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A Descent Into Hell: The True Story of an Altar Boy, a Cheerleader, and a Twisted Texas Murder

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  930 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
Bright, attractive, and both from good families, University of Texas college student Colton Pitonyak and vibrant redhead Jennifer Cave had the world at their beckoning. Cave, an ex-cheerleader, had just landed an exciting new job, while a big-money scholarship to UT's prestigious business school lured Pitonyak to Austin. Yet the former altar boy had a dark, unpredictable s ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published June 24th 2008)
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Jun 15, 2008 Laura rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: truecrime
The things wrong with this book:

1. The title. I mean, A Descent into Hell? Really? It sounds like a title that the Lifetime TV movie people rejected as too trite. At least Baby Monitor: The Sound of Fear and Ski Lift to Death (hey, look them up if you don't believe me) had some character.

2. The subtitle. "An Altar Boy" and "a Cheerleader"? Need I say more?

3. The pacing. This is a story about a murder, people. Let's at least bring the pacing up to the level of an episode of He-Man and the Masters
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Jul 11, 2012 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it really liked it
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: True-Crime Bookclub
Colton’s girlfriend Laura Ashley Hall was a real piece of work! Written with depth & compassion, this is the Ist book by Kathryn Casey I've read; I'm going to look for more from this author.
Miodrag Ćakić
Feb 03, 2013 Miodrag Ćakić rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, crime
First of all, I must say that I think that murder case of Jennifer Cave does deserve a book. All the elements for a gripping narrative are present in this case. The problem I have with this book though is that author's approach is, in my opinion, wrong and here is why:

1. Title of the book is overselling it. While every murder is shocking in it's own way and every family involved deeply shaken, regular non-fiction readers will find the case quite ordinary. However, while the narrative of the murd
I learned that I am a sucker for true crime books set in Texas...this one kept my interest!
Nov 11, 2012 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review: I lived in Austin right before this tragedy happened so I thought it would be an interesting read. First off, the title of this true crime novel is misleading. Jennifer Cave was a cheerleader many years before the murder happened and Colton Pitonyak was several years removed from his days as an altar boy. The title should reference something about the dangers of drugs.

Cave, a pretty redhead, grew up in Texas and became a party girl in high school. She moved to San Marcos and later Austi
Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆
This is a very sad case.

Laura Hall should've gotten more time. That attitude of hers! I don't think I would've been able to keep from bashing her head into the floor from sheer annoyance. I found her callousness to be especially repugnant.

Wait! Hold that thought!

In an awesome demonstration of Karma, Ms. Hall got the length of her sentence overturned (it was five years for one charge and one for the other to be served at the same time.) At her second sentencing trail, she received the maximum s
Suzie Flohr
Dec 30, 2012 Suzie Flohr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book very well written. I love books that make me feel like I know the people. this is certainly one of them
Theresa Perfetto
Dec 22, 2012 Theresa Perfetto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
Well written. I think Casey is replacing Ann Rule for my true crime.
Sep 18, 2016 Jlsimon rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible, true-crime
This is the first Kathryn Casey book that I didn't particularly enjoy. You can overlook the fact that she repeatedly brings forward a supernatural belief by people who knew Jennifer. It's unconventional in a true crime book, but hey, if that's what the people were reporting I guess it is fair to include it. You can over look the fact that the majority of the characters in this book are not especially likable. But you can't really overlook the fact that this story is hardly book worthy. I mean, h ...more
It's hard to give a true crime book a five star review because, clearly, the subject matter is not enjoyable and it goes without saying that this crime in particular is horrendous. However, what shines out from the first page is how Jennifer Cave is a spirit that lives on. Her short life was a testament to her immense compassion, humor, love of family and friends, loyalty, and determination. I won't forget her. We lost a beautiful human being. Kathryn Casey ensured that the reader comes away wi ...more
Reading true crime like this leaves me in awe that I've never been murdered. When I think about the dumb shit I did in school (what we ALL did in school/our young lives). I was going to UT at the time this murder happened and remember it was a scary time...yet why did I still get up every morning at 4 am and run around the streets behind my apartment in pitch black? What a fucking numbskull. It wasn't until I neared 30 that I started to feel fear and be more aware of my surroundings. I've got to ...more
Jul 06, 2016 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoy true crime books. Something that you sincerely think can only be fiction turns out to be true. I wanted more information so I Google the names in this book. They keep denying parole for Laura Ashley Hall, who is Colton's accomplice. The last article I read about her was in 2015 and she is scheduled to be released in 2018/2019. I hope the family of Jennifer Cave are doing well and know they are never alone; I am a mere stranger but I was devastated reading this book knowing what ha ...more
Jen Timmerman
Jun 28, 2009 Jen Timmerman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book was chilling!!!! it is unimaginable at times to comprehend the horror that this guy did to his victim.
P J Crawford
Dec 19, 2014 P J Crawford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Expertly written; gripping tale of a senseless murder and cruel dismemberment at the University of Texas in Austin

