Cover image for Death benefit : a lawyer uncovers a twenty-year pattern of seduction, arson, and murder
Death benefit : a lawyer uncovers a twenty-year pattern of seduction, arson, and murder
Publication Information:
New York : Harmony Books, c1993.
Physical Description:
x, 353 p. ; ill.
Personal Subject:
Added Author:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book 364.1 HEI 1

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"For Steve Keeney, it began with a simple favor. A woman from Keeney's Louisville church, Bobbie Roberts, confided that her twenty-year-old daughter Deana had recently died in a cliff fall at Big Sur, California. Bobbie was now having trouble collecting burial insurance. Keeney, a successful corporate lawyer, agreed to help her cut through the red tape." "The coroner's report stated that a couple named B.J. and Virginia McGinnis had driven Deana to a four-hundred-foot Big Sur cliff. The McGinnises said that when their backs had been turned, the girl had fallen "without a sound." Days after reading this report, Keeney was stunned to learn that Virginia had paid for a life insurance policy on Deana one day before the accident." "Keeney suspected foul play, but Big Sur authorities quietly dropped the case: There were no witnesses other than the McGinnises. Undeterred, Keeney promised his client that he would try to find out the truth. A chilling portrait emerged." "Virginia called herself a practical nurse, but people had dark memories of her "care." They recalled her three-year-old daughter, her husband, and her mother - all of whom died while alone with Virginia. A series of fires, thefts, poisonings, and insurance policies ran through her past. Keeney also discovered that both of Virginia's sons had been charged with murder." "As Keeney was piecing the facts together, he realized he had uncovered a remorseless killer, one who beat the system for twenty years, collecting insurance along the way." "Former prosecutor David Heilbroner, author of the highly acclaimed book Rough Justice, spent two-and-a-half years retracing Keeney's investigation, preserving accounts of many witnesses whose voices were never heard at Virginia's extraordinary two-month murder trial - a trial that literally took the jury to the edge of the Big Sur cliff. In Death Benefit, he crafts a meticulous account of both a killer's life and a Kentucky lawyer's dedication to decency and courage triumphant over evil. Death Benefit belongs to that rare breed of books - a powerful human drama and a true-life courtroom thriller."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

At church in Louisville one day in 1987 a woman named Bobbie Roberts asked another parishioner, corporate lawyer Steven Keeney, for help: her daughter, Deanna, had fallen to her death along the Big Sur coast of California earlier that year, and now her insurance company was balking at paying benefits. What emerged was a scandal of far greater magnitude. Soon Keeney uncovered evidence suggesting that Deanna had been pushed off the cliff by her traveling companions, B. J. and Virginia McGinnis, a married couple who had secured a life insurance policy on her the previous day. After further investigation, Keeney came to suspect that over 20 years Virginia McGinnis had killed her three-year-old daughter, her mother and her ex-husband, as well as committing crimes of shoplifting, forgery, theft and arson. Heilbroner ( Rough Justice ) does a respectable job of reporting how Kenney learned of McGinnis's childhood of poverty and abuse. But in his courtroom coverage, surprisingly, this former New York City prosecutor cools down his potential potboiler through a pedestrian analysis of the 1992 trial. B. J. McGinnis, who was indicted, died in prison before being tried; Virginia McGinnis was sentenced to life imprisonment. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC alternate; movie rights have been optioned; condensation rights to Reader's Digest; author tour. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

The nail-biting tale of a female serial killer and the lawyer who dogged her to justice. Although Heilbroner is an attorney himself (three years in the Manhattan D.A.'s office, described in his excellent Rough Justice, 1990), the crusading lawyer here is one Steven Keeney, a prim, conservative tax attorney from Louisville. A tenderfoot at criminal law, Keeney finds himself knee-deep in a murder investigation when the victim's mother approaches him in church to ask for help in settling a life-insurance claim. It seems that the insurance company is balking with good reason: Another policy had been taken out on the victim just one day before her mysterious death in a fall off a cliff in Big Sur. Suspicion settles on the creepily nondescript Virginia McGinnis, mother of the beneficiary and landlady of the deceased. As Keeney sniffs around, horrifying revelations come to light. McGinnis's three-year-old daughter died of accidental hanging--if it was an accident; her husband and mother also succumbed in suspicious circumstances, and in each case McGinnis collected life insurance. She lived in six homes in 20 years, and all of them burned to the ground. Her sons turned out to be killers themselves (``Virginia McGinnis was not just a murderer herself: She bred murderers,'' intones Heilbroner). The melodrama reaches fever pitch as Heilbroner flashes back to McGinnis's miserable childhood, a muddy mix of poverty and abuse that helps explain her adult pathological behavior. As the case knits tighter, Keeney's law practice unravels. But he never gives up, and, after a suspenseful trial, McGinnis is convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. Like a long but intense TV-movie (with even an extraneous love subplot between Keeney and a fellow lawyer thrown in): stock characters and real thrills. (Photos--not seen.)

Booklist Review

When 20-year-old Deana Hubbard Wild's body was found hundreds of feet beneath an overlook point at Big Sur, California, authorities were not particularly concerned with the "accidental" fall. But from the moment Wild's mother asked a member of her church congregation to look into a life insurance claim, Deana's death became an obsession for high-powered corporate attorney Steven Kenney. Because of his loyalty to a grieving mother and his unrelenting work on the pro bono case, the facts of Deana's death were revealed along with a frightful list of the crimes committed by her murderer, Virginia McGinnis. The arson, thefts, and multiple murders that make up the substance of Heilbroner's account also add up to a terrifying picture of childhood abuse and its outcome--in this case, a coldly calculating, psychotic personality who after a three-year investigation was finally found guilty of premeditated murder. A taut, compelling account that is impossible to put down! ~--Alice Joyce

Library Journal Review

In 1987, Steve Keeney, a Louisville, Kentucky, corporate attorney totally unfamiliar with criminal law, was approached by Bobbie Jo Roberts for advice because her insurance company would not pay the proceeds of her daughter's life insurance policy. Keeney quickly discovered that Virginia McGinnis, the woman with Roberts's daughter when she fell to her death from a cliff in Big Sur, California, had an astonishing history. McGinnis had lived in six homes, all of which had burned to the ground; her three-year-old daughter had died of accidental hanging; her mother and second husband perished mysteriously while under her care. Yet McGinnis had avoided suspicion for more than 30 years. Freelance writer Heilbroner recounts Keeney's tireless efforts to bring McGinnis to justice in a nonfiction narrative that reads like a classic thriller. Readers will find it very difficult to put down. Highly recommended.-- Sandra K. Lindheimer, Middlesex Law Lib., Cambridge, Mass. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.