While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family

While They Slept An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family Early on an April morning eighteen year old Billy Frank Gilley Jr killed his sleeping parents Surprised in the act by his younger sister Becky he turned on her as well Billy then climbed the stair

  • Title: While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family
  • Author: Kathryn Harrison
  • ISBN: 9781400065424
  • Page: 178
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Early on an April morning, eighteen year old Billy Frank Gilley, Jr killed his sleeping parents Surprised in the act by his younger sister, Becky, he turned on her as well Billy then climbed the stairs to the bedroom of his other sister, Jody, and said, We re free But is one ever free after an unredeemable act of violence The Gilley family murders ended a lifetime oEarly on an April morning, eighteen year old Billy Frank Gilley, Jr killed his sleeping parents Surprised in the act by his younger sister, Becky, he turned on her as well Billy then climbed the stairs to the bedroom of his other sister, Jody, and said, We re free But is one ever free after an unredeemable act of violence The Gilley family murders ended a lifetime of physical and mental abuse suffered by Billy and Jody at the hands of their parents And it required each of the two survivors one a convicted murderer, the other suddenly an orphan to create a new identity, a new life.In this mesmerizing book, bestselling writer Kathryn Harrison brilliantly uncovers the true story behind a shocking and unforgettable crime as she explores the impact of escalating violence and emotional abuse visited on the children of a deeply troubled family With an artistry that recalls Truman Capote s In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer s The Executioner s Song, and her own The Kiss, Harrison reveals the antecedents of the murders of a crime of such violence that it had the power to sever past from present and the consequences for Billy and for Jody Weaving in meditations on her own experience of parental abuse, Harrison searches out answers to the question of how survivors of violent trauma shape a future when their lives have been divided into Before and After.Based on interviews with Billy and Jody as well as with friends, police, and social workers involved in the case, While They Slept is Kathryn Harrison s unflinching inquiry into the dark heart of violence in an American family, and a personal quest to understand how young people go on after tragedy to examine the extent as well as the limits of psychic resilience The New York Times called Kathryn Harrison s The Kiss a powerful piece of writing, a testament to evil and hope The same could be said about While They Slept.

    946 Comment

    • Shaun says:

      This is the true story of a teen who kills his parents after enduring years of physical and emotional abuse. Billy Gilley imagines a life of freedom along with his sister Jody, whom he supposedly harbors incestuous feelings toward. Unfortunately, in the process of murdering his parents, he also murders his youngest sister when she refuses to stay upstairs where he brings her after she wakes up (probably because of the violence). Jody somehow manages to not only survive this tragedy but to thrive [...]

    • fleegan says:

      This was (or so I thought) about the 1984 slaying of the Gilley family by their son, Billy Gilley. Billy Gilley killed his mom, dad, and little sister Becky with a baseball bat. He did this in order to save himself and his other sister Jody from further abuse by their parents. He killed Becky because she wouldn't stay in her room while he was killing the mom and dad. I would have probably enjoyed this book more if the author herself had not imposed her own life story and dysfuntional family into [...]

    • Megan says:

      Disappointing, my friends, disappointing. This was not a book about the murder of a family so much as a chance for Kathryn Harrison to again muse on her own messed-up family life. Uh, Kathryn, you already wrote a disturbing memoir about that, and I read it, and I was properly disturbed and impressed and awed. I did not need to read a re-hash of it all. Not to mention that someone needed to do some editing of this book. Here is an actual sentence from the book:A generation earlier, Billy's patern [...]

    • Brenna says:

      When she was 20 years old, author Kathryn Harrison's estranged father kissed her on the lips - with tongue.When she was 16 years old, subject Jody Gilley awoke when she heard her younger sister being murdered by her older brother, after he had already bludgeoned both of their parents to death.Kathryn Harrison, in While They Slept, uses these traumatic events to draw a comparison between herself and Jody Gilley: "Both she and I had a previous self who no longer exists."The trouble with this, of c [...]

    • Majanka says:

      I don’t usually read non-fiction novels, and the true crime genre is new to me as well. But when I saw this book in my local bookstore at a significant discount (three thrillers/true crime books for 10 euros), I was drawn to it like a bee is to honey. I hadn’t heard about this case before, and the name Billy Gilley didn’t ring a bell. But I had heard about other cases in which a young boy slaughters his entire family, driven to the verge of madness by a vast ray of causes, be it abuse, neg [...]

    • Laura says:

      Very fine book about a killing in the family. I will confess to being a little nervous at the beginning, as Kathryn Harrison talked a lot about herself and her incestuous relationship with her father, and I was afraid we were veering into "Enough about me, what do you think of me" territory. But my fears turned out to be unfounded, as Harrison used her own story only to segue into that of the book's subjects: Billy, the son who killed his abusive parents and his younger sister; and Jody, the dau [...]

