A frustrated, unhappy wife. Her much younger, attentive lover. A husband who degrades and ignores her. The stage is set for a love-triangle murder that shatters family illusions and lays bare a quiet family community's secret world of sex, sin and swinging.
BETTER OFF DEAD, the latest true crime book from New York Times bestselling author Michael Fleeman, strips away the pleasant veneer of the Silver Lakes neighborhood in California's high desert to tell a shocking story about a headline-grabbing crime.
Sabrina Limon, a vivacious blond mother of two and part-time "sample girl" at Costco, is handing out free food samples one day when in walks handsome young firefighter Jonathan Hearn shopping for the station.
Their conversation leads to a flirtation that leads to a steamy affair that has them hooking up once and twice a week at her home, his home, and out in hidden spots in the vast Mojave.
Sabrina finds in Jonathan's embrace the love and understanding she lacks at home. To the outside world, husband Robert is a big tattooed teddy bear of a man, a hard-working railroad mechanic, loved by all. This gregarious couple seemed matched by their love of family, friends and good times.
But the partying had gotten out of control for Sabrina. There were boozing and wife-swapping and group sex. Once a turn-on, it now left Sabrina feeling debased, dehumanized, spiritually adrift. Robert won't talk about it, consumed by his work, boat, truck and porn.
With Jonathan showering Sabrina with poetry, gifts, religious insights and, of course, illicit sex, a devious plan is allegedly hatched; one hot August night Robert Limon is found dead of two gunshots in a pool of blood.
False leads send police into dead-ends until a tip arrives from a most unexpected place. For Sabrina, it's a stunning betrayal that hurtles the case back to a perfect little place in the desert. With informants, undercover cops and wiretaps, investigators discover a romance fueled by lies and dangerous fantasies.
Are Sabrina and Jonathan merely covering up an affair? Or are they hiding a conspiracy that led to murder?
"Beautifully written, well documented ... this is an exceptionally fine novel by an author who has mastered his craft."--Grady Harp's Reviews
From The Book:
The operator told Shaun to get out of the building, now. He did, in a daze. The cell phone still to his ear with the 911 operator on the line, he wandered out to the asphalt parking area, twilight in the high desert.
A man approached, somebody who worked out of a neighboring unit, and asked Shaun what was going on.
"I think Rob's dead," Shaun told him. Suddenly the reality of the situation hit. He dropped to his knees and his body convulsed. He felt tears coming.
How long he was like this he couldn't remember. The next thing he knew he heard cars approaching. He looked up and saw a woman in a uniform. He pointed to the garage and said, "He has two kids.”
From The Author:
As with my other books, the issue of gender hangs over the case from beginning to end. Writing it meant being wary of trucking in old stereotypes about women and murder.
For guidance I turned to a very good book with a cumbersome title: "Judge, Lawyer, Victim, Thief: Women, Gender Roles, and Criminal Justice." This 1982 collection of articles by leading researchers identifies six common stereotypes, or "controlling images," of women in the justice system.
These stereotypes apply to women murderers, but also often to female victims and even those who work in the justice system, including lawyers and prison guards.
Seen often in nonfiction books as well as news stories and TV shows and movies, the stereotypes include "Women as the Pawn of Biology," driven to kill by their menstrual cycles or to prostitution by raging sexuality. There's also the "Active Woman as Masculine," so man-like in their criminal urges (or careers) that they're depicted as large and hairy.
The list goes on, but the controlling images that seem to apply to the case in "Better Off Dead" are these three: "Woman as Passive and Weak," "Woman as Impulsive and Non-Analytical" and "Woman as Impressionable and in Need of Protection."
Throughout the case Sabrina Limon is treated as an amalgamation of the three. She's portrayed as a sweet, dim-bulb high school dropout and hard-partyer, certainly impulsive and non-analytical, so emotionally destroyed by her husband's death that she falls, passively and weakly, into the protective arms of the wiser boyfriend/killer. As a result she blindly follows him to her doom.
What's noteworthy is that these stereotypes were pushed by Sabrina's own lawyer. In fact it's the crux of the defense.
The prosecution, by contrast, treats Sabrina as it would any other murder defendant -- that is to say, like a man.