Colton Pitonyak is a brilliant honor student and popular athlete educated in private parochial schools in Arkansas who earned a scholarship to an elite business school at the University of Texas. Once there Colton completely derails and descends into dangerous drug addiction, severe alcoholism and full-on illegal drug dealing. Spiraling out-of-control, narcissistic, drugged out of hi
Lynda Kelly
Jun 13, 2014 Lynda Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime, favorites
This is the fourth book I've bought now by this author and for me the best by miles. The others have had mistakes in which lost them stars for me but I only spotted one in this book right at the end almost where she mentions people leaving court including Laura where I'm sure she meant Lauren !! Also, she for some reason always wrote website as Web site....
It was also the saddest one of hers I'd read-it was a lot more personal than her others I'd seen. You really got to know Jennifer and like he
Mar 30, 2015 Charity rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always feel a little strange about "rating" a true crime novel because it's about someone else's pain and suffering and that part of it doesn't seem like it should be up for judgement. But, Kathryn Casey handle the topic with care and the reader puts down the book feeling like everyone who deserves respect got it.

Without getting too much into the actual crime, I thought Casey treated the different players with both honesty and fairness. Colton Pitonyak, the boy who would grow up to commit a d
Dec 26, 2013 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy a good true crime book from time to time. As far as true crime books go, this was one was very well written and followed the story the whole way through. Some true crime writers are very over the top and try to dramatize the story to make it sound like a novel… I don’t think crimes should be dramatized or glamorized. They need to be told just as they are and how they happened, and this book did a nice job of doing that. It was very realistic and honest. I was also happy to see that justi ...more
Whitney Milam
I am a long-time Austinite and remember this case well. I agree with all the criticism already stated on this board. The writing IS cliched and in need of a proofreader. There are so many factual mistakes that, while minor, make me feel that I can't believe what I am reading. For example, Casey states that 6th street (Austin's sad strip of shot bars and cheesy clubs is known as "The Drag." No.."The Drag" is the section of Guadalupe next to the University of Texas.

The title is stupid as is the su
Nov 27, 2012 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
well written, well researched true crime book. wished that both perpetrators or the families of the perpetrators had contributed to the creation of this manuscript in some way, but still well done. there was also a bit of foreshadowing in the book which pointed out minute bits of evidence and indicated that at some point they might play a much larger role (the purse with Hall's phone number in it), yet the author failed to bring these bits of evidence back into the story to explain why they were ...more
John Bailo
A riveting fast read about good children gone wild (and murderous). This books tells many stories around the murder and dismemberment of Jennifer Cave. Each persons story in truth could have been a book unto itself. Were it not for the gruesome end, and the pain inflicted on the parents and family of Ms. Cave, one could write a true to life tv series about the players.

My one criticism, and here I intend no disrespect to the parents, is that the author moralizes a bit in a world where rich teenag
Gillian Vance
I had the honor of narrating the audiobook version.

It sounds wrong to say that I enjoyed the production of this audiobook. The story is far too disturbing. At the same time, I am pleased to be able to share this true story with a wider audience. Kathryn Casey does a great job of researching all the 'characters' in her true crime books, and providing them with a history and context in which the public events of their lives play out.

