SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A new book hitting stores July 3 takes an in-depth look at the murders of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King.
True crime author Caitlin Rother conducted extensive background research on serial killer John Gardner for the book, entitled Lost Girls.
One year ago, Rother drove up to Corcoran State Prison near Bakersfield and conducted a five-hour, face-to-face interview with the double murderer. Gardner had gained about 100 pounds in prison since his sentencing in May 2010.
"I went in there thinking, I don't know whether he's going to get angry at me and lash out at me or lunge across the table at me," Rother told News 8. "I was allowed to bring ten sheets of paper. They even fought me with bringing a pen in. So, I needed to think long and carefully about the questions I needed to ask."
"I was very sensitive in how I put this book together. I don't want to make the families upset again. I don't want to anger the community," said Rother.
The book reveals for the first time that Gardner confessed to other sex crimes, including the violent rape of a prostitute; and the attempted kidnapping at gunpoint of a 16-year-old girl near Lake Elsinore in 2009.
Officers told the author they have no plans to investigate Gardner for those other crimes because he is already serving two life terms in prison.
Gardner told the author he chose his victims at random.
He claimed he chased after a different woman who was jogging near Lake Hodges on Feb. 25, 2010, but he never caught her because she was running too fast. Afterward, he grabbed and raped Chelsea King.
The book includes new details of the both murders that the author felt needed to be told.
"What could somebody have done in that situation? What could Chelsea have done in that situation to save her own life? That's why I decided to include these details," Rother explained.
Amber's mother, Carrie McGonigle, told News 8 she had no problem with the book exploring Gardner's family history. She does have a problem, however, with new details of the crimes being published.
"To a mom, anything you say about our child is a gory detail," McGonigle said. "If it was your daughter, would you what a summary of what happened (published)? The fact that he grabbed Chelsea, that alone re-victimizes us."
The parents of both victims declined to be interviewed by the book's author.
McGonigle is the leader of a private, search and rescue operation called Team Amber; she and her boyfriend, Dave Cave, are planning a wedding in a couple weeks; and McGonigle is writing her own book about the loss of her daughter.
"It's Amber's story," McGonigle said. "It's to help other families. People don't know about the resources available when your kid's missing."
In the book Lost Girls, Gardner's high school sweetheart is interviewed at length.
"I went to prom with him. It was his senior prom and I was 15 at the time," Jenni Tripp recalled in a telephone interview with News 8.
She remembered the teen-aged Gardner as gentle and cheerful.
"I thought he was more of a protector than a hurter," Tripp said.
Tripp admitted she broke Gardner's heart in high school.
"One of the reasons why I broke up with him was because he cheated on me and I felt like I was constantly mothering him," said Tripp.
Rother's book said Gardner was committed to three mental hospitals as a child, and it details his sex life with Tripp and other girlfriends.
Tripp told News 8 she has a theory about why Gardner targeted Amber and Chelsea.
"Amber kind of looked like me and Chelsea looked like his other girlfriend, the one who had an abortion," said Tripp. "I don't know if he was mad at me and found somebody that looked like me at that age or what was going on."
Rother recounts how Gardner claimed he was molested at the age of 5 or 6 by a female, family friend. He also had four sexual encounters as an adult with his aunt, according to the author.
"He came from an incredibly dysfunctional family," Rother said. "There was incest and molestation, addiction and mental illness."
"People who kill people are human beings too, and we need to understand all sides of them," said Rother. "He's manipulative and charming. He seems fine at times. We need to understand that if we're going to protect ourselves."
Lost Girls also describes Gardner's co-dependent relationship with his mother, Cathy Osborne, and his mother's lack of cooperation with police following Gardner's arrest.
"My concern is with my son. I understand you have a job to do, but I've got a job too – my son," Osborne was quoted as saying to investigators.
Those details did not sit well with amber's mother.
"If I thought my son or daughter had committed a crime, I'm going to turn him in, especially a horrific crime like this. I'm not just going to sit back," said McGonigle. "Your son is sick, yes, but you knew your son was in that park. You have a duty to say, ‘You better look at my son.'"
Gardner's mother, Cathy Osborne, did not respond to a News 8 message seeking comment.
The book confirms that Gardner tried to commit himself to a mental hospital and treatment facilities two weeks before the murder of Chelsea King; but he was turned away, either because he was a registered sex offender or he was not deemed a imminent danger to himself or others.
"There's no place for someone like him to go if they are seeking help, and that's a serious problem for all of us," Rother said.
Gardner's high school girlfriend agreed.
"There is no excuse for what he did," said Jenni Tripp. "But if somebody's asking for help, don't turn them away."
Rother will be holding the following book signings in San Diego county:
- Thursday, July 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Mira Mesa Barnes & Noble.
- Saturday, July 7 at 3 p.m. at the Encinitas Library.
- Wednesday, July 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Oceanside Barnes & Noble.