I received a digital ARC of this book for free via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: 4 Stars
This book was awful. I cried. A lot.
Not in terms of the writing, but the subject matter. I can think of no greater fear as a mother, than of something happening to beloved little girl and I was in tears for much of this book because I could not stop imagining being in that position, to lose the person I love more than anyone or anything on this earth, in such a horrible way.
Little Shoes tells the story of the author's family in the summer of 1937. The Depression had lasted for almost a decade at that point, and war was imminent, though perhaps not from the US standpoint quite yet. Three little girls, two of whom would have been the author's aunts, were lured away from the park one afternoon and never seen in life again. After frantic searching by the family, friends, and police, a gruesome discovery was made, that of their little bodies, their three little pairs of shoes lined up neatly some short distance from their bodies. A suspect was brought forth, he was tried in one of the most sensational trials of the decade and the whole country seemed under the spell of the madness and trauma of it all. He was found guilty (no big surprise, despite the obvious fact that he was NOT guilty), and he was executed for the horrific murders. The story was long since buried, as the family attempted to tuck it away out of sight, as though that might lessen the pain or bring some kind of closure.
Everett stumbled upon this closely guarded family secret, nearly by accident. For reasons she does not at first understand, her father is extremely overprotective (thought by my own personal standards, nope, he is spot-on perfect in his protectiveness. Yes, I am THAT parent. I can't help it. I know what's out there.) and he makes a statement that she also does not understand, about him having lost two sisters. The author begins diving into the family history and discovers the story of her little aunts, lives ended far too soon. Both her current profession (lawyer) and her previous profession (journalist) aid Everett in her search for answers, and to the questions she did not even know she needed to be asking. She is met with a wealth of information, a complex scenario that involved some of the earliest attempts of criminal profiling, the creation of sex offender laws, and wrongful convictions and executions. We discover the information with her, and it leads to several questions about the whole arrest, trial, and execution - mainly, was the right man brought to justice for such a horrific crime?
Personally, I don't think so. And that makes this 80-year-old-crime all the more traumatic.
I finished this book ages ago, yet it has taken me this long to write a review, and I don't even feel like it is a proper review at all. As I mentioned previously, this was a hard one for me to read. But as I went on and on reading, and the sense growing that no, the right man was not held accountable, I knew I HAD to keep reading. This story was one I had never heard of, and those girls deserve to have their story known, even if those involved are long gone and justice is no longer possible. It is an absolutely heart-wrenching read and one I can not go back to, otherwise I might have more quotes and things to provide here. But I hope at least some of the emotion I felt while reading it will come across. I can't imagine living through something so terrible. I don't think I could.
I greatly appreciated the fact that the author did not go into details about the crime itself. The generalities were hard enough. I did want to know more about the man who seemed the more likely killer, but I don't suppose there is much more to know about it. The author does say he died within a decade of the murders, but the vengeful side of me wanted to know how - and hoped it was painful for him. From the information that the author presents, I do not believe the convicted man was the killer, I just don't see how he could have committed such a crime.
Overall, this is an incredibly well-written account of a terrible tragedy that was deeply personal for the author, as it impacted her family. I recommend it highly because these girls deserve to not be forgotten. The book is full of heartbreak and sadness, and justice not served, but it is also well worth your time.