Deadly Obsessions: Three True Crime Sagas

Deadly Obsessions: Three True Crime Sagas

by Joan Barthel

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Three true crime classics of love, murder, and the mob by a Pulitzer Prize finalist who writes with “honest and gritty realism” (Phoenix Gazette).

Award-winning author Joan Barthel uncovers the dark secrets behind some of the strangest cases in the history of American crime in these three captivating works of “first-class journalism” (The New York Times).
A Death in California: When twice-divorced Beverly Hills socialite Hope Masters fell in love with a handsome advertising executive, she thought her life was finally turning around—until she woke up to find a gun in her mouth and her fiancé dead in the next room. The killer was a new acquaintance who’d been visiting the couple’s Sierra Nevada ranch. Even more bizarre, however, was what happened at the end of the long, nightmarish weekend in which Masters saw everything she cared about destroyed: She began to fall in love with her tormenter. “Superbly documented, brilliantly written. The suspense will keep readers caught to the very last page” (Ann Rule, bestselling author of The Stranger Beside Me).
A Death in Canaan: When eighteen-year-old Peter Reilly arrived home from the Teen Center one night to discover his mother lying naked on the bedroom floor with her throat slashed, local police made him their prime suspect. After eight hours of interrogation and a polygraph test, Reilly confessed. But the townspeople of Canaan, Connecticut, couldn’t believe the naïve teenager was capable of such a gruesome crime. With the help of some celebrities, including Mike Nichols and William Styron, the community rallied to the boy’s defense. Barthel’s “riveting” account of this fascinating and frightening case was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (People).
Love or Honor: Police officer Chris Anastos was happily married and satisfied with his work on the NYPD’s anti-crime unit—until he was asked to go undercover to investigate links between the Italian mob and a Greek criminal network in Queens. For five years he moved back and forth between his comfortable home life and a murky, underground world of wise guys, pimps, and thieves. But when he fell in love with the beautiful, raven-haired daughter of a Long Island capo, Anastos faced his gravest threat yet. “For devotees of cop tales and mob lore . . . Tantalizing” (The New York Times Book Review).

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504047050
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 07/11/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 1420
Sales rank: 702,189
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Joan Barthel is an award-winning author of nonfiction and a contributor to many national publications, including the Washington Post Magazine and the New York Times Magazine. Her first book, A Death in Canaan (1976), uncovered the miscarriage of justice in the case of a Connecticut teenager accused of murdering his mother. It won the American Bar Association Gavel Award, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and became an Emmy-nominated television movie. A Death in California (1981), the story of a Beverley Hills socialite caught in the thrall of the man who murdered her fiancé, was the basis for a television miniseries. Love or Honor (1989), the extraordinary account of a married undercover cop who infiltrated the Greek mafia only to fall in love with the Capo’s daughter, was called “fascinating” and “compelling” by Nicholas Pileggi. Barthel cowrote Rosemary Clooney’s autobiography, Girl Singer (1999), and is the author of American Saint (2014), a biography of Elizabeth Seton with a foreword by Maya Angelou.

Read an Excerpt


Hope opened her eyes, closed them, opened them again, yawned, and stretched. She raised her head slightly from the pillow and peered down to the end of the bed where Bill was jogging in place.

"What time is it?" she asked, yawning again.

Bill turned his head toward her and kept jogging. "Nearly seven," he answered. "Hi, sweetheart."

Hope groaned and fell back onto the pillow, pulling the covers partly over her head. Waking up never seemed to get any easier. Bill was a morning person, always up at 6:00 to exercise in the darkened bedroom, with an educational program on TV to keep him company. Sometimes he jogged outdoors, in the dawn fog shrouding the hills above the house, but whether he went out or stayed in, he made three miles every morning before he showered and shaved, woke the children, and got their breakfast — he bought granola by the sack. He took the older children, Keith and Hope Elizabeth, to school on his way to work, so that Hope had only three-year-old K.C. to contend with. This morning K.C. was no problem; Hope's new maid would keep him in her small room off the kitchen, so Hope could go back for her morning nap, then wake up slowly with coffee and cigarettes and a handful of vitamins to get her going by noon.

