Monday, October 23, 2006

Jeanine Cummins, "A Rip in Heaven".

It seems that my experience with true crime literature has been focused on accounts by journalists, criminals and law enforcement. Jeanine Cummins is the family member of several victims of crime. "A Rip in Heaven" is her "memoir" of events that happened in St. Louis in 1991. Her family was irrevocably changed as her brother Tom was walking with his two cousins Robin and Julie, and they were accosted by four youths, aged 16-23. The girls were raped, and then all three were pushed off a bridge, and fell 50 feet into the Mississippi River. While Tom survived the fall and reported the incident to police, his cousins were missing and presumed dead. This was only the beginning of a tragic saga that would plague an extended family for years.

As Tom Cummins was taken by St. Louis police for witness interrogation, it quickly became evident to his family that he was considered a suspect in his cousins' deaths. It seemed clear to the detectives that Cummins was lying about the events, and he subsequently failed a lie detector test. The horror of his situation is recounted based upon Tom's memories of his interrogation and short incarceration. Although he was initially charged with two cases of murder, the district prosecutor determined that there wasn't sufficient evidence to hold him. Soon after his release, the actual perpetrators were discovered and imprisoned. This criminal party consisted of three African-Americans and one white male- 23-year old Marlin Gray, 19-year old Reginald Clemons, 16-year old Antonio Richardson, and 15-year old Daniel Winfrey. Somehow the police managed to construct a reasonable account of the crime out of the perps' competing testimonies, and it matched Tom's initial testimony.

While the author provides a detailed description of the events immediately surrounding the crime itself, she seeks to balance the story with remembrances of the victims and the aftermath of the incident. Julie and Robin are presented in highly sentimentalized passages that demonstrate how much Jeanine Cummins and her family revere their memories of Julie and Robin. Some of the details get a bit treacly, but I guess this is only to be expected. The tales of how the family pulled together are heartening, while the sufferings that accompanied these events are harrowing- but enlightening. It is clear that the author intends to redress the balance of attention regarding media attention in criminal affairs. It is perhaps insensitive and unfair that the focus is rarely on victims of crimes and their families. Consumers seem much more intrigued by the criminals themselves.

There were a few things that bothered me about Cummins' account of events. It is probably unavoidable, given the nature of the relationship of the author to the material, that she would exhibit some bias. She freely acknowledges this fact in her prologue. However she states certain beliefs as if they were indisputable facts, while in reality there is plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. One glaring example is her contention that Antonio Richardson is not mentally retarded. This offender was examined by multiple psychiatrists and social workers, before and after the horrible events, and the overriding consensus seems to be that Richardson is (at least) mildly retarded. Besides her emotion, I wonder what Cummins believes qualifies her to make this diagnosis. She doesn't ever claim to have talked to (or even encountered) the man in person. Her motive for doing so is unclear, since she states a conflicted opposition to the death penalty in the afterword.

More bothersome was Cummins conceit that she could realistically imagine the inner states and conversations of the killers, to the extent of writing in third person perspective about events and interactions that she was not privy to. It's disingenuous to adopt such a literary device, and continue to call your work non-fiction. This choice eroded a lot of the credibility I was initially willing to grant her as a peripheral participant of the events she descibes. It's evident that she wants to tell the story of the victims and their family, yet she falls prey to the common blunder of attempting to reconstruct the inner states and motives of the killers. It seems that an effective exploration of the ways crime impacts victims and their faimilies would do best to avoid getting muddled in such speculation. Cummins' choice to approach the material in this way suggests that this book is more about advocacy than objectivity.

20 Comments:

Blogger mesmereyezme2 said...

