The Process

May 9, 2017

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After writing three manuscripts with Frank Cullotta, we have developed a process that allows us to write efficiently although we are 2,500 miles apart. Our primary tool is Free Conference Call (FCC). It’s a free program with many features, but I only use it for calls with more than three participants or if I want the call recorded, which is the case with Frank.

The way it works is that Frank makes notes of what he wants to talk about in a particular chapter. When he finishes putting his ideas on paper we schedule a day and time to get together on FCC and I activate the recorder. We go through his notes item by item. He lays out the bones and I ask him questions that will put the flesh on them.

When we’ve completed Frank’s list and I’ve elicited all the information I can from him, the ball is in my park. I do the necessary research to verify Frank’s information, such as finding newspaper articles or TV news clips that verify dates and the correct spelling of the names of persons involved with the specific incidents. As part of the process I replay our recording several times to make sure I haven’t missed anything and run any questions past Frank via phone or email.

When I’m satisfied I have sufficient and accurate information I begin the writing. I do a first draft and email it to Frank for his review. We go back and forth until he is satisfied that each event has been described as he remembers it; and I’m satisfied that I have ample corroboration.

However, there are times when available corroboration is lacking or it doesn’t precisely match Frank’s memory. When that happens we talk it over and decide what to do. If it is a minor detail that is not critical to the story, we will likely simply omit it. If it is something that needs to be included I’ll insert wording such as “approximately,” “around that time,” or “to the best of my recollection.”

When the first draft is completed we do a read through via telephone. Frank focuses primarily on the accuracy of the information while I look for organization, grammar, typos, etc. Depending on how many problems we find, the read through may take two or three sessions.

After that process is over I do a solo read through and then send the manuscript to one or more proofreaders I have confidence in. Upon making any suggested corrections or changes they find, it’s time to start submitting to a publisher.

 

The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster

April 28, 2017

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My latest book, The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster, has been released. Following is the background leading up to writing the book.

I first spoke with Frank Cullotta by phone in 2005 while doing research for my book The Battle for Las Vegas. The following year we met in person in Las Vegas and agreed to co-author Frank’s biography, CULLOTTA. Although Tony Spilotro, Frank’s one-time friend and criminal associate, was frequently mentioned in that book, it was Frank’s story. In 2013 Frank and I conspired on another book, Hole In The Wall Gang, which also included Tony but was again, Frank’s story.

In 2015 Frank asked me if I’d be interested in doing another book with him. He explained that he was getting up in age and wanted to set the record straight about Tony Spilotro—to correct the misinformation about Tony that is out there and provide his personal insights about the man, his rise in the Chicago crime family called the Outfit, his fall from grace and ultimate murder by his former associates.

Thinking I already knew pretty much all there was to know about Tony; I interrupted Frank and expressed my concerns.

He said this book would be different, though, in that the focus would be on Tony and not him. It would include his personal knowledge and beliefs about murders that Tony committed, ordered, planned or was a suspect in. Much of that information would be disclosed for the first time—even to me—and several of the murders he’d discuss are still officially unsolved.

I was intrigued, but pointed out that several killings had been covered in CULLOTTA and Hole In The Wall Gang and I didn’t want to just do a rehash of what we’d already written. Frank said that although it would be necessary to talk about some of those killings again because they are part of Tony’s history, he assured me that anyone who read the book (including law enforcement) would learn a lot.

In addition to clarifying Tony’s role in various killings, Frank said he wanted to discuss the details of Tony’s own murder which were revealed in the Family Secrets trial in 2007. During that trial one of the killers took the stand and explained exactly how Tony and his brother Michael were murdered. Frank also said he planned to provide the inside story of Tony’s racketeering mistrial in 1986. Finally, the book would contain Frank’s opinion on how Tony’s poor decisions and ill-advised actions contributed to the Chicago Outfit losing control of Sin City. I told Frank I was in.

During the writing process I learned the rest of the story about Tony Spilotro’s rise from a Mob wannabe to a feared enforcer and boss. I also gained a better understanding of how his weakness for women and his quest for money and power eventually contributed to the Mob’s ouster from Las Vegas, and in the end cost him his life.

I’m glad I didn’t turn this project down.

