An acclaimed true-crime author takes on his toughest project of all-- writing about a murderer who happens to be his son.
When a hideous murder makes the headlines, a barrage of questions usually appears in its wake: Why did this happen? Could it have been prevented? What kind of family was the criminal from? Are his parents in some way to blame? Any crime writer worth his salt would attempt to answer these questions-- but how do you address such questions when the killer is your own son?
As a single father raising two sons, Carlton Stowers did his best to instill in his boys a healthy sense of right and wrong. But with Anson, his oldest, it would prove to be an ongoing uphill battle. At a young age, Anson began to angrily shun authority, and soon became involved with a number of illicit activities, including drugs, forgery, and theft. After each jail stay, Anson would vow to get clean and start anew. It became a revolving door for both father and son, until Anson, twenty-five years old and strung-out on amphetamines, brutally murdered his young ex-wife.
In a brave, honest, and moving work, bestselling true-crime writer Carlton Stowers examines the downfall of his eldest son, once a happy child full of promise, now a convicted murderer serving a sixty-year sentence. With a reporter's shrewdness and a father's heart, Stowers presents a true story of two lives irrevocably lost, and of one man struggling to both understand-- and move beyond-- the...Sins of the Son.
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About the Author
Carlton Stowers is the author of more than two dozen nonfiction books, including the Edgar Award-winning Careless Whispers, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Innocence Lost, and Open Secrets. He has also written two books for children-- A Hero Named George and Hard Lessons-- which are being used by elementary schools as part of their drug and gang prevention programs. He and his wife live in Cedar Hill, Texas.
Carlton Stowers is the author of more than two dozen works of nonfiction, including the Edgar Award-winning Careless Whispers, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Innocence Lost, and Open Secrets. He and his wife live in Cedar Hill, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Sins of the Son
By Carlton Stowers
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1995 Carlton Stowers
All rights reserved.
THE VOICES OF CHILDREN WERE STILL SINGING A quiet, pleasant tune in my head as I drove toward home on that sunny, unseasonably mild November afternoon in 1988. It had been something called National Book Week, and along with most other authors in the community, I had been invited to visit one of the Dallas elementary schools to spend some time reading to and talking with the students. With the holiday season fast approaching, I had chosen to read from Chris Van Allsburg's lyrical children's fantasy The Polar Express, and the students had loved it. They had sat in rapt silence, listening to the story of a trainload of youngsters swept away on a magical journey to the North Pole, then oohed and ahhed at the author's magnificent illustrations, which I had passed among them. Afterward, there had been cookies and punch and a considerable amount of enthusiastic discussion of the story they'd just heard.
It had, then, been a pleasant experience. Not only had it provided me a brief respite from deadline concerns over a book I was struggling to complete, but it also had been time I judged well spent. I drove from the parking lot of Winnetka Elementary School, warmed by the friendly smiles and applause of my young audience.
In no real hurry to get home, I detoured past a fast-food restaurant for a cup of coffee to wash away the saccharine taste of the Kool-Aid punch and idly read a newspaper discarded by some member of the lunch crowd. An electrical fire, triggered by the previous evening's violent thunderstorm, had thrown thousands of downtown workers into darkness for a few hours. There was mixed reaction to the police chief's announcement that he was promoting three blacks, an Hispanic, and a woman. President Bush was busy assembling an economics team he hoped could do something about reducing the federal deficit, a teenage mother had been charged with trying to sell her newborn baby for $550, and the Pistons had defeated the Dallas Mavericks by fifteen.
The headlines made little impression, blurred by the still fresh thoughts of the children I'd just visited and the memories the occasion had suddenly renewed.
How many years had passed since those times when I had read bedtime fairy tales to my own kids, sneaking peeks from the pages to watch as their eyelids fluttered in a vain attempt to remain open until the story's end? How long had it been since those days of quicksilver childhood innocence when the lines between fantasy and reality were still comfortably blurred and Santa and his North Pole toy shop were real?
And how was I to know that the bright warmth of that day was soon to turn cold and pitch black?
