Violence does not erupt in a vacuum. Violence almost always has a
backstory. Violence breeds a pernicious, soul-wrenching and
insidious aftermath. The aftershocks never stop reverberating
through the lives of the survivors, the lives of family members,
the lives of friends. The ebb and flow of life in a community is
forever changed. The stain and the memories can never be
After the violent act, all of the players are stripped of their
privacy and their personal stories emerge. The victims and their
families are (hopefully) treated with sensitivity and respect. The
perps immediately become fodder for the media, and their darkest
secrets are exposed when light is shined into the creepy lives they
FALL: The Rape and Murder of Innocence in a Small Town, by Ron
Franscell, is the true story of a crime Franscell lived through
when he was a boy --- a crime that has haunted him for 30 years. As
he ruminated, his memories began to take on a life of their own and
ultimately compelled him to tell the story. Franscell is a lifelong
newspaperman and a successful novelist. His storytelling skills are
exquisite, thus bringing to readers his personal pain and
expounding upon the monstrous crime he cannot forget, the
embodiment of the nature of evil.
In an interview with his daughter, Ashley Franscell (now a
journalist), he says: "While it's not a current story, it has some
current elements. How do we confront our fears in a post-9/11
world? How do we awake from our false sense of security and move
forward? Are communities bound by their ghosts as much as their
triumphs? I can assure you that in the small city of Casper,
Wyoming…where all this happened, it remains a fresh
Two young girls who lived next door to the Franscell family were
kidnapped, brutally beaten, raped and murdered. They were
stepsisters in a blended family and were very close. Amy was only
11 years old, Becky was 18. A simple errand put them in the wrong
place at the wrong time and led to their demise.
Their purchases made, they clambered into their car for the short
ride home. But as soon as Becky reversed her vehicle, she knew she
had a flat tire. When they got out of the car, two young men
approached and offered to help. In Casper, Wyoming, in 1973, if
someone offered to assist "damsels in distress," the girls would be
grateful, not suspicious or afraid. Small town life had not
prepared Amy or Becky to protect themselves from the kind of evil
embodied in the two creatures who slithered into their young
Jerry Jenkins: Sociopath…with a history of arrests and
time in prison; was drunk and full of drugs that night. That was
his life style.
Ronald Kennedy: Sociopath…with a criminal record and a
stretch in the pen. He too was drunk, full of drugs and he was the
one who "wanted to meet the girls."
After a charade of "trying to fix the tire," the men said they
couldn't do it and suggested that the girls leave their car so the
men could drive them home. How grateful these innocents were ---
yes, yes, thank you, so kind --- until Kennedy shoved a knife
against Becky's rib cage and changed the world for every citizen of
Casper, Wyoming, forever.
The men were arrested almost immediately. Vigilantism, lynching,
assassination and a host of other punishments were whispered among
some in the community, who didn't have the patience to wait for a
trial. "The local daily newspaper…knew public sentiment had
grown angry and vengeful…[but] the paper didn't want to
inflame the barely controlled rage any more than necessary."
Franscell shares painful memories and comments upon the ongoing
awareness of the girls' death:
"Blood-memory runs cold sometimes.
My little brother's window faced…Amy's house. On chilly
mornings, Lance sat on his window-sill…[soaking up the
morning sun]. He was Amy's age [and] to him life was [simple,
routine and safe.]
But after Amy died, something black trembled inside [him] down deep
where it must have been hiding, silently and still. To Lance, [her
house] was now the 'murder house,' and he couldn't bear to look at
it, even walking down the street. It scared him, [and 30 years
later it] scares him still."
FALL is a heartbreaking story but is also dynamic, which makes it
an extraordinary book. Franscell has imbued every page with
exquisite Didionesque prose, perceptive analyses of the events and
the persons involved, and thorough interviews and research, drawing
readers intimately into the vortex of a hideous crime. His personal
observations and summaries at the end of chapters/sections allow
readers to share his insights. Only someone with his talent can
limn the raw pain (including his own personal angst) and
objectively expound on the facts of this case. In bringing their
story forward, he bears witness to Amy and Becky. In his unflagging
forthrightness, he brings pathos to their story and the shift in
the soul of a small town. Readers cannot help but feel a visceral
reaction to what happened to the girls.
FALL is a journey into the nature of evil, survival and the state
of humanity when it comes to protecting life. Franscell is not
naïve when he asks the tough questions that probe the twisted
psyches of men who have a sense of entitlement that propels them to
commit atrocious acts against innocents and society.
How could such a savage thing become part of the whole town's
collective DNA? This is the story about evil coming to me, to my
heart. It would have come sooner or later…whether it settles
in like dust or blasts through like a tempest, we cannot avoid it.
If, like gravity itself, evil is a force of nature, can we avoid a
freefall over a whole lifetime? Probably not. But we can
acknowledge that it's a messy world, and humans weren't intended to
live behind stone walls, so we must find our place in our messy
world and take action seeking justice when we find evil, rather
than surrender…or not truly live at all.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 21, 2011