By Claire Booth
|Me getting interviewed for People Magazine Investigates.|
Before I started writing novels, I wrote true crime. I spent many years writing about crime as a newspaper reporter, and my first book was about a multiple murder case that I covered in Northern California.
|First published in 2008. I've recently put a new cover on it. You can find it here.|
That set of crimes happened almost two decades ago, but every now and then I’ll be contacted by a true crime TV show and asked to do an interview about it. The latest of these is People Magazine Investigates, and it premieres tomorrow, Jan. 28, on ID (the Investigation Discovery Network).
Most of the time, a producer will send me a list of topics beforehand. This lets me refresh my memory on any specific information they’ll want to talk about on camera.
|Getting ready for a shoot several years ago.|
Now don’t get me wrong—the facts of this case are permanently etched into my brain. But it’s nice to be able to remind myself of an exact date or the name of the business that sold that pair of handcuffs.
The setting for this interview was a little bit different than usual. Typically, the production crew rents a conference room in a hotel, and I just show up there for the interview. People Magazine, however, had rented an Airbnb. It made sense—one smaller bill for interview space and sleeping rooms, instead of a bigger bill for five separate hotel rooms and a conference space. But it was definitely a little strange to be sitting in someone’s living room full of family photos instead of in a sterile hotel.
|Note the sterile hotel background of previous shoots.|
Even after doing several of these shows, it's still jarring for me. I was always the one asking the questions as a reporter. I don't think I'll ever get used to being on the other side of an interview.
The episode title is “Children of Thunder,” which was the name bestowed by killer Taylor Helzer on his little group of followers. He was a Bay Area man who said he wanted to usher in Christ’s Second Coming with peace and love. In order to do that, however, he said he needed money. So he kidnapped a retired couple named Annette and Ivan Stineman, forced them to empty their retirement accounts, and killed them to cover his tracks. Then he killed a young woman, Selina Bishop, who he’d been dating only so he could use her to launder the couple’s money. Then he killed the young woman’s mother, Jenny Villarin, and her friend Jim Gamble, who just happened to be with her at the time.
Five people murdered. Dozens more victimized and forever changed by Helzer’s crimes. I was lucky to get to know many of them and privileged to get to tell the story of their loved ones. If you’d like to know more, tune in to People Magazine Investigates, or for the entire story, you can read The False Prophet. And if you have questions, let me know. I'll answer any that I can.