The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City
In Cold Blood meets Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family: A harrowing, profoundly personal investigation of the causes, effects, and communal toll of a deeply troubling crime—the brutal murder of three young children by their parents in the border city of Brownsville, Texas.

On March 11, 2003, in Brownsville, Texas—one of America’s poorest cities—John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho murdered their three young children. The apartment building in which the brutal crimes took place was already rundown, and in their aftermath a consensus developed in the community that it should be destroyed. It was a place, neighbors felt, that was plagued by spiritual cancer.

In 2008, journalist Laura Tillman covered the story for The Brownsville Herald. The questions it raised haunted her, particularly one asked by the sole member of the city’s Heritage Council to oppose demolition: is there any such thing as an evil building? Her investigation took her far beyond that question, revealing the nature of the toll that the crime exacted on a city already wracked with poverty. It sprawled into a six-year inquiry into the larger significance of such acts, ones so difficult to imagine or explain that their perpetrators are often dismissed as monsters alien to humanity.

With meticulous attention and stunning compassion, Tillman surveyed those surrounding the crimes, speaking with the lawyers who tried the case, the family’s neighbors and relatives and teachers, even one of the murderers: John Allen Rubio himself, whom she corresponded with for years and ultimately met in person. The result is a brilliant exploration of some of our age’s most important social issues, from poverty to mental illness to the death penalty, and a beautiful, profound meditation on the truly human forces that drive them. It is disturbing, insightful, and mesmerizing in equal measure.

Details The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City

Title The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City
AuthorLaura Tillman
Release Date5th Apr 2016
Pages256 pages

8 reviews on “The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City

  1. schmatta

    An elegant meditation on how we treat the poor and the mentally ill. This is an odd book. I would never have read it had I not heard a bit on NPR that emphasized the philosophy rather than the horror of the crimes. Took a chance and ordered it. Read it cover to cover. Tillman is a fine reporter and writer. She looks at the people involved, the border town where the dreadful incident took place, the way different states handle the death penalty. Her thoughts are deep, her sentences are lucid, and her sensitivity is finely tuned. And — so important for a journalist — she perseveres through her reporting, despite the grim and tiresome work involved. I enjoy true crime books, but this really is not one. This is a book to savor and to contemplate….

  2. Customer

    I entirely agree with Jeff Hobbs…I thought Tillman did an incredible job with such a difficult story, weaving in the crime without resorting to sensationalism, while exploring the impact on the community, and what could have led to such deeds…I think her approach was brilliant, completely unexpected…I believe the New York Time’s review was mean, nasty, unfair, and disrespectful toward Tillman, surprising since professionalism, regardless of opinion, would have been expected of such an organization….Emma Perez-Trevino, former senior reporter at The Brownsville Herald……

  3. Julianne (Outlandish Lit)

    This is a true crime book for people who don’t read true crime. If you go in expecting a lot of details about the murder of three children by their parents or the court case, you’re going to be disappointed. Rather, this is an unflinching look at class and poverty in America, and some of its subsequent effects on communities. It’s like classy true crime with a social justice bent. But there is totally a chapter titled “Don’t Read This Chapter before Going to Bed.”Tillman’s journey started as she reported on a building that people wanted torn down. The building where three children were killed by John Allen Rubio and their mother Angela. Tillman looks at both the poverty and the sense of community in Brownsville, Texas which is on the very southernmost point of the state. In this border town, drugs are a problem and so is unchecked mental illness. Rubio claims that they killed their children because he believed they were possessed by demons. It’s dark and it’s complicated. So Tillman st…

  4. Nicky

    I could not put this book away. Beautifully written, thought provoking, and an in depth examination of the circumstances and people associated with these hideous crimes. The author writing style is not one of an indifferent newspaper reporter. She also mesmerizingly captures the ambience, culture, and attitude of South Texas. Fascinating.As you progress through the book, you realize how badly our society is failing so many. Like everyone else,Excellent. Beautifully written and mesmerizing insight into the circumstances surrounding a horrific tragedy.Ms. Tilllman also captures the ambience of Brownsville, TX. ….she draws you into the point of view of its people and their culture. ….

  5. Maggie M

    This book is a fascinating read about a journalist’s personal and brave exploration of a horrific crime and its impact on the community in which it took place. Through exquisitely written prose, Tillman brings us along on her years-long journey in search of possible causes of a triple murder while examining its ongoing effects. In doing so, every perspective is covered: legal, psychological, philosophical, and personal. Like a powerful play that causes an audience member to walk in the wrong direction upon leaving a theater, Tillman’s compelling story will no doubt stubbornly occupy your thoughts after you finish reading the last page….

  6. Tony

    An intriguing story of a horrendous crime which concentrates not on gory details (except for one clearly marked chapter) , but instead explores the effects of the events on the city and its people. A vivid portrait of a Texas town. An intricate and intimate telling of a tragedy….

  7. Texasbooklover

    TRUE CRIMELaura TillmanThe Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American CityScribnerHardcover 978-1-5011-0425-1 (also available as an ebook and on Audible), 256 pgs., $26.00April 5, 2016Laura Tillman was a rookie reporter at the Brownsville Herald in 2008 when she was assigned to cover a story about whether a historic building in Brownsville’s Barrio Buena Vida should be demolished. In a tiny apartment in the building, five years earlier, three children were murdered by their parents. Tillman interviewed Brownsville residents, some of whom said the building should go because it was haunted and a constant reminder of the unthinkable. Others said that was superstition—it was just a building.The father of the children, John Allen Rubio, was born and raised in Brownsville. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury rejected that argument and sentenced him to die. Rubio’s lawyers won an appeal, but a second jury convicted him and again sentenced him to …

  8. Jadaros

    I didn’t care for this book. Not because of the writing, but because of the subject. A number of theories were proffered as to why this couple savagely murdered their three small children, none of which made me feel any compassion for the murderers. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this was too dark and depressing for me to finish….

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