I actually took a lot of detailed notes for this book, which is nice because it's been awhile since I read it. I've already read a few books since then, so it's not as fresh in my mind. I had not heard of this story, this woman, or this book. For some reason, I assumed there was a mafia connection (there isn't...that's another case).
There are black and white photos in the book. I have a photo of them, the photos are on the same paper as the print. Sometimes there's a glossy insert but this isn't the case here.
The book is split into several sections, which makes it easy to split into short bursts if you find it gruesome. The author, Glenn Puit, interviewed Brookey Lee West in 2003. Puit has written other books, including two on cases I'm familiar with (the Kathy Valentine poisoning was one) and two I'm not.
Title: Witch (The True Story of Las Vegas' Most Notorious Female Killer)
Author: Glenn Puit
Page Number: 352 pages (paperback)
Genre: non-fiction, true crime
Publisher: Berkley, a part of Penguin Random House
Drawing on extensive interviews with the accused herself, here is the sordid, twisted, and surprising story of Brookey Lee West--a successful technical writer from Silicon Valley who went on a twenty year crime and killing spree.
The book begins with the discovery of Christine Smith, the mother of Brookey Lee West. West seems to go by Brook. Smith was discovered in a storage unit rented by Brook. Other patrons of the storage unit were complaining about the smell coming from Brook's unit. There is a more detailed passage about the CSI of scene and later autopsy. It does get a bit graphic because of the evidence collected for trial. I wrote "a bit gruesome," so I figure it must be rough as I'm pretty inured to most true-crime books.
There's also a quick rundown of the detectives assigned to this case. Some of the detectives worked on the murder case of Patricia Margello (Dupont adjacent, always more "scandalous" when the rich murder each other) and Tupac's murder.
Police began to look for Brook to tell her about her mother but she's hard to find. Brook has hidden her home address, causing the police to use more obscure means of location. They eventually find her by using the address used by the power company. She lives in the San Croix condos in Northwest Las Vegas.
The second section of the book is really about Brookey Lee West's family. It's a bit of a mess. Her father was named LeRoy Smith (c.1929) and her mother was named Christine Smith nee Sands (b. 1932). They seem to have gotten together around 1947 and had two children, Travis Smith (b. 1956) and Brookey Lee Smith (b. 1953). LeRoy later married another woman, but I didn't write her name down. We learn that Travis has addition issues (for drugs) and is often homeless. LeRoy comes from a pretty rough childhood, his father killed his mother by decapitating her. He's then placed on a street corner for adoption and is taken to Arkansas by a drunk couple. LeRoy becomes a police officer, supposedly kicked off the El Paso Police department because of drugs, and moves to California. Christine has a slightly better childhood (I mean, her parents didn't kill one another) but at the height of the depression. She claimed to have been molested as a child and that she was pimped out by her boyfriend/husband. That's pretty rough.
Christine is surmised to be a "sweet old lady" by the cops who discover her body but her personality is deconstructed in the next chapters. We discover that Christine shoots her married lover after he returns to his wife, leading to her arrest for attempted murder. LeRoy decides to put their children in an orphanage (in 1962). Two years later, Christine is released from jail. She and LeRoy return to the orphanage to pick up Brookey and Travis.
The next section deals with the ties to Satanism that weave around Brook's family. LeRoy begins to dabble in Satanism while Christine becomes a sort of Born-Again-Christian (I'm not sure which denomination or how devout she was). Books about Satanism were found in the storage unit with Christine's body. I wrote all this down because Puit mentions that the Theban alphabet is often used by witches (and perhaps that was something interesting to LeRoy, not sure). I like learning dorky stuff like that. This seems to be one of the few links to Brook to Satanism which doesn't quite match to the title of the book.
Later on, Brooke had a daughter with a man (I'm not sure how involved he was in the life of this child). She sends the daughter to a boarding school and later (c. 1985) wanted to place her daughter for adoption with one of the teachers there. When the father refused, his grandmother was shot (she survived) and a threatening letter with references to Satanism was sent. The man signed over his parental rights.
