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Because truth is often stranger than fiction, true-crime novels are really the perfect beach book. They contain all the elements of a good escapist read — murders, the law, courtroom antics, police investigations and often peeks into the troubled minds of criminals. Texas has no shortage of bizarre and unusual crimes, so there’s no dearth of true-crime novels set in the Lone Star State. Enterprising authors have quickly penned books on the life of people such as Andrea Yates and Clara Harris, whose crimes became scandal fodder in Texas and nationally. Then there’s Robert Durst, an heir of a rich New York family who attracted tabloid attention to Galveston after he was charged with murdering his neighbor in 2001 — and found not guilty of the crime in 2003. The attention-getting part wasn’t just the fact that body parts of Morris Black washed up on a beach in Galveston in September 2001. Durst also went on the lam after he was charged with the murder and was apprehended six weeks later on suspicion of shoplifting from a convenience store in Pennsylvania. Here’s a list of some recently published true-crime books set in Texas, which could be perfect entertainment for a relaxing afternoon on a beach in Galveston — or anywhere. “Out of Control” by Steven Long (St. Martin’s Press, April 2004, 374 pages) Clara Harris, a dentist in Friendswood, was convicted in 2003 of murdering her husband by running over him in the parking lot of a hotel in Clear Lake with her silver Mercedes. The author, Houston journalist Steven Long, details the murder of David Harris, the trial and the aftermath. Clara Harris was sentenced to 20 years. “Without a Trace” by Marion Collins (St. Martin’s Press, November 2002, 288 pages) This book’s subtitle promises an inside look into the case of Robert Durst, who faced a murder charge in connection with the death of 71-year-old Morris Black in 2001 in Galveston, but was found not guilty by a jury in 212th District Judge Susan Criss’ court in Galveston a year ago. Durst, a member of a wealthy family in New York, remains in jail in Galveston awaiting trial on bail-jumping charges. “A Deadly Secret: The Strange Disappearance of Kathie Durst” by Matt Birkbeck (Berkley Publishing Group, September 2002, 292 pages) This book about Robert Durst focuses on the disappearance in 1982 of his wife, Kathie, a medical student. No one has been charged with her murder, but in 2000, Westchester, N.Y., District Attorney Jeanine Pirro reopened the investigation into the disappearance. “Breaking Point” by Suzy Spencer (St. Martin’s Press, February 2002, 304 pages) This book about Andrea Yates, written by an Austin author, came out before the trial in 2002. Yates confessed to drowning her five children in the bathtub of her Clear Lake home in June 2001 and was found guilty of murdering three of them. She was sentenced to life in prison. “No, Daddy, Don’t” by Irene Pence (Pinnacle Books, July 2003, 320 pages) This is the story of John David Battaglia, who was convicted in April 2002 of shooting and killing his children, Faith, 9, and Liberty, 6, during an unsupervised visit at his loft in Dallas’ Deep Ellum in May 2001. He was sentenced to death and is on Texas’ death row. “Through the Window: The Terrifying True Story of Cross-Country Killer Tommy Lynn Sells” by Diane Fanning (St. Martin’s Press, April 2003, 256 pages) The tale of Tommy Lynn Sells, a former carnival worker who has confessed to more than a dozen murders around the country, characterizes him as a cross-country killer. Sells received the death penalty in 2000 after he was convicted of slashing the throat of 13-year-old Kaylene Harris in Del Rio in 1999. He also pleaded guilty in 2003 to capital murder for the slaying of Mary Bea Perez, a 9-year-old who was abducted in 1999 in San Antonio. Sells is on death row in Livingston. “Scream at the Sky: Five Texas Murders and One Man’s Crusade for Justice” by Carlton Stowers (St. Martin’s Press, January 2003, 256 pages) By a prolific true-crime author, this true-crime book is about Faryion Wardrip, who was convicted in 1999 for the murder of 20-year-old Wichita Falls college student Terry Sims and sentenced to death. He confessed to the Sims murder after DNA evidence linked him to the 1985 murder of a 23-year-old nurse. Wardrip confessed to several other murders; he had already served an 11-year prison term after he was convicted of another murder that occurred in 1986. “The Ice Box Murders” by Hugh and Martha Gardenier (Redbud Publishing, August 2003, 288 pages) This is another book about a Houston crime — this time a 39-year-old unsolved crime. This book recounts the grisly details of the murders of Fred and Edwina Rogers, who were slain in June 1965. Their mutilated, dissected bodies were found in the kitchen refrigerator by two Houston police officers, but no arrest has been made. Other books about Texas crimes are coming out soon. Vanessa Leggett’s book about the 1997 murder of Doris Angleton in Houston, tentatively titled The Murder of the Bookie’s Wife, was scheduled to come out later this year by Crown Publishing. Leggett, a freelance journalist in Houston, was in jail for six months after she refused to turn over her research into the murder to a federal grand jury. Robert Angleton was acquitted in state court in 1998 of murdering his wife, but he now faces federal murder-for-hire charges. Angleton was supposed to go to trial in June 2003 in federal court in Houston, but just a few days before the trial, he was apprehended in Amsterdam and detained for allegedly carrying a fake passport and failing to declare $90,000 in cash. In February, a Dutch district court ruled Angleton could not be extradited to the United States on the murder-for-hire charge because he previously was acquitted in state court.

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