Title: The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders
Author: Anthony Flacco with Jerry Clark
No. of Pages: 287
First Released: November 2009
Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “From 1926 to 1928, Gordon Stewart Northcott committed at least 20 murders on a chicken ranch outside of Los Angeles. His nephew, Sanford Clark, was held captive there from the age of 13 to 15, and was the sole surviving victim of the killing spree. Here, acclaimed crime writer Anthony Flacco—using never-before-heard information from Sanford’s son Jerry Clark—tells the real story behind the case that riveted the nation.
Forced by Northcott to take part in the murders, Sanford carried tremendous guilt all his life. Yet despite his youth and the trauma, he helped gain some justice for the dead and their families by testifying at Northcott’s trial–which led to his conviction and execution. It was a shocking story, but perhaps the most shocking part of all is the extraordinarily ordinary life Clark went on to live as a decorated WWII vet, a devoted husband of 55 years, a loving father, and a productive citizen.
In dramatizing one of the darkest cases in American crime, Flacco constructs a riveting psychological drama about how Sanford was able to detoxify himself from the evil he’d encountered, offering the ultimately redemptive story of one man’s remarkable ability to survive a nightmare and emerge intact.”
Comments and Critique: I have never read a book like this in my life. When I finished, I wanted to crawl into a ball and sob but also wanted to throw up at the thought of everything that little boy had to suffer. I’m still shaken up by the book that my stomach is still churning several hours after finishing, but I wanted to write this review while my feelings were so raw.
Unfortunately, I had no idea what the Wineville murders were. My knowledge of them unfolded only as I kept turning the page. My horror at Sanford’s story increased from page to page, and yet I kept reading. I wanted to make sure that he survived, to find out how he was found, and to make sure that devil incarnate burned in hell for what he did to those boys. The need to make sure Sanford was okay kept me reading long after I knew I should have stopped. I don’t do horror stories, and this was that much more horrific because it is a true one.
Flacco does a tremendous job of presenting the story from Sanford’s point of view. Visceral and haunting don’t even begin to cover the adjectives to describe the book, while the emotions that run through the reader as Sanford struggles to assuage his guilt at the experiences his uncle forces him to have run the gamut from denial to horror and back again. The first-person narrative makes the story that much more powerful. Thankfully, just at the point where the reader cannot possibly take any more evil, Flacco transfers to a third-person narrative and describes Sanford’s rescue and recovery. Such a hellish book ends on a note of hope that someone so abused that he feels guilty about what he was forced to do can lead a life of normalcy and become a well-beloved model citizen. Sanford’s redemption proves that there is still good in the world even after the reader questions this very idea in the beginning.
I received this book as part of the BBAW giveaway from Sterling Publishing. I am glad I read it but I can’t help but feel that I lost just a bit of my naivete at learning the full story of what went on in Wineville, California in the 1920s. It is a story that is going to haunt my dreams for a long time to come.