Burned Alive by Kieran Crowley–true crime book review
It is with pleasure mixed with deep regret that I write of my affection for this book. Pleasurable because Burned Alive by Kieran Crowley is one of those can’t-put-it-down-until-I-find-out-what-happens-next stories, but regrettable due to its subject matter. There was no happy ending here for anybody involved in this story.
I read a post by veteran true crime author Ron Franscell (and one of my all-time favorite, recommended authors) once where women are, by and large, the majority of true crime readers. This surprised me, because I know so few other people in “real life” who happen to be females and who also happen to read these types of books. Indeed, many folks who learn I have a fetish for true crime stories find it macabre at best and sinister at worst. The post suggested that women read true crime books so as not to become victims themselves; I read them to find out the why.
I have always been fascinated by deviant behavior, and though I do not believe I have ever come into contact with true evil (though I suppose it is possible and I just didn’t know it), I do believe I have come into contact with some people who–for whatever reason–are capable of atrocities such as what ultimately occurred in this particular story. It is that reason for which I search. Perhaps I will someday write my own totally unscientific book on reasons why some people wind up doing such sickening things. I don’t feel there’s usually (though not always) one particular reason. No, I find it’s more of a “perfect storm” of poor decisions, bad upbringings, poverty, substance abuse, ad nauseam … as is what I personally believe happened in this case. (Please note I am not a doctor nor a psychiatrist; my opinion comes solely from my own life experiences and reading true crime stories since 1992.)
As with all true crime books I read, it is my fervent desire that we learn much from these real-life stories, particularly should we wish any good to come out of them. There’s extant an old adage that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. If so, some true crime books should be required reading for all young people—and this book would be one of them, I think. To say that one life was terribly, cruelly destroyed (the victim’s) would be an understatement. All involved, especially the victim’s father, and yes, even the perpetrators and their families–all of them felt the reverberations of this one stupid act, and will likely continue to do so forever.
Burned Alive tells the harrowing human drama of several young folks—seemingly directionless for the most part, some from a good background, others not so fortunate. Their paths fatefully converge because, according to the book, four young men hatch an ill-begotten plan to make a quick buck. The heroine and victim of our story, 20-year-old Kim Antonakos, is kidnapped because the young men rightfully deduced her wealthy computer executive father, Tommy Antonakos, would hastily pay a fat ransom for her safe return. Only the plot went horribly wrong.
Kim was abducted easily enough while returning to her apartment late one evening after a night out dancing, and was swiftly absconded to the pre-designated “safe house” basement–actually an abandoned house that was, incredibly, located within walking distance from one of the kidnapper’s relative’s home. The kidnappers tied her up and intended to keep her hostage there until they secured a ransom, at which time they would ostensibly release Kim unharmed.
Except that the kidnapper who was supposed to feed her and give her water did not; except that the kidnappers discounted how cold it actually was in the basement where Kim was tied up and left alone; except that – for reasons that were never made clear – her wealthy father who loved Kim very much never received any ransom demand; and except for the fact that as the plan unravelled with no money on the horizon, the kidnappers had not the foresight to plan what to do in the event of such a wash out.
It is difficult to fathom one person capable of such a kidnapping, but in this case there were four kidnappers, all young men whose lives were either ruined or lost because of this one poor choice. It defies the imagination that four people could actually agree not only to concoct such a plot, but to carry it out. It would have taken just one of them to stop the plot from unfolding if only one had talked. None did.
Desperate once they realized their plan was going awry, and allegedly intending to free Kim unharmed, the four young men returned to the house after several days. Kim was still tied to a chair, but she unfortunately appeared to have died – likely due to a cruel combination of starvation, dehydration, and hypothermia. Supposedly shocked to find Kim dead, the four young men decided they had to rid themselves of the evidence, namely Kim. Another plan was quickly hatched. She was doused with gasoline. A young man named Joshua Torres, by far the most cold-blooded of the four, lit a match as he told her, “I’m sorry it has to end this way, but life sucks. Sh** happens” (68). With these parting words, Joshua Torres allegedly flicked the lit match at Kim, and she was indeed burned alive. For unbeknownst to the men, either because they didn’t check or because they just didn’t care, Kim was in fact still alive. But just barely.
A forensic pathologist later testified at trial that Kim had been alive when set ablaze.
This is the same Josh Torres that Kim had kindly let stay in her apartment, along with his girlfriend and their toddler, until they could get back on their feet. The same Josh Torres that helped Kim’s deeply aggrieved father “search” for her, throwing up red herrings all along the way. The same Josh Torres that was ultimately responsible for murdering one of the other original four kidnappers. Oh yes, one of the original four kidnappers was gunned down one night while out with his family on a city street.
For the CIA has a saying when there are two perpetrators of a crime: “Two men can keep a secret—provided one of them is dead” (71).
Adding to the heartbreak is that Kim’s father has said he would have paid any amount of money to get his beloved daughter back safe and sound.
The story is fast-paced, well written, and investigated thoroughly. Readers come to know all the players, from the kidnappers to Kim to the investigators. We also come to know how heartbroken Kim’s father is, and his pain is palpable through the pages. At least, those of us amongst we human beings who possess a conscious can feel it.
It is not a leap to suggest that, for whatever reason, Josh Torres is one of the – thankfully — small percentage of us who does not.
Grade: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
Joshua Torres still proclaims his innocence, with much of his side of the story found on his Facebook page.
Update 2011: Tommy Antonakos passed away in 2005, still painfully haunted and mourning his beloved daughter’s death up until the end.
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