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When librarian Martha Gail Fulton was gunned down in a Michigan parking lot on a quiet evening, there were two obvious suspects--Gail's husband George, a former military officer . . . and George's mistress, the flashy businesswoman Donna Kay Trapani. Police were baffled to find that both had ironclad alibis. Yet evidence showed the shooter, a male, had an accomplice--a mystery ...
When librarian Martha Gail Fulton was gunned down in a Michigan parking lot on a quiet evening, there were two obvious suspects--Gail's husband George, a former military officer . . . and George's mistress, the flashy businesswoman Donna Kay Trapani. Police were baffled to find that both had ironclad alibis. Yet evidence showed the shooter, a male, had an accomplice--a mystery woman. Now, M. William Phelps recounts the compelling real-life drama of a twisted love triangle that ended in bloody murder, and the riveting investigation that brought to light a master manipulator's trail of deadly deceit.
"Phelps is the Harlan Coben of real-life thrillers." –Allison Brennan
Praise for M. William Phelps
"One of our most engaging crime journalists." –Katherine Ramsland
"Phelps ratchets up the dramatic tension." –Stephen Singular
"One of America's finest true-crime writers." –Vincent Bugliosi
"Phelps creates a vivid portrait." –Publishers Weekly
Includes 16 Pages Of Dramatic Photos
All the employees generally met near the staff door heading out into the parking lot at the end of a shift. Barb and another coworker, librarian Cathy Lichtman, stayed behind.
"Computer backup," Barb said to the others as they gathered, ready to leave.
It sounded boring and tedious. The only plus for Barb was that it would take maybe ten or fifteen minutes, tops.
The Orion Township Library, on Joslyn Road, was a central point in the quaint Michigan town of Lake Orion, "where living is a vacation," the town's website claims. Lake Orion is about forty-five minutes due north of the more well-known and popular home of the Tigers and Pistons, the Motor City, Detroit. By small-town standards, the landmass of Lake Orion is infinitesimal: 1.2 square miles, 440 acres of which are eaten up by water. On that cool October night, when Barbara Butkis and Gail Fulton's lives outside of books collided, there were fewer than two thousand residents registered in Lake Orion. So, without overstating it, one could say this was a town, literally, where not only did everybody know everyone else's business, but nothing much beyond bake sales, PTA meetings, and bingo games happened. Lake Orion was as charming and dainty as any fabricated plastic town in the middle of a child's train set: perfect and pleasant and quiet. Maybe even boring, too—just the way townies liked it.
Gail's work imitated her life—she was flexible. Gail worked every Monday night (tonight) from five to nine, but she would come in on additional, alternate days and nights at different hours. Those Monday nights were Gail's, though, and had been since she'd taken the job eighteen months earlier. The job Gail did—and did it very well—was what one would have expected from a librarian's assistant. Throughout everybody's time inside libraries, patrons have all come in contact with these everyday, average women and men. They push carts of books from one aisle to the next, quietly, in solitude, depositing each into its respective, numerically placed slot. Once in a while, they will answer a patron's question. If a person loved books, this was a dream job.
Gail walked out with the others. "Good night," she said. "See you soon." In the inflection of Gail's voice, there was an unremarkable (yet unmistakable) Texas drawl. Gail and her husband and kids had been in Michigan only a few years, transplants from Corpus Christi.
Gail's maroon van was parked in the lot just out the door, about twenty-five yards straight ahead. Gail walked to her van and immediately noticed something different about it. The way it sat. She couldn't put her finger on what, exactly, but something didn't seem right.
Gail shook off what was an odd feeling before placing her pocketbook on the passenger seat and getting in on the driver's side.
Inside, she turned the key, backed out of her parking space, and drove away.
She got about ten yards from her parking space before realizing one of the tires on her van was flat. So she turned, driving around a small island of mulch and shrubs, before pulling back into the same space she'd just left.
Then she got out and had a look.
Gail stood staring at her flat tire, then turned back toward the library. All of her coworkers, save for Barb and Cathy (still inside finishing up that computer work), were gone by now, on their way home to another peaceful night in paradise.
So Gail walked toward the employee entrance.
Not yet out of the immediate area where she had parked, Gail noticed a car, with its lights bright and shining in her face, pull up. There was a man and woman in the front seat. A second man dressed in a black leather jacket, black gloves, black ski mask, and a do-rag sat in the back.
Gail didn't like the look of this. It didn't appear that they were there to help.
The man dressed in black got out.
No one said anything.
Gail grew concerned; she kept eyeing the library's employee entrance, no doubt hoping someone would walk out.
Outside, it was dark and crisp. Cooler than normal temperatures had forced the brittle, colorful leaves of fall to settle like feathers on the ground. A slick sheen of drizzle moistened the pavement. All the doors to the library were locked. Nobody could walk in off the street. A person would have to know what Barb later described as a special "key code" in order to open the door.
Gail knew this code.
Barb and Cathy stood near the employee exit. Barb punched the alarm code number to set it, watched Cathy walk out in front of her, and soon followed behind.
When she was outside the building, Barb made sure the exit door was secure. She pulled on it, hearing that click of the lock, feeling resistance.
