Memoirs and Murder

With Stephanie Kane's much-anticipated true crime memoir True Crime Redux launching next week, she's on the site today to share what it's like writing about a cold-case murder in which your family was directly involved. Don't miss her highly compelling essay!

True Crime Redux is really two stories. The first is a true account of the brutal murder of Denver-area housewife Betty Frye in her suburban garage. The second is a memoir of my involvement in the crime and the cold case decades later. To top it off, the cold case was ignited by a short-lived mystery novel that hovers like Banquo’s ghost. 

Let’s start on the morning of June 9, 1973.

It was a scorching hot Saturday. (Elmore Leonard says never open with weather, but this is relevant.) My boyfriend Doug and I were sophomores at CU in Boulder. Our wedding was in two weeks, but because his mother Betty disapproved of us living together, we didn’t know if she’d attend. So it was a surprise that she phoned our apartment on The Hill. Doug was in the shower; he had karate classes to teach, and I picked up the call. Our conversation was brief. Two hours later Betty was dead.

When I walked down to the karate studio to meet Doug, there was another surprise: his father, Duane. The Fryes lived 40 miles away. Betty hadn’t mentioned him coming, and it hardly seemed the spur-of-the-moment thing a tightly wound Martin Marietta engineer like Duane would do. He wore a dark long-sleeved shirt with a Tee underneath, way too hot for the day, and he had an ugly bruise on his forehead. It took many years for me to accept that he used us as an alibi. 

Returning home, Duane found Betty’s body. The blood-spattered scene was staged to look like she’d surprised a burglar, odd for a Saturday morning in a bustling subdivision where neighbors were watering lawns and hanging out clothes. Duane was indicted for first-degree murder and arrested. Doug and I postponed the wedding. 

Trial was set for November, but at the last minute the charges were inexplicably dropped. The family didn’t talk about Betty or her murder. They scattered, and Doug and I tried to move on with our lives. For the nine years we were married, it was like the crime never happened. Except, of course, it did.

After we divorced, I was haunted by the fear that by entering the Frye family I’d upset some fragile balance which culminated in the explosion in the garage. When I remarried in 1993, I told my new husband about the case. But why were the charges dropped? I went to the courthouse for the slim 1973 file. With just my memories of that day and a blurry microfiche transcript of the testimony of the lead cop, I wrote my first book—the mystery Quiet Time—to try to come to terms with the reality of Betty’s death. 

To distance Quiet Time from Betty’s murder, I wrote it under my second husband’s surname. Bantam’s legal department made me bump up the timeline by ten years and change identifying place names and details. Published a week or so after 9/11, the book had a short life and a quick death. I went on to write a series of legal thrillers. But my highly fictionalized version of Betty’s murder did not go quietly into the ether.

In 2005, Duane’s sister saw me on an old rerun of a canceled local TV book show. She went out and bought Quiet Time, read it, and came forward with information that Duane had confessed to Betty’s murder. A cold case was opened, and Duane, then in his eighties, was reindicted for bludgeoning his wife to death. (My wedding to Doug had indeed been a trigger, but not the only one.) The defense painted a target on my back and subpoenaed Quiet Time’s drafts and notes. During the next eight years, as the case wound its way up and down the courts, I wrote nothing. 

When it was finally over, I got the whole file. Now I had the facts—too many of them. Because Quiet Time had been my catharsis (or so I thought), I wrestled them into a tight linear third-person traditional true crime. It attracted a top agent and several publishers but never sold. Nobody said why, but I think leaching out the emotion was a mistake. Betty’s murder was personal, and it needed to be told in my voice.

So I turned to a blog. Writing in first person for the first time ever, I let it flow. The discipline of working inside a 500-800 word box, and needing to make not just every word count but each post stand on its own, freed me to see and tell the story in a new way. The result, True Crime Redux, is a true crime memoir. And it attracted a publisher. 

True Crime Redux is the book I always wanted to write. It hasn’t banished all the ghosts, but it’s brought me back to the girl whose only real crime was falling in love. It may not be the final word on the events of June 9, 1973, but it’s the last one from me.



About True Crime Redux by Stephanie Kane:

The murder of Betty Frye goes unpunished for decades. Kane, ex-wife of Betty’s son Doug, finally decides to tell her story by fictionalizing the events she witnessed as well as those about which she simply speculated. The result is the novel Quiet Time. She shortly finds out, however, that fiction can oftentimes accurately mirror reality…

In her new true-crime non-fiction, True Crime Redux, Kane artfully describes the chain of events that followed the publication of her novel and brings a forgotten cold case back to life. She dives deep into the inner-workings of modern crime and punishment through the retelling of events she played an involuntary role in.

This strikingly transparent report of a brutal homicide engulfs readers from the very first line. True Crime Redux is thus a perfect pick for true-crime readers looking for a compelling, true story that leaves no stones unturned.

Learn More Or Order A Copy


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