Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hard Boiled True Crime Served Up Hot: Meet Jeannie Walker

I want to introduce you all to an exceptional individual, Jeannie Walker, who self-published her true-crime memoir, Fighting the Devil, which chronicles the story of how the father of her children was poisoned to death by his new wife and bookkeeper and the legal case that ensued.

Walker was a 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards True Crime Finalist and a 2010 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Awards True Crime Finalist.

Shares Walker: “My book is the horrifying true story of the cold-blooded murder of my ex-husband, a Texas millionaire and the father of my children. I wrote the book to speak for my ex-husband as he no longer has a voice.”

Here’s the synopsis of Fighting the Devil:

In the midst of Texas ranch country, on a quiet and peaceful spring day, a 49-year-old millionaire rancher sat down to lunch with his wife and bookkeeper, as he often did. Less than half an hour later, he was deathly ill, with stomach pains, severe vomiting and intense intestinal distress. Three weeks later, he was dead from a mysterious illness. His wife seemed to show no emotion when she learned of his death. However, his bookkeeper became very nervous and upset upon hearing the news, and ran through the hospital corridor to the nearest elevator.

The Texas millionaire rancher discovered his wife and bookkeeper had stolen thousands of dollars from him. After he demanded the money back, he started getting sick. While in the hospital, doctors were mystified as to how an otherwise healthy, energetic man could become so deathly ill. The dying man told everyone within earshot that his wife and bookkeeper were killing him. The man's wife said her husband was hallucinating from drugs the doctors were giving him. The millionaire rancher succumbed in the hospital while strapped down to his bed with restraints on his hands and feet and tubes in every orifice. After the rancher died, an anonymous caller tipped off the police. The widow was the sole beneficiary of the estate and a $350,000 life insurance policy. A week before the man's death, a teenager visited the rancher's home and became deathly ill after he drank juice that was in the rancher's refrigerator. Two years after the millionaire's death, a bottle of arsenic was found in a storage locker rented by a woman under an assumed name. That’s when Jeannie Walker, the mother of his children, became a sleuth to help solve the murder.

I asked Walker some questions about her book. Primarly, I wanted to know why she felt that she alone was the person to take on this monumental task.

“I set out to seek justice,” shares Walker, “because it was something I had to do for my children’s sake. "

Why did you decide to write a book on this murder case?

“The story was on TV at least twice. The last time was in 2005 on the Oxygen Channel series Snapped. Everyone kept telling me I needed to write a book on the case, because they wanted to read it. I knew more about my ex-husband and the murder case than anyone, so I finally decided I needed to write a book about the murder case, which, by the way, is still an open murder case.

Why did you feel the need to give a voice to your ex-husband, who no longer had one?

“Because it was the right thing to do.”

Why did you feel you were the right person to do it? 

“Over the years that followed the murder, I collected information, studied things for the sheriff’s office and became a key player in the team that held one woman accountable for Sternadel’s [Walker’s ex’s]death.

“I started taking notes on the plane ride from my home in Long Island, N.Y., to Texas for the funeral of my ex-husband. I started writing down the thoughts that were racing through my mind. That note taking was paired with the snapshots I took during my first visit after the murder. After I met with the chief investigator, Clay County Sheriff Jake Bogard, I started getting deep into the case. I made phone calls, talked to specialists and did large investigation projects the county could not afford or did not have the resources to do. The sheriff would call and ask me, ‘Do you think you could help us out on this?’

“In the book, I recall getting questioned by some of the people I called, such as the head of the FBI, John Douglas, who questioned, ‘What agency are you with?’ The sheriff fixed that problem for me. He had me put my hand on a Bible, and, over the phone, he swore me in as a deputy.

“As I continued to search for justice, I continued to take snapshots and keep notes. I was encouraged by the Sheriff to record interviews if I could, too. I started documenting my memories and put them in a folder. I would write down what was said in an interview and transcribe the tape if I recorded it. People would tell me, ‘This needs to be a book, and you’re the one to write it.’ I started thinking I need to write a book about this.

“I would write, then would put the book aside. Then something would trigger me, and I would write some more, then put it aside. I had folders and folders and folders to go through, and I basically wrote three or four books.

“For a while I struggled with how to end the book. The bookkeeper, Debra Baker, who was convicted of First Degree Murder of my ex-husband, was given probation by the jury. That’s not a very good ending.

“But in 2003, Debra Baker was put in prison after she violated the terms of her probation. This again triggered me to pick up and start writing. But this time, I had an ending— at least one suspect was behind bars.

Is the book self-published?

“Yes. After I finished writing the book, I didn't want to wait for a traditional publisher to decide whether or not to publish it. I wanted it published right away.

“One of the steps I am taking to market my book is by being giving interviews, such as this interview for your readers.

“This book was very difficult to write. I still cannot help but cry when I think about at certain parts that I felt I had to put in the book, since it is a true story. But, I am glad I wrote the book to speak for my ex-husband, who no longer has a voice, and to let others know that if their lives are ever touched by anything as horrific as a murder; that they have the ability and the right to become their loved one's advocate, and if necessary their own, real-life Sherlock Holmes."

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