Fatal Vows, by Joseph Hosey (Hardcover, 2008)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This story is a chilling account of a suspected
serial killer who lives in Illinois. Unfortunately, it's a true story.
The story is chilling not because of how it's told (which is, by the
way, superbly done), but because of the insights Hosey provides into the
thoughts and behavior of the main character, Drew Peterson. While Hosey
goes to great lengths to provide a balanced viewpoint, there's simply no
hiding the fact that Drew Peterson is one sick man and very likely the
man who killed two of his four wives.
I'm originally from Illinois and am quite familiar
with its "Save the Criminals" (as opposed to Save the Whales) programs,
which seek to protect criminals from their victims rather than the other
way around. These whacko laws are why, for example, the south side of
Chicago is so dangerous. And these whacko laws have made no minor
contribution to the Illinois careers of famous killers, such as John
Wayne Gacy. It did not surprise me in the least that this drama took
place in Illinois.
I stopped watching television in 1990, breaking
that pattern only on September 11, 2001 for obvious reasons. Not wishing
to be disinformed, I don't read newspapers. So, this book was my first
exposure to this case and to several other cases mentioned in the book.
That means I didn't come at this with any pre-existing ideas about the
One of my favorite authors is Ann Rule, who covers
similar topics in a similar way. She's also a favorite among a small
group of people with whom I have detailed discussions about "what we're
reading now." When I first heard of Hosey's book, my thought was that
I'd need to cut him some slack and not hold him up to Ann Rule as the
standard by which to review his book.
As it turns out, Hosey holds his own. His style
differs from that of Rule, both are gifted writers who create
page-turners and leave their personal agendas out of the book. Anyone on
Rule's level is worth reading, regardless of the subject. Hosey is
there. Even better, it's a fascinating subject.
Typically, a book that addresses a current event
takes on the mantle of a debate paper that is all about proving the
author's conclusions. You see this pattern in books on the Iraq War,
global warming, religious topics, and health-related topics. It's
one-sided, and to me it's a waste of paper for that reason. It's just
not intellectually honest. Fatal Vows doesn't follow that pattern,
however, and even the wording is carefully chosen to avoid manipulating
the reader. Kudos to Hosey for accomplishing this, despite the obvious
conclusions the evidence brings.
What it's missing
Oddly, this book doesn't have a Table of Contents.
Nor does it have an index. So, going back through it later for reference
purposes is not easy. These two features should be in any nonfiction
book. While Hosey writes in the manner of a good novelist, he did not
write a novel so these features should be in his book.
It's also missing backnotes, footnotes,
bibliography, and a list of references. So, we have little to tell us
whether the book is accurate, how well-researched it is, or where he got
his information. In the text of the book, however, he discusses his
sources. The references are embedded in the narrative, so we know he had
several. Most of his sources were people, not published works, so maybe
we can overlook the lack of a list of these. The names of the people do
appear in the acknowledgements area.
Fortunately, the book is also missing internal
inconsistencies. This adds to its credibility, because even
well-researched books sometimes have internal inconsistencies and the
reader must sort those out to arrive at the truth. Hosey seems to be
"straight up" throughout the book.
There are nearly two dozen color photographs in
the book. All of them have solid captions, so you know what you're
looking at (and, in some cases, what it really means). And obviously,
Hosey needed sources for these photos. Some photos are of people who
have been missing before Hosey came on the scene.
The typical nonfiction book consists of 10
chapters. This book consists of 13. Probably, Hosey chose the number 13
intentionally. When you read about what Peterson's wives went through,
that choice makes perfect sense.
There's also a prologue, epilogue, postscript, and
After the riveting prologue, the first two
chapters give us background information on Stacy Cales, who was
Peterson's fourth wife. It's interesting to note here that she was 17
when he began pursuing her, and he married her when she was 19. The age
difference between them is about 30 years. Stacy had already given birth
to their first child before Peterson's third wife Kathleen was found
dead in her bathtub.
Chapters 3 and 4 provide the backstory on what
went on with Drew and Kathleen, leading up to her death. These two
chapters sow the seeds of doubt for the official explanation, which is
debunked in a later chapter.
It's worth noting here that Kathleen was beautiful
on her wedding day but by the time of her death she was about 40 lbs
overweight while Stacy was a beanpole at the time. Hosey gives
Kathleen's height and weight, but doesn't make the direct comparison.
However, the facts just jump out at the reader and it's hard not to
conclude that Drew views women as appliances rather than as people. For
more on this mentality, read
The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family or
Jackie Ethel Joan: Women of Camelot. Shortly before Stacy's death,
she underwent significant cosmetic surgery including breast implants and
The next seven chapters really dig into the Stacy
Peterson story. In the process, we get a look at both the public and
private personas of Drew Peterson. What you see there is shocking. This
man has the conscience of an IRS agent.
Chapter 13 wraps everything up by exploring the
question of whether Drew Peterson will ever be arrested for the murder
of his fourth wife, whose body hasn't been found. It also looks at the
question of whether he will ever be arrested for the murder of his third
wife, following the completely botched investigation into her murder.
People who work in law enforcement have gotten away with murder (recall
the three murders on Ruby Ridge by FBI agents), and here we get a
glimpse into why that happens.
Drew Peterson has admitted his guilt through his
behavior while being careful not to give an actual confession--this is
clear in the book and several experts have said as much. But it looks
like Drew Peterson will get away with it. Our normal legal channels
exist to prevent vigilante justice and to ensure that the accused have a
fair trial. The downside is that not every criminal is stopped.
Will our legal system ultimately bring this killer
to justice? That didn't happen with O.J., but perhaps in time it will
happen with Drew Peterson. Will the people of Illinois force a repeal of
the "Save the Criminals" laws in light of this case? Probably not. The
same factors that cause things to be wrong in the first place tend to
keep them that way. Besides, this book wasn't intended as a "change the
system" work. It was meant to give us an inside look at two of today's
unsolved murders. On that count, it has succeeded.
It's a great read, and it provides something very
interesting to talk about. The murders themselves can be scintillating
table talk, but so can the surrounding issues such as some mentioned in
this review. Put this on your "must read" list, but don't keep it there