The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster

March 16, 2017

Tony Spilotro was very popular with the ladies, as shown in the movie Casino. In fact, his many affairs cost him some difficult times with his wife Nancy. And one affair in particular, his involvement with Geri Rosenthal, contributed to his death.

The Mob frowned on its members and associates fooling around with the wives of other mobsters. Lefty Rosenthal was running Chicago’s Mob-controlled casinos that were generating millions of dollars for the Midwest bosses. Tony compounded that sin by letting news of the affair get into the newspapers, a definite no-no to an organization committed to flying below the radar. As Tony’s friend Frank Cullotta said about Tony, “When one head gets hard the other goes soft.”

You can read more about Tony and how his poor decisions contributed to the Mob losing control of Vegas in my new book, The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster, scheduled for  release on April 26, by WildBlue Press.

Las Vegas & the Mob

March 5, 2017

In the 1970s several organized crime families had illegal business interests in Sin City. The most powerful operation there was run by the Chicago Outfit. The main earner for the mobsters was known as the skim, which was simply the removal of large amounts of cash from the casinos before it was recorded as revenue and transporting it back to the Midwest crime bosses.

In 1971 the Outfit sent one of its most fearsome enforcers, Tony Spilotro, to Vegas to make sure everything ran smoothly and any problems that arose would be dealt with swiftly, using any means necessary. Tony was a good choice or so it seemed. But his Vegas reign was marked by his thirst for power, weakness for women, and poor decisions that eventually cost the Mob its control over Vegas.

The Spilotro was dramatized in the blockbuster 1995 movie Casino, in which Joe Pesci played a character based on Tony. The film received accolades for its accuracy. One of the reasons for its realism was that director Martin Scorsese hired a man named Frank Cullotta as his technical consultant. Frank and Tony had been friends and criminal associates since childhood, and Frank was Tony’s underboss in Vegas – he knew the whole story. As screenwriter Nick Pileggi said, “If not for Frank Cullotta there would have been no Casino.”

For nearly a year Frank and I worked on a book that tells the true story behind the movie, and provides details about several unsolved murders.

That book is currently at the publisher with a tentative release date of April 26. We are planning a kickoff in Vegas shortly after the release. I’ll post more details as they become available.

Meet Burl Barer and Ken Eurell, co-authors of Betrayal In Blue.

February 21, 2017

Crime Wire on February 22.
BETRAYAL IN BLUE: The Shocking Memoir of the Scandal That Rocked The NYPD is the story of Mike Dowd and Ken Eurell, two cops who ran the most powerful gang in New York’s dangerous 75th Precinct, the crack cocaine capitol of 1980s America. These “Cocaine Cops” formed a lucrative alliance with Adam Diaz, the kingpin of an ever-expanding Dominican drug cartel. Soon Mike and Ken were buying fancy cars no cop could afford, and treating their wives to levels of luxury not associated with a patrol officer’s salary.

They were daring, dangerous and untouchable. Then “the biggest police scandal in New York history” exploded into the headlines with the arrest of Mike, Ken, and their fellow crooked cops. Released on bail, Mike offered Ken a long shot at escape to Central America—a bizarre plan involving robbery, kidnapping, and murder—forcing Ken to choose between two forms of betrayal.

Adapted from Ken Eurell’s shocking personal memoir, plus hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with the major players, including former international drug lord, Adam Diaz, BETRAYAL IN BLUE reveals the truth behind what you didn’t see in the hit documentary THE SEVEN FIVE.

9:00 p.m. Eastern at

 

BETRAYAL IN BLUE: The Shocking Memoir of the Scandal That Rocked The NYPD is the story of Mike Dowd and Ken Eurell, two cops who ran the most powerful gang in New York’s dangerous 75th Precinct, the crack cocaine capitol of 1980s America.

Teflon Tony

February 19, 2017

In 1979, the two major agencies investigating Tony Spilotro—the FBI and Las Vegas Metro— resumed cooperating with each other. They both made bringing Spilotro down one of their top priorities. But by that time Tony had already been in Vegas and building his organization for almost eight years and was well entrenched as Sin City’s most powerful mobster. His gang was comprised of top notch professional criminals, and his ferocious reputation discouraged witnesses from coming forward.

