Karen’s Killer Book Bench #Forensics #Domestic #Thriller: IN THE DAMAGE PATH, The Nut Cracker Investigations by Katherine Ramsland

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The Nut Cracker Investigations


Forensic psychologist Annie Hunter runs a PI agency. She pits her talented “Nut Crackers” team against Tommy Ray Bruder, who’d snatched her best friend, Hailey, when Annie was 14. Annie made a pledge at the time to find her. Bruder was caught for another crime, but he refused to reveal what he’d done with Hailey. After years in prison, he’s trying to get free. He’s writing coded poems to entice groupies to help him. These same codes offer Annie new clues, but she must act on them before Bruder walks free. Her efforts alarm Bruder’s former partner, a dangerous man with his own damage path. Annie soon finds that her pledge to Hailey has imperiled her entire team.


The Nut Cracker Investigations


Chapter 1

The young brunette opened her eyes. She seemed surprised at the pile of sand that trapped her. She looked left. Then right. Her hazel eyes widened. She couldn’t budge. Her nostrils flared.

“No, no! Help me!” She tried to move. Sweat oiled her nose. “Oh, my God! I can’t get out! He’s coming! He’ll kill me!”

I cringed. Buried in sand. What a nightmare! I paused the video and glanced at Ayden Scott, my agency’s investigator. In a collared blue shirt, he looked professional today, less like a beach bum. “What is this? Do I really need to see it?”

Ayden raised a blond eyebrow and redirected me with his head to the laptop screen. “Keep watching.”

I hit play.

“Tommy!” the girl yelled. “Don’t do this. I want to be with you. I love you!” She spit out sand. Her expression froze, as if she saw this ‘Tommy’ approaching. “No! Don’t! Please don’t! Not that, please! No more sand!”

Off screen, someone snorted. The trapped teen pressed her lips in annoyance. The clip ended.

I sat back. “That’s it?”

Ayden nodded. “That’s it. Fake. The person filming it blew it.”

“So, Sand Girl’s play-acting? Like she was buried alive by a serial killer?”

“Yup. There’s more on NicKnac if you wanna see ‘em.”

I shook my head. “She said Tommy. Our Tommy?”

“The same. He’s getting quite a fan base.”

I turned Ayden’s laptop screen away. I normally love research, but this one hurt. “Tommy,” the killer these girls adored, had once snatched my best friend, Hailey Harper. She’d been just thirteen at the time, a year younger than me. Tommy Ray Bruder had picked her up on his Harley. I was there. I’d never forget his flirty dark eyes and trimmed mustache. Girls think cute guys can’t possibly have wicked intent. Hailey and I were that naive. When Bruder removed his helmet to offer us a ride, his wavy brown hair had looked boyish. He’d focused on Hailey. She’d gotten on. He’d sped away, and she was gone. A search commenced, but the case went cold. I’d been devastated. I’d blamed myself.

Ayden grabbed a cinnamon scone from the plate I’d set out. “You goin’ to the trial, Boss?”

I nodded. “I want to catch that psychologist, Maura Reynolds, after she testifies. She discussed Tommy Bruder on a podcast. Maybe she can help us. Plus, it’s a unique trial.”

Ayden winked. “Your thing.”

“Yes, my thing. And thanks to my expertise on suicide, I got a reserved seat. Killing two birds with one stone, I guess.”

He cocked his head with a knowing look.

“I won’t get sidetracked. Dr. Reynolds is relevant to our current investigation. That suicide case is secondary.”

“Bet they’ll hire you.”

“They have their experts. I’m just an observer. You know better than anyone that finding Hailey’s my priority.”

Over the past twenty years, I’d searched for her. That’s partly why I established my agency, the Nut Crackers, named for the twisty “hard nuts to crack” that we investigate. Recently, I’d gotten closer to my goal.

I’d pieced together Bruder’s past to locate possible places he’d taken his victims. I still had aggravating gaps but also better leads. In the process, I’d bumped against crime groupies like ‘Sand Girl’ in this video. And they weren’t just wacky sideshows. Their antics contaminated the trail. These drooling Bruder fanatics could thwart my progress. Some listened to my podcast, Psi Apps, where I’d vilified Bruder and displayed my dismay over his dim-witted devotees. They’d left nasty comments on my website, even some death threats. One in particular, Carly Krebs, often taunted me on her own podcast, Killer Hooks.

