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The Third Rainbow Girl
The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia
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A stunning, complex narrative about the fractured legacy of a decades-old double murder in rural West Virginia—and the writer determined to put the pieces back together.
In The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg uses the Rainbow Murders case as a starting point for a thought-provoking tale of an Appalachian community bound by the false stories that have been told about.
Weaving in experiences from her own years spent living in Pocahontas County, she follows the threads of this crime through the complex history of Appalachia, revealing how this mysterious murder has loomed over all those affected for generations, shaping their fears, fates, and desires. Beautifully written and brutally honest, The Third Rainbow Girl presents a searing and wide-ranging portrait of America—divided by gender and class, and haunted by its own violence.
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If I am missing in any sense, it is a missingness I created for myself in order to be free.
—Dawn Lundy Martin
What follows is the result of five years of reporting and research I conducted in seven states. To understand and conjure the historical sections, I drew on police records, court documents, newspaper reports, scholarly articles, social media posts, and the personal archives of those involved.
The voices of the living are here, with the exceptions of Bobby Lee Morrison, Winters Walton, Robert Allen, and Steve Hunter, who declined my requests for interviews. I included their point of view where it is available by other means, but no doubt this book would have profited from their insights. If interviewees' contemporary memories differed from their earlier statements in the public record, I have noted the discrepancy.
The sections chronicling my own time in Pocahontas County were aided by journals, letters, photographs, and emails. Quotation marks indicate verbatim speech, while passages without quotation marks convey speech reconstructed to the best of my abilities. I have changed some names and identifying details to protect individuals' privacy. For certain names and nicknames, where official documents and court records used different spellings, I chose the most commonly accepted spelling.
In one instance, where the privacy of minors was involved, I chose to make "the red-headed girl" a composite of several real people.
The perspective offered here is mine alone. I don't claim to speak for the people of Pocahontas County, though I hope that this book speaks to them as well as other audiences. I have tried to see the telling of truth in this book like the drawing of an asymptote, a line that continually reaches for the heart of the matter, even as it does not—cannot—meet it.
HERE ARE SOME TRUE THINGS:
1. In the afternoon or early evening of June 25, 1980, Vicki Durian and Nancy Santomero were killed in an isolated clearing in southeastern West Virginia. They were twenty-six and nineteen, hitchhiking to an outdoor peace festival known as the Rainbow Gathering, but as the result of two and three close-range gunshot wounds respectively, they never arrived. Vicki was from Iowa but was working as a home health aide in Arizona. Nancy had dropped out of college in New York and was working at a Tucson thrift store. They had not had sex on the day they died, nor were they raped. Their killings have been called the Rainbow Murders.
2. They died in Pocahontas County, a sparsely populated area that consists largely of protected national forest and sits along West Virginia's eastern border with Virginia. At the time of their murders, thousands of travelers from all over the country had come to this area to attend the Rainbow Gathering. Local reaction to the festival, organized by outsiders, varied widely. One faction of Pocahontas Countians was upset at the disruption of their lives and, assisted by prominent state politicians, filed an unsuccessful injunction to stop the event. Some speculated a causal link between the festival and the deaths. Because of this, as well as the remoteness of the clearing where the two women were found, citizens and law enforcement mostly believed that the killer was local.
3. The murders were a trauma experienced on a community scale. Wherever they went to eat or relax or pray, residents discussed these crimes and the fact that the killer was likely still living among them. Two young women had come to their home place for a peaceful celebration and instead ended up dead. Hillsboro, the closest town, held less than three hundred residents. Neighbor accused neighbor.
4. No one was prosecuted for Vicki and Nancy's murders for thirteen years. Eventually, nine local people were arrested and charged with crimes connected to the killings. Three more were named as suspects by law enforcement. Two confessed. Four accused another in sworn statements or testimony. All this and more was reported, in great detail, by the local paper, the Pocahontas Times, each Thursday morning. The accused were all men who made their living by working the land—farming, hauling timber, cutting locust posts, or baling hay.