In fact, a 1974 study by the Los Angeles Times found that in the three years Tony had been in Vegas, more gangland-style murders had been committed there than in the previous 25 years combined. A casino executive and his wife were gunned down in front of their home, another casino executive was murdered in a parking lot, a prominent lawyer was blown up in his Cadillac, a loan shark victim went missing, and another casino boss was beaten and crippled for life. It didn’t matter whether or not Spilotro was responsible for the violence. People, including the cops, believed he was, and his reputation for viciousness grew.

“Everybody on the Strip is scared to death of the little bastard. He struts in and out of the joints like Little Caesar,” the Los Angeles Times quoted one casino owner as saying at the time. The same piece also quotes a store owner who first met Spilotro when Tony stopped in to buy clothes for his son. “When he came in the store the first time, you almost wanted to pat him on the head, until you looked into his eyes.” Tony’s eyes, described as pale blue and reptilian, looked through people, and not at them. Many who dealt with Tony, including law-enforcement personnel, agreed you could find death in those eyes.

Among the homicides Tony was suspected of being involved in between 1971 and 1975, was the June 23, 1973 murder of William “Red” Klim. A Caesars Palace employee, Klim was shot and killed gangland style in the parking lot of the Churchill Downs Race Book. There were multiple theories regarding scenarios as to the motive for Klim’s murder. One held that the deceased was cooperating with authorities in an investigation of illegal bookmaking that targeted Lefty Rosenthal. Another suggested that the dead man had information pertaining to Spilotro’s implication in a fraud against the Teamsters Pension Fund. Yet another designated Klim as a loanshark who refused to pay the Ant a tribute. All three theories involved Tony either directly or as Rosenthal’s protector.

Although Spilotro was charged with Klim’s murder the following year, the case against him fell apart when witnesses were unable or unwilling to positively identify the killer.

And then there was Marty Buccieri, a pit boss at Caesars Palace and a distant relative of Chicago underboss Fiori “Fifi” Buccieri. He reportedly had connections to most of the Vegas crime figures worth knowing and had used those connections to facilitate the granting of a number of Teamster Pension Fund loans to Allen Glick, CEO of Argent (Allen R. Glick Enterprises), the Outfit-installed owner of the Stardust, Hacienda, Fremont and Marina casinos. In the summer of 1975, law-enforcement sources learned that Buccieri had approached Glick and demanded a $30,000 finder’s fee for his help in obtaining the loans. At one point he’s said to have physically threatened Glick. The Argent boss then informed Lefty Rosenthal—the behind-the-scenes power of the operation—of the incident.

A few days later Buccieri was found shot to death. The law immediately suspected that Tony Spilotro was involved.

Another killing—one that was depicted in the movie Casino—was the November 9, 1975 murder of Tamara Rand, an erstwhile friend and business partner of Allen Glick. She invested heavily in his Vegas casinos and, in spite of having no gaming experience, had signed a contract as a consultant at the Hacienda for $100,000 per year. Rand believed that through investments she had purchased five percent of Glick’s casinos, so when Glick denied such a deal, she filed suit against him for breach of contract and fraud. A court trial could have blown the lid off the mob’s hidden interests in the Las Vegas casinos. Consequently, just days after a bitter argument between her and Glick, Tamara Rand was murdered at her home in San Diego.

Although Tony was a prime suspect in the Rand killing, there was insufficient evidence to charge him with the murder.

As the years passed Tony’s status grew until he was the undisputed king of the Vegas underworld. He knew everything that went on within the Las Vegas criminal element. No one did anything—from contract killings to burglaries, robberies, fencing stolen property, or loan sharking — without his approval and without paying him a monetary tribute where appropriate.

Even before the FBI and Metro launched their cooperative effort, Spilotro had been a target of the agencies at various times. But he had proved to be a worthy adversary. In spite of being almost continuously under investigation, and a suspect in some 25 murders and countless other felonies, Tony conducted his affairs for more than a decade without being convicted of even a minor offense. No matter what the law threw at him, nothing stuck.

