Something Happened to Grandma (A True Crime Short)

Elizabeth Engstrom

March 22, 2017

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IN BRIEF

Two people ambushed and gunned down in their living room. The murderer? A family man, former police officer, former Mormon missionary and the murdered woman’s son. Had he plotted this crime in his heart for decades?


One cold February night, two people on the way home from a satisfying dinner with friends were ambushed by a rain of gunfire from the balcony of their own home. When the killer was finished, both victims lay dying. He stood over the man and then his mother, and fired one last round in each to “end their pain.” The murderer was a family man, a former police officer, and a former Mormon missionary. He then took his terrified wife and screaming daughter, and they ran, shoeless, into the night, initiating a nationwide search for the “armed and extremely dangerous” couple. Their cross-country trail of lies culminated in an episode of the television show “America’s Most Wanted” and ended in a SWAT-team assault on the other side of the country.

What pressure cooker exploded in that man’s mind that February night? Was it an impulse, the product of an emotional breakdown? Or had he harbored such deep-seated feelings of hate for so long that he carefully plotted this event over decades, working out his alibi far in advance of the court trial he knew would eventually take place?

Veteran writer Elizabeth Engstrom has investigated and written about murder and serial killers, both in nonfiction for truTV’s Crime Library and in her own dark fiction. Singled out by People Magazine as one of America’s best mystery writers, her 13 critically-acclaimed books and more than 250 short stories, articles and essays have been well-received in markets around the world. Two movies based on her books are currently in development. She holds a master’s degree in Applied Theology, which gives her a unique view on family dynamics. She is on faculty at the University of Phoenix.

From the best true crime authors in the business, many of whom have seen their books made into major motion pictures, comes Crimescape® — a new collection of compelling short nonfiction crime eBooks from leading independent eBook publisher RosettaBooks. Taking readers into the dark minds of criminals and the tense hunt to bring perpetrators to justice, Crimescape® authors stand apart from other true crime writers because they have personal experience in crime investigations, whether as police detectives, investigative reporters, forensics professionals or criminal psychologists. As riveting storytellers, Crimescape® writers give readers all the information they need to understand relevant clues and the interwoven influences in each criminal case.

 

Veteran writer Elizabeth Engstrom is the author of 13 books and well over 250 published short stories, articles and essays, including several well-researched articles for Time Warner’s Crime Library. Known as a writer of dark fantasy, her most recent novel is York’s Moon, a critically-acclaimed mystery. An author, teacher, editor and former publisher, she is a sought-after panelist, keynote speaker and instructor at writing conferences and conventions around the world. She is on faculty at the University of Phoenix. www.elizabethengstrom.com.

Read full bio

Foreword by Marilyn Bardsley

Gabriel Morris was a rambunctious but adorable child who was probably sexually abused by his father while his mother tried to win custody of him. He grew into an intelligent and gifted adult, but something was very wrong. As he grew older, he exhibited serious character flaws and emotional problems that made it impossible for him to hold a job for any length of time. Eventually, his deceptions and deep-seated anger caught up with him, precipitating a tragic family crisis.

Elizabeth Engstrom is uniquely positioned to write this story. She lives in Oregon and attended Gabriel Morris’ recent trial, observing both his behavior and the impact that his crimes had upon his family. Engstrom is known primarily as a novelist of mystery books with dark psychological landscapes. The chilling story of Gabriel Morris is one that dovetails with both Engstrom’s fiction and nonfiction accomplishments.

Engstrom is the author of 13 books and more than 250 published short stories, articles and essays. Her most recent book is York’s Moon, a critically acclaimed mystery, a wonderful tale of dark fantasy. An author, teacher, editor and former publisher, she is a sought-after panelist, keynote speaker and instructor at writing conferences and conventions around the world. Since she completed her master’s degree in applied theology, she has begun a small interfaith ministry called Love and Mercy Ministries. She is on faculty at the University of Phoenix.  www.elizabethengstrom.com

For Lizzie Borden:

Amazon.com Review

Elizabeth Engstrom’s Lizzie Borden is not a true crime book, but rather an exquisitely crafted novel about a bright young woman whose filial love is strained to the limits by poverty and the desire to break free of a stifling family. The central characters, the oppressive summer heat, and the floor plan are drawn from the 1892 Massachusetts case in which Lizzie Borden was tried for the presumed hatchet murders (the weapon was never found) of her father and stepmother, and acquitted of the crime. But the personalities and motivations of the characters are the author’s own invention. As she puts it, “My purpose is not to offend; it is to justify.” And justify she does–if violence is ever justifiable–as we learn of the peculiar architecture, both physical and psychological, of a family whose every movement seems designed to torment poor Lizzie. This is a grim, alluring, and vividly sexual story.

