Bitter Blood is the first full true crime book I’ve ever read all the way through. In recent months, I read compilations of essays about true crime (the excellent Unspeakable Acts, by Sarah Weinman, and The Case of the Vanishing Blonde, by Mark Bowden.) I’m not sure why I haven’t taken the plunge before this, other than a vague fear that true stories would freak me out more than fiction and a bad reaction to Anne Rule’s prose. But when I heard the Bitter Blood episode of Southern Fried True Crime, I needed more of this bizarre tale of a folie à deux that lead to seven murders and the suicides of the perpetrators.
Bitter Blood, the story of Susan Newsom Lynch and Fritz Klenner’s crimes, had me asking all kinds of questions even as it answered others. Bledsoe dug deep into the history of the Lynch, Newsom, and Klenner families of North Carolina and Tennessee. He goes back three generations in some cases to find out what one earth happened to create Susan and Fritz. It’s hard for me to say if this was more a case of nature or nurture. In Susan’s case, it might be nurture. Her parents were told that she had a heart murmur that might kill the little girl if she were ever really upset. An indulgent childhood definitely contributed to Susan’s sense of entitlement, but I’m baffled at her susceptibility to the outrageous lies of Fritz Klenner. Fritz’s childhood certainly played a role. Growing up with a white supremacist who believes they can cure anything (even multiple sclerosis) with whopping doses of vitamin C is bound to warp anyone, but Fritz also had a pathological need to tell self-aggrandizing lies about his fake accomplishments. Fritz’s lies about the CIA and the Mafia found fertile ground in Susan’s paranoid brain.
The other question Bitter Blood that I had to ask was, could anyone have seen the murders coming and stopped Susan and Fritz before they started to kill people. I always wonder about this question when I listen to true crime podcasts, especially when murderers start to throw up red flags years before any crimes are committed. Susan’s behavior deteriorated early in her marriage to Tom Lynch. Fritz was always alarming. But then, what these two did was so horrific that no one saw them coming. None of the judges who worked on the divorce and custody fights would ever have dreamed that Susan would ever hurt her children. Everything Susan did she claimed was to protect her children.
I mentioned my short encounter with Anne Rule, the Queen of True Crime. I know her books are at the top of the heap of the genre but, when I started to read The Stranger Beside Me, I couldn’t take Rule’s hype about Ted Bundy’s story. Bledsoe’s prose has some melodramatic moments that raised an eyebrow or two. Most of the time, Bledsoe just told the story. This turned out to be what I wanted. I want a true crime author—or podcaster—to lay out the facts for me, to give me the background to understand the crimes. I realize that my interest in true crime might be ghoulish but I can’t help myself. If someone pushes over a rock on a strange, unbelievable, outrageous story, I have to look, too.