Life offers no weightier chore than that of being the bearer of another's bad news. The burden, prompted by a phone call from a police dispatcher an hour earlier, marked my wife's face as she met me at the door. The ever present sparkle was gone from her eyes, replaced by a lost, dull sadness. She had, I could tell, been crying.
I felt a sudden rush of anxiety as she moved toward me and put her arms around my neck, burying her face against my collarbone.
"It's Anson," she finally said, her words forced with a dread I'd never before heard. Though not the mother of my son, she knew firsthand of our troubled relationship. "He's in the county jail. I was so afraid you would hear about it on the radio. I'm sorry ... so sorry."
In what could only have been a split second, I mentally inventoried the possibilities. It was hardly a new exercise. In recent years my son's life had become a litany of criminal behavior: drug abuse, thefts, arrests, prison time. And, while one never gets accustomed to midnight calls from jail, the dealing with lawyers, or visitations to courtrooms, there comes a time when the numbing regularity of such events takes a toll. Each time the disappointment is just as real, just as painful. But the element of surprise gradually erodes to the expected.
"What's he done?" I stopped short of adding an angry, sarcastic "this time."
Pat began shaking her head, moving her hands to her face in an attempt to hide the tears that had again begun to flow. "He's killed Annette," she said in a pained whisper I could barely hear.
Standing in the doorway, I felt for a moment that my legs would not support me. A cold, numbing ache ran through my body, stealing away every drop of energy. I became vaguely aware that my hands were shaking uncontrollably and hid them away, plunging them deep into the pockets of my jacket.
How desperately I wanted my wife to be mistaken. I wanted to wake suddenly and learn that the scene had been scripted from nothing more than a horrible dream. I could summon no logical thinking that would allow acceptance of what she'd said despite the fact it had been relayed by a person I trusted above all others. I wanted to hide away, to run from this evil monster that had so abruptly invaded my world.
In truth, I had long been resigned to the disturbing fact that my son, at the time twenty-five years old, had chosen a life's path of self-destructive behavior. No amount of pleading or prayer, visits to clinics and psychologists' offices, had altered his course. With each parole from prison, I had desperately hoped for some sudden miracle of change while, at the same time, privately counting the days until he would be found guilty of a new, senseless crime and returned to a cell in some faraway place.
But murder, man's ultimate inhumanity to man, committed by my own flesh and blood? It was impossible.
The only detail that Pat had been given was that Anson had been arrested at the Dallas apartment of his ex-wife earlier in the day and was being held in the county jail.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I guess I'd better make some calls."
For some time I sat alone in my office, staring across the desk at the phone, dreading the conversation that awaited. The pleasant afternoon and images of smiling young faces had been erased by the knowledge that as I had read from a happy fairy tale on one side of town a disquieting nightmare was being played out on the other.
The voice of Detective T. J. Barnes was not what television scriptwriters have trained us to expect from those working out of police station Homicide Divisions. Instead of gruff and world-weary, it was pleasant and professional. And, for some reason, sounded younger that I had expected.
There was a brief but noticeable silence on his end of the line after I identified myself and explained that I had just learned that my son had been taken into custody.
"I would," I said, "appreciate anything you can tell me about what's happened."
His voice quickly took on a dispassionate, businesslike tone. "Sir, Anson Eugene Stowers was arrested today at the Timberline Apartments and charged with the murder of his wife ... I'm sorry, his ex-wife ... Annette Robinson Stowers, age twenty-five, and is now being held in the Lew Sterrett jail." I sensed that he was leafing through a case file as he spoke.
"According to what he told us, he killed her yesterday ... sometime around one in the afternoon. We received an anonymous call earlier today from a resident of the apartment complex who Anson had tried to sell some of the deceased's jewelry to. Our informant said that he had reason to believe a murder had been committed."
When the police had knocked on the door of Apartment 218, the detective explained, Anson answered and made no attempt to keep them from coming inside. At the foot of the bed in an adjoining room, investigators found the body, wrapped in bedsheets and a rug.
