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The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and a Hunt for Detroit's Most Notorious Serial Killer

3.26  ·  Rating details ·  255 ratings  ·  98 reviews
Enthralling. Gripping. Cinematic. Raw. A cold case murder investigation paced like a podcast, as visually stunning as a film, and as brave and personal as our darkest memoirs. J. Reuben Appelman cracks open one of America’s most notorious murder sprees while simultaneously banging the gavel on his own history with violence. A deftly-crafted true crime story with grit, set ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 14th 2018 by Gallery Books
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The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and the Hunt for Detroit’s most Notorious Serial Killer by J. Reuben Appelman is a 2018 Gallery Books publication.

“There was a serial killer out there, swiping kids from their footing like sweeping a few bugs into the kill jar in his garden, and there was nothing anybody could do but keep their doors locked and ride out the storm.”

The OCCK- or The Oakland County Child Killer- refers to a series of child murders in the late seventies in Detroit. To this day the
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
4 chilling stars to The Kill Jar! ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A serial killer in the Detroit, Michigan area abducted and murdered four children in 1976 and 1977. The author was six-years-old when the murders occurred, and someone dressed as a security guard attempted to abduct him during that same timeframe. After, J. Reuben Appleman says he became obsessed with the Oakland County Murders.

The narrative reviews the available evidence in true crime fashion, and these sections were well-written and engaging, though o
Valerity (Val)
Having grown up in Oakland County, Michigan I first became interested in these murders after reading about them in other books. I was very eager to read this book which promised the results of the author’s ten-year investigation of buried leads and police cover-ups of evidence, con-men, child porn rings, and high-level corruption. It certainly delivered on that and on being also part memoir, as the author J. Reuben Appelman also grew up in Michigan, in the Detroit area and was intimately familia ...more
I received a copy of this from Netgalley in exchange for a review.

CW: Child rape. Appelman weaves together a lot of threads in his quest to discover the identity of the Oakland County Child Killer, a lot of grotesque tentacles that curl out and then back in on themselves tangled with digressions into his abusive childhood, his adult relationship with his father, and his faltering marriage and relationship with his own children. Although he never solves the case conclusively, he builds a credible
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think many will align this book with the recent popular true crime shows Serial, S Town, and Making of a Murderer. I don’t think they are wrong, but Appelman takes a much more personal and raw path in telling his story. His motivations whether altruistic or demon-driven are always on display as his own professed unbalance is juxtaposed with the corruption of the case. The Kill Jar is an addicting read, one that will have you Googling the case late at night to see the eyes of the suspects and t ...more
Tricia Bentley
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although a fast read, this was a hard read. The subject matter is tough and the enormity of what the writer uncovers is a lot to digest. I think it is an important read..
One that will stay with me for a long time.
Sep 04, 2018 rated it did not like it

Appelman spent 10 years of his life and $15,000 in Kickstarter funds on The Kill Jar and this miserable book is all he has to show for it. While he rhapsodizes over every childhood slight from his own life in melodramatic detail, he almost never goes beyond the surface of the murder cases. Not a single fact here can be traced back to his own research and couldn't be found for yourself on the internet. Most of the research cited was handed to him by families of the victim who've been waging th
Carol Custer
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
I usually find true crime stories fascinating and though much of this was also interesting, I found it distracting that the author talked so much about himself, being 'almost abducted', his sketchy life and girlfriend, etc. I think the book would have been better served to keep more to the facts of the cases. When the focus was on the cases themselves, the research and facts showed.
Cassie-Traveling Sister-
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is not my normal read but growing up in Michigan and still living in Michigan I just had to get my hands on it! This book was a dark story but beautifully written grabbing my attention with every word, about the four unsolved Oakland county children killings. The brutal killings took place between 1976-1977. I learned a lot about the alleged cover up of the case due to the wealthy high profile suspects, as well as horrible things about Michigan’s own pedophile ring which involved well ...more
Stacy Kingsley
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
I really, really wanted to like this book, but I just could not. The topic was interesting, but I am not sure if, besides police corruption, it gave any new information about the case at hand. I looked up the case on google as I read, and the information in the book about the case was all the same information I could find on google. The hard part of this book was that the chapters didn't transition well. One chapter could be about the case and the next about a pedophile ring that may have had so ...more
This is really hard for me to review. There are a lot of suggestions for who the killer or killers was or were, but no definitive answer. I found some of the book confusing with the repetitive forays into the author's childhood and more unanswered questions. I am still confused even after finishing. Not one of my favorite true crime reads.

*Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was such a tough book to read. One of the victims, Tim King, was a friend and classmate, and his kidnapping and ultimate murder has haunted me for all of these years. I have followed this case since the internet made info accessible. This book, however, revealed a lot I did not know...all of it just horrifying. The author’s story interspersed is also tough to read...The whole thing was intense! It’s well-written though, and I recommend it...just be prepared.
Absolom J. Hagg
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book melds true crime with memoir and does so with surprising deftness. The author grew up in Detroit and was about the age of the children kidnapped and killed by the OCCK. Going back to Detroit to research the book brings out a lot of conflicted feelings about the violence in his past and in his life and delving into how that, along with the rigors of his research, affects him makes for a true crime book unlike any other I've read. If you go in expecting a straight journalistic take, you ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My head is still spinning trying to grasp that this is a true story. But you can’t make this stuff up. I am absolutely floored at the seemingly endless number of depraved and perverted perps and accomplices that keep emerging as Appelman carefully peels back the layers of this astounding cover up.

Have noticed that some are critical of the format that weaves J.R. Appelman’s own feelings and connections to the story throughout. I found this distracting at first, but then realized it was only his o
Amy (literatiloves)
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
It is so difficult to rate a book where the content is so deeply disturbing. I struggle between 2 and 3 stars and even though I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of reading it, the author did do in-depth research and did a fine job at telling the story, although I thought at times he could have used a more delicate hand to describe some of the things that happened. I’m sure it was very hard to immerse himself in the research of this case and that is apparent by the toll it seemed to take on him ...more
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: arc, netgalley
**This book was provided to me as an advanced reader's copy via Netgalley. All opinions contained within this review are my own.**
I honestly cannot recommend this book. The author is whiny, and not relatable. The arc and scope of the author's research is completely eclipsed by his incessant complaining and rumination about his father.

I feel as though we were supposed to see connections between all the victims of this horrific crime and this man that gives us no reason to really care about him.

The Kill Jar is two completely different stories clumsily mashed together: one of murder, pedophilia, and police corruption, and the other of a sad but not particularly memorable man and his various failed relationships. Every time I found myself caught up in the drama of the Oakland County Child Killings case, I was abruptly jerked out of it by more authorial intrusion. (Now I'm visiting an ex-girlfriend. Now I'm taking my kids to a ball game. Now I'm having lunch with my dad.) It's the same is ...more
Sam Mowry
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Content warning: uh, literally everything? Holy crap. Pedophilia, rape, child rape, child abuse, child murder, self-harm, uh... everything.

The admittedly overly flippant way I reviewed this by text to my friends was, "Too much bullshit about the author’s own demons, which, like, fine, I get what you’re going for, but I don’t know you and I don’t care, just tell me more about the crazy interwoven pedophilia ring and the child murders :-D."

As far as the true crimey parts go, it was great. I picke
Karen Nelson
Jul 29, 2018 marked it as to-read
The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and a Hunt for Detroit's Most Notorious Serial Killer was an enthralling book. I hate to admit it, but I enjoy a true crime story and this totally fit the bill. Well-written as part memoir, part true crime investigation, and part love story to a long lost Detroit, the book is a culmination of the author’s ten year obsession with one heck of a story.

During the late 1970s, when child abductions seemed to be epidemic, Detroit had four child abduction-murders that
Oct 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
2.75 stars

This book is full of short chapters, which make the text and ideas choppy and somewhat confusing. The story Appelman presents is a combination of his personal life (ranging from present to childhood memories) and the murders.

I truly felt like Appelman wanted to give the reader a glimpse of feeling and emotion he felt by describing his daily life during the time period when he is researching the OCCK murders of the 1970's in Detroit, Michigan. It appears what he attempts to do, is take
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
One can only hope that the attention this book will bring to the Oakland County Child Killings will help to bring some sort of resolution to the four open cases and help to bring peace to the families of the victims.

I found The Kill Jar very disturbing, not only in the stories that it tells (Appelman's as well) but in the way that they are told: roaming around, rough-edged and strings hanging. It's like wandering in a maze, or inside of the mind of someone not-quite well, which is clearly the in
Stephanie Borders
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
The Kill Jar is a true crime memoir that revolves around the murders of four children in Michigan in the late 1970s. J. Reuben Appelman is unflinchingly honest in the turmoil and devastation caused by researching the Oakland County Child Killings (OCCK), which he died into his failing marriage and the parental abuse he suffered as a child.

The Kill Jar is very reminiscent of Michelle McNamara's book I'll Be Gone in the Dark, a blockbuster that was released in 2018. While I loved I'll Be Gone in
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a true crime novel. The author writes this book in first person. The book is a comprehensive look into the Oakland County Child Killer (OCCK) Case back in 1976-1977. The Book was written in 2010, thirty six years after the crimes. The author was there during the original murders. He lived there in the same city, 15 minutes away from one of the sites as a young lad. He also had a run in with a man posing as a security guard who, as he looks back, could have been the killer posing to snatc ...more
Donna Hines
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Winter of '76 showed no remorse as 4 kids were abducted and murdered.
Reuben Appelman was only 6 yo at the time and was lucky to be alive.
Now he's on a mission to bring home the killer.
With his only childhood in disarray wrought with child abuse and an angry disturbed father we uncover that even his own father was suspect.
Bodies were left groomed and fed while alive.
This 10 yr old investigation will not rest until the killer is found -Dead or Alive-as Detroits most notorious killer roams the str
Frank Gradishar
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Having been mildly obsessed with the subject matter of this book (the gruesome, unsolved murders of four children in the suburbs of Detroit in the 1970s and the likely involvement of a ring of pedophiles, some of whom may have influenced investigators and prosecutors, resulting in the case remaining “cold” for over 30 years) I was looking forward to someone finally addressing numerous, lingering issues evident in this case dating back the original task force investigation (and through subsequent ...more
Amphetamine Sulphate
"Insert whatever emptiness you feel, and then hold on to that for the rest of your life. You still won't even be close to feeling what those boys must have felt." 'Kill Jar' has its moments but also loopy logic, verging on conspiracy claptrap. These postmodern memoirs seem to have firmly replaced the true crime cut n' paste jobs of yore; which, given the delicate subject matter and heavy breathing narrator/questor, means that this is probably not a suitable read for mom. Sadly.
Gerty Mac
Dec 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
The information about the OCCK case in this book takes up about 50 pages. The other 200+ pages are about the author's personal crisis, which sounds like it sucks. But, my dude, this is the stuff you take up with your therapist, not publish as true crime.

Also, bonus use of women exclusively as manic pixie dream girls or described as objects throughout.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I did like the book and the way the author incorporated aspects from his life into his story. It is one of those books that leaves you frustrated, but that is the nature of this investigation.
It definitely was different than I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did.
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
When I was a kid, growing up with a bipolar alcoholic father, there were times I thought to myself, “you should write all this stuff down, other people would find it so interesting.” As I grew up, I realized how egocentric that kind of thinking is. The author of this book never made that realization. This book is half true crime story about a serial killer and half the moody, emo, diary entries of a 40 year old teenager who frankly eats too many hot dogs.
Kelly Hager
This is a hard book to review. It's about the four murdered children, who may or may not be connected to a pedophile ring (I would say they almost definitely are connected) and about the author and his life. (I would say it's about a 50-50 split between the child sex ring and the author.) So be aware going in that this book is even darker than you may have expected. (It's certainly darker than I was expecting and I figured a book about four dead kids would be pretty grim.)

You should also know th
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Obsessed with Tru...: The Kill Jar 6 17 Oct 25, 2018 01:03PM  
J. Reuben Appelman’s The Kill Jar is a memoir of his hunt through the Oakland County Child Killer case, circa 1976-1977 outside of Detroit, Michigan. A four-part docuseries for television, based on The Kill Jar, is set to air in 2019, with Appelman as its on-camera investigator. Appelman is a screenwriter, author in multiple genres, and two-time State of Idaho Literature Fellow. His film industry ...more
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