They could go home.
"Have a good night, Cathy," Barb said.
"You too. See you tomorrow."
Barb and Cathy walked toward the parking lot. As Barb later explained, "We usually kind of look back and forth, because it is evening, to see if there is anything in the parking lot before we start approaching our cars...."
Two women, alone in the night, were being vigilant and careful, mindful of their surroundings. This was the kind of world they lived in—even there, in what many would have deemed the safest place on earth.
After making that routine gaze into the night, looking for anything out of the ordinary, Barb peered straight ahead—and then stopped.
Something caught her eye.
It was on the ground. Maybe about fifty feet ahead.
It looked like a piece of clothing. However, neither Cathy nor Barb could tell what it was because, as Barb later explained, who expects to see clothing on the ground as you leave work?
Barb and Cathy walked toward the fabric.
A pile of clothes?
Strange, someone's clothes spread out on the ground like that. Here. At night. In the parking lot of a library.
Kids? Maybe a pre-Halloween prank?
No. Couldn't be.
Barb noticed what she called "breath or steam coming from the object"—and that's when things began to make sense.
Walking up next to the fabric, Barb and Cathy noticed something else.
"It was a person," Barb remembered.
"Gail!" Barb yelled, recognizing her coworker lying on the tar.
Cathy was just as shocked to see Gail, barely moving, on the ground, on her back, motionless, moaning in a whisper. ("She was very still," Barb said later. "I could not tell at that moment what had happened to her, if she had fainted or—I couldn't tell because she was lying on the ground.")
Barb knelt down beside Gail. "Honey? Gail? Talk to me!"
Cathy stood beside Barb; then she, too, knelt down.
Barb grabbed Gail's wrist to check for a pulse.
"I'm going to call 911," Cathy said, standing up, turning, and running for the library.
"Gail?" Barb said, with her fingers applied gingerly to the back side of Gail's wrist. (Later, Barb remarked: "Her eyes were just staring....")
Gail Fulton was slipping away.
Cathy had the phone in her hand; the door to the library was open. She yelled to Barb, who could not find a pulse, "Is Gail diabetic, Barb?" Obviously, Cathy was speaking to a 911 operator, who was directing her on which questions to ask.
Barb knew this was no diabetic coma or fainting spell; she could see what she thought was blood coming from the top of Gail's forehead. As Cathy continued to yell questions, Barb noticed a large pool of "liquid" surrounding the back of Gail's head, tacky to the touch, seemingly growing in size as Barb focused on it. The fluid was dark, thick, and spreading in a halo pattern around Gail's head.
Oh, my, Barb thought.
"Is she breathing?" Cathy yelled.
Barb looked. That growing pool of fluid had to be blood—lots of it, in fact, pouring out from the back of Gail's head.
"She's been hurt bad!" Barb yelled. "Someone hurt her very bad."
Cathy hung up with 911 and grabbed a blanket. Barb met her at the door, took the blanket, ran back to Gail, and placed it over her body.
"Gail, honey ... can you hear me?" Barb said as she consoled her friend, trying to keep her warm and awake.
Cathy then walked up with a towel, which she applied with firm pressure to the back of Gail's head. The tears came when Barb realized Gail had been shot in the head, maybe a few other areas of her body, too. There could be no other explanation.
Gail was still alive, though. She was breathing laboriously, and her pulse was weakening.
She had a heartbeat. She was fighting.
Sirens pierced the night as Barb and Cathy did their best to let Gail know she was not alone. They would not let her die out here by herself, in the dark, on her back, lying on the cold parking lot pavement in a pool of her own blood.
"I was already northbound on Joslyn Road, coming up to [West] Clarkston Road," Hubble recalled. "I was approximately a quarter mile away, maybe half, at the most."
From his scanner Hubble had gleaned basic details of what was going on: injured party ... a medical emergency.
The patrol officer hit his lights and siren, passing Square Lake Cemetery on the right, several residential houses on the left. Coming up to the library's driveway a few moments after receiving the call, Hubble raced into the backward J-shaped entrance toward the employee parking lot and spied "two white females ... standing above another white female that was [lying] on the ground."
Hubble parked, flung his door open, and approached the women. Understandably so, they were upset, a bit manic, and did not know what else they could do for Gail.
"What is the nature of the situation?" Hubble asked.
"We think she's fallen," Barb said. She held a "paper cloth" to Gail's forehead. After thinking about it, Barb figured Gail had fallen and hit her head. She was confused and traumatized, not thinking clearly. She didn't want to believe her friend had been shot in the head.
Hubble walked closer. "Please remove the cloth," he said, wanting to see the extent of Gail's injuries, maybe try to discern what had happened, and if he could do anything to help.
As soon as Barb removed the cloth, it was clear to the veteran cop what happened: Gail had not fallen, as the women had now suspected. "I noticed a large hole in the upper part of the forehead," he explained. It was obvious that Gail had been shot.
Emergency personnel and another officer pulled up at the same time, chirping to a stop. The lights on each vehicle flashed strobes of red and blue, brightening the parking lot, making a scene out of what was, on any other night, a place of peace and quiet, where nothing much of anything happened.
