Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyIn his account of a 10-year crime spree in Eastern Kentucky, University of Tulsa English professor O'Brien ( Murder in Little Egypt ) focuses on chronic criminal Benny Hodge and his wife Sherry, who met when she was a guard in Brushy Mountain State Prison in rural Morgan County where he was incarcerated. Sherry seduced him and, after he was paroled, the two began living together, supporting themselves by ripping off small-time drug dealers. After forming a gang, their crimes escalated until they entered the home of Dr. Roscoe Acker in 1985, murdering his daughter, almost killing Dr. Acker, and seizing a cache of $1.9 million before fleeing to Florida. Tangential to their story is that of flamboyant Kentucky lawyer Lester Burns, who took on the defense for $400,000, despite the source of the money. One gang member, Donald Bartley, turned state's evidence; Benny and Roger Epperson were sentenced to death; Sherry and Carol Epperson received prison sentences, as did lawyer Burns, for knowingly accepting stolen money. This is an arresting look into the troubled psyches of these criminals and into the depressed Kentucky economy that became fertile territory for narcotics dealers, theft rings and bootleggers. (Apr.)
Library JournalAs he demonstrated in Murder in Little Egypt ( LJ 2/1/89), O'Brien is adept at analyzing crime by using sociological and cultural methods to create an integrated picture of the criminal and his world. This time the world is the ``dark and bloody ground'' of eastern Kentucky and the criminals are a group of five ``hillbillies'' (three men and two women) who live by the law of the mountains and support themselves by drug dealing and armed robbery. When they hear tales of a rich doctor living in tiny Fleming-Neon, Kentucky, the inevitable happens; they steal almost $2 million in cash--and brutally murder the doctor's daughter in the process. Telling his story from the viewpoint of Sherry Sheets Hodge, the most intelligent of the group, O'Brien creates a fascinating portrait of the mountain way of life and thought that forged the lives of these criminals--as well as the doctor they robbed and the lawyers they hired. Recommended for true crime collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/92.-- Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, Ind.
Joe CollinsSince Truman Capote published "In Cold Blood" in 1965, Americans have been fascinated with the true stories of desperate criminals. Most true-crime books take the lives and stories of these dishonest men and women and unfold them like a novel. In "A Dark and Bloody Ground" (the title comes from the way native Americans in Daniel Boone's time referred to what is now Kentucky), O'Brien introduces us to Sherry Sheets, a prison guard who falls head over heels in love with brawny convict Benny Hodge. Upon Benny's release, the pair turn to ripping off drug dealers and credit card fraud and then hook up with Roger Epperson, Carol Malone, and Donnie Bartley. This group begins a spree of robbery and killing throughout Kentucky and Tennessee that culminates in the brutal murder of a doctor's daughter during a robbery. It doesn't take long for the culprits to be apprehended, and flamboyant lawyer Lester Burns is brought into the case just as the crooks start snitching on one another. Burns, a particularly interesting character, finds himself crossing the line into crime by knowingly accepting stolen cash from his clients. As true-crime books go, "A Dark and Blood Ground" breaks down no new barriers, but it offers an interesting look at the motivations and passions that drive seemingly normal people into criminal behavior.
Kirkus ReviewsHillbilly sociopaths rip off a miserly old doctor and kill his daughter: another first-rateand luridtrue-crime chronicle from journalist/novelist O'Brien (Margaret in Hollywood, 1991; Murder in Little Egypt, 1990, etc.). The part of Kentucky that skirts West Virginia and Tennessee is, O'Brien says, a region of poverty, bluegrass, and country soul, where crimeeven murderis a major activity. Here, he focuses on the ten-year criminal career of two of the region's inhabitantsformer prison-guard Sherry Sheets Pelfrey Wong Hodge and her husband, lifetime criminal Benny Hodgewho, in 1985, formed part of a gang that stole a local doctor's hoard of nearly $2 million cash, killing his daughter in the process. In O'Brien's expert hands, the slow, handsome, enormously powerful Benny and his tough- minded, quick-thinking, coolheaded wife are totally believable, even sympathetic, products of lives impoverished at every level. Also fascinating are the Hodges' lawyer, Lester Burnswho, already rich but unable to resist accepting a fee in money he knew was stolen, bragged about his illicit payoff to an undercover FBI agent; the classically corrupt sheriff, who hired Hodge (as a cook) and then sought to blackmail him into various crimes; car-crazy middle-class sleaze Roger Epperson, perfectly qualified to be the brains behind the heisthe'd already been involved in the murder of his father's best friend; and police lieutenant Danny Webb, who tracked the gang down with the help of a fingerprint on an attach‚ case they'd left behind. The smell of wet, coal-laden earth, white lightening, and cocaine-driven sweat rises from these marvelouslyatmosphericand compellingpages. (Eight pages of b&w photographs) (TV rights to ABC)
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- 1st ed
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Dark and Bloody Ground: Outlaw Love, A Miser's Hoard - Lust, Greed, and Killing from the Beaches of Florida to the Mountains of Kentucky based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
The human details are fascinating. Well paced.
