By Jeff Ayers
It was planned to look like a suicide but even in the best-laid plans evidence is left behind…
Jocelyn Branham Earnest was found dead on the living room floor of her home in Forest, Virginia. By her side were a gun and a suicide note—typed, lacking in signature and with one fingerprint on it. A fingerprint belonging to her estranged husband.
Wesley Earnest was a respected high school administrator, poised to restart his life in a new community. An investigation into the life the couple once shared would reveal adultery, troubled finances, and shattered dreams—enough that one man with murder on his mind would travel hundreds of miles…Under Cover of the Night.
Diane Fanning is the author of eight mystery novels and thirteen true crime books including Edgar-nominated WRITTEN IN BLOOD and the national bestselling MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL. She has been featured on a long list of television programs including the Today Show, 20/20, Forensic Files, and 48 Hours.
Diane chatted with THE BIG THRILL.
What drew you to the case that you cover in Under Cover of the Night?
I was drawn to the case that is the subject of Under Cover of the Night first of all because of the victim. Jocelyn Earnest was a competent, well-loved, professional woman whose future looked very bright. It seemed inconceivable that she would ever be a victim. Then there was the perpetrator, Wesley Ernest, Jocelyn’s estranged husband and a high school administrator. It’s hard to imagine that a man charged with watching over children every day would be capable of committing such a crime. Finally, rumors of adultery, suspicions of homosexuality, a staged suicide and the $1.2 million lake house burnt to the ground added the spice to drive a story.
What is the most compelling or disturbing case that you have researched?
The most disturbing of all the cases I have written about are the murders committed by serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells—in part because of the number of them, he confessed to more than fifty; in part because of the diversity of them—he killed men, women, and children, even a whole family of five; and also because of his heartless cruelty—not only did he torture before he killed on occasion but he also admitted in interviews with me that he enjoyed strangling best because he loved to see the light leave their eyes. (Through the Window) The other case that comes to mind is the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett. She was killed when she was eight months pregnant so that Lisa Montgomery could steal the baby out of her body and call it her own. (Baby Be Mine)
What compels readers to want to read about actual crimes as opposed to fictious ones?
I think there are two things driving people to read factual crime stories as opposed to fictional crime. One is lessons for real life and the understanding of the criminal mind that can be learned from actual cases. Secondly, some people simply prefer reading non-fiction books. Personally, I like and read both.
Do you prefer writing true-crime or mysteries?
Writing mysteries is easier for me because you can manipulate the story to your desire, but with true crime you have to work with the facts and stick to them. Also with the non-fiction, it is very difficult each time to study crime scene photos, read autopsy reports, and interview victims’ family members. It is very emotionally draining. With fiction, on the other hand, I can just kill whom I want and not have to worry about breaking anyone’s heart.
What’s next for you?
I am currently working on a second book in my new World War Two mystery series as well as a new true crime case set in Raleigh, North Carolina. A married couple, a musician, and an actress, kill the mother of the man’s two sons. They keep the body in the apartment while they cut it up and put it into coolers. Then they drive half way across the country to dump the body parts in a steamy creek in Richmond, Texas.
Diane Fanning is the author of eight mystery novels and 13 true crime books including Edgar-nominated WRITTEN IN BLOOD and the national bestselling MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL. She has been featured on a long list of television programs including the Today Show, 20/20, Forensic Files, and 48 Hours. She lives in Bedford, Virginia, under the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
To learn more about Diane, please visit her website.