Murder novel becomes true crime with author's arrest

A grisly manuscript about killing one's wife gets another look since the author killed his.

Topics: Books,

An unpublished Dutch novel about a man who kills his wife could find a new lease on life in the true-crime genre, now that the author has confessed to police that his book is basically autobiographical.

Johanna Godfrinon vanished in 1991 in the northeastern Dutch town of Groningen. A few weeks ago, long-awaited evidence against her husband, the novelist Richard Klinkhamer, was unearthed. Digging in the garden, the current residents of the couple’s old house had turned up a skeleton.

Known in the Netherlands, though not well, for his grim and often autobiographical novels of war and petty crime, Klinkhamer had always professed his innocence. Police had arrested him after his wife disappeared but had to let him go for lack of evidence.

A year after that, in 1992, Klinkhamer submitted a macabre little roman ` clef, “Wednesday, Ground Meat Day,” to his publisher. The book graphically sets out various scenarios for spousal murder, one of which reportedly has the killer running pieces of his wife’s corpse through a meat grinder. Willem Donker of the Rotterdam publishing house Donker told the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad he rejected the manuscript for being poorly written and “horrible.” “He described how the main character fed the woman’s ground flesh to the gulls,” the paper quotes Donker as saying.

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The Times of London recently suggested Donker was reconsidering “Wednesday’s” merits. The publisher, who brought out Klinkhamer’s book “Losgeld” (Ransom) in 1993, has stopped granting interviews and now says only that he is “tired of talking about this.”

After his Feb. 3 arrest in Amsterdam, Klinkhamer quickly confessed to killing his wife by hitting her over the head with an unspecified hard object during an argument in 1991, then burying her body under the floor of a shed.

Police spokesman Pieter Boomsma confirmed that “a meat grinder did play a role in the investigation, but it doesn’t any more, because now he’s giving a different explanation.”

If you’re wondering if the whole thing could have been a monstrous publicity campaign, you probably don’t live in the Netherlands. The Calvinistically restrained Dutch don’t go in for the shocking-true-story genre, says Inez Abell, owner of Alibi, an Amsterdam bookstore specializing in thrillers. She doesn’t think “Wednesday, Ground Meat Day” will see print. “I think that would be approaching pulp, and Dutch people don’t go to the bookstore to buy something like that.”

Even if they did, Dutch lawyers say a felonious author would probably be sued by his victims or their survivors for any money he made off the story. The Netherlands has no “Son of Sam” law to prevent him from trying to profit from writing about his crime, though.

Klinkhamer has always incorporated autobiographical elements in his work, chiefly from his wartime childhood and his experience fighting in the French foreign legion. Though he had always maintained his innocence in Godfrinon’s disappearance, Klinkhamer reportedly taunted his neighbors with dark remarks (“this pit’s for you, right next to my wife”) and indulged in much bold hinting in the press. He reportedly told a newspaper in 1992 that he knew what had happened to Godfrinon, “but there are some things you can’t talk about.”

Laura Martz is a journalist in Amsterdam who writes about contemporary culture, business and the Internet. She is writing her own wholly fictitious murder novel

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