Today I'd like to share with you the answers I received back to a few of our questions from Stacy Horn, the author of The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad (as well as the books Waiting for My Cats to Die: A Morbid Memoirand Unbelievable: Investigations Into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory.) Stacy has multiple websites, including the official site for The Restless Sleep and her personal blog. She also notes that she is still in contact with Detective Wendell Stradford, one of the police officers profiled in her book, and has offered to pass along any further questions about his cases or his work to him. I would like to thank Stacy for her answers, and her (and Det. Stradford's) willingness to continue these conversations.
Stacy was very complete in her answers (thank you, Stacy!) so I'm going to let this post ride for a couple of days; don't feel you have to read it all at once.
Question: About how long did it take you to research and write the book, from your idea to completion? Can you provide any insight on why the people you interviewed (both detectives and victims' family members) consented to speak with you?
SH: It took me three years to research and write The Restless Sleep. A few of the cops liked me immediately, but most of them didn't trust me at first and some actively disliked me. Not because of me, but because I represented pretty much everything they hate and distrust, which boils down to: I was from the "media" and I'm a liberal. It really was hard to approach these guys at times, because some of them were so actively hostile. There are some angry people in the police department. This one guy really high up, who was in a position to make my life miserable at times, would do just that. I finally asked him why he was being such a... well, dick. And he answered proudly, "Because I can." You should have seen his face. He was a hero in his own eyes.
However, with few exceptions, most got to like me as they got to know me. I talked to most of the cold case detectives and Wendell, Steve and Tom were the ones who impressed me. Which is not to say there weren't other great detectives in the squad (and some terrible ones), but these three each had an interesting history, interesting or moving cases, and I felt they could represent the squad as a whole. I also just liked them, and knowing I was going to be spending a couple of years with whoever I ended up working with I wanted it to be with guys I liked. There was one more detective wanted to include, a guy in the Bronx named Mark Tebbins. But someone else was working on a book that would include him so I thought that would be overkill. But he is also a great detective.
I really adore these guys and we're all still friends today. In fact, I just came back from breakfast with two of them. I asked Wendell if he would answer questions if you guys had any and he said yes!
The families agreed to talk to me because they hoped that something I did would lead to solving their loved one's murder. Talking to them was really really hard. I don't know how the detectives do it. But even harder was writing about their murdered loved one. I felt an enormous responsibility there. Think about it. Someone has been murdered. Now you have to tell their story knowing that the people who loved them most and suffer their loss every day are going to read every word you write.
I specifically inserted something I had learned from the book "How We Die," for Christine Diefenbach's father, knowing he was going to read it. I thought it might provide him with just a tiny measure of comfort, to know that his daughter probably did not suffer how he imagined she did.
I felt this responsibility about everyone, though. The detectives have families and friends too, who will be reading what I write about them. I had to get it right, to tell the truth with as much compassion and insight as I could summon.
To this day, because of my blog, I still regularly hear from family members who ask for help. And from family members of the murderers and the people who helped the murderers. (So not fun.) It's not easy.
Question: How did you choose the five cases on which you focused?
SH: I chose the cases I did because I thought between them they'd give a good overview of the kind of work they do. Really old cases, not so old cases, sympathetic victims and less sympathetic victims, mob cases. What's impossible to convey is how many cases they're actively working on. I say the numbers, but unless you witness it, it's hard to imagine. It's insane.
For instance, I had a really hard time keeping all the cases I was writing about straight, who was who, what happened when. I finally literally drew charts and diagrams and timelines and kept them up in front of me the whole time while I was writing. Not a day went by where I didn't think about the fact that I was struggling to follow four cases and each of the detectives were at all times following around 20. Blows my mind still. And they can't walk around with charts and graphs.
Question: How did you decide upon the organization of your book, and was there a reason you chose to divide it by case details and investigations, rather than following a more linear timeline?
SH: I guess I have to accept that the organization wasn't a complete success! But it was extremely carefully purposefully done. The first section was about introducing the history of the squad and the cases. The second section was about the investigations, and the last section was about how everything ended up. Or didn't. I wish I had explained that more and did more hand holding about what was going on. Live and learn.
But I took those charts and timelines and worked and re-worked how to tell the story. I ended up taking a lot out just because there were hundreds of people and thousands of man hours and you saw that it was hard enough following what I left in, never mind all the people and time it took to accomplish what they accomplished. It was a hugh challenge, HUGE. And I guess it wasn't a 100% success. You can't get a home run every time you get up to bat. But I couldn't have worked harder trying to get it right.
So you've got a great detective who is will to talk to you! If you have any questions for Det. Wendell Stradford, I will pass them on to him! For instance, I asked him why he talked to me when so many didn't trust me in the beginning. And he said it was because I was completely honest about who I was. Every cop would immediately grill me about myself and I always answered honestly. "Yes, I'm a liberal. I'm not just a liberal I am rabid liberal. I'm as left as you can go." Etc. He said because I always told the truth he felt he could trust me. I wasn't sneaky or cagey.