Bill leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. "Bye, sweetheart." She groped to hug him, then her eyes flew open, and she propped herself up on one elbow.

"Hey, wait a minute," she protested. "We have to talk about the weekend."

"I'll call you from the office," Bill said cheerfully. "And I'll be back early, by three or three-thirty. Go back to sleep."

Hope heard the bedroom door close, and as she slid back under the blanket and bunched the pillow into a comfortable place under her head, she could hear Bill talking to Keith in his room across the hall. Just before she drifted back to sleep, she heard Keith laughing.

Hope Masters was thirty-one years old. She was five feet two and weighed ninety pounds. With smoky green eyes in a small-boned, oval face and champagne-colored hair streaming past her shoulder blades, she looked more like a sultry teen-ager than the mother of three children. Her oldest child, Keith, was twelve, and when Hope ran out of clean clothes, as she often did, she wore his jeans. She was very pretty, in an almost childlike, fragile, vulnerable way. Most of her friends were men.

Hope had lived in Beverly Hills, or nearby, all her life, and she seemed to have merged into her landscape, a genuine California girl. Not because she was robust or sun-kissed, brimming with vitality — she was, in fact, too thin, with a chronic back problem and a poor appetite — but because she had somehow absorbed all the concentrated expectations of her environment. When Hope said, "If I had my druthers, I'd live in a small town in Connecticut," she was not taken seriously. People who knew her found it impossible to imagine her living anywhere but amid primary contradictions. Her life of apparent status and privilege was as uncertain as the very earth under her feet, which might loosen and shift, after a surging rain, and lurch down the hillside.

She was flirty and frivolous and intensely practical. She was a worrier and excessively optimistic. She almost never cried. She could be impulsive and generous, or a bitch on wheels; sometimes brittle with anxiety, hard-edged, sometimes compassionate and earthy, not an easy person to decipher. A man who knew her well called her "opaque." Sophisticated and cynical, she watched religious programs on television because, she said, "I need some input," and she clung to her scrapbook of maxims, begun when she was a schoolgirl and repeated and added to as she grew older:

She was born on October 21, 1941, in a Jewish hospital. "Good Samaritan was full," Hope explained, "so I was born at Cedars of Lebanon. My mother will never live it down." She was christened Hope Elise, but soon after her parents were divorced, when Hope was two, her mother drove down to city hall and deleted "Elise" from the original birth certificate.

Her childhood, too, was subject to alteration. She remembered her father, James Stagliano, a musician, whom she came to call "my wild Italian father," as a merry man. When he moved back East — he played French horn for the Boston Symphony — they more or less lost touch, though he seemed never to have lost his merry bent: for her sixteenth birthday, when she flew to New York for a visit with him, he took her to the Stork Club where they were thrown out for "fancy dancing."

For the next dozen years of her life, Hope was in and out of various schools, various houses and hotel rooms, although she spent long spans of time with her mother's parents in Holmby Hills, in an enormous white Spanish-style mansion with a sweeping lawn and a living room so vast it seemed like a ballroom, with velvet draperies and crystal chandeliers, usually empty and echoing. Hope's mother, also named Hope but called "Honey" by her family, was often away — dating, playing tennis, traveling — so Hope became very attached to her grandmother. They would lie on the floor, side by side, stretching and doing exercises, while her grandmother told stories and explained to Hope that Honey needed to be taken care of, and how Hope was to do it. Hope saw her mother as soft and fluttery; she remembered, when she was about nine, choosing Honey's dresses when they went shopping.

Hope had a big bedroom upstairs at the Holmby Hills house where she and her friend Phyllis spent a lot of time playing with Hope's collection of dolls, when they weren't downstairs, in the big oak bar off the living room, playing bartender and customer, with grape juice. They were often alone in the house, with no adults around, although Phyllis remembered vividly when one adult, a male relative of Hope's, appeared at the door one day and called Hope in from the lawn where the girls were playing. Phyllis soon heard screaming and crying and a loud whack, and, soon after, Hope came running out of the house, "a battered mess," Phyllis recalled, "with her nose bleeding, blood smeared all over her face." The girls ran to the empty apartment above the garage, where they hid the rest of the day.

