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Another View: Dive into murder mystery discussion

By: Bart O'Brien, Guest Columnist
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Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, and Freddy Krueger are all fictional killers who have captivated the imaginations of Americans for decades. Auburn, born of the Gold Rush and Wild West, has its own history of real murders, and next week residents have the chance to learn about the story behind one of our most intriguing murder mysteries.
On Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m. at the Placer High School Auditorium, a panel of people, all involved in the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of Paul Kovacich, Jr., will reveal the facts behind the story of the murder of his 28-year-old wife and mother to his two children, Janet Kovacich.
The panel is part of Auburn’s inaugural One Book, One Community program, which asks community members to read the same book and then participate in discussions and events about it. Thursday marks the kick off to April events surrounding this year’s selection “Nature Noir,” which chronicles the experiences of author Jordan Fisher Smith when he served as a state park ranger patrolling the American River Canyon for 14 years.
In Smith’s book, he describes the disappearance of Janet Kovacich, a young Auburn mother in 1982, and the fruitless effort of local law enforcement agencies to bring the prime suspect, the woman’s husband and a former Placer County Sheriff’s sergeant, to justice. The author changed the couple’s names to Karen and Les Dellasandro in an attempt to shield himself from a libel charge. The chapter closes with the woman missing and the husband free. The mystery, however, was far from concluded. Around 2002, after a 20-year hiatus, a pair of investigators began to re-examine the case. Coincidentally, advances in forensic science finally provided the evidence that allowed the Auburn police to make an arrest and the Placer County District Attorney’s Office to build a case.
Beth Ruyak, Sacramento radio and TV personality, will lead the panel through a lively portrayal of the case that will unravel the mystery of the murder of Janet Kovacich. The panel will include author Jordan Fisher Smith, retired Auburn Police Officer and Chief Valerie Harris, principle investigator Jerry Johnson, and prosecutor Dave Tellman.
The program is the second in a series of five events offered free of charge and co-sponsored by the Auburn Rotary Club, the Placer County Office of Education, the Placer Union High School District, and the Auburn-Placer County Libraries.
These programs are part of a nationwide literacy effort called One Book, One Community. We hope that each year people of all ages from throughout our community will join us to read, discuss, and learn about a different book through events like these. Copies of this year’s book, “Nature Noir,” are available at any of our local libraries or Winston Smith Books.
Bart O’Brien is President of the Auburn Rotary Club and board member of the One Book, One Community committee.