by O’Neil De Noux
Publisher – Pinnacle Books
Rating – 5/10
Summary – In 1985 a group of degenerates raped and murdered and eight-year-old girl near New Orleans. Specific Intent recounts this case in a reasonably-interesting manner. The book is fairly interesting, but it’s still a true-crime “quickie” that could have been better.
Review – In today’s information society, many people accept believe that nothing can shock us. For better or worse, that’s not entirely true. The 1985 murder of eight-year-old Nichole Lopatta was so savage – and her murderers so despicable – that they can still shock nearly 30 years later.
The Crimes & The Killers
The Lopatta murder is notable both for its mindlessness and for its savagery. On June 2, 1985, a group of killers lured Nichole Lopatta into their car. The four criminals were: John Francis Wille, his girlfriend Judith Walters, her fourteen-year-old daughter Sheila, and Billy Phillips, a hitchhiker they had picked up outside New Orleans. Eventually, they assaulted and murdered Nichole while having sex with each other. Then – in a surprise twist – Wille stabbed Phillips eighty-two times and cut off his left hand. (Phillips and Wille had recently had sex; obviously, any warm feelings between the two were fleeting).
Author O’Neil De Noux keeps the story moving, but there are a lot of missed opportunities. For one, De Noux provides very little on the backgrounds of the killers or the cops involved in the case; the reader wants to know some of this backstory to try to understand the “why” behind the crimes. Also, there are indications that the killers knew of Nichole before they kidnapped her and that Wille knew Billy Phillips; De Noux mentions both of these points but fails to follow up on them, which frustrates the reader. (To be fair, De Noux does provide some interesting background when he recounts some additional crimes committed by John Francis Wille and Judith Walters in the Pensacola, Florida-area).
If one wants to read an interesting true-crime story, Specific Intent is not a terrible choice. The case is compelling. Still, this book is not exactly “high art.” From its subtitle (“The Chilling True Story of a Sex-Fueled Orgy of Multiple Murder in the Swamps Outside New Orleans!”), potential readers can ascertain this book’s genre – bargain-basement, hastily-written true crime.
The worst aspect of the book – in my humble opinion – was the decision to include a photo of Nichole Lopatta’s corpse. While it has become common to include such images in true crime books and TV shows, the inclusion of the photo struck me as another violation of the victim that added nothing to the story. I can only hope that Nichole’s family didn’t stumble on the photo.
If you ever thought that Deliverance was completely unrealistic, that no one ould be as depraved as the rednecks in James Dickey’s novel, Specific Intent will show you the errors in your thinking. These killers really did seem to climb out from under a rock. This is the sort of story that will make you look at strangers a bit more warily.
My local library had a “discard” paperback copy of Specific Intent for sale for 50 cents. It’s not a terrible book – a decent quick read holds your interest reasonably well. Still, it’s tawdry and doesn’t always do justice to the victims of this horrible crime. For better true crime from New Orleans, I would recommend some of former New Orleans police officer John Dillman’s books (such as Deadly Weekend or The French Quarter Killers).