Skip to main content

5 True Crime Memoirs Written by Victims Who Survived

I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.

1. Buried Memories (Katie Beers and Carolyn Gusoff)

Katie Beers’ Story

On December 28, 1992, Katie Beers was eagerly anticipating her 10th birthday. She would hit the double digits in only two days when her godmother, Linda Inghilleri, told her that family friend John Esposito was taking her for a special outing as an early birthday gift.

Katie was hesitant and reminded Linda she wasn’t allowed to be around John since her mother had learned of John’s molestation of Katie’s older brother. But Linda was insistent, so Katie did as she was told when John arrived to pick her up.

Buried Memories by Katie Beers and Carolyn Gusoff

Buried Memories by Katie Beers and Carolyn Gusoff

But there was no trip to the Spaceplex. It was all a ruse for John Esposito to abduct the little girl who had long been the object of his obsession and take her to his home, where he had prepared a below-ground, well-hidden bunker to keep her. A place where he would violate Katie Beers in the most horrific of ways while telling the young girl she would be with him forever.

Until, at least, John Esposito experienced a moment of guilt, or maybe fear and the need to save his own skin, and he broke down and told his attorney where Katie was being held.

Katie Beers‘ story was one that captured the hearts of people around the world. Her discovery brought tears of joy but the facts surrounding her upbringing, as they came to be known in the days after, would bring tears of frustration and outrage.

Katie Beers had been a victim all her life. She had been neglected by her mother, used as a slave by her godmother, and a sex toy for her godmother’s husband. The 17 days she spent in John Esposito‘s bunker was just one more atrocity in this sad little girl’s life.

Now, 20 years after the headlines, Katie Beers breaks her silence with her memoir Buried Memories: Katie Beers’ Story.

Co-authored with journalist Carolyn Gusoff, Katie openly discusses her childhood, from the tug-of-war custody battle between her mother and godmother to the two and one-half weeks she spent in a coffin-sized dungeon.

And just when readers are certain their heart can take no more sadness, Katie brings tidings of joy as she tells of life in the aftermath. And Carolyn Gusoff, in alternative chapters, recalls the facts and emotional aspects from a news reporter's point of view.

While Katie’s first-person recounting very much outshines Gusoff’s reporter narrative, the book comes together neatly for a heartbreaking yet uplifting tale of a little girl who suffered so much, but has managed to mentally and emotionally overcome the tragedy to become a wife, mother, and an inspiration to those who have suffered abuse—and even those who have not.

Buried Memories: Katie Beers’ Story is a true crime story yet one which will motivate you to pay attention to the silent tears that surround us and to face the challenges we’d rather not. There’s just so much in this book, you’ve got to read it to appreciate it.

2. Holding My Hand Through Hell (Susan Murphy Milano)

Susan Murphy recalls people saying how lucky she was to have such a fantastic father in the Chicago Police Department, Detective Phillip Murphy. As a little girl, she could do nothing more than smile and nod, lest she become the target of her father’s outrage.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Soapboxie

Susan and her younger brother Bobby suffered multiple beatings by their father but most of the time his anger was directed at his wife, Roberta. At least once Roberta Murphy tried to escape her abusive marriage, only to be dragged home by her police officer husband who’d told her she would never leave him alive.

Holding My Hand Through Hell by Susan Murphy Milano

Holding My Hand Through Hell by Susan Murphy Milano

And he wasn’t wrong.

On the night of January 19, 1989, Susan Murphy Milano knew something was wrong when she couldn’t reach her mother. Fearing the worst, Susan sped to her childhood home and discovered her mother lying dead on the kitchen floor. Her father had committed suicide in an upstairs bedroom. Just weeks before, her mother had finally fled the relationship and filed for divorce.

That night, Susan vowed another woman would never die at the hands of an abusive husband and became a loud—very loud—advocate for victims of domestic abuse. There was just one problem:she forgot to be an advocate for herself.

Susan’s story in Holding My Hand Through Hell is heartbreaking. Readers watch as the scars form in her childhood, through her own abusive relationships, until finally her self-realization on God and relationships.

I admire Susan for sharing her story. As the granddaughter of an abused woman who stayed in a physically violent relationship for far too long, I understand the self-blame and shame that comes from sharing such a story, as well as the long-term effects on the children who lived in such turmoil.

3. Dark Obsession (Shelley Sessions with Peter Meyer)

The True Story of a Father's Crime and a Daughter's Terror

Shelley Sessions vividly remembers the first night her adoptive father touched her. She was 11 and they were in a hotel room somewhere between New Jersey and their new home in Texas. As she lay sleeping, Bobby Sessions slipped his hand into her panties. Shelley screamed out and her mother rushed to her side, but Bobby swore he was asleep and must have thought it was his wife.

Linda Sessions, of course, believed her husband. To do otherwise would mean giving up the lifestyle her husband’s lucrative job in the oil industry afforded them.

Dark Obsession by Shelly Sessions with Peter Meyer

Dark Obsession by Shelly Sessions with Peter Meyer

When Shelley was 13, Bobby escalated his sexual assaults to full-fledged sexual intercourse. And the nightmare assaults would last for the next three years until Shelley finally told someone. But her revelation hadn’t come easy. She’d spent years being brainwashed to believe that if she told anyone, Bobby’s power and money would keep people from turning on him.

Bobby wasn’t wrong, it would seem.

Linda Sessions committed her daughter to a strict, brutal girls’ home founded by a Christian extremist who believed if his people couldn’t pray the devil out of you, they’d beat him out. Bobby Sessions, on the other hand, went to a luxury counseling facility and found God in his alternative to prison.

