A real-life Sherlock Holmes

Murder Mystery Fans Can Help Justice Prevail in Real-Life Cases

A subset of the murder mystery category is the non-fiction book, often more chilling to read because the events presented aren't a flight of fancy by the author, but rather an accounting of a real, often heinous, crime. Perhaps even more disturbing is that sometimes there is no neat wrap-up at the end, no justice served; instead, readers are left wondering how they can help.

Jerry Sternadel, a self-made Texas millionaire, was poisoned to death in 1990. While hospitalized, he told nurses and doctors alike that he was being poisoned. The staff did not heed his frantic pleas, allowing the suspects continued access to him as he lay dying in the hospital. Upon his death, his children, doctor, and ex-wife, Jeannie Walker, all called the authorities, who quickly determined he had died from arsenic poisoning.

If the case were the creation of a fiction writer, investigators would have collected evidence, interviewed witnesses, and solved the case. Yet in this real-life crime drama, detailed in Walker's new book, Fighting the Devil: A True Story of Consuming Passion, Deadly Poison, and Murder, no arrests were made for three years. The woman ultimately convicted of first-degree murder was sentenced with only a fine and a lengthy probation; she was finally sent to jail a full 13 years after she committed the murder because she violated her probation. To this day, a main suspect has yet to be brought to justice.

Walker, who played a key role in helping law enforcement investigate many aspects of the murder, says she felt compelled to write the book. "I owe my ex-husband a voice, as he no longer has one," she says, adding that "when I see injustice, I want to fight it." She continues that fight now by raising new awareness of her ex-husband's case.

The ex-wife-turned sleuth and author says that she hopes fans of crime stories have an appreciation of the pain, trauma, and grueling battle for justice that the family and friends of real-life victims experience. Additionally, she wants them to realize that if their lives are ever touched by anything as horrific as a murder, "they have the ability and right to become their loved one's advocate, and to become their own, real-life Sherlock Holmes."