Book of the month
Emma Copley Eisenberg is a writer whose work has appeared in Granta, VQR, McSweeney's, Tin House, The Paris Review online, The New Republic, Salon, Slate, and elsewhere. Her work has been supported by the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Elizabeth George Foundation, Lambda Literary, and the New Economy Coalition. Her reporting has been recognized by GLAAD, the New York Association of Black Journalists, the Deadline Club and Longreads' Best Crime Reporting 2017. Eisenberg lives in Philadelphia, where she co-directs Blue Stoop, a community hub for the literary arts.

Use these discussion questions to guide your next meeting.


In the early evening of June 25, 1980, Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, were killed in an isolated clearing in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. They were hitchhiking to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering but never arrived. For thirteen years no one was prosecuted for the "Rainbow Murders," though suspicion was cast on a succession of local men. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted, only to be released when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility. With the passage of time, as the truth seemed to slip away, the toll became more inescapable--the unsolved murders were a trauma, experienced on a community scale.


Emma Copley Eisenberg spent five years re-investigating these brutal acts, which once captured the national media's imagination, only to fall into obscurity. A one-time New Yorker who took a job in Pocahontas County, Eisenberg shows how a mysterious act of violence against a pair of middle-class outsiders, has loomed over all those involved for generations, shaping their identities, fates, and the stories they tell about themselves. In The Third Rainbow Girl, Eisenberg follows the threads of this crime through the complex history of Appalachia, forming a searing portrait of America and its divisions of gender and class, and of its violence.


THE THIRD RAINBOW GIRL in many ways is a hybrid of the true-crime and memoir genres. Do you think the inclusion of the author’s own experiences help further explain the story of Nancy, Vicki, and the community of Pocahontas County? Why?

On page 302 Trey says, “I think that sharing truth is important, and everything is relevant.” What does this mean in the larger context of the book?

(page 301) Eisenberg says that she believes the evidence points to Franklin killing Vicki and Nancy “better than it supports the conclusion that Beard did.” Do you agree?


The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia

“The Third Rainbow Girl is an evocative and elegantly paced examination of the murders that takes a prism-like view of the crime…an unflinching interrogation of what it means to be female in a society marred by misogyny.”—The New York Times


"Emma Copley Eisenberg has written a true crime book that brings to mind Truman Capote's masterpiece In Cold Blood: elegantly written, perfectly paced, and vividly realized people and places. Equally impressive is her refusal to condescend to the inhabitants of the Appalachian community where the crimes occurred. The Third Rainbow Girl is a major achievement."―Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena


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