Part of the reason for that impressive run could have been his skills and reputation as a criminal. Another likely factor was the legal work done for him by his lawyer, Oscar Goodman. Together, Tony and Oscar, each using his own unique talents, made a team that prosecutors seemed unable to beat.

But as the old saying goes, nothing lasts forever.

 

Crime Wire Consultants Update

February 11, 2017
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Crime Wire Consultants

Pat Caristo

Pat is the Executive Director of the Resource Center for Victims of Violent Death (http://bridgesforvictimsofviolentdeath.org). She has been a licensed, working private investigator since 1985, specializing in the area of unsolved homicide investigations. Her many years of investigative experience include the Philadelphia Police Department (which commended her for heroism), the UNM Police Department and the NM Organized Crime Prevention Commission. Pat is trained and experienced as an intelligence analyst and crime-prevention specialist. She has taught sex crimes investigation/crime prevention classes at the NM Law Enforcement Academy and the UNM Law and Medical Schools. She currently teaches investigative-related classes for the UNM Continuing Education Department.

William “BILL” Sullivan

Bill was born and raised in Marengo, Illinois. He attended Southern Illinois University and graduated from Worsham College of Mortuary Science in 1969. He was elected Coroner in Dekalb County in 1975.

In 1979 he was chosen as the only Coroner in the U. S. to assist nine other experts in compiling a manual for the correct way to investigate deaths —a project of the US Justice Dept.

In 1984 Bill became the Director of Operations for the Onondaga County (New York) Medical Examiner’s Office, a position that made him the office administrator and chief investigator.

In 1988, he formed Forensic Consulting Specialties (FCS) and became licensed by the State of New York as a Private Investigator. FCS (www.f-c-s.com.www.f-c-s.com.http://www.f-c-s.com) performs specialty investigations such as murder and suspicious death cases, autopsy and second autopsies, as well as regular civil and criminal investigations.

Peter Hyatt

Peter Hyatt is a Statement Analyst and instructor who teaches statement analysis and analytical interviewing to law enforcement and corporate America. He has authored the investigator training manual for the DHHS and the State of Maine, as well as the book Wise As a Serpent; Gentle as a Dove. He has been interviewed extensively on radio and television, including the nationally televised program, “Crime Watch Daily” and “Taken Too Soon: The Katelyn Markham Story” documentary.

Peter has analyzed statements made in many high-profile crimes and missing person cases, such as Jon Benet Ramsey, Hailey Dunn, Darlie Routier, and Santa Claus on his blog at http://statement-analysis.blogspot.com.

Lyle Sharman

Lyle is the owner/operator of Arizona-based United Private Investigations (www.unitedprivateinvestigations.com). Prior to opening his own business, Lyle entered law enforcement and became a Tactical Trainer. During that time he was offered a position to be a bodyguard for the CEO of Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He spent the next 21 years as an expert in Executive Personal Protection, and Director of Security and Surveillance with Mandalay Bay.

Lyle is a nationally known expert in missing person cases, having worked and solved over 35 of them. He has appeared in several television shows and has regularly appeared in the nationally recognized crime show Crime Watch Daily.

Tom Shamshak

Tom owns and operates Shamshak Investigative Services, Inc., a private investigation firm that was established in July 1999. Tom’s firm specializes in criminal defense investigations, cold case murders, and missing person cases. Tom also consults as a police procedures expert and has worked for both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel. He has testified in federal and state courts as a police procedures expert. Tom is a retired law enforcement professional. During a 21 year career, Tom worked in three Massachusetts municipal police departments, and served as a police chief of two communities. Tom is a Life Member of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, and a Life Member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Tom earned a Bachelor of Science in sociology from Suffolk University, a Master of Science degree from the Graduate School of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, and has pursued doctoral studies at Boston College.

During his law enforcement career, Tom was a police trainer and served as a police academy director. In addition, he served as a college instructor and has taught criminal justice and sociology courses at Anna Maria College, Boston College, and Middlesex Community College. From 2005-2015, Tom served as the Program Director and Lead Instructor of Boston University’s Certificate in Professional Investigation.

Tom is affiliated with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Since 2005, he has been a member of Project ALERT, a division that investigates unresolved missing children cases. Tom has also served as the Public Safety Consultant to the Molly Bish Center for the Protection of Children and the Elderly.