"He told us," Detective Barnes said, "that she had wanted him to kill her."
I didn't want to hear any more, yet if I was to make any sense of the sinister tragedy, I had to know. Only after I specifically asked did the officer inform me that Annette had been bludgeoned, strangled, and stabbed.
Anson, he said, had already given a confession.
"Did he say anything else?"
"When we entered the apartment," the detective replied, "he told us that if he'd had just twelve more hours we would never have found him or the body."
How often, I wondered, had the officer been through similar conversations? How many apartments had he walked into during his career to view bloody scenes that would become the next day's headlines? Did it ever get easy? And how did he manage to put it all behind him when his shift ended?
I'm not sure how long I sat there after hanging up, pondering the surrealistic sequence of events. It was that time of year when evenings had begun arriving early, and only when Pat quietly entered and turned on a lamp did I realize that darkness had fallen.
"Are you okay?" she asked as she placed an arm over my shoulder.
"I will be."
Fortunately, she did not question the manner in which I planned to accomplish such a task.
In time the phone began to ring. Pat took the calls, most of them from reporters asking for confirmation that Anson was, in fact, my son and for some statement from me. What could I possibly say?
For years I had worked as a reporter and had, on occasion, been required to perform the same difficult, intrusive task. It was, very simply, part of the job, and I knew no journalist who enjoyed it.
Some years earlier, while still working for the Dallas Morning News, I had been dispatched to a small town in East Texas to do a story on a gifted sixteen-year-old amateur boxer who had died in a plane crash while returning home from an international tournament in Europe. My assignment had been to talk with the townspeople and get their reaction to the tragedy.
I had spent most of the day talking with fellow students, the youngster's teachers, his coach, leaving the most difficult interview for last. Finally, I had knocked on the door of the boy's home and identified myself to his mother. A large, sad-faced woman dressed in a terry cloth robe graciously welcomed me into her modest house. On a mantel in the small, well-kept living room were lined a number of carefully polished trophies won by her son.
I was surprised to find her alone, without friends or relatives to care for her in her time of grief. With little prompting she talked pridefully, lovingly of her son. A good boy. A good student. Never in any trouble. His daddy had died in a work-related accident when his son was just a baby. Her boy, she observed, was too kind, really, to have attained the degree of success he had in such a violent sport. "But," she said, "he was always telling me he was going to be a professional one day and make a lot of money so he could buy me a new house."
In the course of my half-hour visit she had not cried. Only the haunting, melancholic sound of her voice suggested the terrible pain she was suffering. As I rose to leave, she stood before me and forced a heartbreaking smile. "Thank you for coming and letting me talk about my boy."
Responding to a sudden urge, I reached out and hugged her. And in that spontaneous moment, shared between total strangers, her grief exploded. Holding tightly to me, her entire body shook as she alternately sobbed and screamed angry curses at her fate.
Indeed, the journalist's job is not always easy.
It was something I tried to bear in mind as the story of my son's crime led off the ten o'clock television news. The anchor who read the story seemed not nearly as concerned about the murder or the victim as he was about the fact that it involved "the son of a well-known local author who, ironically, has written extensively about crime."
As he spoke, dust jackets of several of my books appeared on the screen.
I did not attend Annette's funeral. For several days I agonized over whether or not to call her parents before it occurred to me that I did not even know their names. Even before she and Anson had married, I had been under the impression that Annette lived not at home but with her grandmother, and it never occurred to me to pry about her relationship with her mother and father.
Had I called them, what would I have said? In their eyes, no doubt, I was their hated enemy just as surely as was my son. They had suffered an overwhelming, unfathomable loss, and doubtless their anger had spread quickly to me. I had fathered the person who took their daughter's life, and while not a sin for which I could be prosecuted, it was reason enough for their blame.
I'd seen the hard-drawn line, separating the families of the victim and the relatives of the defendant, at every trial I'd ever attended.
