“There was a plethora of circumstantial evidence, very little physical evidence, and virtually no clear motivation that sparked this Christmas homicide.”
December 26, 2003. A yellow Geo Tracker, to everyone who saw it, appeared to be abandoned on an overgrown driveway amidst rain-sodden bushes. Residents on beautiful Whidbey Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound know almost everyone who lives there and what they drive. The Tracker was unfamiliar to the folks in the neighborhood. When one of them finally approached it, they discovered that it was not abandoned. Not by a long shot. Inside, the SUV’s owner sat in the front seat with a bullet between his eyes.
"Author Ann Rule spends almost as much time on every case she writes about as the detectives who solve them. Sharp ears in the courtroom coupled with her dogged in-depth research make for a highly intriguing true-life mystery. Rule’s hard work pays off in her newest, gritty account."
The dead man, Russel Douglas, had left the home he once shared with his now-estranged wife Brenna and their two children, ostensibly to run some errands, maybe even do a little surfing. Brenna thought that she and her husband were doing a good job of trying to make their marriage work, but when he didn’t come home, she started to grow angry. The detectives who delivered the news of Russel’s death were puzzled and surprised by the new widow’s odd demeanor, and paid particular attention to the total lack of shock and curiosity about what had happened. But she had an excuse for that. More importantly, she had a good alibi for the estimated time of death.
For a frustratingly long time, the Island County police pursued leads and interviewed witnesses --- some several times. Their investigation led them to acquaintances of Brenna, but hard evidence remained elusive. Worse yet, they were befuddled by the lack of a plausible motive. Russel wasn’t rich, didn’t seem to have gambling debts, and held a good job with no discernible enemies lurking there. He loved his children, treated them well by all accounts, and generally kept his nose clean. So why had someone shot him in cold blood? Random murders in the little communities on the island were unheard of.
At last, detectives caught a break when a tip came in that led to the possible murder weapon. Finally, they had something tangible to work with. And as they dug deeper, a name kept cropping up: Peggy Sue Thomas. So how did she fit into the big scheme of things? A tall, striking, some said gorgeous woman, Peggy Sue could be charming. She could also be alarmingly selfish, cruel, and sometimes downright scary. She coveted money, attention and control --- a lethal combination. Besides, she owned the home the victim and his wife rented, and sometimes worked at Brenna’s salon. Could that be the tie?
But everything the police uncovered about the victim indicated that he was a pretty decent guy. The motive remained elusive, even once the detectives were convinced they had their man. With the evidence they had amassed, though, it seemed like the right time to pick him up. Unfortunately, he had disappeared by then. The woman they considered his accomplice claimed that she hadn’t seen him. Nor had his wife. It would be years before they picked up the scent again. And then it came to them from an unlikely source.
Author Ann Rule spends almost as much time on every case she writes about as the detectives who solve them. Sharp ears in the courtroom coupled with her dogged in-depth research make for a highly intriguing true-life mystery. Rule’s hard work pays off in her newest, gritty account.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on October 11, 2013