Tidings and salutations bibliophages! Welcome back to True Crime: By The Book. Every week we discuss a new book, movie, or documentary related to true crime. I’m your host- the Librarian- Tasha Pierce. I appreciate all the ratings, reviews, and feedback that I’ve been receiving. Keep it coming! If you’d like to help the show, please leave a rating or review on the platform of your choice. This week we are digging into Randy Roth by way of Carlton Smith’s book, Fatal Charm. So, let’s dig into the author’s bio, shall we?
An award-winning journalist for The Los Angeles Times and The Seattle Times during the 1970s and 1980s, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting in 1988. His books include Mind Games, Cold Blooded, The Prom Night Murders, Cold as Ice and In the Arms of Evil. There are more than two million copies of his books in print.
We know we’re in good hands with Smith, and he has teamed up with a stellar narrator in Keith Sellon-Wright. He delivers the text with passion and enthusiasm and kept me engaged.
That’s the author and narrator, short and succinct- which means there’s more time to unpack the story. Here is the summary from Fatal Charm:
Smith, a prize-winning reporter for The Seattle Times, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for his coverage of the Green River Killer case. Now he reveals the shocking true story of serial wife-killer Randy Roth, the alluring, handsome man who was caught after his fourth wife “accidentally” drowned.
Once again, a description that is short and sweet. Tells us enough to help us decide if we’re interested. And of course, I’m interested.
This is the story of a man who knew what women wanted, and he delivered. He was born on Dec. 26, 1954 into a family that would ultimately consist of five children. Lizbeth and Gordon Roth were the parents in a dysfunctional home. The atmosphere was patriarchal with zero tolerance of what was considered weak emotions. Randy absolutely worshipped his dad and even sided with him when he and Lizabeth divorced. In 1973, after graduating from high school, Randy enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was an average soldier, but he would embellish his service record in letters that he wrote to his girlfriend at the time. He ended up being discharged after a year because his mom said she needed him home to provide for the family- it is speculated that Randy had grown tired of being a file clerk so his mom bailed him out of completing his service obligation.
When he returned home, he began living with his girlfriend, Teri. Her family allowed them to reside in a home they owned. It was at this time that Teri discovered that he was seeing another woman named Donna. Teri eventually had enough of Randy and broke things off with him. Even though Randy was as wrong as two left shoes, he gave Teri and her family HELL after the breakup. He broke into the home of her parents, stealing and vandalizing. Teri went to the police and informed them that Randy was responsible for the break-in at her parents and she also gave them information on an unsolved robbery at a convenience store. She told them that the perp was Randy, who had robbed the store in order to give her money for an abortion after an unwanted pregnancy. This occurred shortly before he left for basic training. This was the first known instance of Randy using illegal means to come into money. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last.
Randy served two whole weeks in jail for the burglary of Teri’s parents’ home. Before long he married Donna and in 1978 they welcomed a baby boy to the family. Shortly after that, Donna was shown the exit. Randy divorced her and took custody of their son.
Randy was considered “1970s hot”. Think Magnum PI. So it wasn’t very difficult for him to get back in the dating arena. In fact, this is where he meets Janis Miranda. He wooed her with his charm and wowed her with stories of his military service. In these fairy tales, Randy spoke of death surrounding him, women and children being slaughtered, him being a killing machine in the jungles of Viet Nam. He claimed to suffer from flashbacks of his service and that he was a very dangerous man. In fact, when they would meet up with friends who really did see combat, he would regale in these stories while they wondered why he would want to constantly relive these nightmares. That was a problem that Randy didn’t know he had. He seemed to actually be proud of the things that most real combat veterans wanted to forget.
In March of 1981, Randy and Janis married. They bought a home and got insured to the gills. Randy said that he wanted her to have the security of knowing that the home would be paid for if tragedy ever befell him- you know, because he was so scarred from his imaginary time in Nam. The day after Thanksgiving of 1981, Randy and Janis decided to go hiking on Beacon Rock Trail. This was a roughly two-mile trail that is considered a moderate level hike. Randy and Janis had separated from the throng of hikers on the trail. It was then that Janis went close to the edge, lost her footing, and plummeted over 300 feet. Randy was spotted going back and forth before pleading with others to assist him in finding his wife. The authorities were called but by the time they got to Janis, she was dead. Although Randy’s statement was doubted, there was no real evidence tying him to her death. The following day, before notifying Janis’ family and friends of her death, he arranged to have her cremated and cashed in on her life insurance policy. That would be $100k in 1981 currency equal to just over 280K today.
In 1985, Roth met and married a second Donna- single mother Donna Clift. He followed the same pattern of charming, proposing, marrying, and becoming a massive asshole after the wedding. He also talked Donna into getting a huge life insurance policy yadda yadda yadda. Then one day, when they were rafting, Donna was terrified when it seemed that he was intentionally heading into rough water. She survived the incident and got the fuck out of Dodge. That’s 2 Donna’s that escaped what seemed like Randy’s death trap.
