True crime is a genre I’ve been reading for along time, possibly even back to junior high? I’m an avid watcher of Dateline and sometimes 48 Hour Mysteries, but I just can’t make myself watch 20/20. There’s just something about it that is not good.
Of course, like any good “murderino,” I listen to My Favorite Murder podcast on jogs. Which of course makes me worry that a serial killer is lingering behind every single tree or bush I pass. Maybe that gives me a reason to run faster?
Ann Rule was the Queen of True Crime. But since we lost her a couple years back, I’ve been trying to fill an Ann Rule shaped hole in my heart. And of course I so followed the story of the Golden State Killer and was so sad to hear about Michelle McNamara’s death as well. She was such a rising star in true crime.
I was intrigued by the story behind The Third Rainbow Girl so I decided to give it a try!
From the Publisher:
In the early evening of June 25, 1980, Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, were killed in an isolated clearing in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. They were hitchhiking to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering but never arrived. For thirteen years no one was prosecuted for the “Rainbow Murders,” though suspicion was cast on a succession of local men. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted, only to be released when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility. With the passage of time, as the truth seemed to slip away, the toll became more inescapable–the unsolved murders were a trauma, experienced on a community scale.
Emma Copley Eisenberg spent five years re-investigating these brutal acts, which once captured the national media’s imagination, only to fall into obscurity. A one-time New Yorker who took a job in Pocahontas County, Eisenberg shows how a mysterious act of violence against a pair of middle-class outsiders, has loomed over all those involved for generations, shaping their identities, fates, and the stories they tell about themselves. In The Third Rainbow Girl, Eisenberg follows the threads of this crime through the complex history of Appalachia, forming a searing portrait of America and its divisions of gender and class, and of its violence.
The book is set up as a memoir of sorts. We hear the story of how the author, Emma, lived and worked in Pocahontas County years decades after the murder. She paints a vivid picture of life there. The people are struggling to get by or at best blue collar. Life is simple. And try as they might, those who live there find it hard to escape. They may want better but there is a type of magnetism that holds them in their home.
In 1980, two women hitchhiking through the area were murdered. No one really knows what happened. The only close to witness, was the third rainbow girl. A friend who had been traveling with them, but changed her mind and headed home just a day before the women were brutally murdered. The girls weren’t sexually assaulted.
At first, it was suspected that a group of local men had picked them up and murdered them when it became clear the girls weren’t going to have sex with them. But there were holes with that story. One of the men was convicted and sent to jail, several others pass away during the time between the murders and the trial.
It didn’t matter that the farmer was released years later when it appeared a serial killer passing through the area may have murdered them. The damage was done. Lives were lost or forever changed. It’s a commentary on what happens when nothing is stable and the shadow that suspicion can cast on every single corner of your life.
I was interested in the story, but it was a really hard book for me to get through. It just didn’t hold my attention. I think sometimes with true crime, it can read like a long article or series of articles rather than a complete book. This one just jumped around a lot and I didn’t feel as invested in the characters as I would like.
Still, Eisenberg creates a compelling portrait of the life led by those living up in the Appalachian mountains. I’d recommend this book to anyone with a particular interest in that geographic area, or true crime fans.
Special thanks to Netgalley and Hachette Books for an advanced e-galley in exchange for my honest review. This one is available January 21, 2020.