For days after the news of Annette's death, I wandered through a thick, enabling fog. Pat, along with a number of supportive friends, repeatedly assured me that I should not feel blame for the unthinkable tragedy. In truth, I didn't. Instead, the emotion I found myself battling was one of overwhelming sadness, born of a resignation that all past efforts, however frail and faulted, to help my son toward a healthy, productive life had gone for naught.
He had finally ventured far beyond the reach of any saving lifeline I could throw.
How, I wondered, could this have happened? What evil compass had pointed the way toward such tragedy?CHAPTER 2
ABILENE, TEXAS, IN THE EARLY SIXTIES WAS LIGHT-YEARS removed from the peace-and-love lifestyle that was blooming wildly throughout much of the nation. A city of 90,000, it was the shining, self-rightous buckle of the West Texas Bible Belt, boasting three denominational colleges and more churches per capita than any community of similar size in the country. The cotton and oil industries provided the foundation of its economy, but ironclad Christian values and good neighbor patriotism were its real stock and trade. That and its high school athletic teams, which collected state championships with envied regularity.
Early in the summer of 1962 while home from my sophomore year at the University of Texas, I had begun dating a pretty, brown-eyed high school senior-to-be named Jana Freeman. We saw movies together at the downtown Paramount Theater, enjoyed late-evening pizzas at the first restaurant in Abilene to offer such exotic fare, and joined friends for Cokes and fries at the local curb service hangout. It was American Grafitti-in-the-boonies; all in all a happy, carefree time that showed no hint of ending.
Then, just weeks before I was to return to college, Jana tearfully confided to me that she was pregnant.
For days that followed I reported to my summer job with the Texas State Highway Department without benefit of sleep, an overwhelming panic accompanying me like some black, menacing storm cloud. I was going to be a father, and the thought was the most fearful thing I'd ever experienced.
It was a time when teenage pregnancy was neither commonplace nor socially accepted, especially in a small West Texas town where half the population was given to quoting scripture at the sight of a beer can. It carried with it a devastating stigma, particularly for a teenage girl, that was certain to give rise to cruel whispers and feelings of rampant guilt. It was something that simply did not happen in "nice" families, to "good" kids.
One evening, as we sat alone at a picnic table in the darkened city park, discussing the problem that had become the sudden focus of both our lives, I asked her to marry me.
I had saved some money during the summer, I explained, and my athletic scholarship at the University of Texas would cover the cost of off-campus housing. And the sports editor of the Austin American-Statesman had promised me a part-time job once school resumed. If she was willing to give it a try, I told her, I felt we could make it. I promised to do my best to take care of her.
It was, I knew, a proposal that ignored a multitude of problems. How could people just nineteen and seventeen years old be certain of their feelings for each other? Was the prospect of a child enough to bond a relationship, fueling its growth into something durable and longstanding? And what of the youthful experiences that would be lost to her, the well-earned joys of her final year of high school, the separation from family and friends?
The gravity of the situation, however, did not offer the luxury of dwelling on such issues.
"I think," she said, "that I would like being your wife and living in Austin."
Excerpted from Sins of the Son by Carlton Stowers. Copyright © 1995 Carlton Stowers. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A better title might be 'A Father's Patience.' I wondered when reading the book how Mr. Stowers managed to survive some of Anson's troubles. I gasped when he described the death of his daughter-in-law. That must have been terribly painful to write, as well as for his son to read. I especially enjoyed the book, because, although it is such a tragedy, it had an almost peaceful ending.
Very sad but very informative as well. You hurt for the son and the family.
Very disappointed in Mr. Stowers! This is an autobiography! Praises his son at the end for admitting guilt, and hardly mentions the murder victim! Save your money! Please take this off the true crime list, hardly writes about crime at all!
This is one of the best books i have ever read. I am truly sorry for the family.
Reading this validated the feelings I've experienced the past 10+ years. While our son's charges have been drug related thus far, the shame, the fear, the anger experienced by Mr. Stowers is all too familiar. The 'enabling' behavior of the author hit home, knowing it's not good for anyone, yet always hopeful it will make a difference.