5. In 1993, the state of West Virginia chose to pursue a trial against one man only, a local farmer named Jacob Beard, whom it deemed the "trigger man." Beard was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The state's case rested on the word of two of the nine men, both offered immunity in exchange for their testimony. Three men, prosecution witnesses testified, had picked up Vicki and Nancy hitchhiking and then driven them to the woods, where the other men joined the party. The men drank and smoked weed, the prosecution's theory continued, and then they tried to rape Vicki and Nancy. When the women struggled too much and threatened to go to the police, Beard was said to have shot them. One of the witnesses had less than a third-grade education, and the other said he had repressed his memories of the murders for many years but later recovered them. Both witnesses were physically assaulted by West Virginia State Police officers.
6. In 1984, a man named Joseph Paul Franklin, already incarcerated in a federal prison in Illinois for a series of murders he had committed throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, told an investigator that he shot and killed two women in the woods of West Virginia. Franklin had a tendency to make claims that he would later disavow, and he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Law enforcement deemed his confession less than platinum, and the judge in Beard's case agreed. But in 1996, after learning that Beard was doing what Franklin felt to be his time, Franklin grew more insistent in claiming responsibility for Vicki and Nancy's deaths. With Franklin's cooperation, Beard was granted a new trial in 1999 and found not guilty in 2000.
7. I lived in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, from May 2009 to November 2010 and have spent approximately two hundred additional nights here, mostly in summer. I came as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), a corps of domestic service volunteers created in 1965 to "alleviate poverty" in America's most distressed regions that sits under the broader program AmeriCorps. It was my job to empower the teenage girls of southeastern West Virginia by fostering their academic excellence, their knowledge of the ecology and history of their home state, and their healthy emotional development. I eventually moved away from Pocahontas County but have since been back many times as a friend and worker and later as a reporter—that troubled and troubling term—because once I heard the story of Vicki and Nancy and the nine men, it would not leave me.
8. Though it was my job to work with the girls of Pocahontas County, most of the people I was closest to here were men. They worked construction jobs to make the money they needed and shared with me their music and their land. I existed in a relationship with them essentially as a friend and neighbor and fellow researcher looking into the word "alive."
9. The idea of Appalachia is well understood; the real place, less so. It is a borderland, not truly of the South or the North, and West Virginia is the only state entirely within its bounds. Because of its enormous natural resources and their subsequent extraction, which has largely profited corporations based elsewhere, the relationship between the people of West Virginia and the broader United States of America is often compared to that between a colonized people and their colonizers. The programs of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty that funneled national dollars and aid workers to central Appalachia, though founded on humanitarian ideas, also furthered this troubled interdependency.
10. Pocahontas County life demanded that women and girls be powerful in ways that the more urban places I've lived have not, or have even categorically denied. The masculinity I saw in Pocahontas County also encouraged emotional and physical closeness between men in ways I have rarely seen elsewhere.
11. If every woman is a nonconsensual researcher looking into the word "misogyny," then my most painful and powerful work was done in Pocahontas County. It could have been done in any other place, because misogyny is in the groundwater of every American city and every American town, but for me, it was done here. Looking into the Rainbow Murders became part of this work.
12. According to the most recent FBI data, 74 percent of women who are murdered are murdered by men. In 84 percent of cases, the act of murder was not related to the commission of any other felony such as rape or robbery.
13. In America, protecting or avenging white women from a violation of their safety or sexual autonomy has been used time and time again to justify the unlawful incarceration of men—particularly poor men and men of color. To be conceptualized or to conceptualize oneself as a victim, as my friend the writer Sarah Marshall often reminds me, is the thing more than any other that inhibits personal and moral growth.
14. White men accounted for nearly 80 percent of suicide deaths in 2017, and men in West Virginia are committing suicide at a rate of almost three times the national average, according to the most recent comprehensive data by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These numbers do not take into account deaths by drug overdose, car accident, or workplace accident.
15. Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote that in all desire to know, there is a drop of cruelty. The same may be true of the impulse to turn the messy stuff of many people's lived experience into a single story. At the same time, stories are responsible for nearly everything in this life that has made me more free. Which stories are which and to what extent this story is an example of the former idea or the latter or both is an essential question of this book.
16. Elizabeth Johndrow hitchhiked with Vicki and Nancy across the United States. In the mythology of these events, Liz is known as "the third girl," though she did not die. She's not a girl anymore, but a woman with a son and a rich network of love. When I think of all this as a story, I think of her.
To love a familiar patch of earth is to know something beyond death, "westward from death," as my father used to speak it.
IT STARTS WITH A ROAD, a two-lane blacktop called West Virginia Route 219 that spines its way through Pocahontas County and serves, depending on the stretch, as main street and back street, freeway and byway, sidewalk and catwalk.
It is June 25, 1980, just after the summer solstice, and a young man named Tim is driving home for the night. He had driven to Lewisburg, the big town almost an hour away, and is coming back now, with fresh laundry and groceries.
The road is made of black tar with a healthy gravel shoulder that gives way to ditch and then forest on both sides except when it climbs up or down a mountain, which is often. On those stretches, the ditches are replaced by tight metal guardrails with reflective yellow arrows that point drivers around the hairpin turns, some nearly one hundred and eighty degrees—a true switchback. To drive this road requires skill, to know when to tap the brake and when to press the gas. Tim is new in town and still learning. It is tempting to slam on the brake every time he sees a switchback, but the better move—for safety, gas efficiency, and natural enjoyment—is to do nothing, to let the speed ride and then, halfway through the turn, give it more gas. Beyond the guardrail is a steep drop-off into a valley where happy cows huddle together under ancient trees. The stakes of driving this road are high for Tim, as the many dents and welds in the guardrails remind him.
If a traveler were so inclined, she could drive this road in its entirety, all 524 miles of it, from Buffalo, New York, to Rich Creek, Virginia. Just south of the modern Mason-Dixon Line, this road roughly traces the original boundary between the land to the east called Virginia and the land to the west that has had so many names: West Augusta, Trans-Allegheny Virginia, Kanawha, and finally, when it declared itself a sovereign state, West Virginia.
In the beginning, the Seneca and the Cherokee used a route that would become this road to travel the wilderness from where the St. Lawrence River flows through New York state all the way to Georgia, long before there were any white people here.
Soon the white people came, first only to the coast at Jamestown but then crashing west across the forest floor. To stop the flow of blood, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, declaring what would become this road as the dividing line between what was "rightful" English settlement and what was not. Whites were forbidden to settle west of this boundary, and any who had already crossed were commanded to return; likewise Native Americans were forbidden to go east of it. But do the white people listen? They do not listen.
Choosing this road as the boundary wasn't arbitrary, nor was it empathy for the rights of Native Americans, just sheer capitalist pragmatism. West of this road was wild, and not in a good way: it was steep and craggy mountainsides unsuitable for farming—"trash land." But for those who had left England seeking opportunity in the New World—largely the poor, the criminal, and the disenfranchised—many found that such opportunities were not easily forthcoming in Virginia. A powerful class-stratification system had quickly been established, a scramble for power that left some on top but most out in the cold. Those who had come with slightly more resources and ties to the upper classes back in London rushed to expand their claims over those who had fewer. By 1770, less than 10 percent of the white colonists owned over half the land in Virginia. To everyone else, the land beyond this road, forbidden or not, looked good.
Before long, smoke from the fires of simple timber homes marked the presence of a different kind of settler than the Virginian gentleman farmer: the intrepid woodsman squatter. To choose this place meant choosing violent struggle and disobedience, meant choosing years of raiding and being raided by the Seneca, meant choosing to sign up to fight in the American Revolution against England in such great numbers and with such enthusiasm that George Washington said of the region, "Leave me but a banner to plant upon the mountains of West Augusta, and I will gather around me the men who will lift our bleeding country from the dust and set her free."
