young women, and a rapist/murderer. So perhaps the title and subtitle are in supremely bad taste, or just ironic. I know that if the man in question had raped or used me, or murdered someone I love, I would not be pleased with such irony. This guy is a fast-talking charmer in the fact that he got his own ways for so long–but still. As the victim of sexual and domestic violence myself, it just sticks in my craw. I’m usually not so sensitive to such things, so when something like this really does bother me, I pay attention.

View all my reviews

I listened to this book on audio, and it was another enjoyable narration from Kevin Pierce. Pierce is my go-to true crime audiobook narrator.

George Waterfield Russell, Jr. at Murderpedia

Full documentary on YouTube:

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Episode 29: Unpacking the Bunny

episode 27: Halloween Enormous Stories

The Blair Witch series:

Blair Witch books:

Monsters in Virginia: Mysterious Creatures of the Old Dominion by L. B. Taylor

L. B. Taylor, Jr. on Amazon and Goodreads–he’s written 22 additional books about the strange and unusual in Virginia, including The Big Book of Virginia Ghost Stories

Cassell’s Dictionary of Superstitions, compiled by David Pickering

recommended in episode: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill — horror involving a train trestle and a monster. The audio version is narrated by Star Trek: Voyager‘s Kate Mulgrew, and is available via this link, or you can choose it as your free book when you sign up for a thirty-day trial of Audible and support the podcast.

the Virginia Writers Club

The Big Book of Urban Legends by Robert Loren Fleming, Robert F. Boyd, Jr., and Jan Harold Brunvan is a fun, graphic novel approach from a scholarly viewpoint, published by DC Comics.

Weird Virginia: Your Travel Guide to Virginia’s Local Legends and Best-Kept Secrets by Jeff Bahr, Loren Coleman, and Troy Taylor

All of these books have been added to the podcast’s bookshelf on Goodreads. Please feel free to friend me on Goodreads.

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Episode 25: True Poe

Works in this episode, in chronological order


Poe the looker
Poe was an insouciant handsome devil.

Poe was handsome. Some of the drawings of him are mockery, exaggerated by rivals. Some of the photographs, from which the drawings are taken, were made near the end of his life when he was ill. Exhibit A right here, Poe the looker.

Poe was stationed at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor under the alias “Edgar A. Perry” to avoid questions about his young age, and to dodge gambling debts.

Southern Literary Messenger (archives online)

Columbian Magazine (archives online)

Alexander’s Weekly Messenger at

Ghosts of Virginia, vol 4. by L. B. Taylor (all the volumes in one Kindle edition–the individual vol. are not yet available in ebook format)

Thomas Dunn English, one of Poe’s bitterest rivals

the Spanish Inquisition — General Lasalle, aka Antoine-Charles-Louis, Comte de Lasalle

The Rise of the Inquisition: An Introduction to the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions by Juan Marcos and Bejarano Gutierrez

choleraCholera epidemic of 1832

Correct order of Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin detective series:

  1. The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)
  2. The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842)
  3. The Purloined Letter (1844)

The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower

All books added to the podcast’s Goodreads bookshelf. Please feel free to add me as a friend on Goodreads if you would like!

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Episode 22: Black Bread, Water and Horses

LiveScience: The Mystery of Kasper Hauser

mental_floss: The Mysterious Life and Death of Kasper Hauser

feral children

The British Psychological Society: Mirror writing Mirror writing: neurological reflections on an unusual phenomenon by G. D. Schott

Philip Henry, 4th Earl of Stanhope

Wilhelmina Powlett, Duchess of Cleveland, neé Stanhope


Referenced and quoted


Books listed in episode that reference Kasper Hauser, or have Hauser as a character


All books have been added to the podcast’s Goodreads bookshelf.


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Episode 11: Wonder Woman and Highway 29

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Against the Peace and Dignity of the Commonwealth

When I was eight I had a friend with a pirate’s smile
Cyndi Lauper, “Sally’s Pigeons”

me and Anisa (r.) on my Girl Scout sleeping bag. She was sleeping over at my house. That poof behind her head on my bed is one of my ballet recital costumes. Anisa loved to try them on and pretend she were a queen or a goddess.

