Wednesday, December 21, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: A Season of Darkness

A Season of Darkness
by Douglas Jones and Phyllis Gobbell
Berkley Books, New York, 2011

Review by Robert A. Waters

From 1969 to 1974, I lived in a small town just south of Nashville. I found my lovely wife there and got my undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. After moving to my home state of Florida, my wife and I spent Spring Break, 1975 back in Tennessee and it was there I first read about the Marcia Trimble case. I was mesmerized by the mystery: how can a nine-year-old selling Girl Scout cookies in a busy middle class neighborhood simply vanish? The answer came decades later and was almost beyond belief.

A Season of Darkness describes the story of Marcia Trimble’s abduction and murder in Nashville. It chronicles the three-decade hunt for her killer, the near-framing of an innocent teenager, and advances in DNA that finally brought a serial rapist and double murderer to some measure of justice.

Marcia Trimble was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-faced angel. Her passions were Girl Scouts, playing with her friends, and going to church. She’d highlighted passages in her Bible and had deep discussions with her mother about religion.

Then, on February 25, 1975, at 5:30 in the afternoon, while going about her neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies, Marcia vanished. There were children out riding bicycles and playing basketball, mothers watching their kids from windows, and fathers driving home from work. In the middle of it all, the young girl simply disappeared.

The Nashville Police Department wasn't equipped to handle such a case. They made numerous mistakes: first, by allowing searchers to trample all over the crime scene; second, by immediately focusing on a strange teenager who had an almost unbreakable alibi; but worst of all, by searching a neighbor’s shed more than a dozen times and somehow missing the girl’s body lying beneath a tarp. And, as happens more times than they’ll admit, an FBI profiler got it 100% wrong, misleading investigators.

Thirty-three days after she disappeared, on Easter Sunday, Marcia was found two hundred yards from her home. The child had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

Shortly after Marcia was killed, several rapes and a murder near Vanderbilt University resulted in the arrest and conviction of a sexual predator named Jerome Barrett. He’d spent most of his adult life in prison for crimes against women and children. He was never considered a suspect in Marcia’s murder until DNA linked him to the crime. A Season of Darkness describes his murderous past, and how he was caught and convicted.

Many years after the crime that shocked Nashville, police captain Mickey Miller said: “In that moment, Nashville lost its innocence. Our city has never been, and never will be, the same again. Every man, woman, and child knew that if something horrific could happen to that little girl, it could happen to anybody.”

In A Season of Darkness, Douglas Jones and Phyllis Gobbel have done a masterful job bringing the case to life. Their attention to detail takes the reader back to Nashville in the 1970s, and they pull no punches in critiquing a flawed investigation.

This is one of the best true crime books I’ve read in quite a while. I highly recommend it.

Jerome Barrett

1 comment:

Kevin M. Sullivan said...

It is sad to even have to say it, but allowing a small child out to sell cookies to the world-at-large, where predatory killers dwell, is playing with fire. These types of murders HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WITH US, and society (read moms and dads) need to really understand the dangers that may be waiting just around the corner, no matter how "nice" the neighborhood. All it takes is for the child to stumble upon the wrong person, and it's all over.