Casper native Ron Franscell returns once again to his home state in his latest true-crime book “Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story.”
The story follows Alice Uden, who in 1974 in a Wyoming boomtown kills her husband and hides his body in a place she’s sure it will never be seen again. Her new husband, Gerald Uden, would do anything for her, even murder, when she’s vexed by the demands of his ex-wife and her two children, according to the author’s website.
Four murders went unsolved for decades.
Franscell’s book tour includes six Wyoming stops. It begins April 10 with the first of two Casper visits, followed by stops in Douglas, Cheyenne and Fremont County — the epicenter of the action in the book, he said.
In the book, Wyoming’s landscape plays a role as critical as any of the human characters, Franscell said.
“The countryside aids and abets these two killers by giving them a place to hide both their behavior and their victims,” Franscell said. “And it also throws a challenge in the way of the investigators. It also plays a comforting role for our character in the book, who really does everything she can to keep this investigation alive, because it’s her daughter and two grandsons that are among the victims.”
The opening scene begins in Wyoming of the late ’60s and early ‘70s, “a gritty, dirty, grimy, difficult place and all kinds of things happened,” he said.
Franscell grew up in Wyoming during that era, working in construction as a teen and then in the oil field, he said. He went on to become a journalist who was dispatched by the Denver Post to the Middle East during the Afghan War and later covered Hurricane Rita in Texas as managing editor for the Beaumont Enterprise, according to his website.
His books include the internationally-bestelling “The Darkest Night,” which is set in his hometown and haunted by cruelty and murder at the Fremont Canon Bridge.
“The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies” features a crime history of Wyoming, and “Morgue: A Life in Death,” which in 2017 was nominated for an Edgar, dedicates a chapter to a Wyoming crime.
“I can’t stay away. I keep coming back,” he said. “And I think a lot of that is because Wyoming is a foreign country to most of the rest of the world. And I guess I just want to keep telling those stories because really nobody else is.”
Readers of Wyoming recognize the terrain he describes, while those elsewhere often have a hard time believing that landscape exists, he said.
“And I play that to the hilt,” he said.
Rather than offering a straightforward report like typical crime books, Franscell’s writing delves into the literary realm. Readers can even find Shakespearean undertones, he said. The parallels are stark between Lady Macbeth and Alice, who’s driven to control everything around her “at any cost, even murder,” he said.
Gerald sees himself as John Wayne “when in reality is just this Midwestern farm kid who doesn’t have much book or street smarts,” Franscell said.
The book reveals a fifth murder that didn’t come out in Alice’s trial or Gerald’s confession and therefore wasn’t reported the news coverage of the time, he said.
Writing about crime is similar to covering war, he said.
“I felt very, very vividly that that there’s a lot of stories in that tiny space between living and dying,” he said, ”and they are important stories.”
Powerful to him is the idea of justice delayed, he said, because everyone wants to know their lives mattered, and everyone’s story deserves an ending. With an investigation on the verge of stalling out more than once, a resolution depends on everyone along the way that touches the case in “Alice & Gerald,” he said.
If the victim of a cold case is luckier in death than they were in life, a passionate- maybe even obsessed – detective will continue to pursue the investigation when others are telling them, ‘Don’t do it,’” he said.
There are several in this case, Franscell said.
“From 35,000 feet, this is about the ripple effect of evil,” he said, “You’re seeing the bad behavior, of course, that’s a staple of true crime books. But in ‘Alice & Gerald,’ we’re also seeing this uplifting resilient side. And that’s not a staple of true crime. I think the most important character in this tragedy is this activist grandmother who keeps the memories of her daughter and her grandsons alive for decades.”
The characters are real-life symbols of evil, good or devotion.
“So it’s a bigger story,” Franscell said, “than just a simple murder investigation.”