Thursday, October 6, 2016

Poison, Prison, and Pennsylvania Courts: How a Veteran Reporter Dove Deep into a Fascinating Murder


By Paula Reed Ward,

Throughout my 20-year career as a police and courts reporter, I have covered every kind of case imaginable. But the death of Autumn Klein by cyanide in 2013 was my very first poisoning.

The story itself — a 41-year-old neurologist allegedly killed by her husband — was fascinating. Add to it that she was killed by poison, which almost wasn't detected, and it became unforgettable.

But then I learned about who Autumn was. The kind of doctor. Mother. Friend. I knew that I couldn't let the case go by without writing a book about it. I wanted to make sure the world didn't forget her. 

Doing the reporting and research for the book was all-engrossing. I spent months tracking down Autumn's college roommates and classmates. I read medical journals to learn about her specialties. I talked to her colleagues and professors. And to her family. 

That must have been the best — and most difficult — part. Autumn's cousin and best friend, Sharon, spent countless hours with me on the phone, sharing the cherished stories of their childhood. Then she spent hours more with me in person. 

Autumn's mother Lois, too, spent nearly six hours with me. She told about her daughter — the kind of child she was and the kind of woman she blossomed into. She also told me about her own relationship with Autumn's husband, Bob Ferrante. She didn't like the idea of her daughter marrying a man 23 years older, but she would also never get in the way of true love. It wasn't her decision to make, Lois said. As we talked that day — and as Lois showed me photographs taken throughout Autumn's life — I couldn't help but feel a deep sadness for her and her husband, Bill. But this sadness also gave me the resolve to know that writing a book about their daughter was the right thing to do. 

Then there was the challenge of getting Bob's side of the story. Although I knew all along that my main purpose for the book was telling the world about Autumn, it was essential — to me — to be fair, and represent both sides. As a newspaper reporter, my career has been spent trying my best to be impartial. That wasn't going to change here. 

So, I set out to get Bob to talk to me. By that point, of course, he was in our local jail (and later, state prison). I sent him a letter. I contacted his attorney. Over weeks of discussions, they finally permitted me to send Bob written questions. I did. And he sent me pages and pages of written answers back. It was a gold mine of detail — about his and Autumn's relationship. His childhood. Raising his two adult children from his first marriage. And how much he missed the young daughter he and Autumn had. 

I also spoke with him twice by phone from prison. During our interviews, I didn’t ask Bob tough questions, like “did you do it?” or “why would you do those Google searches?” I knew I wouldn't have some Perry Mason moment where he shouted, “You got me! I did it.” He denied committing the crime at trial; I wasn't going to trick him into confessing. So, what was most important to me was trying to tell Bob's story — just like I was telling Autumn's. I wanted to know about his life, his family, his education and career. And about prison. 

He shared those things with me. And I included them all. 

Bob recently lost his first round of appeals and will soon file with the Pennsylvania Superior Court. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. 

In the meantime, I will keep covering the case and the people involved. And keep writing the stories that come through the courthouse each day. Like I always have, I will strive to make sure that everyone's side gets told, and that every story is representative of the person it was written about. 

1 comment:

  1. Love this! This is a top-notch, gripping real life crime book :)

    ReplyDelete