Jane Doe January by Emily Winslow
In the vein of Alice Sebold’s Lucky, comes a compelling, real-life crime mystery and gripping memoir of the cold case prosecution of a serial rapist, told by one of his victims.
On the morning of September 12, 2013, a fugitive task force arrested Arthur Fryar at his apartment in Brooklyn. His DNA, entered in the FBI’s criminal database after a drug conviction, had been matched to evidence from a rape in Pennsylvania years earlier. Over the next year, Fryar and his lawyer fought his extradition and prosecution for the rape—and another like it—which occurred in 1992. The victims—one from January of that year, the other from November—were kept anonymous in the media.
This is the story of Jane Doe January.
Emily Winslow was a young drama student at Carnegie Mellon University’s elite conservatory in Pittsburgh when a man brutally attacked and raped her in January 1992. While the police’s search for her rapist proved futile, Emily reclaimed her life. Over the course of the next two decades, she fell in love, married, had two children, and began writing mystery novels set in her new hometown of Cambridge, England. Then, in fall 2013, she received shocking news—the police had found her rapist.
This is her intimate memoir—the story of a woman’s traumatic past catching up with her, in a country far from home, surrounded by people who have no idea what she’s endured. Caught between past and present, and between two very different cultures, the inquisitive and restless crime novelist searches for clarity. Beginning her own investigation, she delves into Fryar’s family and past, reconnects with the detectives of her case, and works with prosecutors in the months leading to trial.
As she recounts her long-term quest for closure, Winslow offers a heartbreakingly honest look at a vicious crime—and offers invaluable insights into the mind and heart of a victim.
This is an incredibly powerful non-fiction book; which walks us through one woman’s journey in the aftermath of, a stranger rape. The narrative not only focuses on the immediate aftermath; but the longevity of the case spanning over 20 years.
It is at times a difficult read, but one I feel could provide a huge benefit to other victims of sexual violence.
The opening is in September 2013, when Emily finally gets the call she has been longing for. Her rapist has been apprehended. The New York fugitive force have been brought into the case, at the Pennsylvania police forces request.
They inform Emily, the suspect has been arrested for what he had done previously, to another victim, shortly after Emily’s attack!
What makes this novel unique, is that Emily in 2013 is now living in Cambridge, UK. Her attack took place in her college town of Pennsylvania. The case and trial, force Emily to navigate the American legal system, from England. She is often kept out of the loop, of information and you can hear her internal angst, that she may never get justice.
The timeline, jumps from past to present. It details the attack that took place on a college campus in 1992. Where a young Emily, is innocently doing her laundry on a quiet Sunday evening. The violence of the attack is fully explained. Although this may make for uncomfortable reading. I think it is imperative, to understand the full context of the book in its entirety.
When you read the pages of the attack and the aftermath at the hospital. You never one question yourself, was she drinking? What was she wearing on the night of the attack?
Which leads me to wonder, why these are such ‘crucial’ questions frequently at victim’s trials…..
Emily begins her recovery by setting herself mental challenges and rules. She allows herself to be ‘a mess’ for a year only. Seek support in the daytime only and keep a diary of her thoughts. Each victim must deal with the aftermath of their attack individually, and this is also addressed in the book. After getting a sense of who Emily is as a person and her views. I felt she made the decisions based on what was best for her, at that time.
But I often wanted to reach through the book, to offer her my friendship, a hug and some solidarity as a fellow woman.
The book also details the legal aspects of the case, such as the statute of limitations. This doesn’t exist in the UK and therefore I found this intriguing reading. Whilst I respect the legal points of the statute of limitations, it does not consider the advances made in science and in-particular DNA evidence. This is a great shame of the US. Not only that, but the ‘back-log’ of rape kits that haven’t been ran through the new CODIS system.
How many rapists roam American streets freely?
“I don’t want to have to say that he ruined my life. I don’t want to consider my life ruined” – Emily
The book goes on to detail the cops involved in the case, both past and present. The legal team and the obstacles they face in securing a conviction. The book also recounts Emily’s desperate search for information about her rapist. I don’t know if this is her attempts to understand why the attack took place. Her inner need; to gain back some control over the situation now developing in 2013. She often references forgiveness and punishment within her narrative. Meanwhile, her rapist is determined to dominate and control the investigation and legal process, right up to trial!
“I know that some people hate the term ‘victim’ and prefer to be called a ‘survivor’ instead, but I don’t mind the word. He did hurt me. I was a victim of that. It bothers me to euphemize it” – Emily
I felt privileged to be able to read Emily’s story. Fortunate that she lets us, the reader, into her emotional journey. There is a specific part where she uses the aftermath of the ordeal; as a metaphoric comparison to carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide doesn’t harm you, by itself, it merely takes the space of the oxygen. This is both profound and insightful to the emotional/psychological impact that rape, has on its victims.
Emily comes across as someone you can relate to. Almost like someone you knew growing up. Which makes the narrative and pain she goes through harder to digest. But I think this book could be a huge benefit to other victims. It may help them validate their feelings and pain. There are paragraphs designed as advice to fellow victims. There is a ‘in conversation’ part with author Sophie Hannah. Reading group questions and information relating to behind the book and the backlog of rape kits. The author has covered, as many aspects as possible to offer help and support to others and for that she deserves huge credit.
A non-fiction title that will stay with me for a very long time! 5*