I’ve been asked why I chose to write SMOOTH TALKER: Trail of Death, especially as I have already written about serial killer Roy Melanson in the past. In 2002, I published a book called NO STONE UNTURNED: The True Story of the World’s Premier Forensic Investigators, which was about the history and some of the best early cases involving NecroSearch International. NSI is
a group of scientists, as well as former and current law enforcement professionals, and some lay people with particular areas of knowledge or expertise, who assist police agencies in locating the clandestine graves or remains of murder victims. One of their early “success” stories was in 1992 locating the remains of Michele Wallace, a young hiker who disappeared from Gunnison, Colorado one night in 1974 after giving Melanson a ride. In No Stone Unturned I wrote quite extensively about the investigation by Kathy (Young) Ireland, an investigator for the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office, and the efforts of NecroSearch International, which broke the case open and resulted in the murder conviction of Melanson.
Although I left most of the NecroSearch parts of the story out of SMOOTH TALKER, I did include the Wallace investigation and Melanson’s trial. I added to what was known at the time, as well as the perspective of Michele’s best friend, Donna Campeglia, but mostly it was to put Melanson’s murderous ways into perspective with those parts of his past that have come to light since the publication of NO STONE UNTURNED. That includes his brutal history of rape, the disappearance of other woman, and two other murder cases that have since been solved because of Kathy Young Ireland’s efforts in the Wallace case. Those two other murders: Anita Andrews, in 1974 in Napa, California, and Charlotte Sauerwin, in 1988, in Walker, Louisiana, are both worthy of true crime books just on their own.
As good a detective story as the Michele Wallace case turned out to be, the Andrews case, and the efforts of Detective Don Winegar of the Napa Police Department, is every bit as good. Anita was murdered in Napa just fifty days before Michele Wallace disappeared in Colorado. Winegar picked up the case in 2006 and Melanson was tried in 2011 by a great deputy district attorney Paul Gero. It puts into context who Roy Melanson really is–not just a killer who came upon a young woman in the mountains of Colorado, but a serial sexual predator who preyed on women from 1962 (his earliest known rape) until finally convicted for the murder of Michele. However, there was a real concern
that Melanson, who has made a career out of getting out of prison early, might be paroled in 2012, so it became frighteningly important to put a case together against him for Andrews murder. How that was done is fascinating and in my book (literally and figuratively) Kathy Young Ireland and Don Winegar are true heroes.
So in his way is Vince LeJeune though he was not a police officer. He was the fiance of Charlotte Sauerwin who was brutally murdered in 1988. Although she was seen in the company of a stranger, when he couldn’t be located, suspicion fell on LeJeune. And for the next 22 years, he had to live with that cloud hanging over him. He was fortunate not to have been wrongfully convicted, but thanks to his close friends and family, and his own refusal to give in, he got through it with his head up when Melanson was fingered for Charlotte’s murder in 2010. He is a perfect example of the “ripple effect” that violent predators like Roy Melanson have on not just the women they murder, but family, friends and even the communities that their evil deeds haunt.
The recent Epic Mysteries episode “Smooth Talker” on Investigation Discovery, which was based on my book and these investigations, was very well done. However, it did not go into the Andrews case very much at all. The book goes into the details of the crime and investigation, including a fascinating interview between Winegar and Melanson.
I’ve described SMOOTH TALKER and it’s connection to NO STONE UNTURNED as one of those 1000-piece picture puzzles. The Wallace case sat in the middle but there was nothing around the sides. You couldn’t see the full picture of who and what Roy Melanson was, but because the detectives, added by the latest in scientific technology, kept adding pieces, we now know. … Even if there are still some missing pieces. I hope that those who have read NO STONE UNTURNED will enjoy seeing how the rest of the pieces fit, and for those who haven’t, it’s quite the puzzle.