Sisters in Crime

Female authors find a lucrative trade in Texas lawlessness

Springer, a former Weatherford newspaper and radio reporter who has lost track of the number of jail and prison interviews she has conducted for her books, recalls being asked by subject Green to travel to Huntsville and witness his 1995 execution. "It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done," she says, "but it finally occurred to me that if I was going to continue in this field, it was something I had to do. Too, he had made it clear that he would have no one there if I wasn't present."

Newcomer Fanning, formerly an award-winning advertising writer, conducted 15 prison interviews with Sells while researching Through the Window. "I had no idea how mentally draining the experience would become," she says. "I finally reached a point where I had to call on an emotional cut-off valve to distance myself from the man and the person I was writing about."

For Casey, former senior editor of Houston City magazine and now a regular contributor to Ladies' Home Journal, the accused killer she wrote about was still free on bail when A Warrant to Kill was published in 2000. "Being a former law enforcement officer," she reflects, "I knew it would be easy for him to find me if he wanted to. I would get uneasy if I saw a strange car parked in my neighborhood or someone seemed to be following me." Only recently, with her book now in its fifth printing, did she finally feel comfortable doing her first public book signing.

Patricia Springer told the twisted tale of kid-killer Darlie Routier in her book Flesh and Blood.
Mark Graham
Patricia Springer told the twisted tale of kid-killer Darlie Routier in her book Flesh and Blood.

What draws a woman like Pence, a former Richland College business instructor, to travel to a prison visiting room to interview Fort Worth millionaire and convicted murderer Miles Bondurant, as she researched her first book, Triangle? "All of my friends were absolutely appalled," she says. Why would she wander through the trailer village near Cedar Creek Lake to retrace the steps of the notorious Betty Lou Beets, who murdered husbands and buried them in her yard, to research Buried Memories?

"I'd like for the reader to learn from the books I do," she says, "to be aware of what can happen if they put themselves in vulnerable positions." Additionally, Springer says, "As a true crime writer, you quickly realize that the stories you're working on are far stranger and more interesting than most fiction you'll read."

With the exception of Spencer, who earned master's degrees in business administration and professional writing at Southern Cal, all were avid readers of true crime long before venturing professionally into the genre. And each credits Seattle's best-selling crime writer Ann Rule, a regular on The New York Times best-seller list, with pointing the way. "She's the undisputed queen of true crime writing," says Springer, who one reviewer recently referred to as "the Texas version of Rule."

Casey, who has long corresponded with Rule, refers to her as a valued "mentor." "She's been very helpful, generous with advice."

There seems, in fact, to be a unique camaraderie among the women authors. Springer, Spencer and Pence are good friends, discussing projects, comparing sales figures and often appearing together on true crime panels at writers' conferences around the state.

If there is a competitive battle going on, it is well hidden. "Fortunately, or unfortunately," Springer says, "there are plenty of fascinating crimes to go around."

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