They baffle me. How do they get so inured to the horror of murder? Why do they joke that murder tales soothe their daily stress? Some as young as my nine-year-old daughter wear T-shirts emblazoned with “Choke me, Ted” and “Eat me, Jeffrey.” They seek to swoon like Victorian virgins in gothic fiction from a vampire’s bite.

On video media sites like NicKnac, I’d watched a fan of Ted Bundy drag herself across a floor, as if he’d just bludgeoned her with the crowbar he used on his actual victims. She’d even purchased envelopes offered as Bundy’s from murderabilia sites. On camera, she pressed a seal against her lips to “absorb his essence” from where he’d licked it.

And now on Ayden’s laptop I’d just watched the same bent devotion play out for Tommy Bruder. I motioned to the laptop. “Get on the Killer Hooks website. Krebs was supposed to make some big announcement today.”

I got up to fill our coffee mugs. “Maybe Sand Girl got her idea from Krebs’ rumor that Bruder buried girls alive. I think Krebs started that just so she could pin her nickname on him.”

Ayden looked up. “Captain Kidd?”

“A play on words. A pirate with buried treasure, and kids are his prey. Krebs likes to use shock and awe, even disgust, to hook listeners.”

Ayden scanned the website. “Same stuff here. Claims she’s identified more than two-dozen victims. Brags about her uptick in followers. Thanks her chat partner, BH.” He squinted.

I sat down and tapped the table. “BH is for Bleeding Heart.”

Ayden rolled his eyes.

“Krebs has devoted several episodes to Bruder. She thinks she owns him.”

Over the past two decades, Bruder had been a minor killer, unknown and languishing in his cell. He’d pled guilty to a single murder in Tennessee. On paper, he was just a run-of-the-mill loser. But podcasters seeking their own signature investigation had decided he was linked to several cold cases. He was an “undiscovered” serial killer. That claim gave them better purchase in a crowded marketplace.

I leaned toward Ayden. “Two days ago, something changed. Krebs hinted at an announcement. If she has something truly explosive, Bruder’s gonna get media attention like never before. That’s bad for us. Krebs claims she’s confirmed the links but she won’t say what she has. Claims he has victims in multiple states from New York to Florida. By her reasoning, if he could have abducted them, he did abduct them. She wants to solve them. If she can turn Bruder into a significant predator, she raises her online profile.”

Ayden pointed at the screen. “Got it. The big announcement.” He turned his screen toward me, pressed a key and sat back as an audio came on.

About Author Katherine Ramsland…

Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology and behavioral criminology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she is the Director for the Center for Teaching Excellence. She has appeared as an expert in criminal psychology on more than 200 crime documentaries and magazine shows, is an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and has consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,800 articles and blogs, and 71 books, including The Forensic Science of CSI, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, How to Catch a Killer, The Psychology of Death Investigations, and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer, she was co-executive producer for the Wolf Entertainment/A&E four-part documentary based on the years she spent talking with Rader. Ramsland consults on death investigations, pens a blog for Psychology Today, and is currently writing a fiction series based on a female forensic psychologist who manages a private investigation agency. In the Damage Path is the second in the series.


Links to Katherine’s websites, blogs, books, #ad etc.:

Amazon eBook: https://amzn.to/44AAtSb

Amazon Paperback: https://amzn.to/3P0p9sU


Special Giveaway: Katherine will give away an ebook copy of IN THE DAMAGE PATH to one lucky reader who comments on her Karen’s Killer Book Bench blog.

Happy Reading!


Thanks, Katherine, for sharing your book with us!

Don’t miss the chance to read this book!


12 thoughts on “Karen’s Killer Book Bench #Forensics #Domestic #Thriller: IN THE DAMAGE PATH, The Nut Cracker Investigations by Katherine Ramsland”

  1. Good morning, Katherine,

    That really got my attention. It looks like a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat while reading, as you won’t want to put it down.

  2. Hi, Katherine, and welcome back to Karen’s Killer Book Bench. First, I love the cover! So intriguing, I’d buy just on the cover. The excerpt seals the deal. Really caught me. Can’t wait to read this one. Thanks for sharing your book with us today!

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