At Westlake, a very proper girls' school, Hope wore a blue cotton uniform with short sleeves and a sash tied in back, white anklets, and black shoes. She hated the school, but she was living with her grandmother and was generally content. When she was eleven, her grandmother died, and Hope was transferred to Warner Avenue Elementary School, a public school. Around that time, Hope lost track of Phyllis, too. Although Hope's mother was dating Phyllis's stepfather, when each was between marriages, each parent eventually married someone else, and the girls were taken, or sent, in different directions.

Hope loved Warner Avenue Elementary, but after two years, her mother placed her at Marlborough, an even more proper girls' school, which Hope disliked even more than Westlake. There was a lot of cliqueishness, grouping up and picking on people. She used to come home crying nearly every day. By tenth grade she was miserable. She stayed away from school a lot, pretending to be sick; she threatened to flunk out deliberately, and by eleventh grade had maneuvered her way back to public school, to Los Angeles High. Again she loved it; again she came into conflict with her mother's long-range vision. She remembered her mother saying that nobody who went to L.A. High would amount to anything, that the nice people went elsewhere. "I see people who are a whole lot nicer at Los Angeles High," Hope informed Honey. "I can't figure out what 'nice' means." Honey won, at least temporarily; Hope transferred back to Westlake to repeat eleventh grade. Her mother's plan was to have Hope finish at Westlake, make her debut at the Los Madrinas Ball, and go on to Stanford.

Hope had another plan. When she was sixteen, she drove down to Mexico with the boy next door and came back married. They didn't tell their parents for fear the marriage would be annulled; the nineteen-year-old groom went back to his classes at USC. Hope enrolled there, too. She hadn't finished high school, but when her test came back showing an I.Q. of 183, USC took her on conditionally. The newlyweds continued to live at their respective homes, but they were together often during the day on campus and at a friend's nearby apartment. Hope wanted to become pregnant, largely so that she could have a home of her own; Honey had married again, to a rich, very prominent lawyer with whom Hope didn't get along well at all.

When Hope became pregnant, she and her husband felt it was safe to tell their families they were married. Hope's mother approved of the groom, who was heir to a biscuit fortune and whose family displayed a legitimate ancestral crest, but his mother cried for hours. Then both mothers arranged a large, formal wedding at All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. The groom's mother wore black.

Hope's first place of her own was a studio apartment downtown, where she and her husband slept on a mattress on the floor. When she was eight months pregnant, the landlord said he didn't allow children. Hope and her husband moved to a slightly larger place — two rooms. They were living on three hundred dollars a month, half provided by each family. When their son was eighteen months old, Hope decided to have another baby, so Keith wouldn't grow up alone. She wanted a girl, to be named Lisa Marie, after her Italian grandmother, Maria Teresa Stagliano, but during labor, Hope's mother stayed with her and insisted a girl should be named Hope, too. Her mother-in-law wanted Elizabeth because it was an English name, so the new baby girl was named Hope Elizabeth.

By then Hope and her husband and the children were living in a pretty little house in Benedict Canyon, largely paid for by Hope's mother, although Hope had chipped in with the ten thousand dollars that her Holmby Hills grandmother had set aside, years earlier, for Hope's wedding. But Hope was bored and dissatisfied. Her husband seemed to spend a lot of time watering the macadamia nut trees in his garden, and their social life consisted largely of bridge games with Honey and her husband. Hope came to hate these evenings because Van would become enraged at his partner, usually Hope, for the smallest mistake. Sometimes she would rush from the game table in tears, and she liked to point out, afterward, that "a well-adjusted person is one who can play bridge and golf as though they were games."

