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Shallow Grave in Trinity County [Paperback]

Harry Farrell
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 30 1999
1955. California, a postwar dream. Stephanie Bryan, a pretty fourteen-year-old from Berkeley, vanishes while walking home from school one day. Her parents search frantically; her disappearance makes the news; but nothing turns up...for three months.

Then, one summer night a few miles away in the town of Alameda, a young housewife discovers a burial ground of Stephanie Bryan's belongings in her basement, including bobby pins, schoolbooks, eyeglasses, and a wallet. The woman's husband, Burton Abbot, soon becomes the enigmatic center of the nine-month nightmare that follows. Abbot claims innocence, but Stephanie's body is soon found in a makeshift grave not far from Abbot's mountain cabin, hundreds of miles away. Despite the evidence, Abbot stubbornly maintains his innocence throughout the trial, provoking questions that linger four decades later. Through extensive interviews, original research, and an eye-opening review of long-forgotten police files, Harry Farrell has crafted a chilling re-creation of an unforgettable crime--and a dark parable of evil amid the suburban bliss of 1950s America.

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Harry Farrell worked as a newspaper journalist for 40 years in San Jose, California. His first book, Swift Justice, about a 1930s kidnap-murder case that ended in a lynching of the perpetrators, won the Edgar Award for best fact crime of 1992. Shallow Grave in Trinity County is equally brilliant. In steady prose that is rich with details, Farrell describes how a weak-minded and repellent UC-Berkeley student was apprehended and convicted of the kidnap-murder of a 14-year-old girl, in the comparatively peaceful times of the 1950s. Shallow Grave is a model of how a true crime book should be written: the text is clear, chronological, compassionate, unembellished, and quietly gripping. Farrell not only gives readers all the facts of the case, both relevant and irrelevant, he also provides three maps of the region on which the exact sequence of the killer's actual movements (vs. those he alleged in his testimony) can be traced. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA?Did Burton Abbott really kidnap and kill 12-year-old Stephanie Bryan in the spring of 1955? Although the truth will never be known, Farrell shows the frustration and lack of clues that the police and FBI encountered after the child disappeared on her way home from school. Three months later, Abbott and his wife found several of the girl's belongings in their cellar. When they called the police, they never imagined that Abbott would become the main suspect in this grizzly crime, but layer by layer, the investigation pointed to him as the guilty party. As the numerous clues and witnesses are presented in the text, the author footnotes names, dates, and events, reminding readers who these people are and how they are interrelated. Photographs from the investigation and trial are included. Much of the evidence would not be admissible in court today. This is also noted and explained in relation to modern laws and technology. Using old police and court files, Farrell re-creates this chilling crime while leaving his readers to judge for themselves whether Abbott was guilty as charged or innocent as he proclaimed right up until his execution. YAs will find picking apart the pieces of evidence a challenge as they try to construct their own theories.?Anita Short, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Shallow members of an Unholy Trinity Aug. 14 2002
Rule No. 1 when reading a "true crime" story where you don't already know the ending and want to be surprised is to avoid the photos and captions inset in the middle of the book, until you've already finished it.
The photos and captions will give the ending away every time if you don't wait to look at 'em. I learned that the hard way when I first read the Joe McGinness book on Jeffrey MacDonald ("Fatal Vision").
As far as this book goes, it's not quite clear what author Harry Farrell hoped to accomplish in writing it. The story is about the arrest of Burton Abbott for the brutal abduction and murder of 14-year old Stephanie Bryant in mid-1955 from an enclosed thicket of shrubbery near her home in Berkeley, California and also about Abbott's subsequent trial. Did Farrell simply mean to tell this story in a way that would intrigue his readers?
Then I'd say that he succeeded. This was a very interesting read.
But I also suspect that what Farrell really meant to do was to write a "did-he-or-didn't-he" story; that is, to create suspense as to the accused's guilt or innocence and as to the outcome of the trial. And I'd say that he got no better than mixed results there.
I faithfully AVOIDED the photo section in the middle of the book, but any sense of suspense that I might have experienced was a sham. I kept waiting in vain for the revelation that would cause me to consider the case in a new light. But the evidence as it is shown here remained quite one-sided throughout, and the outcome was inevitable.
In fact, I'm not quite sure that I trust Farrell entirely. Even if this was a capital case, his presentation of it makes one wonder what exactly the jury deliberated about for seven days.
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Not only did I buy this book by Mr. Farrell, but I also bought another book on this case by Keith Walker, A Trail of Corn (Selling at Bill & Kathy's Restaurant, none the less), because the Burton Abbott case is very much like one I'm writing myself, the Theodore Durrant case of 1895.
I greatly appreciate authors who provide addresses, maps, and photos, and Mr. Farrell was generous on all counts. As I live in the Bay Area, and have written two unrelated self-guided walking tours, I like to visit all the sites associated with any story that touches me emotionally. Mr. Farrell certainly succeeded with his central task.
In fact, his narrative is so riveting that I soon drove over to Berkeley and retraced the route Stephanie Bryan walked before her kidnapping. One of the strengths of this book is that the reader gets a sense of knowing the victim, her parents, the accused kidnapper, and even a comprehension of how most of the people central to this story had their lives ruined.
Those who are familiar with this famous case may also appreciate knowing, even though this murder happened in 1955, that Willard Junior High, the library, Dream Fluff Donut shop, the suspected ambush path, tunnel road, the Bryan's former residence, the Abbott family's former residence in Alameda, the court house in Oakland, and San Quentin Prison are all still there to be seen!
Imagine seeing those sites for a moment. And if you want any help finding them just e-mail me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing story of a California murder. April 3 1998
By A Customer
This is a most interesting book about a murder and our justice system in the 1950's. What struck me most about the book, aside from the horrible story of the murder itself, is the difference in our court system today as compared with the 1950's. At that time surprise witnesses were common because the process of "discovery" prior to the trial was not necessary. The justice system also worked much faster then - the killer was arrested in July, the case went to trial later that year and by early the next year he was convicted. One unique aspect of this story is how big a part the press played in the case. It was a reporter who found the body buried in Trinity County, for example. That night the press showed up at the house of the killer to tell him of their discovery of the body before the police were even informed. Overall, I enjoyed this book very much, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in true crime stories. As a contrast, try reading "A Civil Action" by Jonathan Harr, which gives perpective on our justice system today. What a lot of changes have taken place since the '50's!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Involving, mysterious and sad Sept. 20 1998
By A Customer
I found this book to be very well written and interesting. Mr. Farrell knows this case having been a reporter when the actul crime occured. The accused man is presented fairly with the author sprinkling in little tidbits of information that keep the pages turning. Ultimately the story about the senseless murder of a 12 year old girl left me a little depressed. But this is not taking anything away from the overall presentation of the story. Very engrossing....
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and eerie documentary. Aug. 4 1999
By A Customer
"Shallow Grave" is true-crime reporting at it's best. This is a compelling and emotional story, packed with details. I was particularly impressed with the author's gift for explaining the minute details of the unfolding criminal case in a clear and interesting way. The book neither sensationalizes nor sugar-coats the horrific details of the crime. Highly recommended.
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