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GOLD MEDALIST in the Independent Publishers 2008 Book Awards and in Foreword Magazine's 2008 Book of the Year Awards!
The Darkest Night
(St. Martin's paperback was also titled FALL in hardcover)
Becky Thomson died twice. The first time on the night in 1973 when she and her little sister were thrown by two abductors into a deep canyon from a remote Wyoming bridge. The second time in 1992 when she went back to that same bridge to finally chase away the ghosts that had haunted her for 19 years.
New Horizon Press Hardcover / $24.95 304 pages ISBN 088282-279-0
Author and journalist Ron Franscell ventures deep into the memories of his childhood in a small Wyoming town to tell the shocking story of Wyoming's most devastating rape and murder. In the small circle of the victims' friends, he explores how a thirty-year-old crime remains an open wound today among the people who were splashed by its viciousness. It not only changed their lives, but it changed crime and punishment forever in Wyoming.
His searing account relied on more than 100 interviews, including the only living witness to the monstrous 1973 killing on the Fremont Canyon Bridge: Convicted murderer Ron Kennedy. He also talked to the family and friends of both the victims and their assailants, as well as collected thousands of pages of documents, letters and photographs.
Praise for THE DARKEST NIGHT
"Heartbreaking ... the girls' last terrifying moments are delivered with such vivid texture that they are almost too painful to read. The technique and execution is not unlike Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' ... And just when your heart is broken by this terrible tragedy, Franscell adds a coda that will further disturb your peaceful sleep."
— CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
"Ron Franscell's breathless FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT [is] a true-crime tale that grabs readers on the first page and doesn't let go until long after the final word. ... Thanks to Franscell's daily journalism experience, his polished, yet conversational writing style appeals to the Everyman. 'FALL' barely stumbles as Franscell delivers a crackling story of lives and innocence lost."
— ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
"Few authors understand what makes a true crime book stand out like a beacon from the mass of prosaically gruesome re-telling of police reports. Ron Franscell does! FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT explores the true story of this unholy sacrifice of youth and misplaced trust in a gripping, throat-tightening way. It is an almost-hypnotic read, hard to look away from. But it is also compassionate as we question the awful fate of the victims, sadly singled out by fate or luck or whatever shapes our destinies. This is a very, very, good book -- a gem for readers who look for the whole story, written by a very, very, good writer. Every time I hear a neighbor or a local lawman in a traditionally low-crime town, say 'Something like murder doesn't happen here' -- when, of course, it does -- I shake my head. This time, it happened in Casper, Wyoming, and Ron Franscell takes you there ... completely. It will make you cry honest tears. The victims deserve no less."
— ANN RULE
#1 New York Times best-selling author of "Stranger Beside Me" and "Green River Running Red"
"Ron Franscell's FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT gets everything right: Casper, Wyoming in the boom-town 1970's, the effect of an unspeakable crime on an entire generation of residents, and a diligent search for why it happened when the only answer can only be true evil. I know he got it right because I was there. I remember Amy Burridge and Becky Thomson before the crime and Becky after. I remember the names "Kennedy and Jenkins" spoken only with naked hatred and contempt. And I remember where I was when I heard how Becky dealt with the horror and violence after so many years. FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT is a true story that you wish wasn't true because it will haunt you long after you've read it. A remarkable achievement."
— C.J. BOX
Best-selling author of "Free Fire" and "Blue Heaven" and Wyoming native
"Ron Franscell has penned a true-crime book reminiscent of Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' ... a grim reminder of ubiquitous violence. ... As a testament to the depth of evil and an elegy for a simpler time, FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT delivers a crackling story of lives and innocence lost."
— BOOKMARKS Magazine
"On more than one level, FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT rises above most books in the true-crime genre, mostly because it searingly depicts a type of evil not too often exceeded. … This uncommon story has every chilling component of human terror, drama and suspense that readers of true crime look for. In an elegant and powerful voice normally seen only in fiction, Ron Franscell captures the sights, sounds and smells of this Wyoming saga and masterfully gets inside the emotional marrow of its participants. I highly recommend this engaging book."
— VINCENT BUGLIOSI
#1 New York Times best-selling author of "Helter Skelter"
"I had to read [the ending] twice to make sure I had just read what I thought I did. No spoilers here, but the ending is, by far, the most unexpected, shocking ending out of all the true crime books I've ever read."