I could go on and on about this book (and am analyzing it page by page), as I have firsthand knowledge as far as the "real facts goes:

1) Thomas Cummins had a 1-2 year prior "relationship" with his 1st counsin, that on the face goes alot deeper than out of town cousins. Julie and Thomas often exchanged "love letters/poems" through the mail; and were inseparable during their final stay in St. Louis;

2) Julie and Thomas has a romantically-charged 2-week stay while in their grandparents home in Clearwater, Florida a year before (1990), and there were many rumors abounding that Julie had become pregnant and had a subsequent abortion during that time;

3) Thomas Cummins claimed to police that he was "disappointed" that Robin had come along when he met up with Julie 2-3 blocks from his grandparents home that night in April, because he saw it as another night he could be with his girlfriend, Julie;

4) The night in question, Thomas initially claimed to the police that he "had made a romantic advance to Julie, and slapped him and when he reacted she fell backwards off the railing and fell into the water adn Robin jumped in afterwards;

5) Thomas' subsequent claim to Nels Moss (the corrupt prosecutor in this case) that "those 4 black guys did it" was a remarkable and fantastic bucket of untruths and lies which was choreographed by Nels Moss who was in the midst of running for Circuit Attorney and needed to have a good publicly-charged case to get him votes and publicity (an election he subsequently lost). Interestingly, enough, Thomas' attorneys (while he was initially questioned and held by the police) were arranged for him (many have said) rather discreetly by Nels C. Moss, and these same attorneys rather coincidentally donated over $500 in campaign contributions to Nels C. Moss prior to the trials and during his campaign (On the face, seems rather unetchical to accept money from the attorneys of a murder suspect who you allowed to go free)

6) Thomas eventually sued the City of St. Louis for "police brutality" and won $150,000 the following year, but I personally can attest to the police beatings of both Marlin Gray and Reginald Clemons (as I saw the injuries firsthand), but their injuries were never recompensated or their claims taken into consideration;

6) Thomas'claims that the girls were raped are unfounded, as their was never any forensic evidence found at the scene (hairs, fibers, semen, blood, dna, etc). Thomas was found to have a condom in in wallet, and when asked by police why, Thomas said, "you never know when I might get lucky with someone" (julie perhaps?);

7) Thomas additional claim that he was "pushed off" the bridge on a dark night, dropped 90 feet, hit the water at 57 mph at a depth of only 14 feet while the river was churning at 15-17 knots (the United States Coast Guard said "it was too treacherous to boat out there") past 3 intake stations, floated over 300 yards in water of 45-50 degrees full of debris, logs, etc, came upon a bank full of dark, quicksand-like mud, crawled 100 yards to a street, flagged down a truckdriver...but yet...when police came they found him to have no injuries of any level, no marks of any kind (save a 5-6 inch scratch on the left side of his face/cheek [perhaps from a fingernail slapping him?], his clothes were all clean and he was dry from the waist up and his hair was neatly combed and dry.

and 8) the body found 240 miles away 3 weeks later was determined to be Julie Kerry ) Nels Moss would want people to believe, however, the body they recovered had no remarkable injuries, still clothed while in the water, and little to moderate decomposition (according to witnesses who recovered the body..."it was if the girl had only been in the slough 2-3 days as if she just walked in and drowned herself."). There was conflicting dental forensics disputing that this body was indeed the body of Julie Kerry.

Okay...well I could go on but I wont...sorry for taking up too much space here, perhaps...

10:33 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

No need for apologies. It's all interesting information. It would be naive not to at least question Cummins' version, considering the bias inherent in her relationship to the accused.

8:46 PM  
Blogger mesmereyezme2 said...

Well feel free to ask me anything about this case as I was an investigator since Day 1...and have alot more interesting information...

5:36 PM  
Blogger dangerouslysafe said...

i really just started reading this book and it is definitely very intriguing. i am a psycholgy major and therefore obviously interested in all the aspects that present itself in this case. the comments by mesmereyezme2 i find particularly fascinating - they comment on the bias of the author but as an investigator (as they are claiming) it would seem there is also some bias - i would be interested in learning more about this case and the facts that make tom cummins appear to be the perpetraitor of this crime - even though he was ultimately not convicted.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if mesmereyezme2 was an investigator on this case and all that info is really true than why are you not shouting this from every building instead of a little blog. it is funny to me that these other boys would tell the same story as Tom and end up with some of their belongings how do you explain that did Tom frame these boys and plant evidence on them? possibly mesmereyezme2 is one of these boys girlfriends. I read this book and regardless of what your opinion is I myself will never listen wholeheartedly to the news media again!!