"Back away, please," the officer said, approaching. "They need to administer help."
Gail was slipping; that white light approaching fast. She had been shot in the head and torso four times. She had stood, looked into the eyes of her killer, turned away instinctively, knowing, it seemed, the end was near. Anyone who knew Gail would agree that in those crucial moments after she was shot, as she fell to the ground, this pious woman, undoubtedly, began to recite the Catholic prayers she had breathlessly said thousands of times throughout her life. Gail was known to say a rosary every night; maybe tonight she was saying that same prayer as she lay dying.
Hubble noticed Gail was "moaning and moving" slightly. "I was trying to keep her from moving her neck area," he recalled, "[when] shortly after that, fire [rescue] arrived and [she] took her last breath."
As he knelt beside her, Hubble heard a whoosh of air from Gail's lungs, so subtle and unexpected and yet eerily normal. Then there was total quiet.
Gail had given up her fight. She was gone.
With a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) now helping, Hubble got to work performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). As they prepared Gail's body for CPR, undoing her clothing, Hubble noticed "what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds ... above and to the left of the right breast, and one below."
The EMT continued CPR, but Hubble felt Gail wouldn't respond. There was no bringing her back. While she had moaned previously, Hubble leaned down and asked Gail if she could relate any information about what had happened. It was then that Hubble "could hear the air leaving her lungs. It was just a—all I could hear was a 'hough,' a deep huff type of sound as the air left."
This was Gail's final breath.
Hubble got together with those officers who were now responding to the scene in droves. "Close down the entrance to the township [library]," he ordered, "so nobody can enter." Hubble wanted the area cordoned off. If Gail had been shot, there must be some sort of trace evidence around, maybe even a few spent projectiles.
"Ladies, go back into the library," Hubble told Barb and Cathy, who were wandering around in a daze, unaware—in shock, perhaps—of what had actually taken place, yet understanding that something horrible had happened right before their eyes.
More rescue personnel arrived, all of them now working on trying to revive a dead woman.
Hubble saw that Gail held a set of keys in her hand. He walked over and took them. Then he opened the passenger-side door to her vehicle and found her pocketbook, where he quickly located her identification. The bag was sitting on the passenger seat, as though she had just set it down. He took a quick look around the van and did not see anything out of place or disturbed. Then he gave a once-over to the outside of the van. Save for the flat tire, nothing seemed suspicious.
As Hubble walked the scene, surveying what he could, Barb came out and mentioned what she thought might be of some help. "Cameras," Barb said. "We record what goes on out in the parking lot and around the building."
"You do?" Hubble said.
"Yes," Barb reiterated. She pointed to a camera on the building that faced the exact spot in the parking lot where Gail lay dead.
Gail Fulton's murder has been caught on tape, Hubble thought.
This murder of a local housewife and librarian would send the OCSD to call on Oak Force, a multiagency crime-fighting organization. As luck would have it, that very same week this super police force had been formed as a team of lawmen. Comprised of local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, members of the Michigan State Police (MSP), and OCSD—on top of police officers from the nearby towns of Pontiac, Southfield, and Troy—the agency investigated major crimes. Good thing. Because from the moment Hubble and his colleagues arrived and found Gail Fulton—a harmless librarian's assistant, whose father, Noe Garza, and uncle, Margarito Garza, were former federal judges—it was clear that she had been targeted. Gail's mother, Dora Garza, was also a well-known figure in the community and a church leader in her native home of Corpus Christi.
These could be people, law enforcement concluded, that others might hold grudges against.
Excerpted from Kiss of the She-Devil by M. William Phelps Copyright © 2013 by M. William Phelps. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 14, 2013
Again, Mr. Phelps has written a book that really gets into all the key players. Along with Ann Rule, M. William Phelps has become my go to author for true crime reading!
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Posted April 5, 2013
As usual Phelps keeps you on the edge of your seat in this true crime novel. I absolutely loved it, could not even put it down to go to sleep.
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Posted March 23, 2013
I was certainly satisfied with every word in this latest book by my fave author...obsession, adultry,greed,manipulation....it had it all. Phelps has an unique way to tell about true crimes. He always has the victim and their families in his thoughts as he relates the horrors they endure...Keep it up, I can't wait for your next book...
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Posted March 7, 2013
Another well written book by Phelps.. sad this happens more than people think, a spouse who cheats with a crazy person. Looking forward to Phelps next book....Bn
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Posted January 9, 2015
Posted October 17, 2014
I love this author and his books. I have not come across a book that M. W. Phelps has written that I could not put down. My husband doesn't understand how I can read during commercials going back and forth with a t.v. show and my book all night long. The stories, of course, are sad, because they are true. At least Mr. Phelps, keeps the victim alive and remembered within his writing, which as is known, sometimes they are forgotten during the trial.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2013
I know members of this family. This book certainly contains some biased perceptions and information that is not factually accurate. How sad that a well known writer does not "get to the truth" before publicizing a true story that is bound to have negative effects for those that still bear the pain of this incident. Is this what it takes to make a best-seller?
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