Body Dump

by Fred Rosen

Kendall Francois' house

Ten years later: the house where serial killer Kendall Francois lived with his family...and the bodies of eight of his victims. The house has new owners and has been fixed up.

Publisher: Pinnacle Books, Kensington Publishing
Publication Date: July, 2002
Genre: True Crime
Page Count: 304 pgs. (mmp)
ISBN: 0-786-01133-5
Reviewed: August 17th 2002

        Driving home after work on September 3, 1998, I found my planned route unexpectedly blocked. I took a right onto Fulton Ave., to see that the usually sleepy street had become a madhouse. Dozens of police cars closed off the road. Huge TV trucks were parked as near as they could get. Throngs of journalists and bystanders were milling around, held back by a platoon of cops. A helicopter hovered overhead.

        As I made a U-turn to find another way home, I turned on the radio, hoping to discover what the commotion was about. It wasn't difficult. Every station was blaring the news: the serial killer who had been stalking the women of Poughkeepsie for two years had finally been caught. He lived nearby; in fact, I frequently walked past his house.

        Over the following weeks, gruesome details emerged about Kendall Francois. He killed eight women, mostly prostitutes, and kept their bodies in his house - even though he lived with his parents and younger sister. The smell was so bad that it could be detected on the street, and on the skins of the inhabitants of the house...but his family apparently knew nothing about the murders, or the bodies. The house was such a mess, filled with garbage, rotting food, dirty clothes, and excrement, that the police had trouble entering it without stepping on possible evidence.

        Ever since this story broke, I've been waiting for someone to write a book about it. Elements of the case are so bizarre they beg an explanation. Unfortunately, this book doesn't provide one.

        The main problem is that the author, Fred Rosen, seems to have been unable to get interviews with any of the principles, aside from the police. This makes his viewpoint extremely limited, not to mention one-sided. For example, Rosen writes at length about how unfairly the police were treated by the press. The local papers were rather scathing about the length of time it took the cops to catch Francois, so Rosen's complaint is perhaps warranted. However, it would have carried more weight if he'd given equal time to the reporters' side of the story. He also rails against the FBI and dismisses their profiling techniques as useless...again, sounding suspiciously like a disgruntled local cop.

        But those are minor irritants. His inability to interview Francois or his family creates more serious weaknesses. The thin story must be puffed up with what amounts to a Poughkeepsie travelogue. We hear about the history of the area, get instructions on how to drive to the victims' houses, and are given detailed descriptions of local landmarks. It's mildly interesting for area residents, but dead boring for anyone else. (The information is mostly accurate, but there are a few howlers, such as his claiming the area is called the Lower Hudson Valley, when in fact it's the Mid-Hudson.)

        Worst of all, the dearth of information means the most compelling questions of this case - why Francois did what he did, the way he did it - go unanswered. This is a fatal flaw. Motive is everything in a true crime book, and here, it's sadly lacking. Rosen can offer little insight on what made Francois tick.

        Though the cover advertises "16 pages of disturbing photos," the photos are not all that disturbing. There are grainy pictures of the victims (mostly from the "missing" posters that were circulated before the killer was caught). There are photos of Francois' high school, and the school where he worked. There are a lot of pictures of the house, and some of the police officers involved in cracking the case. Far more disturbing images appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal, which ran photos of the bodies being carried out of the house on stretchers.

        How could a comfortable, white-collar professional couple, living in a nice neighborhood, let their house get that filthy? Could they really have not noticed eight bodies, rotting away in their own home? Why did Francois keep the bodies in his house, despite the smell, and the danger of his family discovering them? These are the questions about this case that demand answers...but none are offered here. Body Dump is shallow, padded, and disappointing.

Related Link:

Crime Library Files - Kendall Francois (a much better version of the story)

Photos of the house (before it was fixed up)