S uperior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin's eighth-floor courtroom in downtown Santa Ana has a peculiar notoriety: Two of the nation's most sensational trials played out there with shocking, oftentimes gruesome, revelations.
In 1989, McCartin sentenced Long Beach serial killer Randy Kraft to death for the mutilation murders of 16 young men.
And, in 1990, McCartin ordered computer entrepreneur David Brown to spend the rest of his life in prison for masterminding the murder of his fifth wife, 23-year-old Linda Bailey Brown, so Brown could collect nearly $1 million in insurance money and marry his teen-age sister-in-law, Patti Bailey. It's a crime for which Brown's teen-age daughter, Cinnamon, was convicted five years earlier.
Given the sensational ingredients of each case--drugs and sexual obsession, murder and manipulation--it's not surprising that, seated among the reporters covering the trials, were book authors quietly taking notes.
This week, the results of their research began hitting bookstores.
"Angel of Darkness" (Warner Books; $19.95), by Los Angeles Times reporter Dennis McDougal, chronicles the life and crimes of Randy Kraft, whose trail of victims, prosecutors believe, may actually number as many as 67. The victims--many of them Marines, most of them hitchhikers--were believed to be drugged by Kraft, who then tortured and strangled them. Their bodies, many of which were sexually mutilated, usually were dumped along freeway ramps or in remote areas.
"If You Really Loved Me: A True Story of Desire and Murder" (Simon & Schuster; $22.95), by best-selling true-crime writer Ann Rule, tells the gripping tale of David Brown, "the ultimate sociopath," who would "use 'love,' sexual enslavement, lies, money and mind manipulation to turn those who trusted him into puppets who would do his bidding."
\f7 Ann Rule first heard of David Brown on Sept. 23, 1988, when she read a short story in her Seattle newspaper about the arrest of Brown and Patti Bailey in their new Anaheim home.
What caught Rule's attention was the headline: "Teen-Ager Goes To Prison to Protect Father in Murder Case."
Only hours after Linda Bailey Brown's murder in 1985, Cinnamon Brown had been found in a doghouse behind their previous home in Garden Grove. Near-comatose from a drug overdose and clutching an apparent confession note ("Dear God, please forgive me. I didn't mean to hurt her."), the 14-year-old later admitted shooting her sleeping step-mother.
But after 3 1/2 years in the California Youth Authority, Cinnamon Brown told authorities that her father orchestrated the scheme with Patti Bailey's involvement.
For Rule, "it seemed fascinating and I put it in a box I keep that's marked 'possibles' on the side."
As the months passed, "it kept coming to the top," said Rule, 54.
At the time, Rule, who first gained national prominence a decade ago for her book on serial murderer Ted Bundy ("The Stranger Beside Me"), had a new $3.2-million, two-book contract with Simon & Schuster.
The more she learned about the Brown case, the more Rule realized it had all the elements "of what might very well be a bestseller in the true-crime genre."
"I'm always looking," she said, "for a central figure who seems to have everything going for him, who is intelligent, who is successful, who is charismatic, who is wealthy: Someone who, had he stayed on the right side of the law should have had what most of the rest of us consider the good life and then, for whatever compulsive or obsessive reasons, chooses to throw it all away."
Beyond that, Rule said, "this was a case where it appeared that a father had used his own daughter as an instrument for murder. This seemed so bizarre to me because we like to believe that fathers are most protective of their young."
David Brown, Rule said, "appeared to be motivated by lust and greed--not only sacrificing his daughter but also the wife who had just borne him a child. For a time he succeeded, collecting almost $1 million in insurance and secretly marrying the object of his lust, his 17-year-old sister-in-law, Patti Bailey."
As someone who has written five books on serial murders and who has lectured extensively on the subject, Rule said that, "Family murder, I think, is more interesting because it goes against the grain of what we're all taught to believe. And this seemed to be the most intricately intertwined family murder even going in--when I didn't know what was to come."
Rule's researching for the Brown book followed her usual modus operandi: She attends the trial, from jury selection to sentencing, then afterwards interviews detectives, prosecutors, convicted parties, family members and friends.