Did you ever find that you have something that constantly pops into your life? For me, that is West Virginia. When I was little, my dad’s company would often send him to WV for work and those were the longest weeks, waiting for him to come home. When I got older, my first real-world love was from West Virginia and ironically, worked for that same company. Now, I have to laugh when our new principal talks about her life growing up in West Virginia and our other vice principal walks around the halls with a WVU alumni mug. Last week, I had one of my students tell me that he was going to be missing class this afternoon because he was leaving to head on down to…West Virginia…to see the WVU game. West Virginia…I feel like it finds me everywhere.
When I was offered the chance to review Emma Copley Eisenberg’s The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia I knew that it was kismet and therefore, had to be reviewed here on my blog. Because? Well, West Virginia of course!
“Misogny is in the groundwater of every American city and every American town, but for me, it was done here.”
– Emma Copley Eisenberg
If you aren’t familiar with Eisenberg’s book, then you should know that it is a true crime novel centered around the events that occurred on the evening of June 25, 1980 when three girls were traveling to the Rainbow Gathering in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Two of the women, Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19 were killed in a clearing while the third woman lived. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted of the crimes, but was ultimately cleared of the charges when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility.
West Virginia is a mixed bag of extremely rural, mountains and small city life once you edge into Charleston or to Morgantown. Where the murders occurred, the area is still extremely rural and most view it as being an area filled with people who are poor, uneducated and backward– capable of extreme measures.
Eisenberg lived in Pocahontas County for a few years and the novel that she writes weaves together pieces of her memoir, facts about the case and the uniting thread that brings together the ideas about the case with a way through the haze of the passage and time and grief that has seemingly buried this cold case into local lore. Eisenberg takes facts from documentaries, local accounts and documents which do become lost and almost overwhelmed by her own opinions and thoughts on the murders and her views on life overall.
At points in the novel, I felt as though I was reading an extremely condescending view of West Virginia and everything that transpired because there was such a focus on the writer being “woke” as opposed to focusing on what the novel was ultimately about: true crime and the murder of these two women in a clearing. I would be interested to read more from Eisenberg as she finds her voice as a true crime writer. What really could not allow me to pick my own jaw off the floor as I read, was the pervading misogyny throughout the investigation and evidence files that Eisenberg presented. I couldn’t believe how many hands that were involved in this felt in some way that the two women almost deserved what they got because of the hippie lifestyle that they chose to live. Overall, a very interesting case and a solid start for an emerging new true crime writer.
The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg is a true crime novel that is scheduled to be released on January 21, 2020 from Hachette Books with ISBN 9780316449236. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.