Tim's car clears the hamlet of Renick, and the road flattens and straightens into a stretch called the Renick flats. Route 219 winds up and to the left, and the world becomes darker as the sun falls away and the pavement narrows and begins to hug the side of Droop Mountain. "Pocahontas County," the sign says, and then Tim is on the mountain's summit, where the road flattens again and takes him past a church marquee and the two-story farmhouses and single-wide trailers of his neighbors, past the pens where they raise chickens and sheep and pigs.
Take your right hand, and give the world the middle finger. Extend your thumb. If this is West Virginia, Pocahontas County sits in the thumb's fleshy heel, a jagged raindrop of land nearly the size of Rhode Island. It was named after the Native American princess we know so well, but there all familiar stories end.
Half the county is Monongahela National Forest. Eight major rivers have their headwaters here, rivers that feed the Gauley, then the Kanawha, the Ohio, and eventually the Mississippi, so that water that begins in Pocahontas County flows as far south as Louisiana. This is not coal country. Instead, its main exports are timber and people.
Each of Pocahontas's nine thousand residents could have her own nine square miles of land, but all the kids go to a single high school. If the kid is athletically inclined, she can become a Pocahontas County Warrior—unremarkable in football and track and field, but excellent in agriculture and archery. Snowshoe Mountain ski resort is here, on land that was logged throughout the first half of the twentieth century, then left to burn. It's owned by out-of-state prospectors, though exactly who owns it and where they call home will change too often to keep track—a North Carolina dentist, a Tokyo development company.
The world's largest fully steerable radio telescope is here too, a mountain-sized white satellite dish atop a construction crane that is visible from most anywhere in the northern part of the county. In 1958, the federal government established the National Radio Quiet Zone, a thirteen-thousand-square-mile swath of land spanning the West Virginia–Virginia border inside which cell phone signals and Wi-Fi will be severely restricted to minimize interference with the telescope's work of detecting faint interstellar signals, and all of Pocahontas County sits inside it. Take this state of affairs, and layer on top the profit margins of private telecommunications corporations, and the result will be that even in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Pocahontas County will remain a white spot on AT&T's orange map.
This is a place where those who wish to be undisturbed by pings and rings can do so in peace. There is a deep awareness here of what the rest of America thinks a life should look like—the newest model, the fanciest vacation, the highest paying job with the best retirement plan—and, among many, a rejection of that life. Some people grow their own corn and make their own music and choose to give birth at home without beeping machines. Some are not just off the grid but off the record—no company knows their name. The Gesundheit! Institute, Patch Adams's movie-famous hospital for alternative healing, is here; ditto Zendik Farm, an intentional artist community originally formed in 1969 in California.
Some people teach school or fix cars or stack the plates of the tourists who come here to hike and fish and ski. Some people are nurses and doctors and home health aides and lawyers and Tudor's Biscuit World servers and Rite Aid employees. Many people cannot get work in their field of interest because the jobs do not exist here, and some cannot get jobs at all. Some are not able to work and subsist on disability. West Virginia ranks forty-fourth out of all the American states for overall physical health of its population and forty-eighth for quality of care. Despite having the second lowest average annual income in the country, West Virginians pay the eighth highest health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act. Though it has the worst mental health of any state according to the CDC, it is ranked forty-eighth for access to mental health services. A therapist or a specialist is often a drive of an hour or more; the state has a single abortion provider in the capital of Charleston, 140 miles from Pocahontas County.
Some vote in every election, picking up their elderly relatives, driving them into town to pull the lever, and putting signs for their candidates of choice, both local and national, in their yards. Others don't vote at all, because the government doesn't care about West Virginia, so why bother? Some call the sheriff's office with the slightest information; others don't trust its deputies—you could trace law enforcement corruption back more than a century, to when the railroad companies and logging companies used hired guns to force people off their land or to sell their mineral rights. This will happen all over again when fracking is invented and prospectors will draw the Atlantic Coast pipeline straight through Pocahontas County.
