by Kristine S. Ervin, 2024

Rabbit Heart is part memoir, part cold-case investigation of a brutal abduction and murder of an innocent young mother from a shopping mall parking lot in Oklahoma City in 1986. Kathy Sue Engle had an 8-year-old daughter Kristine and a 13-year-old son Rolland, a devoted husband, no known enemies, and simply did not arrive home one day from her errands. She was a seemingly random target that day. There were eyewitnesses to the abduction—they heard her screams, watched two men shove her into the back seat of her car, and did nothing. Several days later her body was found in an oil field by some oilfield workers who smelled her before they saw her, and it would be more than 20 years later before they had a DNA match for the killers.

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The memoir is remarkable for many reasons. We see in painful detail the effects that a horrific crime like this has on the family left behind, especially on a daughter who has her mother ripped away from her at such a young age. This is a true memoir—Kristine speaks mostly for herself and the effects the loss had on her, and doesn’t presume to speak for her brother or her father. She shares openly the many missteps she made as a teenager with older men, because she had no mother to guide her. These are difficult passages to read, yet her vulnerability to more domineering and powerful men will resonate with many women. We see her try to piece together who her mother was, separating her from the victim the media has created, as she can barely remember her as time goes by—she pores over letters, diaries, 8-mm home movies, and photo albums, doing a reconstruction that makes more sense. And we see how oppressive the media was, even before the age of the Internet, and how her father couldn’t shelter the children from most of it.

The author also gives us an inside look at the slow workings and sometimes ineptitude of our justice system even in a high-profile case such as this. She takes us through the painful unfolding of facts, just as the family learned them, bit by bit, stretched out over many years. First not only that her mother was abducted, but how. Then the question of whether she was sexually assaulted or not—did they want to know? Years later, they learn exactly how she died, and it wasn’t what they had imagined at all. It was all so much worse in the knowing. They first had a suspect and thought the case was sewn up, but the DNA said he wasn’t a match, and the case went cold. We see how the family fought to keep this case on the radar of the OKC police and detectives.

In 2010, 24 years after her mother’s murder, she found her mother’s picture posted on a website called “Victims, Young, Beautiful — Murdered,” along with many others. This, of course, enraged her, and she wanted to contact the site owner and demand he take down the photo and profile of her mother. The only thing that stopped her was that in order to contact him, she would have had to register on the site, revealing her name, address, and other contact info, and she didn’t know where that would lead. But it sheds light on this person and the rest of the public who consume true crime for entertainment or monetary purposes, exploiting the pain of others. In today’s atmosphere of social media, our voyeuristic tendencies and the ability to comment anonymously have taken this sport to a vicious new level.

The most astounding part of the book you don’t arrive at until the very end, revealing some excellent pacing on the author’s part. How a chance conversation between two strangers, two bridesmaids in a wedding, led to the very DNA test that cracked this cold case wide open, ultimately tracking down the two killers of Kristine’s mother. It had me shaking my head in wonder that everyday miracles do, in fact, still take place in this world.

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