A “riveting” true crime classic: The trial of Connecticut teen Peter Reilly, accused of killing his mother, and the community that defended him (People).
In the sleepy hamlet of Canaan, Connecticut, Barbara Gibbons stood out. She and her eighteen-year-old son, Peter Reilly, lived in a drab one-bedroom house on a desolate stretch of road. An intelligent, lively woman with a wicked sense of humor, Barbara also had dark moods and drank too much. She fought loudly with neighbors and her son, and appeared to have a messy, complicated love life.
When Peter came home from the Teen Center one night to discover his mother lying naked on the bedroom floor with her throat slashed, the police made him their prime suspect. After eight hours of interrogation and a polygraph test, Peter confessed. Investigators were convinced they had an open-and-shut case, but the townspeople disagreed. They couldn’t believe that the naïve teenager was capable of such a gruesome crime, and blamed detectives for taking advantage of the boy’s trust. With the help of celebrities including Mike Nichols and William Styron, who contributes an eloquent and persuasive introduction to Joan Barthel’s account of the case, the community of Canaan rallied to Peter’s defense.
A gripping murder mystery and an intimate portrait of the loyalties, resentments, and secrets lurking beneath the placid surface of quiet towns across America, A Death in Canaan is a masterpiece of “first-class journalism” (The New York Times).
About the author
Joan Barthel is an award-winning author of nonfiction and a contributor to many national publications, including the Washington Post Magazine and the New York Times Magazine. Her first book, A Death in Canaan (1976), uncovered the miscarriage of justice in the case of a Connecticut teenager accused of murdering his mother. It won the American Bar Association Gavel Award, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and became an Emmy-nominated television movie. A Death in California (1981), the story of a Beverley Hills socialite caught in the thrall of the man who murdered her fiancé, was the basis for a television miniseries. Love or Honor (1989), the extraordinary account of a married undercover cop who infiltrated the Greek mafia only to fall in love with the Capo’s daughter, was called “fascinating” and “compelling” by Nicholas Pileggi. Barthel cowrote Rosemary Clooney’s autobiography, Girl Singer (1999), and is the author of American Saint (2014), a biography of Elizabeth Seton with a foreword by Maya Angelou.
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