A TICKET TO HELL: A Review of DANGEROUS GROUND by M.William Phelps

Admittedly, ‘DARK MINDS’ was one of my favorite shows on the Discovery ID channel. And, like most shows I get into, it was short-lived (three seasons). So when DARK MINDS host and true-crime journalist, M.William Phelps announced that he was releasing a book about his ‘friendship’ with the serial killer known only as ‘Raven’ of course I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.

DANGEROUS GROUNDS is that book and it’s a ticket straight into hell.

[SPOILERS] Raven was none other than Keith ‘The Happy Face Killer’ Jesperson – convicted of killing 8 women throughout the early 90’s and known for his smiley faced signed letters written to authorities.

This book chronicles Phelps’ five year ‘friendship’ with Jesperson while working on DARK MINDS.  Now, if you’ve watched any amount of the ID channel then you probably know Phelps from his frequent appearances on their programs (Deadly Women, etc). I get it, he can come off as somewhat of an ‘over-dramatic’ storyteller with frosted tipped hair and hip flavor saver. However, if you’ve read any of his books you see what a thorough investigative journalist he is with a tenacious voice for victim’s rights.

That being said, I wasn’t expecting all that much when I opened up DANGEROUS GROUND. I figured it would be a series of conversations with an ‘infamous’ human monster full of ghost stories and serial killer tropes.

Damn if I was wrong.

This book dug its claws into my flesh. It haunted my dreams. I still can’t shake it.

DANGEROUS GROUNDS is a case study, a series of interviews, and a personal diary all wrapped up in one engaging package. The book exposes Jesperson for the sociopath he is and by no means is it meant to ‘celebritize’ his murders. Sure, there’s plenty of juicy details from Jesperson’s killings. Especially ‘interesting’ is the explanation of how Jesperson tied up a victim underneath his semi and drug the body for fifteen miles between Brady and Gothenburg, NE (my neck of the woods) to erase any identifying features.

However, where this book shines is Phelps account of how their relationship pulled him into a psychological inferno. He writes with brutal honesty about his own struggles with alcoholism and faith while dealing with his sister-in-law’s murder and, ultimately, his brother’s death from addiction. It’s a front row seat to the near  total breakdown the author had at the hands of Jesperson.

Always in search for the truth, Phelps writes about the challenge to properly identify one of Jesperson’s victims, giving the reader a behind-the-scenes look at all the hard  and heartbreaking work that goes into such a venture.

There’s a lot going on this book and Phelps pulls it off. It’s a book that will stick with me long after finishing it.

DANGEROUS GROUND is a must-read for true crime enthusiasts and those willing to step foot into the dark corners of human depravity. It belongs on the shelf right next to IN COLD BLOOD and HELTER SKELTER.

Yeah, it’s that good.

 

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