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Idaho State University

True-Crime Memoir Recently Published by Visiting Assistant Professor

A true-crime writer, former private investigator and now instructor of a Global Human Trafficking course at ISU, J. Reuben Appelman’s work often revolves around law-breakers and -enforcers.

His recently published memoir, The Kill Jar, is no different, detailing his investigation of Michigan’s infamous 1970’s Oakland County child murders. The book explores cover-ups and corruption, chilling police discoveries and Appelman’s own experiences with violence.

“It’s important for people to remember, when dealing with really horrible crimes, that the effects don’t stop with the prosecution of the suspect,” he said. “The effects of those crimes linger in the communities and the inheritors of those communities. To me, telling the real story of those crimes meant telling my story along with them, as an inheritor of the darkness.”

Growing up outside Detroit during the time of the murders, Appelman not only lived through the fear that gripped his once-peaceful community but an abduction attempt from which he managed to escape. As an adult, he revisited the still-unsolved killings, spending over a decade researching police suspects, physical evidence and proposed theories.

That research would eventually become The Kill Jar, as well as a four-part television docuseries, which will air in 2019 on Investigation Discovery. In the memoir, Appelman weaves his own memories and musings between summaries of case documents, witness statements, polygraph results and interviews.

Catherine Broad, the sister of then-11-year-old victim Timothy King, provided the results of her family’s extensive research of the case, including thousands of internal police documents retrieved by FOIA requests. After working at length with Appelman, she also wrote the book’s foreword.

“We both saw the world in similar ways,” Appelman said of Broad. “It was an invaluable relationship that was special and not marked by the traditional journalist-subject narrative. It was more like I met this person who, oddly, I identified with, even though her trauma was so great.”

A screenwriter, poet and two-time recipient of the State of Idaho Literature Fellowship, Appelman began instructing cross-departmental classes at ISU this fall. He currently offers critical reading and writing, global human trafficking and multiplatform storytelling courses.

His book, published by Simon & Schuster, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book retailers. Since its release on Aug. 14, “The Kill Jar” has met positive critical reception.

“There are different ways to approach a case: one is just as a scientist, and then one is as a human being, a person on the earth who walks around with this stuff,” Appelman said. “With a case this old, I wanted to do both.”


Written by: Madison Shumway, College of Arts & Letters intern