Murder in Appalachia

Rainbows filled the lush green mountains of West Virginia in the early summer of 1980. People from all over the country joined fellow Rainbows in the Monongahela National Forest for their annual gathering. At the popular outdoor peace festival Rainbows called out “we love you” and “May you Always Be All Ways Free,” but such peaceful sentiments were not in the minds of everyone. While the Rainbows enjoyed music and storytelling someone murdered two young women on their way to the festival – Vicki Durian and Nancy Santomero – and left their bodies dumped on a lonely plateau called Briery Knob.

Police immediately suspected local involvement in the murder of the Rainbow Girls, as Vicki and Nancy soon became known. Who but a local would know about Briery Knob? And mightn’t there have been some enmity between the locals and the two hitchhiking “hippieish” girls on their way to the Rainbow Gathering? When a local farmer called up Nancy’s father to warn him the local police weren’t doing enough, police pounced. Other local men were implicated and despite recanted confessions and police coercion, nine men were arrested, with one man eventually convicted.

It was a narrative that made tragic sense to people: local men picking up hitchhikers, partying, then shooting the women when they wouldn’t have sex. Yet there was another credible narrative, this one involving a serial killer and white supremacist known to be in the area at the time. Even though many officials scoffed at his story, Joseph Paul Franklin chillingly knew many details about the murdered women and had a motive for the crime.

In The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg investigates the Rainbow Murders and comes to her own conclusions about the real killer. She lived and worked in the same mountains where the murders took place and her own story as a young woman coming of age in Appalachia is interwoven with the story of the unsolved double murders. As a gripping true crime narrative, as a beautifully written memoir, as a compelling examination of West Virginia, The Third Rainbow Girl is not to be missed.

Julie Nelson

Constant reader, book selector, shameless promoter of good reads - these are just a few of the things I do as a Collection Development Professional. I love sharing the hidden gems in our nonfiction collection!