Tom has made numerous guest appearances as an expert commentator on local and national television networks and news magazine broadcasts. He has provided commentary on a variety of topics including criminal investigations, unsolved murders, missing persons, security matters, and terrorism. He has appeared on CNN, HLN, Court TV, TruTV, Fox News, Investigation Discovery, 20/20, NPR radio, and the local Boston affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox 25, NBC, and WGBH. He has also served as a consulting investigator for the A&E reality series, Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal, and he appeared in four episodes.

Tom is a past president of the Licensed Private Detectives Association of Massachusetts.

www.shamshakpi.com.

Pete Klismet

Pete Klismet served his country with two tours in Vietnam on submarines. Following military service, he earned a college degree, and then worked for the Ventura Police Department in Southern California.  While there, he attended graduate school, earning master’s degrees from two universities in Southern California.  He was offered and accepted an appointment as a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In a twenty-year career with the FBI, Pete was highly decorated, served with distinction in three field offices, and received numerous awards and recognition from the FBI. Pete was selected to be one of the original ‘profilers’ for the FBI, perhaps the FBI’s most famed unit.

Before his retirement from the FBI, Pete was named the 1999 National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.

Following his retirement, he accepted a position as an Associate Professor and Department Chair of a Criminal Justice program at a college in Colorado.  Having retired from that, Pete and his wife Nancy live in Fort Collins, Colorado. Pete is the author of three national award-winning, non-fiction books: FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil, FBI Animal House, and FBI Diary: Home Grown Terror. His background as an FBI profiler proved beneficial in two of the books.

Gene Cervantes

Gene is retired from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where he served as Classification Staff Representative. His previous positions include Classification and Parole Representative, Correctional Counselor, Parole Agent and Group Supervisor. He is Peace Officer Standard Training (POST) certified. In the fall of 2005, following the murders of his cousin and her husband, he joined Citizens Against Homicide (http://www.citizensagainsthomicide.org) and currently serves as a Board Member and Victim Advocate. You can reach Gene at 209 743-7033.

 

 

Lyle Sharman, Owner/Operator of Arizona-based United Private Investigations. http://www.unitedprivateinvestigations.com/index.htmLyle Sharman, Owner/Operator of Arizona-based United Private Investigations. http://www.unitedprivateinvestigations.com/index.htmLyle Sharman, Owner/Operator of Arizona-based United Private Investigations. http://www.unitedprivateinvestigations.com/index.htm

Justice For Molly Bish

February 9, 2017

A few minutes before 10 o’clock on the morning of June 27, 2000, Magi Bish dropped her daughter Molly off at the local swimming hole, Comins Pond, in the town of Warren, Mass. The 16-year-old Molly, a high school junior, had just started a summer job as a lifeguard there the week before.

The parking lot was empty, except for a dump truck dropping off a load of sand. Magi, watched her daughter walk toward the beach. She then waited for the dump truck to drive out before driving away. But when swimmers arrived twenty minutes later, the only traces of Molly were her water-bottle, sandals, a police radio and an opened first aid kit. Molly had vanished, and for Magi and her husband John, a nightmare like no other began.

The only lead the police had to work with was a man Magi remembered having seen when she dropped Molly off the previous day. He had been sitting alone in a white vehicle in the parking lot. Nervous over his presence, Magi waited around for about 20 minutes until the man drove off.

The ensuing search for Molly became the most extensive in Massachusetts history.  Molly’s story was told on America’s Most Wanted, 48 Hours, Court TV, Unsolved Mysteries, Larry King, Nancy Grace and other national and local media outlets.

But in spite of everyone’s best efforts, Molly’s fate remained a mystery for three long years. And then in June 2003, the search for Molly came to a heartbreaking end when 26 of her bones were found scattered on the side of a mountain only five miles from her home. Molly was buried on her 20th Birthday.

Investigators believed Molly’s killer was probably a local with intimate knowledge of the area. However, no arrests were made and the case went cold.