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mesmereyezme2 definately sounds like one of the boys girlfriends or family members ... none of that stuff is credible considering these guys implicated each other when none of them were a suspect to begin with. Regardless, I won't be trusting news media ... not that I had a whole lot of trust in them to begin with. And police aren't always looking out for _your_ best interest either.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

anon,

I too share your suspicions about the media. I want to make it clear that I am not taking a firm position on what happened in this case, because (very simply) I wasn't there. This was a book I stumbled on without knowing anything about the case, and any doubt I have about Cummins' account arise from my reading of her words only. She's pretty close to the story and her cousin to be an entirely reliable narrator. But I'm not accusing her of deliberately lying.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is sad for all of the families it effects. The Cummings' family will not admit to Tom's motives and the background of his relationship with first-cousin, Julie. The four men convicted of these crimes have no previous criminal record above maybe a traffic ticket. They were convicted on the fear of the black man's lust for the white woman. Anyone who researches this case will find that rape and robbery were infused as motives for the crime for the purpose of conviction and the actual charges of rape and robbery were dropped. No matter how many times you see in print that they raped and robbed the victims, they were not convicted of those crimes. Find out what they were actually convicted of, then ask yourself, "Who committed the Murders". This is a test! Are you a truthseeker, or do you believe what you are told?

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father handed me the book knowing I like to read true crime and I have about 30 pages left to read. Tom's account is totally credible in my mind since his story was corroborated by others.

Maybe Tom was attracted to his cousin, but not in the sick way that has been commented here. Julie was a good person who help Tom come out of his shell,(sometimes people need a person like that who can help them come out of their shell) and I don't even know the family. Maybe it was Julie who had the crush and Tom was just along for the ride.

The clincher for me is that the author tried to be as unbiased as possible considering the hell her family has been through. You all should be nicer to Tink, since she tried to write the best book she could.

10:54 AM  
Blogger justjulie said...

I am reading this book, and I cannot imagine why any of you would doubt Tom Cummins. (1) The 3 black guys and 1 white guy CONFESSED with almost exact details.(I find it interesting how the blacks are called African American but the white one is not called caucasion.) How would they know all those things AND have Tom's belongings? When would Tom plant that evidence on 4 men that would actually confess to a crime they did not commit? It is possible he was just incorrect about where he was when he fell. Has Tom had a lie detector recently or any length of time after he got some rest? We all know sleep deprivation affects the results. Maybe he was infatuated with Julie. There is no evidence that he did any of this. The author writes ahead of time that some dialogue is created. It is not fiction. Tom's condom comment....Any male would say that. They start carrying those things at 13 and have to get a new one by the time they actually use them. Who says Tom said all this? Someone seems to be creating a little dialogue on their own. I could go on and on too.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Laura W said...

