A True Story of Murder in Kentucky
By William Van Meter
(Free Press, Hardcover, 9781416538684, 240pp.)
Publication Date: January 6, 2009
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By the lights of absolutely everyone who ever knew her, Katie Autry never harmed a hair on a dog's head.
She came from a tiny village in Kentucky. The State moved her as a child into a foster home in a town so small it had one stoplight. New to her own beauty and a little awkward, Katie had the biggest smile on her high school cheerleading squad. In September 2002, she matriculated as a freshman at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. She majored in the dental program, but as it was for many college students her age, partying was of equal priority. She worked days at the smoothie shop, nights at the local strip club, and fell in love with a football player who wouldn't date her.
Five feet two in heels and without a bad word to say about anyone, Katie Autry was sweet, kind, and utterly naïve. She was making the clumsy strides of a newborn colt, discovering what the world was like and learning to be her own person. And on the morning of May 4, 2003, Katie Autry was raped, stabbed, sprayed with hairspray, and set on fire in her own dormitory room.
In telling the true story of this shocking crime, Bluegrass describes the devastation of not one but three families. Two young men, whose lives seem preordained to intertwine, are jailed for the crime: DNA evidence places Stephen Soules, an unemployed, mixed-race high school dropout, atthe scene, and Lucas Goodrum, a twenty-one-year-old pot dealer with an ex-wife, a girlfriend still in high school, and an inauspicious history of domestic abuse, is held by an ever-changing confession. The friends of the suspects and the foster and birth families of the victim form complex and warring social nets that are cast across town. And a small southern community, populated by eccentrics of every socioeconomic class, from dirt-poor to millionaire, responds to the horror. Like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this tale is redolent with atmosphere, dark tension, and lush landscapes.
With the keen eye of a talented young journalist returning to his southern roots, Van Meter paints a vivid portrait of the town, the characters who fill it, and the simmering class conflicts that made an injustice like this not only possible, but inevitable.
"Characters and events alike in Van Meter's harrowing and mesmerizing account of a Kentucky co-ed's murder are etched with photographic clarity, as the narrative moves toward its end with a sort of doomed inevitability." -- William Gay, author of I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down
"William Van Meter's Bluegrass is not just a story of "murder" but of race, class, gender, region, etc...there are many layers of moral universality in this small-town murder case that far outreach the suburbs of Southern Kentucky in their magnitude. Van Meter resists all the easy traps of the exposé-chronicler with his elegantly interwoven investigation of Bowling Green's harrowing homicide triangle, involving an unforgettably winsome young college co-ed and the two young men--economically and culturally worlds apart and yet historically and socially bound--who are implicated in her baffling murder....This is narrative non-fiction packed with the overpowering magnetism of a sensationalist page-turner, yet Van Meter infuses it with a literary astuteness in the vein of the best of our New Journalism forefathers. Plus, he picks a story to tell that too many of us missed; the Katie Autry case is so mind-blowingly chilling it's evidence once again that real life hands-down surpasses fiction in enormity. It took me to a universe I had never been, and yet one I know I won't be able to shake off soon." -- Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects: A Novel