When Hope was twenty-three years old, she filed for divorce. Her husband cried, and Hope felt bad, but she reveled in her new freedom. She double-dated with her friend Phyllis, whose life was running parallel to Hope's, on the same erratic track: by the age of nineteen, Phyllis had been married and divorced and had an infant son. Hope and Phyllis often shared baby-sitters to cut down on costs when they went out together; those were the days of the go-go dancers, and Phyllis remembered how they'd loved it. "We never had a chance to play like that when we were kids, so we did it later," Phyllis explained. In a restaurant one night, Hope met a dashing young public relations man, Tom Masters. They dated for four months. She had one last date with another man the night before she and Tom were married in a rented chapel in Las Vegas. Hope wore a white miniskirt and pink roses entwined in her hair; she carried flowers brought up from Los Angeles by another close friend, who kept them fresh in the refrigerator of her father's private plane. Just before the ceremony, Tom paid an extra five dollars, and someone lighted candles. They spent a five-day honeymoon in Las Vegas, with the temperature at 120 degrees throughout. Their son, Kirk Craig, whom they nicknamed K.C., was born in January 1970; Hope and Tom separated six weeks later — just for a week, that time, and later for good.

Thus, by 1973, when she was thirty-one, Hope Masters had lived an assortment of lives and had collected within herself a set of contradictions that seemed to manifest them all. Although she was often referred to as "the heiress" and "the socialite," she had spent, for an heiress, unusual amounts of time changing diapers and cleaning ovens. Large sums of money, legally hers, rested in trust funds, but, without access to it, she and her children ate a lot of frankfurters, sliced and scrambled in eggs. Once they lived for a week on potatoes and milk. She had no health insurance, no credit cards. She was listed in the Blue Book, the social register, while her children qualified for free lunches at their public school. She felt deprived without a live-in maid, and when she didn't have one was looking for one, although her income of $435 a month — some from each husband, some from her mother — entitled her to food stamps. She was living in Beverly Hills, California, one of the most expensive residential areas in the United States, where there are no streets, just "Drives" — living there even while, to piece out her income, she was working at a series of odd jobs, some of them odder than others. For a while she was a cocktail waitress at a bar downtown, where the customers enjoyed throwing chairs around and where she was obliged to sweep up a good deal of broken glass. She sold clothes at a boutique for fat women. She worked, briefly, for a doctor who specialized in giving injections. Once she held, also briefly, a telephone sales job, which involved calling Catholic priests all over the country on a WATS line. Another girl in the office would get the priest on the line by posing as a person with a problem, but Hope felt that was dishonest; she preferred to just ask for the priest, then begin to talk. Usually she ended up just having a long talk without selling a magazine subscription, so that job didn't last.

Talking was Hope's strongest point. She loved to talk, and when she wasn't talking, she loved to listen. It was in these compulsions that the contradictions of her life seemed summed up. She had discarded one husband because she considered him a boring stay-at-home, another because she considered him uninterested in children and domesticity. She wanted to spend time with her children, to befriend them, be involved with them, but she also wanted to have fun for herself, the kind of fun that her beauty and sparkle and personality made accessible. When Keith and Hope Elizabeth were old enough to understand, she promised them she'd never go out on a date two nights in a row, and she almost never did, but on the nights she did go out, she usually arranged two or three dates in one evening, two or three nightclubs in one evening, especially during a period when she and Phyllis were dating nightclub bouncers. Often she and Phyllis and their dates would end up at a Chinese restaurant on Sunset eating pea pods and partying until 4:00 A.M., when the place closed. Behaviors that were either expressed or implied in her upbringing had taken obvious hold — she could be naturally arrogant to a waiter in a restaurant, and often was — but other behavior came naturally, too. She was softhearted toward loners and troubled creatures; over the years she'd taken in dozens of stray cats and a handful of runaway children. A friend called Hope's house "early Crash Pad." If the waiter she treated imperiously had broken down and cried and told her his troubles, she'd have soothed him, advised him, and maybe taken him in, too. When one of her former maids turned up pregnant, Hope took her in, and when the baby was due, took her to the hospital. When the hospital said only a family member could go into the labor room, Hope signed the form in the space for FATHER.


Excerpted from "Deadly Obsessions"
by .
Copyright © 1989 Joan Barthel.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.

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