He met another woman, Mary Jo Phillips. He didn’t marry her because she was a cancer survivor. Cancer is rarely a lucky thing, but in this case, Mary Jo dodged the bullet because no insurance policy would cover her. She wouldn’t be beneficial to Randy financially, so he was on to the next.
The next turned out to be Cynthia Baumgartner, a recently widowed young mother of two boys. Her first husband had passed away after being diagnosed with Hodgkins. He had benefits that left his wife and children taken care of. This seemed to be an ideal situation for Randy. He swooped in and charmed who would turn out to be his fourth wife. She was unaware that she would be the next wife to die so Randy could get his money right.
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Before they had even been married a year, Cynthia and Randy went out on Lake Sammamish with their raft. After a few hours, Randy returned at a very nonchalant pace with an unconscious Cynthia. He claimed that she had fallen in the water and he had to rescue her. The lifeguard on scene tried to resuscitate Cynthia to no avail. Her children watched as the paramedics arrived to work on their lifeless mother and they began to cry. Randy was attempting to deflate the raft- seemingly unconcerned about the fate of his wife. That’s the thing about psychopathic murderers. They just don’t know how to perform as if they have emotions unless they have experiences to emulate from. Randy’s upbringing didn’t afford him any opportunities to practice emotions. He simply didn’t know how to even PRETEND to give a fuck.
In fact, a witness stated that he told Cynthia’s sons to stop crying. How do you expect children to react to watching their mother die? It was just noise to him. He couldn’t empathize with their feelings. He took the boys to eat, went home, and probably dreamed about the 400K he stood to gain from Cynthia’s insurance policy. Not to mention, he had her boys- which meant he also would have access to her first husband’s survivor’s benefits. Except, through all his controlling and abuse, Cynthia had the foresight to make her best friend the caretaker of her children in the case of her untimely death. That was a wrench in Randy’s program, but he was still set on a huge life insurance payout plus proceeds from selling their home.
In the meantime, King County police investigators were slowly building a case against this piece of crap. They recreated the series of events that led to Cynthia’s demise according to Randy’s statement and- SURPRISE- the shit couldn’t have happened that way. Then statements from witnesses on the beach when Cynthia was receiving CPR noted that Randy gave zero fucks about anything. Co-workers came out saying that Randy was utterly disgusted by Cynthia and was counting down the days before their “contract” ended at the one year anniversary. Of course, before this day arrived his wife was already dead and cremated. There were many other disgusting acts by Randy during this “time of grief” that I will leave out for those who want to read the book.
Of course, he was taken to trial in the murder of Cynthia Roth. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison and an additional year for theft. He is eligible for parole in 2029- so be careful who you swipe right on in 2030! Also, sadly, the first Donna remained convinced that Randy is innocent and that he was a good husband. I’ll remind you- he divorced her and took their child with no explanation. The bar is set really low for “good husbands”.
And this is where I’ll leave the story with my thoughts. First of all- women, we have to be vigilant. It was far easier to be bamboozled in the early ‘90s, but let’s not act like this isn’t still a thing. Dirty John, anyone? And if you aren’t sure what I’m referring to there is a FANTASTIC podcast, Netflix movie, and a couple of documentaries detailing THAT case. We need to KEEP a network of friends, associates, and loved ones who need to be empowered to tell it like it is when it comes to new men in our lives. If the relationship is moving too fast, it’s okay to pump the brakes. If things seem too good to be true be cautiously optimistic. Because a Randy Roth won’t have the patience to deal with a woman who is taking her time to make sure he is who he says he is. Also, if there are too many mysteries- Randy was known for not disclosing his age, not being interested in sex, and the horrible LIES that he told about Viet Nam- these kinds of mysteries should make us ask, “What does he have to hide?” And then Donna- what the heck is your issue? This man is either the most unlucky husband on the planet or he is skilled at picking unlucky women. And she was clearly only good enough to carry his male child- he didn’t trust her to RAISE him. So, how could you back a man who thinks you aren’t shit?
There are so many other tangents that I could go on with this case but I’ll just encourage you to read the book and let me know your thoughts! You can always share feedback at TCbyTB@gmail.com. You can also find me on social media on all the things- TCbyTB. I do have a patreon and would love for someone to be my first donor at patreon.com/TCbyTB. I need to keep a stash of munchies and other edibles (wink, wink) for recording days! Next week- we gotta discuss Aaron Hernandez! Netflix has released a documentary Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez and we MUST talk about it! That has the potential to be a two-part episode. The next book on the docket is Solitary by Albert Woodfox in case you want to read it beforehand.
As promised, I’ve got two new reviews that really lifted my spirits this week:
Thank you to NickRich5737 and fledanow from Canada for your wonderful reviews! Thanks for listening guys! If you’d like to make my week, leave a rating and review on your platform of choice. I’ll shout you out on a future episode. With that, I thank you for joining me for episode 13 and I hope you meet me here next week. Later bookworms!