And then in January, 2009, a suspect surfaced, 60-year-old Rodney Stanger. He was a longtime resident of Southbridge, Mass., located just a few miles from Warren. Stanger had moved to Florida the year after Molly disappeared. Neighbors say he was an outdoorsman who was known to hunt and fish in the area around Comins Pond. And he had access to his brother’s car, which was same type that Magi had seen the day before Molly disappeared. He also matched the composite sketch of the driver of that car.

Stanger was brought to the attention of the authorities when the Massachusetts State Police got a call from the sister of Stanger’s live-in girlfriend, Crystal Morrison. The sister told police that Crystal had hinted to her that Stanger was involved in Molly’s murder. On February 25, 2008, just days after the conversation between the sisters, Crystal was found stabbed to death in their mobile home. Rodney Stanger was charged with the murder.

On October 28, 2010, under a negotiated plea deal with prosecutors, the now 62-year-old Stanger was sentenced to serve 25 years in a Florida prison for second-degree murder of Crystal Morrison, and concurrent sentences for burglary of a dwelling and battery. The chances of Stanger ever breathing free air again are slim.

On the Molly Bish Foundation Website is this message from Molly’s parents, Magi and John Bish:

“We will find… the person that harmed her. It’s been a journey, a story of love and loss, but we are still hopeful and we want Molly to know we’ll never give up.”

If Rodney Stanger is in fact Molly’s murderer, let’s hope sufficient evidence can be developed to charge and convict him. The Bish family’s journey needs to come to an end. And Molly is entitled to justice.

 

 

The Rise and Fall of Tony Spilotro

February 6, 2017

The manuscript is at the publisher and is in the second of three phases of editing. When the editing is completed, the cover will be designed and we’ll go on the production schedule. I’m hoping the book will be released by early May.

Our current plan is to do a kickoff book signing at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

cruise-mobster

Denny Griffin, true crime author

 

A Mother’s Resolve

February 2, 2017

The Debi Whitlock Case

On March 25, 1988, 32-year-old Debi Whitlock was murdered at her home in Modesto, California. Her throat was slit and her dead body sexually assaulted while her three-year-old daughter slept in a nearby bedroom. Initially, Harold Whitlock, Debi’s husband, was the chief suspect in his wife’s death. But he wasn’t charged and no arrests were made. For the next nine years Debi’s mother, Jacque MacDonald waged a determined but uphill battle to get justice for her daughter.

Jacque knew that the best chance to develop new investigative leads required keeping the case alive in the minds of the public. In order to do that she had to get the media involved. She reached out to programs such as America’s Most Wanted again and again without success. The frustration Jacque experienced could have caused her to give up, to accept that her daughter’s murder might never be solved. It could have, but it didn’t. If anything, she became even more determined.

As she fought to get Debi’s case the attention it deserved, Jacque realized there were probably other parents—she prefers to call them “walking wounded” rather than victims—who were going through the same things she was. To help others she created her own local radio and TV shows called The Victim’s Voice (http://www.mercedcountysmostwanted.org/victimsvoice.html). The show profiled unsolved homicide cases and included interviews with police officials and members of the victim’s family. Jacque felt it was very important to have a family member involved to give a face and voice to their deceased loved one.

Setting up and running her show took a lot of time. But Jacque didn’t let that interfere with her efforts to track down Debi’s killer. She learned what resources were available to her in the community. Among them were the Merced County Victim/Witness Program and Citizens Against Homicide (http://www.citizensagainsthomicide.org). Both proved invaluable to her in her struggle.

Not long afterward Jacque had something she’d long desired. A billboard was put up with Debi’s photo and a plea for help in finding her murderer. Eventually that billboard would pay huge dividends. After that America’s Most Wanted and other national shows picked up the story.

In 1997 Scott Avery Fizzell was arrested for Debi’s murder. The friend of Fizzell who gave the police the information that led to the arrest explained why he finally came forward. Debi’s photo on the billboard haunted him to the point he felt compelled to name the killer. On May 26, 1999 Fizzell pled guilty to the murder.

In addition to accomplishing what she’d set out to do, Jacque’s tenacity earned her the National Crime Victim’s Service Award from the United States attorney general. And in 2009 the story of Debi’s murder and Jacque’s quest was released in a book authored by Debi’s step-daughter, Angela Dove, titled No Room For Doubt (http://www.angeladove.com).