Today the disclaimer goes upfront: I know the author, Ralaine Fagone, personally. I didn’t know her when the events she describes in her book took place. I met her some years after when she began to write about the murder, arrests and trials. She joined a local writers’ group I was part of and she had a column in a magazine. The group critiqued Ralaine’s columns, then later, when she decided to write a book, she joined another group who helped her. I also did some editing for her, as well as proofreading and copyediting. Also, Ralaine furnished me with a free digital copy of the finished book for this review. So, since I strive to be “fair and balanced,” I want to put all those caveats out here.
Fresno, California has a few claims to fame/infamy. It’s on the way to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. The Underground Gardens. Raisins. Home of some pretty good sports teams (National Championship Women’s Softball, National Championship Men’s Baseball, as well as NFL players Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Derek Carr, Lorenzo Neal, Ryan Matthews, …). Searing summer temperatures. A satirical 1980s mini-series starring Carol Burnett, modeled after Falcon Crest and Dynasty. And the Acid Lady Murder.
In 2003, Ralaine’s son, James, was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of his former employer’s estranged husband. Larissa and Tim Schuster were separated and fighting over custody of their son, Tyler, as well as property. Although no longer working at Larissa’s lab, James still helped Larissa by house-sitting and hanging out with twelve-year-old Tyler.
When Tim disappeared, Larissa was questioned and released. James was also questioned, but not released because he confessed to … well, here is where things get murky. Did he confess to the murder? The police and prosecutors say yes. James says he didn’t know Larissa planned to murder Tim and he thought they were going to retrieve some of Larissa’s property. He says he confessed to helping her rob Tim, then he got pulled into being an accomplice when the robbery escalated to murder. Tim’s body was put into a barrel and acid from Larissa’s lab was poured in to destroy the remains.
Ralaine walks the reader through her feelings during that time. Her devastation at the arrest. Her horror at the details of the murder. Also, the months leading up to the arrest, when James’ life took a radical departure from the path he’d been on. As a Christian, Ralaine raised her children to follow God and His precepts, trusting that if she did that, God would keep His end of their “bargain,” and her children would be “good,” and stay out of trouble, and have happy lives. With James’ arrest, all her beliefs about God, faith, and her church came under scrutiny. And not all survived intact.
The reader will experience Ralaine’s emotions. She is honest and vulnerable. The book is more than the story of the Fagone and Schuster families and the murder and trials. The book is part memoir, part true-crime story, part Christian Living, but totally compelling.
Ralaine is offering a free print copy of BURDEN OF PROMISE to a blog reader who comments below. Tell me about a time you were shocked and saddened by a story in the news.