Author: M.C. Hall
Publication date: December 1st 2017
Genres: Adult, Mystery
Fifteen years ago, Kitty Holbrooke was set to be the greatest child star since Shirley Temple. Days after completing her debut film, the young girl was kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night. The next day, a rambling ransom note appeared in the family’s mailbox, but as the family scrambled to gather the money, police discovered Kitty’s body. Due to the media circus surrounding the case, changing testimony from key witnesses, and police missteps, lead detective Andrea Bennett was never able to bring Kitty’s killer to justice, and the case that rocked a nation went cold.
Today, an online tabloid has uncovered Kitty Holbrooke’s shocking case files including never-before-seen police interviews, confidential emails, secret text messages, and sealed grand jury transcripts. The Internet explodes as fans devour and comment on each piece of new evidence, desperately hoping that they, too, can help solve the mystery.
Loosely inspired by the Jon Benet Ramsey case, this unique, thrilling mystery is told through police transcripts and documents, and will keep readers guessing until the very end.
Interview: Katherine Holbrooke, January 26, 2002
Katherine Holbrooke: Did you need a picture? The other detective said you needed a recent photo. I hope these are acceptable. I also have two headshots, but in those, she has stage makeup on, and since she still has her baby fat, the headshots have been Photoshopped to make her look a bit thinner. This one is from a week ago. I printed it out for you. She looks so precious, doesn’t she? I hope we find her soon. [Cries]
Lieutenant Andrea Bennett: For the record, this is Lieutenant Andrea Bennett. I’m here talking to Katherine Holbrook. It is 11:28 in the morning on January 26th. Katherine’s nine-year-old daughter Katherine Holbrooke Jr., also known as Kitty, was discovered missing just over an hour ago.
Thank you, Mrs. Holbrooke. I’m sure these pictures will help. We’re doing a search of the neighborhood now, but we’ve put out an Amber Alert and the media will be on top of the story soon enough. They’ll want the description and the photos.
Katherine Holbrooke: The media. [Blows her nose] Do you think that’s really necessary? Ryan thinks she just wandered away somewhere. He said the other officer told him that’s probably what happened.
Lieutenant Bennett: The other officer said that? Son of a [Inaudible] I don’t know. She might have gone somewhere without letting you know. Lord knows, my own kids have done that enough times to drive me crazy. But we don’t want to jump to any conclusions. Her disappearance could be something else. Does she have a history of running away, or “wandering off,” as you put it?
Katherine Holbrooke: No. She’s never done this before. She’s such an intelligent little girl. I don’t know that she would… [Pauses]
What should I wear? Should I change now or wait?
Lieutenant Bennett: Excuse me?
Katherine Holbrooke: You said the media would be called in. I know how these things go, especially in California. They care more about appearances than they do about people. They wouldn’t give a damn about Kitty if we looked like you…
Lieutenant Bennett: If you looked like me? You mean if you were black? What exactly are you trying to say, Mrs. Holbrooke?
Katherine Holbrooke: No! Goodness no. That’s not what I meant at all. It’s just that you’re in uniform and you are sort of… Well, you have quite a natural look don’t you, and those shoes…
Lieutenant Bennett: These shoes are police issued, ma’am, and trust me, if I have to run after a suspect in this case, you’ll be glad I’m wearing them.
Katherine Holbrooke: [Sighs] Now I’m afraid I’ve offended you. All I’m trying to say is we don’t want to look like ragamuffins on TV. If Kitty’s really missing and the press are called in, I should try to look my best, shouldn’t I? Appearances matter. Thank goodness, she is… [Trails off]
Lieutenant Bennett: Thank goodness, she’s what?
Katherine Holbrooke: Nothing. Well, I only mean to say that she’s a very attractive girl. She’s famous, or she will be soon, anyhow. That should help, shouldn’t it?
Lieutenant Bennett: I see.
Katherine Holbrooke: I didn’t mean anything by it, Lieutenant. Only if she is missing, well, you know what people in Hollywood are like. God, listen to me. I don’t know what I’m saying or what I’m talking about. I must be in complete shock. God. My God! Who took my baby? Where is she? Why isn’t she in her bed? [Cries]
Lieutenant Bennett: You didn’t offend me, Mrs. Holbrooke. It’s understandable. You want to do whatever you can to find your child. You’re not wrong about the media, either. I might not care as much, but I would probably want to look my best too, if it were me.
Please stop crying, ma’am. I know this is upsetting, but it would help if you could try to calm down. Can you give me a description of the events leading up to the moment you realized your daughter Katherine had disappeared? Where were you yesterday?
