Lacey Fosburgh, who was born into a socially significant and wealthy family but whose books sometimes chronicled the seamier side of human existence, has died of the complications of breast cancer.
The journalist and writer, who covered some of the most prominent news stories of her time before turning to the world of mystery and murder, was 50 when she died Monday at a San Francisco hospital.
Her husband, David Harris, the writer and once-imprisoned Vietnam War activist who had previously been married to folk singer Joan Baez, said his wife had been battling the disease for two years.
Perhaps her most celebrated book was her first, "Closing Time." Published in 1977, it was a meticulous, investigative account of the so-called Goodbar killing, fictionalized by novelist Judith Rossner and made into the successful film "Looking for Mr. Goodbar."
Subtitled "The True Story of the 'Goodbar' Murder," the book was written in 1977, four years after Ms. Fosburgh covered the trial of the slayer of schoolteacher Roseann Quinn for the New York Times. Quinn had taken a crippled drifter she met at a Manhattan singles bar to her apartment. John Wayne Wilson later confessed to sexually mutilating and killing Quinn and hanged himself in his jail cell.
"Closing Time" won a Mystery Writers of America award and was a selection of the Literary Guild and the Doubleday Book Club.
While working for the New York Times she also covered the trials of Sirhan Sirhan and Patricia Hearst. She left the paper in 1973 to write books, contribute articles to many publications and teach journalism at UC Berkeley.
Her other works included the 1983 book "Old Money," about a socially prominent family where the photographer daughter explores the reason her father hated her. Another was "India Gate," a 1991 novel set on the subcontinent.
In 1989 she was hired by the attorney for a Northern California drug dealer facing the death penalty for two killings. She interviewed the family and friends of Robert Anthony Nelson and prepared a biography that was used in court. Her account of his character defects was credited with convincing the jury that he should go to prison for life rather than be sentenced to the gas chamber.
Ms. Fosburgh was born in New York City, the daughter of journalist and author Hugh Whitney Fosburgh. She was related through her paternal grandmother to the Whitney family.
Ms. Fosburgh graduated from Sarah Lawrence College. From 1964 to 1966 she studied in New Delhi under a Fulbright grant.
Ms. Fosburgh, who lived in Mill Valley, is survived by Harris, whom she married in 1977, a daughter, stepson, brother and mother.