Laura Walker
October 24, 2008
Gina Fournier
English Comp 2



Never Forgotten


A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and its Aftermath, by Jeanine Cummins is a book based off of a true crime. Jeanine was one of the family members that dealt with a great loss in her family on a spring break vacation. With having her brother under suspicion for murder and rape charges regarding her two cousins, Cummins narration shows her feelings and thoughts through out the book as well as her family’s’. A Rip in Heaven illustrates and gives readers insight about what families go through during a murder in the family.
For spring break, the Cummins family went on a family trip to St. Louis. During their stay with relatives the majority of the crowd was teenagers. Jeanine also known as Tink, her brother Tom, and their two older cousins Robin and Julie Kerry were busy being high-spirited and adventurous. On the night of April 4th, 1991, Tom and his two cousins Julie and Robin went for a stroll on a near by bridge called the Old Chain of Rocks bridge. Later in their evening enjoying the scenery and smoking shared cigarettes, they were robbed and harassed by four men. Three of the boys then raped the girls and threatened to kill Tom if he did not jump of the bridge. After, the boys were done tormenting them; they threw the three off the bridge. Their drop was 50 feet, Julie and Robin drowned but luckily Tom had been able to survive the horrible current of the water. But as a result of Toms will to survive the St. Louis Police saw him as the main suspect. Tom was tricked into giving a false confession and was given two, first degree counts of murder, while his pleas were ignored by the police about who really committed the crime. The four men that really had done the crime were running free. Julie and Robin were never found in the river and were presumed deceased.
The main issue in A Rip in Heaven is how Jeanine Cummins dealt with the loss of her two cousins murders and how her brother was a prime suspect in the case. It goes into details on how she and her family were able to over come, the tragedy and what troubles they had to deal with. One major tragedy that they had to over come was the fact that they had to hire one of the top attorneys in the state just to get his name of the suspect list. From the police interrogation room, to where Cummins and her cousins played Go Fish the night before they died, she explained throughout the book every problem and every tear she shed. While she and her family waited to hear the news about her missing cousins in front of the television in her grandparents living room.
Cummins book design is set in a well written pattern. From the day the vacation began to the final steps taken place regarding the murders. The book has a well written order and it leaves you wanting to hear more. The story is able to show emotion and also insight of what Jeanine and her family had been put though. The chapter titles are numbered numerically and were not given titles. This enables the book, to engage readers in some anticipation when beginning reading the chapter and setting the mood to read further.
In the middle of the book, Cummins added pictures of the entire family and particularly special ones of Julie and Kerry. It also included pictures of the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Not many authors do this in their books, but this is significant to readers to be able to read this horrific story but be able to see the victim’s faces. This gives readers a nice view of the people who were hurt and so they do not have to imagine what they looked like, so the reader has a more personal view. Though out the book Cummins adds some of Robin’s poems she wrote to show some emotion in the chapters. The poems were also a nice way of remembering her and showing off how talented she was.
A Rip in Heaven is the kind of title that endures readers into thinking something happened in a safe well known place as in a “heaven” example. Heaven is a place where people have in their minds to be safe, but when you add the word rip into it, there is a slight pause and there will be a feeling that something has gone very wrong. In a review it wrote, “Rip is a howl of rage against the assailants(eventually convicted), the media, and the authorities; its attempts at impartially-including chapters from the killers’ view points-seem forced, weakening a compelling story” (Lui).
A Rip In Heaven was first published in 2004 and there were two top headlines and articles in Publishers Weekly and People magazine. In the Publishers Weekly magazine it quoted from an unknown source, “Cummins presents a mesmerizing, highly balanced memoir of events, writing in the third person to give readers an intimate knowledge of each facet of the story. Cummins noble account will ultimately draw readers into all sides of the story” (Publishers Weekly). A review in the well known People magazine on June 1, 2004 it wrote, “Cummins recounts the wrenching drama in a straight forward, expertly paced narrative that reads like a novel”. These positive reviews are joined by many more outstanding ratings on Cummins website and website retailers that sell A Rip In Heaven.
The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge where Robin, Julie and Tom were thrown off of is located in between Illinois and Missouri. Below of the bridge was the Mississippi river which is the fourth largest river in the world. “As a watershed, it drains about 41 percent of the continental United States”(Cummins 59). The bridge served the purpose as the main crossing for pedestrians and small motor vehicles. The bridge was built in 1929 but later on, another high end bridge was built leaving the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge to rot. It then became a place where teenage parties went on and graffiti was painted from side to side. This information is scattered all through out the book. It is good to have information but the book, though it does not need to focus on the bridge as much. This is one of the bad flaws about that book.
A Rip in Heaven is the kind of book that draws in the reader. Once the chapter ends, it will make the reader want to find out what else went on, on April 1991. Jeanine Cummins, book is very straight to the point and does not miss a beat. One of Cummins last statements in the story distinguishes the sad but touching mood by saying, “We go looking for answers in books, in therapy, in our media. Unfortunately for the answer seekers, corpses can’t talk. The dead can’t tell their own stories” (298). On an end note this book should defiantly be recommended for the people who have had crime in their family or just want some insight of what other people go through. For the people who seek answers of their long lose loved ones but get no replies.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous hsun said...

