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Cover image for A death in White Bear Lake : the true chronicle of an all-American town
A death in White Bear Lake : the true chronicle of an all-American town
Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, 1990.
Physical Description:
448 p. : [8] p. of plates ; 25 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 364.1523 SIE 1 1
Book 364.1523 SIE 1 1
Book 364.1523 SIE 1 1

On Order

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This is a masterfully depicted true-crime tale of the murder of a child by his adoptive mother and the resolution of the case 27 years later. In 1980 Jerry Sherwood, who had given her first child up for adoption, searched for him only to discover that Dennis had died at age three in 1965 under mysterious circumstances. Her accusations prodded the town of White Bear Lake in Wisconsin, which had already suspected adoptive mother Lois Jurgens of killing the child, into action. The resultant trial, a landmark case, established the legal principle that circumstantial evidence is sufficient to convict in a child-abuse case, and served to reinforce the now commonly accepted contention that those abused as children frequently become child abusers themselves. Jurgens is now in prison. This perceptive analysis of the case by a Los Angeles Times reporter is stirring. Photos not seen by PW. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

In April 1965, three-year-old Dennis died as a result of abuse in the Minnesota home of his adoptive parents, Harold and Lois Jurgens. In 1986, his natural mother learned of his death and its suspicious circumstances; the case was reopened, ending in Lois' conviction for third-degree murder. Here, Siegel (a Los Angeles Times reporter) retells the events of the case clearly--avoiding sensationalism as he wades through a morass of documents and people involved in 22 years of bureaucratic bungling, dissembling, confusion, and possible subterfuge. Adoption caseworkers had doubts, Siegel notes, particularly about the intensely Catholic, fastidious Lois, who had a history of psychiatric problems. But one-year-old Dennis was placed with the Jurgenses anyway, in 1962. During his first year with the family (which included another adopted boy, Robert), Dennis was observed with numerous bruises and was treated once for a severely burned penis. Relatives noted the strict discipline and fearful temper with which Lois ruled her children, but, in those days, as a witness would later state, ""nice, middle-class white people"" didn't abuse or beat their children. When Dennis died, his body was covered with nicks and bruises, visible even as he lay in his coffin. Robert was placed with a foster home, but won back through the courts, and homicide charges were not fried. Perhaps, according to Siegel, with the help of Lois' brother, Lt. Jerome Zerwas of the White Bear Lake Police Dept., witnesses changed their minds and reports were obscured, altered, or not filed. The coroner ""deferred"" ruling due to sketchy, inconclusive reports--the attending physician had failed to examine the body at the scene, and no one had taken photographs. In the meantime, Lois' ""long-standing psychoneurosis"" required increasing treatment, but, amazingly, the Jurgenses were able to adopt four more children in 1972. A painful, sickening story; Siegel doesn't spare the reader. He goes into ugly, horrible detail, thus even more emphatically indicting a society that looks the other way. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Using nonfiction novel style, Los Angeles Times reporter Siegel tells the story of Harold and Lois Jurgens, a Minnesota couple who adopted two children and beat the younger one, Dennis, to death in 1963. The Jurgens later adopted four more children, all of whom were also abused. Lois Jurgens was successfully prosecuted for third-degree murder after Dennis's natural mother came looking for her son and expressed suspicions about his death, 22 years after it happened. Drawing from many sources, Siegel has produced a well-written account of a particularly troubling child abuse case. He also provides some informative commentary on the failure of society--in particular its social service, legal, and medical systems--to protect its children from abuse. Recommended for public libraries.-- Donna L. Miller, Lebanon Valley Coll. Lib., Annville, Pa. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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