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William LaRue
A Stranger Killed Katy

In the early morning hours of August 29, 1986, Clarkson University sophomore Katy Hawelka – bright, pretty and full of life – strolled back to her upstate New York campus after a night out. On the dimly lit path beside the university’s ice hockey arena, a stranger emerged from the darkness. The brutal sexual assault and strangulation that followed rocked the campus and the local community to its core. When Katy was declared brain-dead three days later, her family’s nightmare had only just begun. Terry Connelly soon learned details about her daughter’s death that would make her blood boil. From the bungling campus guards who could have stopped the murder, to mistakes by others that allowed the killer to wander the streets committing violence, Katy's mother became certain of one thing: The criminal justice system only meant “justice for the criminals.” A STRANGER KILLED KATY is the true story of a life cut tragically short, and of the fight by a grieving mother and others more than 30 years later to ensure that a killer would spend the rest of his life behind bars. Publication date: January 18, 2021.

LaRue, an award-winning journalist, delivers a methodical account of the murder of Katherine “Katy” Hawelka, the resulting conviction of Brian McCarthy, and the homicide’s impact on Hawelka’s family, friends, and society as a whole. In 1986, on the Clarkson University campus, Hawelka was sexually assaulted and strangled–and taken off life support in the days following, due to the extent of her injuries. In this intense and heart-rending annotation of a brutal crime that influenced campus security on a national scale, LaRue recounts the mountainous forensic evidence, ensuing legal battles, and decades-long fight from Hawelka’s family for “justice for all…even the victim.”

Hawelka’s legacy radiates across the pages. LaRue effectively highlights the systemic changes that were jumpstarted in large part due to the courage and activism of her parents, Terry Connelly and Joseph E. Hawelka, who advocated in the midst of extreme personal trauma, in opposition to long established societal norms, and against near-insurmountable odds. Much of the work is dedicated to exposing a societal tendency to blame victims, plus the importance of sexual assault protections and the need for ongoing transformation to campus safety practices. Readers will be inspired by Katy’s parents’ unflagging pursuit of justice and discover compassion for the ongoing trauma to victims’ families that can be perpetuated through legal proceedings.

LaRue’s account is efficient, easy-to-follow, and significant–even for audiences unfamiliar with this event. He exposes the ripple effect of Hawelka’s murder, from enhanced security regulations at Clarkson University to 1990’s Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act enacted by President George H.W. Bush. Perhaps most wrenching is the cycle of regular parole hearings (“again, it kind of reopens the wound every two years to some extent”). Though born out of violence and trauma, LaRue’s chronicle sheds a light on the resilience necessary to initiate change protecting victims and generating a legacy of justice.

Takeaway: This compelling true crime narrative charts the fight for justice and reform.

Great for fans of: James Ellroy’s My Dark Places, Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and Justice in a College Town.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B