— SAMI HARTSFIELD
True-crime reviewer at Examiner.com
"Read it in broad daylight, because FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT is going to chill you like no other true crime book you’ve ever read. Author Ron Franscell mixes his own memories of Becky and Amy with re-creations of the crime, the trial, and the lives of those who were affected in almost every way by that terrible night. Lock your doors, make sure your kids are safe in bed, and pick up this horrifyingly absorbing memoir. If you’re a true crime fan, this book will undoubtedly cause a reaction: goosebumps."
— TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
"A chilling account of this country's more brutal crimes. ... This sad tale underscores what we already know but wish were not so: that one chance event can not only mar a person's life but the lives of everyone connected to that person, and that no earthly justice is truly available for some crimes."
— SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
"A 'must' for any lending library strong in true crime exposes."
— MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
"Ron Franscell's FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT is the best exploration of a true crime I've read since 'In Cold Blood.' If it weren't a clichE, I'd say that it reads like the best of novels. In fact, I'm going to say so anyway. This compelling story of “the rape and murder of innocence” in Franscell's hometown, as told by one of America's best writers of fiction and non-fiction, changed my mind about our society, its norms and laws, and, I'm afraid, the evil that can lie hidden in the human heart. FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT is an American masterpiece: fearless, deeply personal, dramatic, timely, and, unfortunately, as true as true can be."
— HOWARD FRANK MOSHER
Best-selling author of "Waiting for Teddy Williams" and "The True Account"
"FALL is an intimate true crime story. Franscell tells his story from a truly unique perspective. What sets FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT apart in the genre is that he was there, not as a victim or a perpetrator, but as a child splashed by the unexpected evil of it all -- and he grew up with a gift to be able to tell the story in all its violent colors."
— GERRY SPENCE
Famed Wyoming trial lawyer and author of "Gunning for Justice"
"The book is as much [Ron] Franscell's own story as it is Becky [Thomson's] or [Ron] Kennedy's, making FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT stand out from the legion of true-crime books. The author here was an affected bystander, not a neutral observer after the fact. ... The story in FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT is, in the end, too horrifying to try to explain."
— DENVER POST
"Ron Franscell reveals extensive new details of one of the vilest crimes in Wyoming history, one that cast a long and poisonous shadow through more than three decades. He returns to his hometown (and mine) of Casper to illuminate how it touched the lives of so many who were dragged along in its wake. This is first-rate reporting and a riveting read."
— PETE WILLIAMS
NBC News Justice Correspondent
"Amazingly well-written, this is an important story for America today, maybe for the world."
— LOUIE FREE
Talk-show host at WWOW-AM, Cleveland
"Ron Franscell's investigation into a town scarred by evil strikes some unexpectedly resonant chords. A true insider, Franscell's insight into the case is more than equaled by his insight into the tight-knit town, making windy Casper, Wyo., one of the book's most mysterious characters. ... [his] reportorial vigor, fine pacing and moral center carry the grim story, and he's also capable of great moments of eloquence."
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"Author and newspaperman Ron Franscell is one of the most versatile writers on the scene today, as FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT amply demonstrates. FALL / THE DARKEST NIGHT is one of those rare true-crime books that crosses genre lines into what is simply dramatic literary nonfiction at its best. This is much more than a book about one of the most chilling crimes I can recall. In the vein of 'In Cold Blood' – and perhaps even more meaningful with the author's personal connection – it is a deep and moving tale about the impact of a crime on a small town, written with the flair of a novelist, and a journalist's eye and ear for truth."
— STEVE JACKSON
Best-selling author of MONSTER, NO STONE UNTURNED, and PARTNERS IN EVIL
"In a style similar to 'In Cold Blood,' Mr. Franscell captures, from start to finish (if there is ever a finish), this terrible saga. He went to enormous lengths to provide vivid and unforgettable narrative. ... The end will floor you. If it was fiction, no one would believe it could happen."
— KEN BLUM,
in Publishers Auxiliary
"'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. ... Ron Franscell takes readers on a journey into the nature of evil and the pain of survival."
— BARBARA GERSHENBAUM,
"What sets the book apart from others in the true-crime genre is that Franscell grew up next door to the victims. ... 'FALL' doesn't give Franscell his needed closure, but it does give him a chance to meditate on the bonds of community, the nature of evil, and the need to move on. It is also serves as a grim reminder that random, senseless crimes happen regularly and can never truly be explained or understood."
