Brendan Koerner has tapped into a fascinating piece of US history – what he calls the “golden age of hijacking” on US planes. Hundreds of planes were hijacked in America in the late 1960′s and the early 1970′s, and many planes were hijacked on the same day by coincidence. Koerner paints the picture of a time totally opposite of flight today. There was little security at airports, there were no bag checks, and passengers could pay for their flight after they boarded. In our post-9/11 world, envisioning this former era is near impossible.
The story here focuses on Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow, a pair of skyjackers who committed the longest hijacking in American history. I felt the details of their specific story sometimes dragged here – Koerner spends a lot of time covering their pre- hijacking and post-hijacking lives. I began to lose interest with all the meandering details – other than the fact that they hijacked a plane, I’m not sure if either of these people lived a life remarkable enough to write about.
Where The Skies Belong to Us shines in its portrayal of this Mad-Max-in-the-sky time period. The sheer number of successful skyjackings from the 1960′s and 1970′s are astonishing. The young flight industry’s attempts to deal with security on planes while also rushing to accommodate the demands of each plane hijacking are almost humorous. The naivety here is remarkable – at one point, the head of the FAA discuss the impossibility of searching each passenger pre-flight. I found the variety of skyjackers and their motives to be more interesting than the specific story of Holder and Kerkow. There were a variety of reasons people skyjacked, and a huge spread of types of people involved, and many of the skyjacking plans were simple and poorly executed (yet often successful). As with the best non-fiction today, this story is too bizarre to make up.
Unfortunately, Ann Rule stumbles with The Stranger Beside Me, by claiming to be an intimate friend of Ted Bundy. She transforms the short, erratic time she worked with the man into a close relationship. Yet, despite herculean efforts, nothing more than a casual acquaintanceship is described. Also, Rule frequently repeats that she was highly regarded by law enforcement agencies, thus attempting to validate her own self-importance. Furthermore, Rule is enamored with Bundy, often mentioning how sophisticated and gentlemanly he was. Eventually listeners will tire of the lavish praise heaped on one of histories most prolific killers.
However, interspersed with the leaps of fantasy are outstanding snippets of the gruesome horrors perpetrated by Ted Bundy. Of course, Rule does a superb job of describing his descent into murderous madness. To begin with, we see an intelligent, polite young man. But, gradually a portrait emerges of a monster. In addition, the notorious killer was suspected of abducting and killing eight year old Ann Marie Burr, in 1961. She is thought to have been Bundy's first victim, with the murder being perpetrated when he was only 14. Lorelei King delivers an effortless performance as she recounts Bundy's childhood, the murders he committed, his capture, imprisonment and trial. All things considered, it would be remiss to imply that this is less than an engaging account of the infamous serial killer.