Publishers Weekly

In Engstrom’s fictional treatment of the famous Lizzie Borden murder case of 1892–in which Lizzie allegedly kills both her parents but is acquitted–every door in the Borden house in Fall River, Mass., is metaphorically locked, and each room holds the terrible secrets of its occupant. Emma, Lizzie’s older sister, wracked by uncontrollable rages, periodically flees to New Bedford to assuage her surreptitious appetites for sex, drink and violence. Paterfamilias Andrew Borden, tyrannical and penurious in equal measure, loves nothing but money (which he hoards obsessively), concealing his sinful thoughts and acts from his obese second wife, Abby. Lizzie appears to be a serene young woman, but only because, in the author’s view, she has repressed another self–angry and long denied, it burns to emerge. At first Engstrom ( Black Ambrosia ) skillfully and subtly builds a psychological plot, moving the reader inexorably toward the anticipated savage denouement. But the very same restraint and innuendo used to good effect in the novel’s early portions ill serve the final bloodbath, which approaches anticlimax. Engstrom’s supernatural solution to a crime so inimitably real is a cop-out.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Library Journal

On a hot, sultry, August day in 1892 Lizzie Borden allegedly took an axe and “gave her mother 40 whacks.” Using the meager historical knowledge on Borden, mostly gained from trial transcripts and newspaper articles, Engstrom ( When Darkness Loves Us , LJ 2/1/85) has woven a fascinating, fresh tale of a lonely, tormented, and frustrated young woman. As Engstrom probes for a motive in the murder, she examines Lizzie’s psyche and her role in her dysfunctional family. Raised by an austere older sister and her emotionally grasping but parsimonious father, she ignores her overweight, foodaholic stepmother. Seeking comfort and a sense of self, she finds temporary solace in brief relationships with women. Her father’s possessiveness and stinginess thwart all her bids for freedom. Engstrom’s hints at multiple personalities and other mental disorders give this fast-paced book a new approach to the Lizzie Borden enigma. For large fiction collections.
– Joan Hinkemeyer, Engle wood P.L., Col.

 

For The Northwoods Chronicles:

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Dark fantasy writer Engstrom (Black Leather) starts on familiar ground, but rapidly turns this novel in stories into a genre-blending exploration of love, aging, grief and sacrifice. In Vargas County, children under 12 occasionally vanish, but the locals have long viewed this as a tithe taken by the town in exchange for the happiness of the other residents. This theme is explored directly in stories like House Odds, in which real estate agent Julia has to decide if her grandchildren would be in greater danger in town or away with their drunken father. Other tales merely use the disappearances as a backdrop, such as Skytouch Fever, in which aging Sadie Katherine is forced to choose between her steadfast beau and a rakish visitor, and the wittily ironic thriller One Quiet Evening in the Wax Museum. Fast-paced, melancholy and beautiful, the overarching narrative binds a collection of good stories into a superb if unconventional novel. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Booklist

Engstrom, a skilled horror fiction stylist whose novels include the biographical Lizzie Borden (1991), here gives us a deliciously creepy collection of interrelated stories. White Pines Junction is a quaint, sparsely populated tourist town that, along with its many outdoors-oriented charms, harbors some very dark secrets. Aside from a little-publicized history of hometown thugs and serial killers, the town trades deaths with its garbage dump on a one-for-one citizen-rat basis and hosts a motel whose residents’ nighttime reveries become frighteningly true. Perhaps most disturbing of all, the town is tormented by an epidemic of mysteriously disappearing children. In one story, a preacher’s pregnant wife becomes increasingly psychotic until an unearthly force literally steals the child from her womb. In another, a harried wife finds the grisly means to dispose of her troublesome husband behind the soon-to-be-remodeled walls of her kitchen. Engstrom’s chilling scenarios will haunt readers’ dreams for days. –Carl Hays

 

For Lizard Wine

Amazon.com

Lizard wine is a metaphor for the unpleasant, self-defeating things we sometimes do because we think they offer a way out of life’s trap. This intense, violent novel is about three female college students who meet up with three male drifters and their unfolding stories during a long, cold night in Oregon. What’s remarkable is that although each character is nailed by circumstance with the bare implications of being either a man or a woman, the predator-prey roles are unpredictable, and for each person, their unique character is the ultimate determinant of their destiny. –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Booklist

Engstrom writes a dark, disturbing story about six misfits who endure a terrifying road trip. Rebecca, Tulie, and Elise, students at the University of Oregon, decide to drive to the resort town of Bend to drink, dance, and investigate the “possibilities” at a local cowboy bar. Meanwhile, odd-job laborers and social outcasts Songster, Niles, and Buck are at loose ends and decide to spend the night camping out in Buck’s car. When the girls’ car breaks down in the middle of a storm, they hike to the campground to find a phone and encounter the three men. Buck manages to fix the car, but Tulie decides to stay behind while Rebecca and Elise go on to Bend. The girls’ harrowing adventures at the cowboy bar are almost as frightening as what happens to Tulie at the campsite. None of the six emerges from the horrifying, violent night untouched or unchanged. Like so many recent books and movies, Engstrom’s novel paints a sordid, sensational, and thoroughly grim–but nonetheless powerful and deeply affecting–picture of contemporary society. A mesmerizing read with an unsettling undercurrent of violence. Emily Melton –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Additional reviews:

“Deliverance meets Misery.” — The Fiction Addiction

“I found it impossible to stop reading this book…” — The Honolulu Advertiser

“Sleek, nasty, perfectly focused.” — Peter Straub, author

“Supertaut storytelling…” — Kirkus Reviews

“You’ll remember this book for a long, long time.” — Salem Statesman Journal