— WINNIPEG (Manitoba) FREE PRESS
"By far right up there with the best true crime books ever written. ... 'FALL' takes the reader to the scene of the crime with eloquently written details and specifics of the case, leaving the reader feeling emotions that run the gamut."
— MELANIE CRAVEN, TrueCrimeInsider.com
"Suspenseful narrative and amazing detail ... a classic tragedy about how the past never really separates from the present."
— RAWLINS (Wyo.) DAILY TIMES
THE COLD AND THE DARK and the fear of death kept her awake, praying for first light, for another morning.
[Delivered From Evil] [Outlaw Texas] [Sourtoe]
The long plunge into the black river had crippled her somehow. Her legs didn’t work. Maybe when she’d hit the rocks. Even at eighteen, she’d never had a broken bone, but now believed her legs were broken. They protruded from her frozen hips, useless and thick with pain.
They hadn’t let her put her panties and bra back on, just her light sweater and jeans. When they dumped her off the bridge into the infinite darkness, she slammed hard into a stone ledge, but not the bottom. Her long, lithe body caromed off the wall and spiraled down again, seconds that seemed like forever, not knowing what was below. Then she hit the water, in the eye of a liquid detonation that embraced her rather than vaporized her.
Her body plunged deep into the river, like a knife through soft flesh. Her lungs smoldered, and water filled her sinuses and mouth, crashed against her eardrums, and trickled into her lungs. She wanted to scream, to exhale, to inhale, to know she was alive, but in the water down there in the dark, half blinded already by the beating she’d suffered before the fall, she couldn’t know the way to the surface. She sank farther, but there was no bottom.
Then she stopped. She clawed against the water with her hands, unable to make her legs obey. The weight of water pulled her down, and she fought against it so hard her pants slipped off her useless legs. She felt she might be a hundred, a thousand, feet below the surface, and her lungs would burst before she found air, but she clawed at it, raged against it.
When she burst through the placid surface of the deep river, the night air swept into and over her. It was near freezing but still warmer than the water and felt like her mother’s hand on her face ... It’s all right, baby, breathe, breathe ... but her mother wasn’t there.
She was alive. She managed to paddle to the rocky granite slabs beside the river, where they formed not a soft shore, but an insurmountable curb. Dragging her deadened legs out of the black water into the black night, she wormed across the sharp stones, naked below the waist, beaten and bruised, in shock. What blood remained in her kept her heart beating and served only the most primitive part of her brain, where survival came before all else.
She grasped for purchase among the river stones, and a water rat skittered across her arm. She stifled a shriek, but she worried more about the two men who might be waiting above than any other vermin below. The autumn wind swirled in the bottom of the canyon, trapped like she was, chilling her naked skin. Silent.
Stones carved her flesh as she dragged herself toward softer, flatter earth. She collapsed in a clump of river brush rooted in the loose talus between two boulders, protected from the churning wind, from the Wyoming temperatures that fell abruptly after midnight, from the view of anyone who might come looking for her — even in the dark.
She folded herself into her stone womb, pulling her dead legs against her body with her hands until she was balled tightly in a fetal position. She draped her long brown hair across them, then covered herself with uprooted bushes, and waited.
Don’t fall asleep. Her mind flashed out some ancient wisdom of warm-blooded humans in desperately cold climates. I won’t wake up. Fall asleep and die.
Then she heard the voices from the lip of the canyon, more than a hundred feet above. Two men talking and laughing. It was them, she knew. All was black. Even if her left eye hadn’t been swollen shut and throbbing, she couldn’t see her own hand in front of her face, and they would not be able to see her, but she knew they were there and they were trying to see her. She made herself smaller and wished she were invisible, part of the earth itself. Unseeable. While it was dark, she was as close to invisible as she could be, but at dawn … would they still be up there, watching?
Don’t fall asleep.
As the analgesic shock trickled away, pain seeped through her like some poisonous liquid. Her hips pulsed and oozed with a deep-down ache, and her stunned heart pumped pain into the rest of her. She wanted to cry, but dared not, for fear of them hearing. The more it hurt, the more she wanted to slip into unconsciousness, but not to die. To be freed from the unknowable pain that was slowly saturating her, from the fear and from the thought that her little sister might be there, within a few feet.
Maybe a corpse.
THE DARKEST NIGHT. Copyright © 2006 by Ron Franscell. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever, including electronic, mechanical or any information storage or retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted in the 1976 Copyright Act or in writing from the publisher.
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