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The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and a Hunt for Detroit's Most Notorious Serial Killer

by J. Reuben Appelman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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845325,747 (3.31)None
Enthralling. Gripping. Cinematic. Raw. A cold case murder investigation paced like a podcast, as visually stunning as a film, and as brave and personal as our darkest memoirs. J. Reuben Appelman cracks open one of America's most notorious murder sprees while simultaneously banging the gavel on his own history with violence. A deftly-crafted true crime story with grit, set amid the decaying sprawl of Detroit and its outliers.--… (more)
  1. 00
    The Snow Killings: Inside the Oakland County Child Killer Investigation by Marney Rich Keenan (ijustgetbored)
    ijustgetbored: Another discussion of the Oakland County Child Killer case and investigations.
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Showing 5 of 5
After finishing this book I immediately screamed NOOOO! I am so mad and book drunk, and sad, and damn it!

I can't believe the ending, it's a lie. I swear it's a lie! This snarky, perfectly dark book has wrecked me.

I LOVED the writing style. It's so immersive. It's refreshing to read a book on my level of snark. The banter was perfection between all of the characters. Gideon stole my heart and then shattered it into a million black pieces.

The world building so great, so many levels of deceit and lore. Ugh. It all played out so beautifully. Dark, tragic, and lovely. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator added so much emotion to the story. Great pick.

I can't wait to read the next book! ( )
  buukluvr | Feb 14, 2023 |
This. Was. Wonderful. If by wonderful, you mean creepy and disturbing and compelling and liminal and lovely.

I think this might be a true crime to equal I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, at least for me. It’s got that same fragmentation and self-analysis and exploration of the era, but in the case of The Kill Jar, it’s a whole lot darker. Appelman has personal demons he’s trying to excise, goes more intensely into his obsession with the case than McNamara does, and holy hell was Detroit not a safe place to be a kid in the 1970s.

I really liked the way Appelman told the story, to be honest. It’s intensely non-linear, poetic without being pretentious, and captures people and places in key moments. Here is the guy who ran a “summer camp” for boys. Here is the night I learned my wife was cheating. Here is what the police didn’t report about the bodies. Here is the day someone tried to abduct me. Here is the final day of a victim. Here is a mysterious “suicide”.

The non-linearity makes it a little hard to follow at times, it’s true, but it builds a sense of growing horror at the web of everything, from the ways the victims and suspects were potentially connected, to the possible motives for a police cover-up, to the multiple child porn rings operating at the time, to the victims’ families fight for justice, to Appelman’s own childhood (and adulthood) and what that might reveal about the mind of the killer. It’s almost haunting the way it all ties together and I’ve got my shoulders up just remembering it to write this.

But it’s not just about the OCCK case and the other crimes detailed in the book. This book is very much also a memoir, not only of Appelman’s research into the case, but also him trying to reconnect with his father, exes, and other family, to make sense of his own past and flaws, and to come to terms with himself all while he’s delving into police records and microfiche and visiting crime scenes. That’s about as compelling and disturbing as the rest of the book because Appelman is not a well man, not by any stretch.

In a way, this book is as much about flaws and brokenness and corruption and a lack of answers as it is about the child murders and Appelman’s life. We’re never going to know what really happened. We’re never going to know if there was a cover-up. Like the victims’ families and Appelman himself, we’ve just got to become comfortable with uncertainty, with not knowing key truths, with dealing with the darker sides of the world. The whole reading experience is profoundly liminal, in so many ways, and I think it’s going to stick with me a while.

To bear in mind: This story is very concerned with pedophilia, so if anything surrounding that topic is going to trigger you, this might not be the book for you. There is also discussion of possible police corruption, corruption in general, domestic abuse, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. Oh, and serial killers, for obvious reasons.

9/10 ( )
  NinjaMuse | Jul 26, 2020 |
This is a true crime story about four children who were abducted and murdered in Detroit in the 70’s. This book is meticulously written and the author has certainly done his research. Although a chilling story, I enjoyed reading about the evidence and suspects and was disappointed that this case still hasn’t been resolved. Than being said, it took me a long time before I became used to the writers style. Because the writer mixes in a lot of imagery and metaphoric inuendos, it was confusing at first and I found the writing to be a bit obtuse. I found the case fascinating but was distracted by the intermittent addition of the authors tragic life story a little distracting. Self-described as a trip down the rabbit hole, I did feel like the author was in a slow spiral to a very dark place reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This is a memoir and a deep look into the murders and possible suspects but I feel like the author was writing two separate books and they shouldn’t have been combined. I enjoyed reading about the criminal investigation but reading about the authors childhood home-life, his almost abduction, his failed marriage, his unfortunate friendships, etc., was very depressing and should have been edited out in my opinion. I received a complementary ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. ( )
  bm2ng | Apr 9, 2019 |
This was a very intriguing telling of horrific child murders. But it was disappoint and distracting that the author made himself part of the story. The focus should have been solely on the victims and their families. Cannot recommend. ( )
  ewhatley | Aug 16, 2018 |
With the recent events in the Golden State Killer case and popularity of docu-series like Making a Murderer and The Staircase, interest in true crime seems to be increasing. This book introduced facts and theories regarding the unsolved disappearance and murder of 4 children in the Detroit area in 1976 and 1977. The author, J. Reuben Appelman, attempted to create a story that was both an informational text about the murders and a memoir of his personal experiences. I found the informational portions concerning the murders to be well written. As a reader, I felt they flowed well and effectively painted a portrait that provided information in a non “textbook” fashion. The areas I encountered difficulties when the author attempted to include his personal experiences or opinions. These sections did not have the same polish and sophistication. I can hesitantly recommend The Kill Jar as a possibility for readers who enjoyed books like The Stranger Beside Me and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark but I would add the caveat that it is not as easy to read and that the writing is not on the same level as Ann Rule and Michelle McNamara’s. ( )
  dalexander | Jul 22, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. Reuben Appelmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barrett, JoeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Broad, CatherineForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Enthralling. Gripping. Cinematic. Raw. A cold case murder investigation paced like a podcast, as visually stunning as a film, and as brave and personal as our darkest memoirs. J. Reuben Appelman cracks open one of America's most notorious murder sprees while simultaneously banging the gavel on his own history with violence. A deftly-crafted true crime story with grit, set amid the decaying sprawl of Detroit and its outliers.--

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