Tim puts on his turn signal and gets ready to pull the car off to the left at the small green sign for Lobelia Road. It is easy to miss, he is learning; if he sees the rectangular stone marker for Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, he's gone too far. The park is a popular spot for picnics and family reunions and reenactments of what happened here more than a hundred years ago, a battle that sealed West Virginia's statehood forever. It is said that you can still find musket balls in the dirt there if you dig down deep enough.
The story of West Virginia's birth as a state and how that shaped Pocahontas County in particular is a tough and exciting one, full of pluck and verve and no taxation without representation, an American story of David against Goliath and freedom from bad rules.
Unlike eastern Virginia, where farms were massive agricultural operations powered by African-born people forced into slavery, western Virginia was still primarily small homesteads even into the nineteenth century. People fished, trapped animals for fur, or cut timber. Families raised small beds of crops and livestock to sell to the rich people in eastern Virginia. Few plantations here—not enough flat land, not enough money, but some families did keep small numbers of enslaved people in bondage. To bring lumber from the Great Lakes states to the booming cities of the East, the railroad companies laid track through western Virginia in the 1820s. Thousands of people could now hop a train from eastern Virginia to western Virginia, and thousands did, looking for cheap land. City land promoters sold immigrants arriving from Europe on the dream of western Virginia. In the 1840s and 1850s, the Irish fleeing the potato famine made these mountains their own. But most still did not legally own their land, and without legal claim, they had to continually guard against threats from other squatters and from powerful city people with money and laws on their side. All this made the people of western Virginia vigilant, scrappy, and resourceful, engaged in the constant task of survival.
Many in Richmond and Washington, DC, looked down on western Virginia, regarding it as a lawless place where poor families occupied land they didn't own and didn't farm, a lifestyle that was at odds with both the Puritan ideals of family and Southern aristocratic values. Something "had to be done" about this place. The Virginia government adopted a policy that anyone squatting on land in the western territories of the state could claim first rights to buy it, but if they couldn't come up with the cash fast, they would have to either start paying rent or move on. Most families in western Virginia made their livings from the natural world or bartered; they didn't keep money on hand. Great swaths of land were sold to rich investors in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.
Further, new laws also made owning land a qualification to vote and participate in democracy. But even if they could scrounge up the money, the system was rigged against western Virginians. In a baffling rule, a farm animal was now taxed at a higher rate than an enslaved person, making it far more expensive to farm in western Virginia than in eastern. People here just couldn't compete with the big plantation operations that churned out crops at bargain prices.
Western Virginians did all their own work and without the evil of slavery, so they should pay less in taxes than the slave-owning farmers to the east, they figured, not more. Plus they always seemed to be getting the raw end of the deal when it came to public money to build courthouses, jails, and schools. They didn't have good numbers in the state legislature—partly there had always been fewer people here, partly enslaved persons counted toward population tallies in eastern Virginia (though, disgracefully, as only a portion of a human). As early as 1831, western Virginia farmers backed a movement to free all people enslaved in Virginia—though whether motivated by racial justice or financial self-interest no one can say for sure.
