Fear Came to Town: The Santa Claus, Georgia, Murders by Doug Crandell (December 2009)

VooDoo, Vengenance, & Murder
Review by Kim Cantrell

Kim Daniel‘s had been anything but easy. Her father was murdered when she was three years old and her mother soon reliquished Kim and her sisters to foster car. Par for the course, Kim married young, divorced just as young, birth four children in rather quick sucession, and become an addict and alcoholic.

One day, as was to be expected, Kim hit rock bottom. Entering the Mount Vernon Pentocostal Church, she soon found a salvation in Christ and the strength to change her life forever.

In just a very short while, Kim regained custody of her children and met the man of her dreams, Danny Daniels. Blending their own families, the couple agreed they would also be foster parents. Having been a child of the system herself, Kim had a strong desire (some would say it was a calling) to create a warm, inviting, and loving home for society’s otherwise disposable children.

It is through one of the Daniel’s foster children, Joanna Moseley, that the couple met Jerry Scott Heidler or, as he introduced himself to the Daniels, Scott Taylor.

Heidler was the product of a lazy, irresponsible woman named Latrelle Elrod Heidler Moseley. Latrelle was currently on her third marriage with a total of six children; all who would, at some point in time, be removed from her home for neglect.

Jerry’s life had been full of neglect. Beginning when his sorry ass mama feigned car trouble and didn’t get him to the necessary mental health appointments; even though the same car could easily get started for a trip to the Voodoo witch doctor for vegence spells and powders or for Latrelle to go beg money off friends, neighbors, or the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS).

Maybe in an effort to self-medicate or just because he knew no other life, Jerry began drinking at the age of eleven and committed his first crime soon thereafter.

Recognizing the pattern of her own life, Kim Daniels sought to save the adult Jerry from himself by welcoming him into the Daniels’ home even though he was too old to be an official foster care child. For a while, Danny and Kim took Jerry to church with them, gave him money, and encouraged him to get a job.

When Latrelle began taking advantage of her son’s relationship to borrow money from the Daniels’ and their fellow church members and Jerry began showing inappropriate attention to the couples’ fourteen year old daughter, Jessica Daniels, Kim had to admit that, try as she may, she couldn’t save everyone – so instead she opted to save her family from the strange, obviously damaged boy.

It would be a decision that would result in a horrific mass murder in the small but otherwise cheerful town of Santa Claus, Georgia.

Author Doug Crandell does a fantastic job of recounting the murders of the God-fearing Daniels’ couple, of Jessica and younger brother Bryant Daniel, the abduction of three young girls, and the aggressive efforts of local police and Gerogia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) agents to stop a cold-blooded killer in his tracks.

Although I’ve had this book in my true crime stash for a while, I just never got around to reading it because, while the story seemed insteresting, the cover just didn’t tell me this was a book I wanted to read. So, again, I’m kicking myself for judging a book by it’s cover. (Really though, the cover does not do the book justice – for the record.)

Fear Came to Town: The Santa Claus, Georgia, Murders is a style far more reminiscent of a good mystery novel than some of the more monotone real life stories of late; that is, until Part III – the trial part, which does become tedious. Considering all the evidence, a guilty verdict was a no-brainer and, in my opinion, Crandell could have condensed this section to keep with the strong style of the first 212 pages.

But since the “boring part” is only 75 pages, it’s definitely not enough for me to steer you away from reading it. As a matter of fact, with an eight page epilogue that more than makes up for the preceeding trial portion with it’s updates and thought-provoking dialogue, I say add Fear Came to Town by Doug Crandell – it’s a heck of a story from one heck of a writer.

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