Review: The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown

Title: The Forest City Killer: A Serial Murderer, a Cold-Case Sleuth, and a Search for Justice

Author: Vanessa Brown

Published: October 4th 2019, ECW Press

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy ECW Press/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


London, Ontario earned its nickname ‘The Forest City’ during its establishment in 1826, when it was little more than a village among the trees. Today, London is a mid size city with a population of about 400,000 that spreads out along the River Thames. London is a community much like any other, but from 1959 to 1984, the town was said to have had more active serial killers than any other locale in the world. It was reported by criminologist, Michael Arntfield in his book Murder City, that there were at least six serial killers active in London during this era, including Russell Maurice Johnson known as ‘The Bedroom Strangler’, Gerald Thomas Archer known as ‘The London Chambermaid Slayer, and Christian Magee known as ‘The Mad Slasher’.

The Forest City Killer explores the murders of several young women and children, linked by location and manner of death, whose killer/s were never officially identified. Amateur historian, writer, and antiquarian bookseller Vanessa Brown presents Information about several of the cases that remain unsolved from the late 1960’s drawn not only from public record but also her own interviews with relevant persons, and from the personal files of a (now deceased) detective who played an active role in the investigation of these crimes.

Brown begins with the murder of fifteen year old Jackie English, who disappeared on her way home from work one evening in 1969. Her nude body was found under a bridge a few days later, she had been beaten, raped and strangled. Her unidentified killer, is who Brown calls ‘The Forest City Killer’, and it is this case that she finds the most compelling.

Brown’s personal theory links the murder of Jackie English with the murders of at least two other teenage girls, Jacqueline Dunleavy, and Soraya O’Connell, as well as a woman in her mid-thirties, Helga Beer, and three young boys, eleven-year-old Bruce Stapylton, nine-year old Frankie Jensen, and sixteen year old Scott Leishman. I’m not sure I agree that all the murders, and at least one other disappearance, are the work of a single killer, but Brown does suggest points of comparison that could be of significance.

Unfortunately the investigation of the cases were cases were uneven, largely a byproduct of the times. The police chief was uninterested in the disappearance of young women in particular, quick to suggest they were off partying, or were simply runaway’s, so official searches were delayed. The London police force also generally lacked experience, and an understanding, of sexually motivated crimes, evident by some shocking statements of victim shaming. While blood, fluids, and other evidence were collected from many of the scenes, forensic investigative techniques at the time were primitive, and it is unclear if any of it still exists.

Brown’s material on these unsolved cases is interesting and readable, though at times the narrative feels a little cluttered with extraneous personal detail. I do think the book would benefit from summary’s of each case’s details, and perhaps a comparison table, or something similar.

Brown states that her main purpose in writing The Forest City Killer is “…to renew interest in these unsolved cases and to urge the Ontario Provincial Police to re-investigate these crimes vigorously, using all DNA and other evidence in their possession.” I hope that her aim is achieved and the family’s may finally get the answers they have long hoped for.


Available from ECW Press

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I via Indiebound I Book Depository

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. alisbooks
    Oct 06, 2019 @ 04:26:58

    It’s cool that the author had a real intent with the book. Hope she’s successful!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. the bookworm
    Oct 07, 2019 @ 02:04:43

    This sounds interesting, I hadn’t heard about these crimes before.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  4. fuonlyknew
    Oct 08, 2019 @ 07:10:51

    This could be interesting. I do enjoy reading books like this. Cold cases always fascinate me.



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