*** A NEW YORK TIMES "100 Notable Books of 2020" ***
*Winner of the Pinckley Prize for True Crime*
Edgar Award Nominee in "Best Fact Crime"
Lambda Literary Award finalist in the Bisexual Nonfiction (2021)
Apple Books, "Best Books of January"Amazon, "Best Books of January 2020" in Nonfiction and HistoryAmazon, "10 Best Mysteries & Thrillers of the Month"
BookRiot, "Best Audiobooks for Nonfiction November", "Best Books on Appalachia"Indie Next Pick for February 2020O Magazine, "16 of the Best Books to Read this January!"Electric Lit, "20 Most Anticipated Debuts of Early 2020", "Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2020"The Millions, "Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2020 Book Preview! "Library Journal, "Editors' Fall Picks for 2019"
Marie Claire, "Best True Crime Books of 2020"Publishers Weekly, "New True Crime Books 2019-2020"Southern Independent Bookseller Association, "Okra Pick for Winter 2020"SheReads, "Most Anticipated Memoirs of 2020", "Ten True Crime Books to Read Under the Covers"Esquire, "The Best Books to Elevate Your Reading List in 2020," "24 Best Books of 2020"Mary Sue, "Books in 2020 That Will Make You Want to Smash the Patriarchy"Booklist, "Chills with a Thrill""Headlines only deliver digestible tropes: Backcountry hicks confront hippie celebrants, two dead. But for the indefatigable Emma Eisenberg, approaching the murders at Briery Knob is about more than who fired the gun. An affection for this law-resistant corner of West Virginia enables her to transcend the simple formula of white male rage. Stepping into darkness, she extracts a nuanced sense of place and draws a map with historical connections."—Nancy Isenberg, New York Times bestselling author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
The Book Maven, "10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020"
The Lineup, "Jaw-Dropping True Crime Books (Roundup)"
Oxygen, "Best True Crime Books of 2020"
CrimeReads, "Best True Crime Books of 2020," "Best New Paperbacks of the Month (January 2021)"
BookRiot, “The Best Books We Read October-December 2020”
- "Part crime narrative and part soul-searching memoir, Emma Copley Eisenberg's The Third Rainbow Girl has so much wisdom to offer. It's about the corrosiveness of preconceived notions, and about how trauma ripples through cultures and generations, and about finding connections in others and strength in oneself. Rich in detail and sensitivity and intelligence and honesty, this is a book you won't want to put down, one that will stay with you for a long time."—Robert Kolker, New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery
- "Emma Copley Eisenberg has written a true crime book that brings to mind Truman Capote's masterpiece In Cold Blood: elegantly written, perfectly paced, and vividly realized people and places. Equally impressive is her refusal to condescend to the inhabitants of the Appalachian community where the crimes occurred. The Third Rainbow Girl is a major achievement."—Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena
- "I blazed through this book, which is a true crime page-turner, a moving coming-of-age memoir, an ode to Appalachia, and a scintillating investigation into the human psyche's astounding and sometimes chilling instinct for narrative. A beautiful debut that will stay with me for a long time, whose story mesmerizes even as it convinces you to find all mesmerizing stories suspect."—Melissa Febos, Lambda Literary Award winner and author of Whip Smart and Abandon Me
- "Emma Eisenberg has distinguished herself as a reporter of remarkable wisdom and conscience, and her powers are on full display in The Third Rainbow Girl. Eisenberg's meticulous, compassionate reporting does not promise any of the easy answers we might expect from true crime: neither about what happened to the "Rainbow Girls," nor about poverty, injustice, and the fate of outsiders-whether hippies, hitchhikers, carpet baggers, or journalists-who give and take in this country's poorest areas. Her insights are hard won, deep, and devastating, making this an unforgettable debut."—Alice Bolin, author of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession
- "The Third Rainbow Girl succeeds on two levels: first, as a deep dive inquiry into the 1980 murders of two young women in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and the ensuing, tangled investigation, and second, as an intimate and humane portrait of a close-knit Appalachian community, the kind of place that is often reduced by outsiders to little more than a cliché of itself. As Jimmy Breslin once wrote of the legendary New York chronicler, Damon Runyan, 'He did what all great reporters do ... he hung out.' A remarkable book."—Richard Price, NewYork Times bestselling author of Lush Life