This is the section of the book where I put it down for a bit. Not because of the Satanism...but because Puit does relate a story of Brook's infatuation with her chiropractor in the 1980s. The flirtation seemed to be only in her head, but she recorded a cassette tape of her masturbating mixed with televangelist sermon to give to the man. What sent me is that Puit gets a bit casual. I think I prefer when authors keep a more formal tone, but I do realize that's a "me" issue. Also, this complaint sounds quite prudish! Puit talks about how realistic Brook got on that tape and the sentence he wrote was "She actually sounds like she is fucking the doctor on tape." I think Puit straddles the line between gritty and nakedly honest with semi-formal writing. Sometimes, I feel like he misses the mark (another time he refers to "thugs.") and should have written that sentence differently. I didn't feel like it matched the tone of the rest of his writing. .. but he does this a few times in the book.
Brook's third (?) marriage was with a man named Howard Simon St. John. He was a member of the Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. Their marriage (around 1994) was short and turbulent and ended with his murder. His body was found in the Sequoia National Forest with two bullet holes and a bag around his face. St. John was a recovering alcoholic when he met Brookey and Christine at the American Indian Center in San Jose. It seems that Brook and Christine claimed to be Apache, but I don't think they ever proved to be members of any tribe. They seemed to target men with tribal links, there are several relationships mentioned in this section.
Again, Puit crafted a sentence that didn't seem to match the tone. When talking about Brook's relationship to a man named Ike he wrote, "Within a few weeks, Ike was fucking West hard during overnight stays at San Jose area hotels and sometimes they fucked in West's Toyota MR2 two-seater." I mean...come on! It's crude for no reason and it takes away from the predatory nature that Brook is engaging in by targeting these men who are often homeless or in recovery/inpatient centers. Another time in this section, Puit calls Christine a "crazy bitch." I just feel it takes away from the narrative he's creating because I kept being pulled out of his story. Maybe it's just me? Maybe I'm misconstruing the voice of Puit vs. Brook?
While this is going on, LeRoy is diagnosed with cancer. He's married again to a woman (I think her name is Dianne?) but he keeps his second wife away from his kids and Christine. At the very end of his life, he's sleeping and his wife is looking through their financials so she can pay their bills. Dianne/Wife #2 feels Brook behind her and turns to see Brook holding a cattle prod. Brook tries to stun her and their tussle wakes up LeRoy. LeRoy takes Brook's side forcing his wife to flee the house to call the police. LeRoy died a few months after this incident (in 1996). We find out later that there's a $250,000 payout that will come to Brook if her stepmother (Wife #2) predeceases her father.
Brookey moves Christine to Las Vegas in 1997. I'm not totally sure why. Brook works off and on in Silicone Valley/San Jose as a technical writer, so maybe she has work out in Vegas occasionally. Christine lives out there for a year while Brook continues to live in San Jose. She often complains about her mother to her work colleagues. Brook also gives another coworker a diamond ring. The coworker finds this inappropriate...but man, I'd love to be given diamond ring just because!
Christine is last seen alive mid-February 1998 by her neighbors. After the investigation, Brook was arrested in 2001 for the murder of Christine.
The trial concludes with Brookey Lee West being found guilty of her mother's murder. She's sentenced to life without parole. Brook only admits to concealing her mother's death for her mother's $1000 monthly social security check.
While in prison, Brook seems to mostly be a model prisoner, leading bible study and getting on medication for borderline personality disorder. Later (this is not in the book), Brook did try to escape prison but was caught.
I thought the generational violence was very sad. Her paternal grandfather murdered his wife, her mother tried to murder her lover, and she's convicted of murdering her mother.
Also of note, Brook's brother has been missing for awhile.
Overall, I thought this was a fascinating book. The only things I didn't like were the times when Puit switched tone and became vulgar. To be fair to him, he could be relaying what Brook said without using direct quotes. I read the book over a few days, as some of the forensics were a bit gruesome. I had never heard of Brookey Lee West until I read this book and I think Puit did a good job explaining the case, Brook's life and history, the trial, and possible crimes surrounding this family.
Leave a Reply.