Bob spent six months swimming, playing ball, exercising, and manipulating counselors before going home to his wife and mansion while Shelley spent almost a year being told when and what to eat, when to shower, falling asleep to Bible lessons blaring from a bullhorn, and getting hit with a thick wooden paddle for the slightest infractions.

Yes, indeed, it seemed Bobby Sessions could manipulate or buy his way out of everything. But the man who had adopted her after marrying his mother didn’t know who he had tangled with, and Shelley was hellbent on making folks realize what “good ol'” Bobby had done to her when no one was looking.

Published in 1990, Dark Obsession: The True Story of a Father’s Crime and Daughter’s Terror is part memoir by Shelley Sessions and part true crime written by award-winning journalist Peter Meyer about Shelley’s struggle through sexual abuse and the fight to make her abuser pay, one way or another, for what he did.

I’ve had this book lying around for a while now, not certain if I could read about a victim still alive and probably still living through the pain, but finally decided to give it a try. I can say that I wasn’t wrong about how difficult it would be to read, but I’m glad I did. The story was excellently written, making no effort to sugarcoat a horrific crime, and evoked so much emotion.

4. Caught in the Act (Jeannie McDonough with Paul Lonardo)

A Courageous Family’s Fight to Save Their Daughter from a Serial Killer

July 29, 2007 is a day that will live forever in the minds of the McDonough family, for it was on this night that a serial killer stealthily entered their home and would have murdered 15-year-old Shea if not for the swift action and amazing bravery of her parents, Kevin and Jeannie.

Caught in the Act by Jeannie McDonough with Paul Lonardo

Caught in the Act by Jeannie McDonough with Paul Lonardo

Adam Leroy Lane was a trucker with a passion for morbid side trips. At random truck stops along the interstates in America’s Northeastern states, Lane would leave his truck and, under the cover of darkness, prowl nearby neighborhoods in search of an unlocked door and a vulnerable woman.

His first known victim would be Darlene Ewalt, who was murdered on the back deck of her Pennsylvania home as she sat talking on the phone with a friend, her husband and son sleeping inside.

Thirty-seven-year-old Patricia Brooks would be the second of Lane’s known victims, and the one whose quick thinking would let her survive to tell the story of the man in black who attacked her.

Monica Massaro wouldn’t be as fortunate. A single woman living alone in a New Jersey duplex, Monica would be the third to die at the hands of this nomadic serial killer.

Lane’s reign of terror would end when he crossed the threshold of the McDonoughs' home in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. When he entered Shea’s room, he wasn’t counting on a teenage girl who was a fighter, a broken air conditioner preventing a deep sleep, or nearby parents willing to do anything to protect their daughter.

From the very beginning until the cell doors slam shut, first-time author Jeannie McDonough recounts the crimes of Adam Lane in a chronologically correct style that has a smooth-flowing narrative, giving the impression of being told the story to you as a friend, rather than a reader of a published book.

Caught in the Act isn’t just a true crime story, however. Jeannie shares not only the story of catching a serial killer, but openly shares the trauma survivors must endure even after the offender is safely behind bars. She discusses the fear, frustration, anger, and lost sense of normalcy, not only for her family but also that of the families of Lane’s victims who were not as fortunate.

There’s no better way to say it, other than to quote the old adage of wearing your heart on your sleeve—that’s exactly what Jeannie does.

There was only one disappointment for me: the background information on Lane was very minimal. I would have liked to know more about what made this man the serial killer he was. It should be noted, however, that Lane’s mother was adamant in her denial of her son’s crimes, so she provided very little information to anyone.

My favorite thing, however, is that Jeannie never once forgets how truly blessed her family was on that night, or that there were other victims who were brutally taken from their loved ones. Readers get the sense that she is almost embarrassed by the spotlight and wants to redirect it to those who did not live.

5. A Stolen Life (Jaycee Dugard)

Jaycee Lee Dugard was an innocent 11-year-old girl when her life was forever changed on the morning on June 10, 1991. It was on this day, as she walked to the bus stop within view of the home she shared with her mother, stepfather, and baby sister, that she was abducted by Philip Garrido and his wife, Nancy.

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

Forced onto the floor of the car, Jaycee was secreted away to a soundproof shed on the property of Garrido’s mother’s California home.

The fear and loneliness Jaycee felt in the first few days would slowly be overcome through manipulations of both her mind and body by an evil man for the next 18 years. The brainwashing so strong that it took the keen eye of two officers to finally force the words “I’m Jaycee Lee Dugard,” her ticket to freedom, from her lips.

Now Jaycee talks about her abduction, her experiences at the hand of a repeat sex offender, and growing up a hostage in her July 2011 book A Stolen Life.

There are some who say it is too scattered and focuses too much on her cats; indeed it is and does. However, Jaycee gives fair warning in the beginning that she is not a polished writer and tends to jump from one subject to the next and back again with no warning; so is it fair to judge the book on something for which a reader has been warned? I think not and I won’t. But take it under advisement.

In the beginning, Jaycee’s story is hard to take; extremely graphic with nothing held back. My advice: keep the box of Kleenex handy.

As the story continues, readers can see the transition from little girl to grown woman with children who suffers a form of Stockholm syndrome. Readers are invited into her life through her cats (and there are many of them) and various other pets, as well as her children and job.

When reading A Stolen Life, readers must remember this book is as much about regaining control of her life as much as it is about sharing her story. It’s not a just-the-facts tale, but a memoir and should be treated as such.

To say that I enjoyed this book feels wrong, but the truth is I did enjoy reading the first-person account of what I consider to be a remarkable young woman who managed to survive what many others don’t. I think Jaycee is an admirable young lady and I’m pleased to endorse A Stolen Life, a heartbreaking book with a very happy ending. Actually, no—make that "a happy new beginning"

© 2017 Kim Bryan

Related Articles