REVIEW: True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by, Michael Finkel

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~ Synopsis ~

In the haunting tradition of Joe McGinniss’s Fatal Vision and Mikal Gilmore’s Shot in the Heart, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa weaves a spellbinding tale of murder, love, and deceit with a deeply personal inquiry into the slippery nature of truth.

The story begins in February of 2002, when a reporter in Oregon contacts New York Times Magazine writer Michael Finkel with a startling piece of news. A young, highly intelligent man named Christian Longo, on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for killing his entire family, has recently been captured in Mexico, where he’d taken on a new identity — Michael Finkel of the New York Times.

The next day, on page A-3 of the Times, comes another bit of troubling news: a note, written by the paper’s editors, explaining that Finkel has falsified parts of an investigative article and has been fired. This unlikely confluence sets the stage for a bizarre and intense relationship. After Longo’s arrest, the only journalist the accused murderer will speak with is the real Michael Finkel. And as the months until Longo’s trial tick away, the two men talk for dozens of hours on the telephone, meet in the jailhouse visiting room, and exchange nearly a thousand pages of handwritten letters.

With Longo insisting he can prove his innocence, Finkel strives to uncover what really happened to Longo’s family, and his quest becomes less a reporting job than a psychological cat-and-mouse game — sometimes redemptively honest, other times slyly manipulative. Finkel’s pursuit pays off only at the end, when Longo, after a lifetime of deception, finally says what he wouldn’t even admit in court — the whole, true story. Or so it seems.

***
REVIEW

Obviously, this isn’t the usual type of book I review on my blog – the closest thing being Gone Girl, but I’ve been wanting to read this for quite some time, so in between my smut books I decided to check it out – it had a short sale on Amazon and the e-book dropped to three bucks, I figured what the hell. This story had always kind of stuck with me, like most people that live in Oregon – it was a horrible tragedy, happening right after the horrors of September 11th – the story almost getting sucked into the abyss due to the terrorist attacks. The only thing that made the story bigger was that Christian Longo was placed on the FBI’S 10 most wanted list, right next to Osama Bin Laden.

This story hit home to me …. in more ways than one. Not only did he murder his entire family on our beloved Oregon Coast, in a town that I’m very familiar with – tossing his two oldest children off of a small bridge I cross every time going to visit my best friend in Waldport – but he was also raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family – like me.

This family photo of Christian with his wife, Mary Jane – and three children seems like the ideal family, little did Mary Jane know that his web of lies were spiraling out of control. He moved across the country to Oregon, hoping for a new start for his family – even though they were traveling in a stolen van he’d taken months before – with little money left, he took a job at Starbucks at the Fred Meyer in Newport Oregon. They bounced around from vacation rentals, to flea bag motels until they rented a beach front condo in Newport.

The details of what happened with his family that cold December night in 2001 are blurred – but after his arrest in Mexico a few weeks later, the web of deceit he’s woven crumbles, the only thing keeping Longo from snapping is a relationship he cultivates with a humiliated ex-New York Times reporter, Michael Finkel.

This book weaves two stories of lies – one of Longos, and the other of the author himself, Michael Finkel. Finkel was fired from the New York Times for lying about his sources in an article for their magazine – as he awaited the onslaught of humiliation of his retraction to be published, a reporter with The Oregonian News paper out of Portland calls him to ask him about the murders…. Finkel doesn’t have the slightest clue what he report is talking about – but realizes as the story unfolds, Christian Longo, the man who is suspected of murdering his whole family on the Oregon Coast was using Finkel’s name as an alias while he fled to Mexico.

Finkel is fascinated by this and tracks Longo down while he sits in an Lincoln County Jail cell awaiting his trial readiness. They begin a correspondence – and the book easily displays the back and forth relationship these two have. Finkel uses this as a way to delve a little deeper, admitting his short comings, and the fall out that left him unemployed. He uses this story as a way – as the title says as a Mea Culpa of sorts, airing his dirty laundry along with Longos. The problem is, you can easily tell that Finkel is telling the truth as he lays out the issues he had with his story – and the ramifications that followed. What you’re not sure of through most of the story is where does the truth lie with Longo.

Now, fourteen years later – after Christian Longo’s sentencing, he sits on death row in the Salem Oregon Penitentiary, where he will most likely spend the majority of his life in an 8×10 cell, only allowed out for one to two  hours a day – kept in segregation until he’s exhausted his appeals, and Oregon executes him. But now, a movie starring Jonah Hill, and James Franco as Christian Longo hits theaters – bringing the whole horrible story to the big screen.

In a Zodiacesque way – detailing the life, crimes and relationship Finkel had with Longo while he was on trial for the murders.

The book is detailed, written well and the story, though horrible and at times made me nausea, was definitely worth the read.

***

Lint Slough Bridge – Walport Oregon, where Longo disposed of the bodies of his two eldest children.

Lint Slough

Christian Longo – at trial – Newport Oregon

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Michael Finkel & Christian Longo – Lincoln County Jail, Newport Oregon

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