Book Review: The Last Stone

This is probably more accurately described as a “rant” rather than a review. The Last Stone, which I read in March, excited to read a true crime book, is one of the rare times I was disappointed after reading a book. I haven’t mentioned how I rated the books I’ve read this year, but I’ll say, this was one of the few times I rated a book less than four stars (out of five). I rated this one two stars. Eek.

Spoilers and ranting abounds below.

GET. A. LAWYER.

That’s my main takeaway from the book, which may seem counter-conventional, I’m not sure. I feel gross giving a book I actually read, finished and spent hours on a poor rating. I don’t want to do that to any author that’s spent considerable time researching and writing it, but I’m not happy with what I read.

Let me elaborate on the “get a lawyer point.” Obviously, the entire thrust of the book rests upon the 70 hours of interrogation across four years that the local authorities did with Lloyd Lee Welch. Let’s even grant that Lloyd Lee Welch is actually guilty of these crimes, whether as one of a number of people involved, or a “lone wolf.” Let’s grant that he conned, kidnapped, brutally raped, murdered and disposed of the bodies of Sheila and Kate Lyon.

I still find myself screaming, “GET A LAWYER,” the entire book. And there are moments where Lloyd does ask for a lawyer, and the police either try to pivot away from that, or Lloyd forgets his ask. I’m hardly a legal expert, but the point is, on principle, even for the worst among us, we want things done by the book, and in the right way. The reason for that: if the book is tossed out for the worst among us, it’s also tossed out for those who may be innocent.

Forced/coerced confessions from people who didn’t actually commit the crime in question is not at all uncommon, contrary to what many people may think (i.e., people think, “If you’re innocent, why would you ever admit to a crime?). If you do think an innocent person wouldn’t confess to a crime they didn’t commit, then read this book. It’s a virtual tour-de-force of how it happens. Again, I’m not saying Lloyd didn’t do this, but through the way the police obfuscate, lie, coerce, play games, drill you for hours and hours, and so on and so forth, it’s quite easy to see how an innocent person would be broken down by this. And it’s not something I particularly enjoy seeing play out.

I’m not impressed by the police here, and I’m not wowed by the their stage craft, as Bowden seems to be. That’s the disconnect for me. I imagine if I was, as Bowden is, then I’d have an entirely different view of this book. Instead, how I interpret what happened here is this: a cold case has been cold for 40 years, and the police turned tunnel vision on Lloyd and worked on him for four years to paint the picture they wanted so they could argue that the cold case was closed. If that meant publicly shaming Lloyd and the rest of his “hillbilly” family, then so be it. That’s another item; I think Bowden tries to be charitable in places with his view of those from Appalachia, but in other places, it comes across rather uncomfortably like shaming to me.

Again, let’s stipulate that the Welch “clan” is as awful as stipulated in here, and we don’t even have to stipulate this, we know Lloyd has done terrible things for years, including involving underage girls. My point here isn’t to absolve Lloyd, but to put a more critical eye on the police.

I wish there was more actual physical evidence in this case rather than the warring words of a dysfunctional family and the eager-to-please, attention-seeking lowlife that is Lloyd. I mean, another example of this: the scrutiny Teddy Junior faced by the police. He would have been 10-years-old at the time, the same age as one of the victims. It’s inexcusable.

Consider this line that about sums up what I’m talking about from the book on page 324, “None of the thousands of man-hours, millions of dollars, hundreds of interviews, grand jury proceedings, search warrants, wiretaps, excavations, lab tests, or perjury indictments had produced a single conclusive piece of evidence.”

They wasted millions of dollars, thousands of man hours, and invaded the privacy of scores of people, and have wait to show for it? A loose, coerced confession from a guy that maybe did it? It’s just … very unsatisfying.

My other issue with the book is that I’m particularly hard on how true crime is portrayed. I’m not a fan of sensationalism. I’m not a fan of embellishment. I’m not a fan of taking a pro-police stance at the cost of a defendant’s rights. For example, on the third page of the book, when Lloyd goes to the mall, and the mall cop calls the police on him, we get this passage: “‘Now I’m screwed,’ Lloyd thought.” How do we know what Lloyd thought?

Anyhow. The book kept me reading out of curiosity and empathy for what happened to these two girls, but I’m not sure this book is exactly a good monument to police work and trying to wrap up a decades-old cold case.

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