    • Judith says:

      I have really enjoyed this author's past works, so i expected good things. This is a true story of a boy who beat his parents and younger sister to death after a childhood of mental and physical abuse. He spared his older sister, thus the story relates both the sister and the boy's versions of the incident, their childhood, and the boy's subsequent life in prison. The story should have been fascinating, particularly since the author was covering all the angles. However, the book is bogged down i [...]

    • Caroline says:

      I very much wanted to enjoy this book. Truman Capote is my hero and I thought this might be a modern-day homage to 'In Cold Blood.' However, the horrible Ms. Harrison, a narcissist if there ever were one, inserts herself and her CHOICE to bed her father when she was an adult into every other page of this story. How having your entire family murdered by a brother who viewed you as being complicit is anything like embarking on an affair with your estranged father is beyond me. I wanted to know so [...]

    • Elaine says:

      If you are hoping to read this, like I hoped, without having to relive Kathryn Harrison's oft mined trauma (as I'm sure you know--because all of her writing dwells on this topic--Kathryn Harrison was involved in a 4 year incestuous relationship with her biological father), don't read this book. Harrison's personal trauma was an unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion into this story. And the more she intrudes, the more awkward, expository, and tedious her writing becomes.

    • Cathy Howland says:

      Synopsis: Me, me, me, horrible tragedy, me some more, bad things happen to other people (so who really cares) , me. And then me.

    • Fishface says:

      This is a well-written study into the murder of half a family in Medford, Oregon. The author interviews everyone she can get her hands on related to this crime -- the killer, the only other survivor of the immediate family, investigators, attorneys and so forth -- and does a good job of teasing apart what people say from what they mean and what lies beneath. I'm not sure how happy I am with the way the author found it nearly impossible to discuss the Gilley family without discussing her own ince [...]

    • christa says:

      In late April, 1984, Billy Gilley,18, killed his parents with a baseball bat. And when his little sister Becky wouldn't go upstairs while he finished, he beat her, too, which eventually killed her. Jody Gilley, 16 at the time, stood frozen in her bedroom, disassociating, imagining she was a character in a book and wondering if that character would jump out the window to get away from her brother.When he was finished, Billy Gilley came upstairs, bloody, and said to his sister: "We're free."Kathry [...]

    • Jeanette Cupcake says:

      id never heard of this but its requested on my book swap and i got it for $2 at the airport. i have a few problems with it. kathryn harrison previously wrote books on her own experiences with abuse, which i have not read and know only about from this book. in this book before telling the story of which she is supposed to be writing, she talks about herself. a lot. and it comes across that when she was 20, she met her dad, he tongue kissed her at the airport and shes been a mess ever since. based [...]

    • Kellie says:

      I thought this was a decent book for about the first 2/3, then it was all I could do to finish it.The author's insistence of bringing herself and her own history into this book drove me nuts. Why was she continually trying to compare herself to the Gilleys? Often these were forced comparisons, at best. Reading this book is like listening to somebody speak in a monotone voice. This style could have been very effective for a book of this type, if it was done better.This is an interesting subject a [...]

    • Emily says:

      On a spring night in 1984, Billy Gilley bludgeoned his father, mother, and youngest sister to death in their Oregon home while his sister Jody cowered upstairs. While They Slept is Kathryn Harrison’s rendering of the murder, its precipitating events, and its aftermath based on research that includes multiple interviews with both Jody and Billy Gilley. At the outset, Harrison informs the reader of her own survivor story (she was manipulated into sex acts with her father as a young woman) and th [...]

    • Antoinette Maria says:

      Disappointing. 1. The author seems to have immersed herself in this family's story only as a path to her own redemption. 2.)The author's analysis clearly shows the limits of literary analysis as a way of understanding one's own or someone else's life. That is, it can work only to a point and then only if you're willing to disregard or ignore large chunks of the story. 3.) The author identifies herself so clearly with Jody and sees Billy so clearly as an "other" that she rarely questions Jody's v [...]

    • Pam says:

      So far the author annoys me. She uses a lot of psychological profiling so I felt compelled to look up her biography. No psychology/psychiatry background. Annoying.

    • andrew y says:

      There are reasons that this isn't particularly good that have nothing to do with Harrison's self-insertion, which I actually thought was rather well done all in all despite the popular opinion in reviews here. She was honest and thoughtful in what she set out to do and I enjoyed her honesty about what brought her to begin this book. But it got a little bloviating in attempts to not be sensationalist. That was not the right choice but I doubt it was even a conscious one. So, this is a good true c [...]

