Edgar Award Finalist: The shocking account of a Wyoming father who terrorized his family for years—until his children plotted a deadly solution.
One cold November night, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, fifteen-year-old Richard Jahnke Jr., ROTC leader and former Boy Scout, waited for his parents to return from celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the night they met. When his father got out of the car, the boy blasted him through the heart with a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun. Richard’s seventeen-year-old sister, Deborah, was sitting on the living room couch with a high-powered rifle—just in case her brother missed.
Hours later the Jahnke kids were behind bars. Days later they made headlines. So did the truth about the house of horrors on Cowpoke Road.
Was it cold-blooded murder? Or self-defense?
Richard Jahnke Sr., special agent for the IRS, gun collector, and avid reader of Soldier of Fortune, had been subjecting his wife, Maria, and both children to harrowing abuse—physical, psychological, and sexual—for years. Deborah and her brother conspired to finally put a stop to it themselves. But their fate was in the hands of a prejudiced and inept judicial system, and only public outcry could save them.
Written with the full and revealing cooperation of the Jahnkes, this finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime is “the ultimate family nightmare, played out in the heartland of America. . . . From the night of the murder through both trials, convictions and both youngsters’ eventual release . . . it’s gripping reading” (Chicago Tribune).
Prendergast, who for Rolling Stone covered the trials of teenagers Richard and Deborah Jahnke in Wyoming for the 1982 murder of their father, has produced an objective, affecting account of the case. A borderline psychotic, Jahnke senior subjected his wife and children to abuse both physical and psychological and, for a time, made sexual advances toward his daughter. Their residence became a house of terror, with the mother the most terrified of all, according to Prendergast. The children's feeble and intermittent attempts to acquaint outsiders with their situation were of no avail. Finally, with his sister's semiconnivance, Richard shot his father. The trials of the two, held separately, showed American justice at its worst: a prosecutor more interested in convictions than in finding the truth, and two inept and hidebound judges, one of whom would not admit evidence of child abuse. Deborah's sentence has now been commuted to one year of probation and Richard has been released on parole. A searing, convincing indictment. Literary Guild alternate.