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Then, on a summer night a few miles away in the town of Alameda, a young housewife goes down to her basement -- and when she comes upstairs she's screaming, and holding in her hand Stephanie Bryan's bobby pins and wallet. ...
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Then, on a summer night a few miles away in the town of Alameda, a young housewife goes down to her basement -- and when she comes upstairs she's screaming, and holding in her hand Stephanie Bryan's bobby pins and wallet. Georgia Abbott had discovered the burial ground of Stephanie Bryan's belongings: her schoolbooks, her eyeglasses, her training bra. And the man she was screaming for -- her husband, Burton Abbott - would become the enigmatic center of the nine-month nightmare that followed.
Harry Farrell's Shallow Grave in Trinity County is the story of that nightmare, and of the mysterious Burton Abbott. Farrell, the Edgar Award-winning author of Swift Justice, first wrote about the Bryan case in 1955 for the San Jose Mercury News; forty years later, he reconstructs the bizarre events of that year in vivid and arresting detail. Abbout claims innocence, but a few days later Stephanie's body is found in a makeshift grave near his own cabin hundreds of miles away. As the investigation continues, newspaper desks and FBI phone lines buzz with phantom witnesses' claims and wild rumors. But soon all eyes are fixed on Burton Abbott: Unluck straight arrow or obvious liar? Family man or child molester? Innocent suspect or cold-blooded killer? Like a shodowy film-noir figure come to life int he Bay Area, the charismatic egoist transfixed California through the months of his trial for the murder. And his fate, amid stubborn protests of innocence, provoked questions that linger four decades later.
Through extensive interviews, original research, and an eye-opening review of long-forgotten police files, Harry Farrell has crafted a chilling re-creation of an unforgettable crime -- and a dark parable of evil amid the suburban bliss of 1950s America.
Farrell, an Edgar Award winner (Swift Justice, 1992), was a rewrite man at the San Jose Mercury News when word broke of the Bryan kidnapping, a case that shocked the sleepy Berkeley community. Stephanie was the pretty, brainy teenage daughter of a doctor who had recently moved to California from Massachusetts. Her mother had shown her a shortcut from school, and when Stephanie was walking home one September afternoon, tragedy struck in the form of Burton Abbott, a married 27-year-old studying to be an accountant. Stephanie apparently got into Abbott's car, and her family never saw her again. Farrell makes excellent use of newspaper accounts of the mounting horror throughout California as it became clear that Stephanie had been kidnapped. When her body was found in a shallow grave near Abbott's mountain home, the case was sealed against him. Farrell chooses to focus on the Abbott family and on Burton in particular, a man so emotionally distant that the doctor who administered a lie detector test to him said that of all the men he had ever examined, "Herman Goering and Burton Abbott were the most self-centered." While Stephanie never fully comes alive to the reader, the description of the singular Abbott family and the trial is as compelling as it is unnerving. Abbott never admits his guilt, despite such evidence as Stephanie's purse and muddy bra buried in his basement. After little more than a year on death row, Abbott was put to death in the gas chamber. Two years later, emotionally devastated, Stephanie's father died of a sudden heart attack.
A chilling look at an old crime that seems sadly modern; true-crime buffs won't want to miss it.