When a Killer Calls: A Haunting Story of Murder, Criminal Profiling, and Justice in a Small Town #johnedouglas #markolshaker @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan’s review

In 1985, 17-year-old  Shari Smith was abducted in broad daylight at the end of her driveway while picking up the mail. The abductor made repeated taunting phone calls to the family, and a day later they received a haunting letter in the mail that contained Shari’s “last will and testament”. Knowing she was going to be murdered, she affirmed her love for them and appealed to her family to bravely carry on. Her body was found a few days later.

A short time later, nine-year-old Debra Helmick was abducted and killed. The killer called the Smiths and told them where to find her body. That’s when authorities knew both of these deaths were at the hands of a serial murderer. The author, John Douglas, an FBI agent in the Behavioral Science Unit who pioneered criminal profiling techniques, and is most well-known to us as the author behind the book and TV show, Mindhunter, was called in to assist with the investigation.  

My heart went out to the Smith family, who, after a devastating loss, showed incredible courage and bravery. They endured the taunting cruel phone calls, going above and beyond to assist the investigators, in an attempt to bait the killer into unwittingly revealing himself.

The first half of the book deals with the investigation and arrest of the perpetrator, and the second half detailed the trials for both his victims. His behavior in the courtroom was bizarre and he often blurted out inappropriate statements, refusing to answer questions, or offering rambling non-answers. His testimony lasted six hours due to his courtroom theatrics. Was he criminally insane or was this an attempt to be declared incompetent, thereby avoiding a sentence of death?  

I’m purposefully being vague, as this case was unfamiliar to me and I appreciated seeing the case play out as I read.  I recommend this to anyone who is interested in true crime and investigative work. This was a buddy read with Marialyce, one that left us both slightly disappointed. My interest lies mostly with the psychology behind criminals/murderers. I want to know the WHY.  I do wish we had been given more information about the perpetrator and why he was the way he was, and a bit less mundane details about the author himself. 

Marialyce’s review

Sadly, the book When A Killer Calls, was not as good as I was hoping. Certainly, the case when FBI profilers were a fledgling operation was interesting as well as the case the author is called upon to render expertise, but it did seem to go a bit flat.

Certainly, the man in question, Larry Gene Bell, was a devious and a hell sent individual. Accused of killing and murdering two young girls, he was cocky, sure of himself, and for all intents, (those of his own), he tried to paint himself as a mentally ill psychopath having among other things two personalities. Bell also phoned on numerous occasions the home of the older sister of the girl he kidnapped. Shari Smith, was a beautiful high school senior who was abducted while she collected the mail, from her home where she lived with her parents, a sister, and a brother.

Along with the calls which were planned from various telephone locations, the family received letters. It was Bell taunting them, but when they received one that was marked, Last Will and Testament, the family knew that their beloved daughter and sister was dead. The police coupled with other law enforcement agencies were on the case and John Douglas and his team provided a profile of the killer which helped the police finally find him.

In the meantime, a nine-year-old child playing in her yard with her siblings was abducted assuring law enforcement that Shari’s kidnapping was not the sole one. As the profile came into play, it became very apparent that the killer fit the descriptions that John Douglas and his team put together.

The case was harrowing as never before did the police come upon an unsub who was so calculating, devious, and criminal. Finally, in an effort to draw this maniac out, it was decided to use Shari’s sister as bait as his modus operendi was blonde blue eyes girls to which Dawn fit the requirements. She bravely put herself forward and tackled the phone calls that came into the home. Bell was convinced he was destined to marry Dawn. The whole Smith family showed absolute courage and strength relying in large part on their strong faith in the determination to see the killer brought to justice.

The Helmick family, parents and siblings of Debra, the young nine-year-old also sought the killer’s capture and day in court.

After capture, Bell displayed bizarre behaviors but eventually it was decided this was a manipulative front to escape punishment. The first trial concluded, the one for Shari and was a disgusting spectacle as Bell made plays for Dawn and the pity of the jurors. He was deranged but knew the difference between right and wrong. His narcissistic personality gave him the grand illusion that he was smarter than everyone else. A second trial for Karen was held in another venue and the jury returned the same verdict guilty with a death sentence conferred. After many appeals and years spent in prison, Bell was executed. He chose the electric chair as his fate, one that was justly deserved.

My issue with the book was that I thought the author inserted himself into everything, adding details such as how he dressed, what he ate, and so on, all of which weighed down the telling and created repetition and a tad phase of boredom on what should have been a riveting read.

Jan and I have been into the true crime stories lately and were disappointed, when holding this one up to the likes of some others, it fell short. It was a five star topic with a three star style of writing.

The bottom line however, is there are definitely some very sick people roaming about, and sometimes they seem to be the most harmless types of individual.

Larry Gene Bell
Dawn Smith
Debra Helmich and Shari Smith

5 thoughts on “When a Killer Calls: A Haunting Story of Murder, Criminal Profiling, and Justice in a Small Town #johnedouglas #markolshaker @JanBelisle @absltmom

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