it disgusts me how people will say things against them. They were victims of a crime. mesmereyezme2 shut up, that is wrong, and so disrespectful. If you were really an investigator, you could not LEGALLY share that information. I hope you're happy that you look like a disrespectful, straight up bitch!!

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mesmereyezme2 some people wants to hear what you got to say. Because i really wants to know why 'Tom" wasn't charge. It sound like to me that he committed this crime. So mesmereyezme2 please tell me more. Do you think Tom is guity?

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Sarah Davis said...

To mesmereyezme2:: Just as hsun said, if you were an investigator, you would not be able to legally share this information and if these are in fact, "facts", why weren't they brought up during the course of the investigation? To me, you sound like a conspiracy theorist with too much time on your hands or possibly you are of relation to one of the convicted. Either way, yes, I am sure that Jeanine was biased: THis was HER family that was torn apart by this whole ordeal, but she presented the facts. You obviously have no heart or a concious to go around saying these awful and hurtful things about this family and the tragedy that happened to each and every one of them on that terrible night in April 1991. As for all the speculation as to what happened, only certain people actually know what happened: Two of them are dead, four of them CONFESSED to the crimes, and one of them has to sleep at night knowing (whatever it may be) what he knows. Either way, there is only one that can judge and if Thommas Cummins is in fact guilty, he will get a far more heanous fate than any who were involved.
I do not know the family personally, but I have read the book, court archives, media reports and done countless research on this case and I beleive that Tom is innocent and that the four men that confessed are guilty. I agree that they may be some inconsisencies in the stories, but it does not change the facts: These men confessed; there was physical evidence on them connecting them to the crimes and all the actual facts point to them.

1:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't decide who is more vile and corrupt, the fork tongue lawyers representing the killers or the brain dead cops who relentlessly interrogated a victim for 30 hours.

None of the four hoodlums responsible for the crime deserved lethal injection. They all should have been hog tied and thrown from the bridge.....at 10 minute intervals. Ain't it curious how many times the black man boasts of diminished capacity when a death sentence is hovering.

5:36 PM  
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12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont care what kind of child hood those 4 asses had. mine was way worse . that dont mean i have a right to kill.remember robin and julie.. not the asses that destroyed families. thats another thing wrong with society.they feel sorry for the asses and not the victims. i pray that those asses meet their demise 7 times worse than robin julie and tom.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The author says that there were people camping along the river near the bridge that night. Close enough for a conversation to occur between the campers and the people on the bridge. Yet she never mentions whether these campers were part of the investigation. Why? I'd assume that potential eye witnesses such as these would be of interest to the investigators. She also never indicates whether or not the gun was found and identified. These are both important points yet completely ignored by the author.

And for those people that believe Tom's story, I suggest that you go to your local public swimming pool and try treading water for an hour. Quite frankly, I have severe doubts about Tom's account of the events that occurred that night. I've been on the bridge a few times and cannot see how someone could physically achieve what he says he achieved.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a friend of Tom's for years I can say what he has been through is beyond words and what he has achieved in and with his life is remarkable. I am lucky to know him.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Sergio Franco said...

I thought the whole book to be well written and also written in a way that kept me awake reading. I am 52 years old and have been reading now for 37 years every day, 2 books a week. I am sorry for the ordeal the Cummins and the Kerry families went through. I'd gladly turn on the gas to execute these four worthless punks. They are costing US, you and I big money for the likes of worthless fat ass Ricki Lake to interview them.

7:25 PM  

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