West Virginia's Mysterious Cold Cases: Background information when reading The Third Rainbow Girl

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The Third Rainbow Girl

The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia

by Emma Copley Eisenberg

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg X
The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 336 pages

    Jan 2021, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Tara Mcnabb
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West Virginia's Mysterious Cold Cases

This article relates to The Third Rainbow Girl

Print Review

Martinsburg, West VirginiaIn The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg examines an unsolved double murder that took place in West Virginia in 1980. Her focus is not so much on the murder itself but on the long term impact on the community as a whole. In the USA, an estimated 200,000 murder cases since the 1960s remain unsolved. Each one of these leaves a lasting impact, not just on those directly connected to the victim(s) but on the community at large. Despite having a crime rate below the national average, West Virginia has its own share of unsolved murders including these four high profile cases:

December, 1945: The Sodder family was large compared to most families; they had a total of nine children living at home when on Christmas Eve of 1945, their house was set on fire, resulting in nothing but a pile of ash once it was all over. Miraculously, four of the children somehow escaped and survived, but the other five vanished. Because there were no human bones found after the fire, the parents became convinced that they were kidnapped and that the blaze was used as a distraction. In an attempt to find clues, they established a billboard in town detailing the events and also hired private investigators. But despite these efforts, no suspects have ever been found.

June, 1977: 26-year-old Sister Roberta Elam left her convent in Wheeling to pray and meditate on a nearby hill; she had just spent the past eight days in silent retreat preparing for her ordination as a nun. This was early in the morning, and she was not seen until later that afternoon when her body was discovered in the grass by a caretaker. She was partly nude, and it was later determined that she had been raped and strangled. Tragically, her case has remained unsolved to this day. Despite a possible suspect DNA profile that was compiled from evidence, the authorities have been unable to positively identify the killer.

November, 1982: LaRoy Gorman, a 62-year-old banker and business executive, was coming out of the Steak & Ale restaurant in Charleston after enjoying a leisurely dinner out. While getting into his car, he was shot and killed. Although the killer has never been identified, witnesses say there was a man parked in a nearby car that appeared to be waiting over an hour for Gorman to exit the restaurant.

August, 1991: Danny Casolaro, a 44-year-old American journalist, was in Martinsburg to allegedly meet a source to get more information concerning a story he was working on about the "Octopus," a supposed secret government operation that involved an international cabal. When he was found dead in his hotel bathtub, his wrists slashed, his family immediately became suspicious and disagreed with the medical examiner's ruling as death by suicide. The family gave several reasons for their suspicions; they emphasized Danny's squeamishness and fear of blood, arguing that if he did commit suicide, he would never do it by slitting his wrists. Futhermore, Danny had previously confided to his brother that he had received threatening phone calls and that if something were to happen to him, it would not be by accident. Even though several law officials agreed with the family that Danny's death was suspicious and should be investigated, no evidence of murder has ever been found.

Martinsburg, West Virginia, where Danny Casolaro was found dead. Photo by Farragutful via Wikimedia Commons

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Tara Mcnabb

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Third Rainbow Girl. It originally ran in February 2020 and has been updated for the January 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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