The Third Rainbow Girl
The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia
*** A NEW YORK TIMES "100 Notable Books of 2020" ***
A stunning, complex narrative about the fractured legacy of a decades-old double murder in rural West Virginia—and the writer determined to put the pieces back together.
In the early evening of June 25, 1980 in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, two middle-class outsiders named Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, were murdered in an isolated clearing. They were hitchhiking to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering but never arrived. For thirteen years, no one was prosecuted for the “Rainbow Murders” though deep suspicion was cast on a succession of local residents in the community, depicted as poor, dangerous, and backward. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted, only to be released when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility. As time passed, the truth seemed to slip away, and the investigation itself inflicted its own traumas—-turning neighbor against neighbor and confirming the fears of violence outsiders have done to this region for centuries.
In The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg uses the Rainbow Murders case as a starting point for a thought-provoking tale of an Appalachian community bound by the false stories that have been told about.
Weaving in experiences from her own years spent living in Pocahontas County, she follows the threads of this crime through the complex history of Appalachia, revealing how this mysterious murder has loomed over all those affected for generations, shaping their fears, fates, and desires. Beautifully written and brutally honest, The Third Rainbow Girl presents a searing and wide-ranging portrait of America—divided by gender and class, and haunted by its own violence.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
At 1980’s Rainbow Gathering, worlds collided as a large group convened in rural West Virginia to celebrate peace. However, this idealistic event was marred by the murders of two adventurous women who were headed to the Gathering. Four decades and two trials later, the killer’s identity is still a subject of hot debate, with more than one resident of rural Pocahontas County accused of the heinous crime. Journalist and essayist Emma Copley Eisenberg—who lived in the area for five years while working for a local nonprofit —doesn’t shy away from hot-button issues about class, gender, and race, but she also manages to paint an empathetic portrait of of a remote, close-knit mountain community that was forever altered by the murders. She brings in enough police evidence, interview notes, and trial transcripts to satisfy Serial fans, but her complicated, deeply personal memoir is more moving than most straightforward true-crime stories.
In June 1980, 26-year-old Vicki Durian and 19-year-old Nancy Santomero were hitchhiking through rural West Virginia, heading to a festival called the Rainbow Gathering. They never made it. The story of their shooting murders, and the hunt for the killer, consumed the citizens of Pocahontas County for decades, as journalist Eisenberg reveals in this gripping account, her first book. She spent five years researching the crime and blends the case facts with a memoir of her time living in the area, playing bluegrass and drinking bourbon with men who were connected to the Rainbow Gathering. Part self-discovery and part crime and courtroom drama, the narrative follows two possible theories. Jacob Beard, a local farmer, was arrested 13 years after Durian and Santomero's deaths and was convicted of their murders, though witness statements were shaky and there was no physical evidence. But as Eisenberg notes, white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin, a convicted serial killer, made a jailhouse confession before Beard's 1993 trial that he killed the young women, but the prosecutors dismissed it. The author herself thinks it was bogus. Not until 2000 did Beard get a second trial, at which he was acquitted, yet the community may never know the truth. This is essential reading for true crime fans.)
4 points for honesty
I learned so many things while reading this book, and I found so many questions. I never wanted to put it down, even when I was unsure of the author’s intent. Even when I was unsure of my own.
Self indulgent memoir
This isn’t true crime. This is a memoir where the author somehow makes a double murder about her.