In my voiceover work, I've narrated ten books. A year after its
Jul 22, 2013 Fred rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I rate this book in the same vein as Helter Skelter; hard and scary to read, but can't put it down. Being familiar with the story, I kept reading it hoping that it would have a different outcome. It is a story about every parents nightmare; their child getting caught up in a web of evil. Kathryn Casey captures the sense of helplessness and loss three families go through as 3 kids literally descend into hell. Sometimes true crime stories are much more horrific than any fictional story. This story ...more
Sep 28, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three and a half stars. I didn't enjoy this book as much as I'd hoped. I read around two or three true crime books a year and usually eat them up. The first part was great, but the middle got bogged down with too many unnecessary details and it bored me. It lacked suspense and was too linear. So I ended up skimming a little - which I hate to do as I feel I'll miss an important detail, however, there was no way I could get through the second hundred pages reading every word. The last third of the ...more
I just don't know where to begin this review. My emotions became entangled with the Mother of this precious Daughter/victim. This book speaks of the love and total support you give your children to only have them a short time. I know the family feels blessed to have her the short time they did but... felt the great loss that was to come. This beautiful caring girl gave her friendship to evil. Was there warning signs that danger was lurking? Probably. The only thing I can say is that this child w ...more
Dec 24, 2012 Clint rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
This was pretty hard to put down, like most true crime books, and I lived a few blocks from where all this took place for years, so there was the added interest in seeing all the places I used to go to and hang out at mentioned, but this writer is CHEESY!!!! It's like it was the script of a documentary. " 'She was always blah blah' so-and-so chuckles while running a hand through her hair." And I kept rolling my eyes at everyone meeting Jennifer Cave's "ghost" everywhere. But all the hokey writin ...more
David Rainey
I agree the title was overkill. The boy may have been an alter boy in his past, but that in no way defined him at the time of the murder. Unfortuneatly the story has become all too commonplace. Spoiled young people with no moral base getting into drugs, and later turning to violence. They all don't turn into murderers, but they seem to lack compassion for others. Perhaps the drugs have more of an effect on people than we really know, with it's ability to change the psyche of people, turning them ...more
This is the first book I have read by this author, I have mainly read Ann Rule, that being said, I enjoyed this as much as any of Ann Rule's books. It is very well researched, the author took the time to talk to as many people who knew the victim and perpetrator as possible. The events are detailed but not over dramatized and I was drawn into the story. She gave enough detail I was able to follow the events as they unfolded, but did not get bogged down. I even read through the trial part, someth ...more
Mar 27, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was really hard to read in parts but I thought was very well written. Obviousley the hard parts to read were how Colton killed and dismembered Jennifer's body and also the devastation felt by Jennifer's family and friends. Yet the author gave a very fair description of Coltons life. If the events in this book don't make people realise the downwards spiral your life can take from taking drugs I don't know what else will. Such a tragic loss and any parents worst nightmare from both point ...more
Kristy Kelly
Feb 13, 2013 Kristy Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been a true crime buff for years but it still amazes me the things people do to others. This is a cautionary tale of drugs, money, and dangers of ignoring bells, whistles and warning signs. Before reading the book, I watched the 48 Hours Mystery which mainly focused on Laura Hall, the killers lover. Casey truly captured the evilness of the culprits as well as the beautiful spirit of victim Jennifer Cave. Also, the book highlighted the amazing strength and devotion of Jennifers mom, Sharon. ...more
Aug 26, 2012 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
The writing in this book isn't great - I'll admit. The author uses the same phrases over and over, and it gets a bit annoying. But the story is incredibly interesting, and the events are placed in the book so that it keeps you on the edge of your seat. A real page-turner. I will say that I am glad I didn't pay full price, rather grabbed it from my mom's house when I was there on a visit. There are definitely better true-crime books out there, but if it's free then A Descent Into Hell is an enjoy ...more
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A novelist and an award-winning journalist, Kathryn Casey is the creator of the Sarah Armstrong mystery series and the author of eight highly acclaimed true crime books. Her first novel, SINGULARITY, was one of Booklist’s best crime novel debuts of 2009, and Library Journal chose the third, THE KILLING STORM, as one of the best books of 2010. In both books Casey’s protagonist is a Texas Ranger/pro ...more
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