I just finished this book. It's a dark, sad, and scary tale of crazies running around the eastern mountains of TN and KY for the most part but crimes were committed in GA and a murder in FL as well. My emotions pretty much ran the gamut throughout the entire book. It's a powerful story of simple folk whose lives were turned upside down when death came to them in the middle of the night in the form of fake law enforcement officials. I just wanted to punch Lester Burns for all his antics in such a folksy region. While Benny and Sherry were certainly up to no good, their lives completely went awry when 3 outsiders entered their lives. Had Benny just stuck to what he was doing and listened to Sherry when she told him these 3 were going to get them in a lot of trouble, maybe he wouldn't be where he's at. The corrupt, backwoods, southern sheriffs in this book surprised me none as I lived amongst those types for almost 20 years. The book is an excellent read and a good source of info on the people of that region but you will want to leave the lights on when it's beddie bye time.
I read this book several years ago after I heard that Benny Hodge, a friend and former lover from the mid-70's, had been arrested on murder charges. The book is based on a lot of documentation from newspapers,court records, interviews with Sherry and others. However, Benny has never given an interview and has not agreed with or denied anything in the book. I sometimes wonder if Benny has even read the book. Darcy O'Brien put together a timeline of events that is so intriguing to follow. I couldn't put the book down. He has also written a novelette about the crime spree which is very involved. I have bought this book a few times already, and each time I've loaned it out I have never gotten it back. This book is a good read and a good look into the twistings of small town corruption in the court system.
Frightening analysis of human nature - greed, sex, drugs, and finally murder. In the middle of it all is Sherry - one of the murderer's lover. Sherry Lorraine refuses to leave Benny Hodges despite his habitual lack of monogamy (with teenage girls), regular domestic violence, and unending criminality which included murder of an elderly couple and a young woman. Sherry and Benny are a couple made for the Jerry Springer show, or death row. Benny resides on the latter. While Sherry's conduct is criminal and probably pathological, O'Brien makes her likeable and sympathetic. Most authors would have written her off as "codependent," or a sex addict. O'Brien, however, depicts Sherry's reasons for supporting what most readers would consider a sociopath. According to Sherry, she loved Benny. Sherry's love for Benny is not one I would ever understand. I was deeply disturbed by her lack of compassion, even interest, in the murder victims. After finishing the book, though, I understand how Sherry envisioned her life and love. If the mark of excellence is an author's ability to explain the inexplicable, then O'Brien's work qualifies as brilliant. Depressing, disturbing, and cautionary.
I knew the people that committed these hienous crimes. The only part I read that was fact was the names of the victims, and the criminals, and the crime that took place. This hillbilly love affair was nothing but a female guard that fell for Benny before he was released and followed him out. I was in Brushy also at the time. I also stayed with them after my release from time to time in Oak Ridge,Tn. We did some major inside insurance jobs , but not like you described. As for his thinking up the scores, I don't recall a single idea other than in the planning of some jobs. The dealer robbing must have happened after I was long gone. That was pretty much a death sentence in the group I was affiliated with. Most, if not all were involved in this enterprise and there was a standing hit order on any drug robberies. That was suicide. We hit some gun collectors and some nightclubs. All burlaries. I left the so-called gang in 81. Gang meant whom was around when a job came to light. Everything we did was on the prowl. Nothing romantic about stealing and hiding from the cops. I think the drugs came later on if they came at all. We didn't use. That was what kept us from making mistakes and getting snitched out. We drank and smoked weed, but no hard stuff in the few months I helped do a few jobs. Some were insurance jobs. The part about the sheriff hiring him to wash cars is BS. He was a trusty and that was his job like mine. The sheriff used to have us do lots of illegal things for him. We took the confiscated bootleggers their merchandise back and found buyers for all the drugs that were to be disposed of. Benny is a pyscopath as is the other fellow I never met. But Benny was just a crazy pysco that was headed to hell. I wasn't about to be around when he thought up the perfect crime he was always talking about. The only thing was, no one left standing. I figured that meant partners also when their usefulness was up. I'm glad I woke up one day and decided the life I was living was a path to hell. I haven't been arrested since I left Tn in 1981 for TX and live a wonderful life with my wife and 2 daughters. Book publishers need to watch what they write. Just because someone says it's so doesn't make it that way. These simple minded folks you wrote about would tell you anything you wanted to hear if they thought they were going to be somebody. Don't you see they described to you what they could never be. But don't romanticize a group of morons like Carol,Sherry,Benny and that other cat. I went to school with Carol Keenie. Her father was Town Councilman or some sort of Public Servant. Sherry was just short white trash that fell for Bennie's charm. He was physically intimidating. But nothing is pursued with such vigor and consistancy thana human being headed for hell. That summed up Benny. Wasn't going to work and wasn't going back to prison alive. He didn't have the pills to eat a bullet. So much for his credibility