Sunday, June 4, 2017

Writing the Real Thing

I’m on TV again. Not because of my novels, but because of a true crime so depraved and cruel that it continues to fascinate seventeen years after it happened.

The False Prophet
Before I started writing fiction, I dealt in the world of real crime. I covered the criminal courts for a newspaper in the Bay Area of California – specifically a vast county in the East Bay. It had urban areas at one end and rural trailer parks at the other. In between were some of the wealthier sections in the East Bay, as well as perfectly ordinary suburbs. They all had crime. Murders even. Murders happen everywhere. To anybody. For so many different, tragic, crazy, greedy reasons that it boggles the mind. I wrote about it all.
But there was one case I covered that stunned everyone who came in contact with it, including me. A man who proclaimed himself a prophet of God convinced two others to help him usher in Christ’s Second Coming. To do this, Glenn Taylor Helzer said they needed money. After months of plotting, they kidnapped a retired couple, forced them to sign over their life savings and then killed them. But the bank put a hold on the checks. So Helzer panicked and decided they needed to kill the 22-year-old woman he was dating. He’d started wooing her a few months before for the express purpose of using her to launder the stolen money, telling her a lie about getting an inheritance. She knew absolutely nothing about his real plans.
You still with me? Hang in there, it gets even more convoluted. After killing the young woman, Selina Bishop, Helzer and his brother/accomplice dismembered all three victims. Then he took stock of how things were going and found another loose end. He’d tried to avoid meeting any of Selina’s friends while dating her, but he’d run into her mother at one point. So he drove across the Bay in the middle of the same night he killed Selina and shot her mother and her mother’s friend – a victim of wrong-place, wrong-time – to death.
Take a minute for that to sink in. In the span of five days, Taylor Helzer killed five people in two different counties, dumped duffel bags full of body parts in a third jurisdiction, and then calmly left for a weekend music festival several hours away. (And I haven’t even gotten to the Playboy centerfold, or the plan to smuggle Brazilian orphans into the U.S., or Helzer fleeing a manhunt in nothing but his underwear. I told you it was stunning.)
The case was so complicated, it took authorities four years to unravel and bring to trial. There were tens of thousands of pages of documents and hundreds of court exhibits. I wrote countless newspaper articles about it, but the only way to tell the entire story was to write a book. So I did. And now that means I get asked to appear on true crime programs to talk about it.  

Filming an episode of "Most Evil," an ID Network show.
The latest one is “Occult Crimes,” a series now streaming on Netflix (I’m S:1, E:1). It was pretty good as these shows go. Not the best that I’ve participated in, but certainly not the worst. I’ve done at least five others, and they’ve all been interesting experiences. Some producers do their homework. Some don’t. All of them require that I not stumble over my words, which is reasonable, but harder to do than you’d think. It's gotten easier to do over the years, which is good, because I can't imagine that this latest show will be the last done on this crime.

Next week: I’ll introduce you to the five wonderful people who lost their lives to Taylor Helzer’s rampage.


Holly West said...

Really interesting--and chilling--stuff, Claire. I look forward to next week's post about the victims.

Claire Booth said...

Thanks, Holly!