Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Whilst nobody deserves to die for sexual activities between consenting adults that could be regarded as unsavoury, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HERMAN ROCKEFELLER says a lot about the causes of this man's death, and all of the participants in the whole sorry, mucky mess.

Herman Rockefeller was killed in January 2010, after a rendezvous at the home of Bernadette Denny, where he had gone, a second time, for sex.  He died, it seems, because he lied about his circumstances and therefore his motives, and because the two people found guilty of his manslaughter - Denny and her boyfriend Mario Schembri - were angry at his duplicity.  

Mr Rockefeller had a history of trawling for sex with strangers that went back at least a decade.  He frequently advertised in a range of speciality magazines, using a number of different names, and where he was targeting swingers, with photographs of him engaged in sex with an unknown woman, believed to be a prostitute.  Denny and Schembri encountered Rockefeller through these advertisements, making their own attempts to join the swinger scene.  The frustration that lead to Rockefeller's death arose from his failure to produce a female partner, instead using Denny for his own sexual gratification only.  The police also discovered that this supposedly upright, loving family-man, church goer and pillar of his local community had also kept a mistress, the woman who eventually helped police look in the right direction - along with a hidden stash of mobile telephones, multiple post office boxes, and the many many advertisements he had placed in sex magazines, as well as a particular technical feature of his abandoned car.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HERMAN ROCKEFELLER does a particularly good job at sensitively and carefully outlining the effects that this murder, and the particularly gruesome way that this remains were disposed of, had on his family and community.  It looks carefully at the backgrounds of Denny and Schembri, and it also looks at what is known about Rockefeller.  At the end, the book extrapolates on a theory of why a man, worth somewhere in the vicinity of $14.6 million at his death, took such an extreme path to achieve sexual gratification when it would seem that there were plenty of other options open to him.  

The sobering aspect of the book for this reader is that it was possible to feel great sympathy for Rockefeller's family, it was even possible to feel some sympathy for Denny and Schembri.  Rockefeller, on the other hand, was less approachable, more shadowy, complicit in his own demise.  This is possibly because his behaviour was so extreme, and frankly, predatory, but it was also obviously because he has no opportunity to explain the sordid and inexplicable.  

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HERMAN ROCKEFELLER is a discomforting book, about a disconcerting case, but it doesn't feel exploitative or sensational.  It's very measured in tone, tells as much as it can about all the main participants and does something that really good true crime writing should.  It allows the reader to understand what happened, and where known, why.  What everyone involved was thinking... well that's considerably less clear.

Year of Publication

In January 2010 a law-abiding, church-going father of two from Melbourne's leafy eastern suburbs didn't come home after a business trip and his burnt remains were found in a northern suburb – the wrong side of town – a week later. A police investigation uncovered the shocking truth: Herman Rockefeller met with an alcoholic single mum and her older boyfriend for sex and the liaison had gone horribly wrong.

Was the respectable, successful businessman (worth $400 million) leading a double life as a swinger? Why didn't he just pay for whatever sex took his fancy instead of taking the sordid option? How did the two very different worlds of killers and victim connect in the first place? Rockefeller has taken some answers to the grave, but Hilary Bonney takes us right inside the world of the killers and behind the scenes of the investigation to bring us the story of the multimillionaire who fell from grace.

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