The Forest City Killer

The Forest City Killer – Vanessa Brown

The Forest City Killer is the story and investigation of the disappearance and subsequent murder of Jackie English, a resident of London, Ontario in 1969.

I received an advanced copy from ECW Press in exchange for an honest review.

Having read, reviewed and interviewed the author of Murder City, a book about both the murders in her hometown of London, Ontario between 1959 and 1984, bookseller and author Vanessa Brown’s curiosity about the unsolved murder of Jackie English inspired her to dig deep and write her own book focusing specifically on English’s mysterious death.  Through interviews with those connected to Jackie and with access to Detective James Alsop’s files – the man obsessed with bringing to justice the person responsible for English’s grisly death – Vanessa reopens the case and furiously investigates with the hope of solving the decades old cold case.

There’s nothing special about Jackie’s disappearance in and of itself.  She had been waiting for a bus following her shift when she was picked up on the side of the road by an unidentified man driving a Ford.  Witnesses were sparse, but they all seemed to corroborate one another’s story.  The sad fact is that Jackie’s disappearance was one of many during this time and what author Vanessa Brown hopes to accomplish is to lay out the evidence to support her theory that Jackie’s murder, and several others, were possibly committed by one or two men.

Brown examines the similarities among the murders of Jackie and those of several others during the latter half of the 1960s.  There are several items that can connect them but at the time, investigators were quick to wash their hands of the potential of a serial killer living among them.  Seeing as the case remains unsolved, a book of this nature could possibly fall into the trap of editorializing and manipulating evidence to support the author’s agenda but Brown is very quick to differentiate her theories from the hard facts and how they connect.

There are more than a few staggering revelations here – the biggest surrounding a section of the book devoted to the murder of Georgia Jackson.  Brown believes this may be the earliest murder connected to the Forest City Killer.  However, the surprise lies in the judge’s throwing out of the rape charge given that he didn’t believe he could classify as rape what the killer did after the victim had passed..  The book is filled with how those responsible for investigating and carrying out justice seemed to fumble their responsibilities.

The Forest City Killer continues the trend of amateur sleuths doing the heavy lifting for the overworked or possibly apathetic law enforcement as seen in books like Michelle MacNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and James Renner’s True Crime Addict.  Given the crowded market place and the high expectations put forth by true crime aficionados, there isn’t any room for slackers.  Brown is the furthest thing from lazy in putting forth the effort to compile an engaging narrative surrounding the mid-century killings and allows readers to digest the evidence and make up their own minds about who is responsible.

Side note: this book contains one of the most Canadian paragraphs I’ve read in a book:

An hour’s drive southeast of London, Aylmer is a small town. It serves as a hub for summer tourists at nearby cottages, where city dwellers vacation along the shores of Lake Erie. The population swells during hot weather. Crowding the sidewalks in their swimsuits and flip-flops, families check out little boutiques, get some beer at the LCBO for a campfire, buy some bug spray at Shoppers Drug Mart, and grab four litres of bagged milk from the Valu-mart.

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