Review of Too Pretty To Live: The Catfishing Murders of East Tennessee written by Dennis Brooks
I was attracted to this title because of the catfishing angle. I was left questioning the outcome of not just the murders but the outcomes of those involved. This book was written by the prosecutor of the two trials. I’m not a big fan of prosecutors in general. Behind every wrongful conviction is a prosecutor. Behind every plea deal that lets a criminal skate free is a prosecutor. Then there are the cases where a prosecutor piles on questionable charges to get back at a defendant who doesn’t want to take the prosecutor’s crummy plea deal. So, I’m not a fan of these spokes in the broken criminal justice system. That doesn’t mean that I am unable to offer an honest review.
The book revolves around the murders of Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Payne. The circumstances around the murders involve a convoluted conspiracy cooked up in the minds of two women: Jenelle and Barbara Potter. Jenelle is the daughter of Barbara and Marvin “Buddy” Potter. What makes the case so intriguing is that the animosity that led to the murders was all false. It was invented and enabled by Jenelle’s use of fake emails and Facebook postings. The fact that everyone involved bought into the nonsense of CIA agents and people stalking the Potters shows how twisted the Potter family really was.
It doesn’t take long for the police to zero in on the two men who committed the murders: Buddy Potter and Jenelle’s boyfriend Jamie Curd, though, Jamie’s culpability, in my mind, is suspect. Author Dennis Brooks unravels the mystery through the use of the numerous emails and Facebook postings. I both read and listened to the book. The twisted emails and postings take up a large portion of this book. Unfortunately, the narrator decided to read the emails without any emotion. The lack of inflection makes the emails sound like they were written by an autistic third grader. I thought it was a bad choice by the narrator. A better option would have been to bring in a female narrator to read the emails and postings.
Once the two men directly involved in the murders are taken into custody, the prosecutor turns his attention to Jenelle and Barbara. He believes that the two women are just as culpable as Buddy and Jamie, because it was with their encouragement that Jamie and Buddy acted. It is on this point that I had some disagreement. I’m not saying that they were not guilty of anything. They played a role. But both women suffered from mental deficiencies. Jenelle was said to have the intellect of a fourth grader. It was her fantasies and delusions that allowed Jamie, Barbara, and Buddy to be duped into a crime that left two people dead. The question is does it benefit society to have these two women locked away for life?
Jamie Curd’s plea deal really bothered me. He did not plan the murders. He did not kill anyone. He didn’t have any idea that two people were about to be murdered. But he was present. He knew about the murders after the fact and still did not come forward. But is that level of involvement worthy of a twenty-five year sentence? I think his lawyers could have gotten a much better deal had they tried. As for Jenelle and Barbara. There is the question of to what degree do you hold the mentally disabled accountable for crimes? The author puts it this way. Would the two murders have taken place were it not for the involvement of Jenelle and Barbara? The answer is no. If not for these two women and their deranged conspiracies, there would not have been a crime. But I don’t think that the sentence matched the level of culpability.