    • Ashley says:

      This book explores the events leading up to, and the aftermath of, the Gilley family. Billy, 18 years old, beats his mother, father, and little sister to death with a baseball bat in the middle of the night. He then tells his other younger sister, Jody, "We're free". Harrison does a nice job of drawing interesting, and at times insightful, parallels and observations throughout, but also seems to be continually wresting the spotlight from the Gilley family to herself. In the first chapters we lea [...]

    • Bookmarks Magazine says:

      Kathryn Harrison has clearly done her research. She gained the trust of both Billy and Jody, which resulted in multiple interviews and access to their personal papers. The narrative fairly buzzes with warmth and concern for the siblings. However, some critics, deeming it intrusive and pompous, took issue with Harrison's frequent habit of inserting her own painful past into the story. Others believed her suffering adds depth and authenticity to the narrative. Hailed as "a heartbreaking read" by t [...]

    • Allison Herman says:

      The first thing to know before reading this book is that Kathryn Harrison has a bit of a sordid past. Her book The Kiss is about her romantic relationship with her biological father. While They Slept is about the murder of the Gilley family by the only son, Billy. He kills his mother, father, and youngest sister, while saving his other sister so they can be "free". There is some question as to whether or not Billy wanted a relationship with his sister Jody and Harrison picks up on this quickly. [...]

    • Rita says:

      the author wrote a riveting story about child abuse and the affects it had on theson and daughter after the son murdered both parents. In my mind, I believe thatin the young boy's mind, even his mother was a danger because she didn't protectthem and also sides with the father. As he saw it when he said to his sister: "We're free". These two imposing figures were HUGE in his mind and worried after the murder that, somehow, the father would rise up and go afterboth of them. Very interesting and in [...]

    • Nicole says:

      Disturbing in a way that makes it hard, impossible for me anyway, to turn away. Unlike many other 'anatomy of a crime' novels the author is so present in the dissection that it's really the story of her research and reconstruction of the events. Not your typical Sunday morning reading, but once I started I couldn't stop.

    • Kelly says:

      I liked this book but I thought the author injected too much of herself. I thought it would be a little more straight true crime. It was hard to feel too connected with anyone in this book except for Jody whose defense was to largely shut off her emotions.

    • Katherine says:

      I get all the critical reviews of this book, I do understand them and think they are valid. My two star review has nothing to do with those though and instead, it's just because I found this book to be a yawn fest. Which is saying something when you're talking about a family killed by their son with a baseball bat.It's just they only question I had was how did he not kill his parents sooner? "Just snapping" doesn't make for a great and involving read. I'm glad the surviving daughter was able to [...]

    • Melissa McClintock says:

      On the fence about this one. It's the 1st true crime I've read in months. I think it was in the library because it is our area, the next "true" town in Oregon this side of the Cascades. I liked the story and I liked the research and the way the story is presented totally non sensationalized. Not up to Ann Rule by any means, but not that commercial junk food so many true crime authors stoop to as if the actual occurance isn't horrible enough.I just don't like the author's voice. I don't like it w [...]

    • Alyssa says:

      Much like other reviewers, i felt that the author sort of shoehorned her own issues into this story, which i found to be quite jarring. I also think the author didn't meet her intended goal, which seemed to be to better understand how Jody picked up the pieces after the murder of her family. Jody is closed off and while she responds to the author's inquires, she never really answers her questions. Although i completely understand and respect the decision by Jody to share or not share anything sh [...]

    • Nicole Palumbo Davies says:

      An interesting look at a completely dysfunctional, and ultimately tragic, family, but Harrison makes it too much about herself. I've read her books about her father (and they're kind of all about her father), and yes, the relationship was fucked up and I have sympathy for her, but it doesn't make sense here. There are no parallels, and the story of the Gilley family is complicated and weird enough without Harrison intruding. For the record, I don't always mind an author sticking themselves into [...]

    • Maryann MJS1228 says:

      This is a frustrating book. It is frustrating because of what it is and what it is not. It is not, emphatically not, an entry in the true crime genre. It contains none of the staples of true crime despite the author's admission that she is addicted to the genre. It is part exploration of how someone goes on after an event (or rupture, to use the author's term) severs the past from their future ,and part exploration their own role in that event. The event in question is the Billy Gilley's murder [...]

    • KW says:

      I read "The Kiss", Harrison's definitive memoir detailing her sexual relationship with her estranged father, a few years ago. The story itself was stark and honest, and bore little indication that "getting over it" would ever be a genuine resolution. Instead, Harrison sketches a life in which rehabilitation and growth exist alongside the weight of trauma. "While They Slept", an recount of the 1984 murders of Bill, Linda and Becky Gilley by son Billy, establishes a connection between Harrison’s [...]

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