Katherine Holbrooke: Yesterday? Yesterday, I woke the girls at around 7:00, their usual wake-up time. Then, we dropped off Ally at the middle school. Kitty and I went to her school. We got there around 8:00. I waited there while she completed her lessons for the day, and then at 12:30, I took her to the salon. She had an audition later that afternoon, and they wanted her to have a tan. Skin cancer causes wrinkles, especially if you start tanning when you’re young. So, we went to Sally’s over on fifth for the works—spray tan, leg waxing, eye lash extensions, and eyebrow plucking.
Lieutenant Bennett: Let me break in, just to get this straight. She was only in school from 8 in the morning to just after noon?
Katherine Holbrooke: Yes. [Sniffles] That’s correct. Don’t judge me, Lieutenant. I care hear the doubt in your voice.
I’m a good mother. Kitty was a child star. She has classes half days only. She misses a lot of school because of filming, not to mention auditions, and classes for acting, singing, and dance. Oh, and she has gymnastics. She goes to a highly recognized private school and she has a tutor on set when she’s filming. Her education is a top priority.
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Megan Cassidy Hall writes books for adults under the name MC Hall, and writes books for children and young adults under the name Megan E. Cassidy. In addition to writing, Megan works as an English professor teaching a variety of courses including Creative Writing and Children and Young Adult Literature. Megan’s novels include Always, Jessie, The Misadventures of Marvin Miller, and Smothered. Her poetry and short stories have been featured in numerous publications including Bete Noire, Pilcrow & Dagger, and Centum Press’s 100 Voices.
All of her short work can be found on her website.
Guest Post by M.C. Hall:
Inspired By vs. Based On
When I was doing research for my novel Smothered, I came across an article by Lauren Bradford entitled “My Family was Traumatized First by a Murder and then by the TV Serialization.” In the article, Bradford describes her experiences with the media after her mother was murdered by her father and his mistress. In addition to living through the trauma of her mother’s death and her father’s imprisonment, Bradford also had to endure the publication of a book written about the case and a TV drama based on the book.
Both the book and television depiction were filled with errors. Bradford writes, “In the midst of trying to come to terms with the imminent release of the drama, our family endured the PR and social media build-up with sleepless nights and tearful days, while those responsible were being congratulated for a ‘brilliant’ production.”
It was articles like these that made me carefully consider how I wrote my novel. The murder case in my book involves a young girl who goes missing. A ransom note is sent to police, but a few days later, her body is found hidden in a shed on the corner of her family’s property. Because the book is set fifteen years after the murder, all of these details are given in the first five pages of the book.
Because of the premise of my novel, I’ve had several people ask me, “Is the book based on the JonBenét Ramsey case?” My answer is always, “No. Absolutely not.” I will admit that parts of the book were inspired by that case, particularly the detail of the ransom note I mentioned above. But other pieces of the novel were inspired by different cases throughout history, including the trials of Lizzie Borden, the Menendez brothers, OJ Simpson, and Casey Anthony.
As the victim in Smothered was a young actor, I also was also inspired by stories of various child stars such as Shirley Temple, Jackie Coogan, Drew Barrymore, Brooke Shields, and Lindsay Lohan.
But taking inspiration from real life is incredibly different than basing a novel on one person’s story. Books and movies “based on” true stories are often only thinly-veiled fictionalizations, sometimes changing only the names and a few small details, while keeping the rest of the case intact.
In contrast, in novels of films that are “inspired by”, the writer may take an idea from an actual event, but the rest is fiction. Nothing in the book or movie happened, and the writer does not claim, “this is what could have happened.”
In this way, the murder mystery I wrote isn’t that much different from my other novels. My first book, Always Jessie was inspired by my own struggle recovering from eating disorders. I wanted to depict a girl going through a recovery process that was similar to mine, but Jessie is nothing like I was at sixteen, and her story was not based on my own. My second book, a middle grade novel called The Misadventures of Marvin Miller was inspired by some of the humorous stories my father told me about his childhood. Again, Marvin is his own person and things like my father’s “fireworks story” took on a life of its own.
Similarly, in Smothered, I started with an idea, and then created wholly fictional characters and a plot that didn’t follow any actual events. I didn’t want Kitty Holbrooke to be just like Jon JonBenét Ramsey, Charles Lindbergh Jr., or Caylee Anthony. I wanted to start with an idea, ask “what if,” and let the characters dictate where the story went from there. I hope that’s what I accomplished, and I hope people enjoy the book as a fictional story that has just a few hints of real life.