In November 1977, a young woman named Irene Cruz was murdered in a Denver hotel room. Her body was discovered by a maid. Police said she had been strangled. To this day, no one has been charged with the crime.
A few days later, a Denver-area motel owner named Gerald Foos recorded a remarkably similar event in one of his journals. While spying on his guests from a secret attic in his motel, Foos said he witnessed the murder of a young woman by her boyfriend. She was strangled, Foos wrote. The next day, Foos said a maid discovered her body, and Foos reported the crime to police without mentioning what he had seen. To this day, no one has been charged.
The murder Foos claims he saw is a key element of “The Voyeur’s Motel,” a forthcoming book by acclaimed journalist Gay Talese about Foos’s lifelong voyeurism obsession. Talese’s account of this crime is also the centerpiece of a 13,000-word excerpt from the book published by the New Yorker magazine last week.
The excerpt never mentions Cruz’s death or the similarities between it and what Foos said he saw at his motel, the Manor House in suburban Aurora, Colo., located about 10 miles from where Irene Cruz died. But the nearly identical circumstances, the timing of the two events and their location raise questions about Foos’s claims.
The most important questions: Did the murder Foos described actually occur? And if it didn’t, what other journal contents that he provided to Talese might be judged dubious?
Talese investigated Foos’s assertion about the murder and found nothing to corroborate it. Police officials in Aurora said they have nothing in their files about such a crime. He also couldn’t find a coroner’s report, a death certificate or any news accounts. Nor could he ascertain the alleged victim’s name.
But in the New Yorker excerpt, Talese attributes the absence of documentation to bureaucratic error. “In subsequent phone calls,” he writes, “two former officers said that it would not be impossible for there to be no remaining police records in a ‘Jane Doe’ case such as the one I described: the identity of the victim was unknown, after all, and the crime took place before police departments kept electronic records.”
Yet the Cruz murder is listed on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s cold-case website, which spells out the time, place and circumstances of her death. It occurred on Nov. 3, 1977 — eight days before Foos says he witnessed the Manor House murder.
Talese also raises the possibility that Foos “made an error in his recordkeeping, or transcribed the date of the [Manor House] murder inaccurately, as he copied the original journal entry into a different format.”
The author doesn’t raise another possibility in the New Yorker article: That Foos made the story up.
That notion has occurred to Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove Atlantic, which will publish Talese’s book in July.
“My personal belief is that [the book] is substantially true, the majority of it, and part of it is fantasy,” he said. “This is a man of very strange beliefs and inclinations and behavior. I do feel he exaggerates and fantasizes. I don’t know whether that murder [at Foos’s motel] occurred. But the facts that Gay is reporting, I believe, are facts.”
He said Talese verified as much of Foos’s story as he could, including at one point sitting with Foos in the secret attic as they watched a couple engaged in a sex act.
The details of Cruz’s death, however, were uncovered not by Talese but by Jamison Stoltz, Grove Atlantic’s senior editor. In reading Talese’s manuscript, Stoltz said he became curious about the alleged Manor House crime; he scoured the Internet and found the reference to Cruz on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s website. It will be mentioned in the book, he said.
The two murders could have been a “coincidence,” Stoltz said in an interview on Tuesday. Or Foos could have “conflated it” with his own story. “You can’t be too sure.”
Foos’s journals purport to document hundreds of sex acts that Foos witnessed among the guests at his motel over several decades. His journal comprises about a third of Talese’s book.
But Stoltz acknowledges that it’s “unknowable” whether the journals’ contents are credible because Foos is the sole source. (Foos received an undisclosed fee from Grove Atlantic for the use of his journals.)
Despite these reservations, neither Entrekin nor Stoltz is concerned about marketing “The Voyeur’s Motel” as nonfiction.
They said Talese was careful to suggest to the reader that Foos is not an entirely trustworthy source.
Early in the New Yorker excerpt, for example, Talese speculates that Foos may be “a simple fabulist. . . . I cannot vouch for every detail that he recounts” in his journals. He also writes, “Over the years, as I burrowed deeper in Foos’ story, I found various inconsistencies — mostly about dates — that called his reliability into question.”
New Yorker Editor David Remnick saidTuesday that the magazine was aware of the Cruz murder but did not include it in its excerpt because “it was at an entirely different location from the motel referenced in our piece.”
“Nevertheless,” he said, “we make abundantly clear to the reader that Foos’s journals are his work alone, and that he may be unreliable. . . . To the extent Foos’s journal is less than a factual record of events, readers are fully appraised of that possibility.”
Talese, 84, declined to answer questions about “The Voyeur’s Motel,” but in an exchange of emails earlier this week, he wrote, “This voyeur story is over with me. I did my best as a reporter; I wrote as well as I could in telling the story.”
Reached by phone, Foos at first declined to speak to a reporter. He said he was “under contract” with his book publisher and therefore was unable to talk about his journals or Talese’s account of them.
But when pressed about the similarities between the Cruz murder and the one he said he saw at the Manor House, he offered this: “We know about that murder [Cruz’s]. We checked with the police on that. It has nothing to do” with what he said he saw.
Foos implied that it was merely a coincidence that strangulation deaths of two young women had occurred within eight days of each other and 10 miles apart.
“Those things happen,” he said of the similarities. He then said that he could no longer talk and ended the conversation.