The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City

by Laura Tillman


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“A haunted, haunting examination of mental illness and murder in a more or less ordinary American city…Mature and thoughtful…A Helter Skelter for our time, though without a hint of sensationalism—unsettling in the extreme but written with confidence and deep empathy” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

On March 11, 2003, in Brownsville, Texas—one of America’s poorest cities—John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho murdered their three young children. The apartment building in which the brutal crimes took place was already run down, and in their aftermath a consensus developed in the community that it should be destroyed.

In 2008, journalist Laura Tillman covered the story for The Brownsville Herald. The questions it raised haunted her and set her on a six-year inquiry into the larger significance of such acts, ones so difficult to imagine or explain that their perpetrators are often dismissed as monsters alien to humanity. Tillman spoke with the lawyers who tried the case, the family’s neighbors and relatives and teachers, even one of the murderers: John Allen Rubio himself, whom she corresponded with for years and ultimately met in person. Her investigation is “a dogged attempt to understand what happened, a review of the psychological, sociological and spiritual explanations for the crime…a meditation on the death penalty and on the city of Brownsville” Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

The result is a brilliant exploration of some of our age’s most important social issues and a beautiful, profound meditation on the truly human forces that drive them. “This thought-provoking…book exemplifies provocative long-form journalism that does not settle for easy answers” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501104251
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 04/05/2016
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Laura Tillman is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and Pacific Standard, among other publications. Originally from Maplewood, New Jersey, she began her career at The Brownsville Herald in South Texas. She holds a BA in International Studies from Vassar College and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts is her first book.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 An Unmeasured Feeling 1

Chapter 2 An Education 11

Chapter 3 Pilgrim 27

Chapter 4 Letters from the Edge 35

Chapter 5 The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts 57

Chapter 6 The Quiet Dead 79

Chapter 7 A Corner in the Good Life 89

Chapter 8 Angela 97

Chapter 9 Don't Read This Chapter before Going to Bed 111

Chapter 10 After 133

Chapter 11 Good Guys and Bad Guys 141

Chapter 12 Agua Bendita (Holy Water) 157

Chapter 13 Belief 173

Chapter 14 The End of History Illusion 189

Chapter 15 Place of No Return 195

Chapter 16 In the Garden 221

Chapter 17 Three Graves Together 231

Acknowledgments 239

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