- "The Third Rainbow Girl is a staggering achievement of reportage, memoir, and sociological reckoning. We are better for this brilliant, gorgeous, and deeply humane book."—Carmen Maria Machado,National Book Award Finalist and author of HerBody and Other Parties
- "In The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia, Emma Copley Eisenberg uses the unsolved 1980 murders of Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, in Pocahontas County, WV, as a lens through which to consider the effects of violent acts on the communities where they occur."—Library Journal
- "The Third Rainbow Girl is a fascinating hybrid work of true crime and memoir... In following the twists and turns of the case, Eisenberg paints an affectionate portrait of Appalachia that complicates and contradicts stereotypes about the region."—Shelf Awareness
- "The Third Rainbow Girl is a riveting excavation of the secrets time, history, and place keep. In a long-buried crime, Emma Copley Eisenberg has unearthed a story that reveals America."—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body: A Murder & A Memoir
- "[Eisenberg] reconstructs the case with a brisk pace and a keen sensitivity ... offers a nuanced portrait of a crime and its decades long effects. A promising young author reappraises a notorious double murder-and her life."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Eisenberg has crafted a beautiful and complicated ode to West Virginia. Exquisitely written, this is a powerful commentary on society's notions of gender, violence, and rural America. Readers of literary nonfiction will devour this title in one sitting."—Booklist, starred review
- "This is essential reading for true crime fans."—Publishers Weekly
- "Eisenberg follows the threads of this crime through the complex history of Appalachia, forming a searing and wide-ranging portrait of America--its divisions of gender and class, and of its violence."—Amazon Book Review
- "Evocative and elegantly paced...The Third Rainbow Girl is not just a masterly examination of a brutal unsolved crime, which leads us through many surprising twists and turns and a final revelation about who the real killer might be...It's also an unflinching interrogation of what it means to be female in a society marred by misogyny, where women hitchhiking alone are harshly judged, even blamed for their own murders."—The New York Times Book Review
- "Thoughtful and immersive....A complex and captivating read, THE THIRD RAINBOW GIRL weaves true crime with memoir to stunning effect."—Tove Homberg, Powell's Books
- "The Third Rainbow Girl accomplishes what any good murder mystery should. It shines a spotlight on a nexus of people and a place. Eisenberg's tendency to weave in references to writers who've preceded her in the genre--Joan Didion and Truman Capote, for example--makes the reading experience uniquely thoughtful and introspective... The insights into human nature are the real gritty, good stuff you get from reading a masterful work of journalism like this one."—NPR, Fresh Air
- "This book by Emma Eisenberg, whose reporting on the Sage Smith case was so essential for me, is a really beautiful study in subverted expectations: true crime, coming-of-age, West Virginia, the arcs of each story unexpectedly kinked."—Jia Tolentino
"Compelling and sensitive...The Third Rainbow Girl is not only a meticulously investigated story of a crime and its haunting aftermath, it's also a coming-of-age memoir."
- "[A] deeply felt exploration of Appalachia, a land where fault lines of race, gender, and class run deep. Eisenberg, a one-time resident of Pocahontas County, never lets her former home off easy, but instead evokes a portrait at once generous and devastating."—Esquire
- "If this is a book about a murder, it is also a book about the history of economic exploitation in Appalachia, the systemic biases of the criminal justice system, and the unreliability of memory."—The Nation
- "In prose that brims with empathy, and through research that illuminates narratives that have long been hidden by problematic representation, Eisenberg exposes the kinds of fictions we tell ourselves often enough that we believe them to be true."—Longreads
- "A deeply felt exploration of Appalachia, a land where fault lines of race, gender, and class run deep."—Esquire
- “Eisenberg lends her own voice to the audiobook, adding layers of emotional depth and perspective to an already fascinating story.”—BookRiot
- "Eisenberg, who has her own history with Appalachia, pursued this story of two murders, looking at the lives of these women with insight and compassion, reckoning with her own coming of age, her own desire to push boundaries. It is a page turner that lingers long after its conclusion, a powerful meditation on women’s choices."—Pinckley Prize for True Crime
- "Both fascinating and discomforting."—CrimeReads
- On Sale
- Jan 19, 2021
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Hachette Books