The missing and the murdered

  • Alicia Showalter Reynolds: missing March 2, 1996 while traveling to Charlottesville, VA from Baltimore, MD; found May, 1996
  • Julianne Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans: murdered May, 1996 in Shenandoah National Park
  • Anne McDaniel: missing September 18, 1996; found September 22, 1996
  • Morgan Harrington: missing October 17, 2009; found January 26, 2010
  • Samantha Clarke: missing September 13, 2010
  • Sage Smith: missing November 20, 2012
  • Alexis Murphy: missing August 3, 2013
  • Hannah Graham: missing September 13, 2014; found October 18, 2014

Please click on each one of these to view full-size, and feel free to save to your own device or computer in order to share, or you may point people back to this link:…n-and-highway-29/

Highway 29 itself

detailed info with photos and maps at

photos of, I think, every intersection and bypass of 29 at wikicommons

interactive at Google Maps

If you have any information on these open cases

If you have any information in the case of Alicia Showalter Reynolds, please call Virginia State Police at (540) 829-7400 or by email at

If you have any information about the cases of Julianne Williams and Laura Winans, please call Virginia State Police at (540) 829-7400.

If you have any information in the case of Samantha Clarke, please contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 540-672-1200.

Anyone with information in the case of Sage Smith is asked to call Detective Wright Settle at (434) 970-3274 or Virginia Crimestoppers at (434) 977-4000.

If you have any information about the location of Alexis Murphy, so that she may be brought home, please contact the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office at (434) 263-7050.

If you knew these young women, any of them, and want to share something about who they were as people on the podcast, please contact me at I would love to speak with you.

Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film by Sharon Gosling

Anisa and I on one of our many trips with my parents to Surfside Beach. I’m the one holding Baron, the dachshund.

other things that it has bothered me to enjoy without Anisa, along with Wonder Woman–I have actually felt guilt and/or anger:
The Hunger Games books and movies:

The Tolkien movies:

Typing these lists made me both angry and sorrowful.

Anisa (left) and I at one of my birthday parties

Quoted in this episode

Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet:

  1. A Wrinkle in Time
  2. A Wind in the Door
  3. A Swiftly Tilting Planet
  4. Many Waters
  5. An Acceptable Time

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

Audible recommendation for this episode

Strange Piece of Paradise: A Return to the American West to Solve My Attempted Murder and Solve the Riddle of Myself by Terri Jentz: audiobook purchase through Audible’s partner, Amazon, or get it free for trying Audible for 30 days. Either way, thank you so much for your support, as always.


In the summer of 1977, Terri Jentz and her Yale roommate, Shayna Weiss, make a cross-country bike trip. They pitch a tent in the desert of central Oregon. As they are sleeping, a man in a pickup truck deliberately runs over the tent. He then attacks them with an ax. The horrific crime is reported in newspapers across the country. No one is ever arrested. Both women survive, but Shayna suffers from amnesia, while Terri is left alone with memories of the attack. Their friendship is shattered.

Fifteen years later, Terri returns to the small town where she was nearly murdered, on the first of many visits she will make “to solve the crime that would solve me.” And she makes an extraordinary discovery: the violence of that night is as present for the community as it is for her. Slowly, her extensive interviews with the townspeople yield a terrifying revelation: many say they know who did it, and he is living freely in their midst. Terri then sets out to discover the truth about the crime and its aftermath, and to come to terms with the wounds that broke her life into a before and an after. Ultimately she finds herself face-to-face with the alleged axman.

Powerful, eloquent, and paced like the most riveting of thrillers, Strange Piece of Paradise is the electrifying account of Terri’s investigation into the mystery of her near murder. A startling profile of a psychopath, a sweeping reflection on violence and the myth of American individualism, and a moving record of a brave inner journey from violence to hope, this searing, unforgettable work is certain to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

Anisa Jamal Matthews, 1971-2000

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Episode 7: Big Star in a Small Town

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Against the Peace and Dignity of the Commonwealth

Against the Peace and Dignity of the Commonwealth, episode 1: the murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, and the attempted murder of Vicki Gardner, Smith Mountain Lake, Moneta, Virginia

Nothing gives a fearful man more courage than another’s fear.

― Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose



This is the video I used to introduce you to Alison throughout the episode; now you can watch it and see how vibrant she was:

Another: WDBJ Remembers Alison Parker and Adam Ward–on this video you will get to briefly see and hear Adam’s reporting

Here’s Highway 66’s map. Given its exit list, and the fact that he had more Glock magazines and disguises in his car, leads me to believe he was headed for Washington, D.C. For what specific purpose I do not know. I can guess.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward, having fun at work as usual

Alison and Adam, happy (in what appears to be the editing room, correct me if I am wrong)


Chris Hurst’s video for Alison, made when he returned to work–you heard the audio in the episode. He is wearing the tie she gave him for Valentine’s Day.

Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.
Macbeth, William Shakespeare


podcast bookshelf at Goodreads, to which I’ve added Macbeth and The Name of the Rose, quoted in this episode; and added the suggested reading of The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. No one is to blame for another’s violent actions, but de Becker’s refreshing message is to forgo social niceties, politeness, all we’ve been taught in order to keep the peace. We do not have to be kind if we are uncomfortable, we do not have to let the creepy guy at work slide because maybe we’re too sensitive, we do not need to let the “helpful” stranger assist us if we don’t need help. Again, the person at fault here is the shooter, period. But I am a survivor of violent crime myself, and this book was as refreshing to me as a splash of cold water on my face–I am an introverted, shy person who was a people-pleaser. No more pleasing in iffy situations.


Upcoming Local True Crime: Help Save the Next Girl

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Against the Peace and Dignity of the Commonwealth

Along with my usual fare of literature, storytelling, and things that go boo, in the next few weeks and months I am going to be telling some local true crime stories, but in my own unique way, naturally. All will have happened (or be happening) either here, in Virginia, or my home state, North Carolina, and I am sticking to cases that I experienced as a citizen.

To launch this loose series, I give you the first national PSA of Help Save the Next Girl, the amazing educational and empowerment nonprofit founded by Gil Harrington, Morgan Harrington’s mother. I will post this video with its full information and links to Help Save the Next Girl on the website momentarily. Please check HSNG out: they have amazing safety tips that don’t just apply to Virginians or to Americans, and you can start up your own branch–even in your middle school! They have materials designed for different developmental levels, designed not to frighten but to empower.

I posted this information on the Facebook page, along with Help Save the Next Girl’s very first national PSA. Here I’ll post their 2017 PSA, along with their links. Be safe, and keep each other safe.

Help Save the Next Girl

About HSNG/about Morgan Harrington

Facebook page



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Episode 2: Casey Anthony and Bonnie MacNara

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series My Writing

Mothers who killed their young children: one fictional, one frighteningly real, both related.

Book recommendations:

Before the list of true crime books, I must mention this splendid novel, about a father who learns that his son might be a murderer: Defending Jacob, by William Landay


Let me know if you had read or are going to read any of these. I love discussing books! But you know that already. I’ve added all of the above to the Goodreads There Might Be Cupcakes Bookshelf.



The three-part Casey Anthony documentary that ID produced is now available digitally: 5.99 for the set of 3 in HD, 4.99 in SD, and the trailer, if you cannot decide, is a free download.


Remember, if you purchase using my links, or purchase anything by clicking through one of my links first, you help me out a smidge without costing yourself extra–and you make me feel loved. Win-win. Thank you in advance!

Also, if you like my writing, let me know, so I’ll know to read more for you.

And please, don’t forget to listen to the four-parter that moved this episode from the brainstorm list to number 2: True Crime Garage’s project on Casey Anthony, episodes 101-104: available to stream or download on all platforms via Podbean: 101, 102, 103, 104

their official site: Tell Nic and the Captain Carla sent ya.

Quoted in this episode: