By Elizabeth Kiem
Look out Savannah. All those literary rubber-neckers flocking to your carriage tours and guided cemetery prowls for a taste of high-brow homicide in Dixie… well, they’re headed for Richmond now.
What Jon Berendt did for tourism in the locale of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, veteran journalist John Taylor is sure to do for the Capital of the Confederacy with his new book The Count and the Confession, the story of the 1992 death of Roger de la Burde and the subsequent murder conviction of his utterly wholesome looking lover, Beverly Monroe.
Taylor’s account is an impressive display of careful research and reporting as well as a whopping good yarn. For that, the author has to thank the almost giddy array of sexy elements in this true crime.
Let’s start with the victim, a generally unlikable scientist who left a long tenure at Philip Morris under questionable circumstances, amassed a collection of African art (the value and authenticity of which were widely disputed), claimed dubiously to be of Polish aristocracy, and chronically cheated on his mistresses. This paragon of duplicity (aka the Count) was found dead in the library of his 220-acre James River estate, with a single bullet in his head. His .38 special lay inches from his powder-burnt fingers.
Beverly Monroe was a genteel middle-aged mother of three whose affair with de la Burde had ended his first marriage but in no way had made an honest man of him. She stuck with him through multiple dalliances and learned shortly before his death that his current mistress was expecting his child. The “confession” is Monroe’s admission– not that she whacked the lousy, unctuous fraud-– but that she was, in fact, in the house when her companion killed himself (and not, as she had previously and would later testify in court, at the Safeway, having left the house at least a half-hour before de la Burde’s death). Despite a receipt from the supermarket, that one-time diversion from her otherwise constant story secured a guilty verdict for Monroe, and she was sentenced to 22 years. Taylor begins his story with Monroe’s arrival at prison with a copy of A Year in Provence for entertainment.
So was it suicide or homicide? The mystery is never solved in The Count and the Confession. Indeed, Monroe’s case is undergoing judicial review in Richmond even as Taylor signs copies and the studios bid for screen rights. Better polish up that Tidewater drawl, Kevin Spacey.
John Taylor will read excerpts from and sign copies of The Count and the Confession, A True Mystery at New Dominion Bookshop on the Downtown Mall, Tuesday, June 11, at noon.