"The Homicidal Handyman of Oak Park,” a true crime novel by journalist and author Tony Ray Harvey, was presented at Underground Books in Oak Park on Saturday, Nov. 17.
The author’s book is about the serial killer Morris Solomon Jr. and the murders he committed in the 1980s. Harvey shared his research and Solomon’s chilling case. The discussion on the novel was followed by a book signing for the new release.
Harvey provided some insight about the case and novel that took him eight years to write.
The true crime novel is distinctive because the killings are a part of Sacramento’s history and for another reason—Morris Solomon is African-American.
There is a peculiar assumption that serial killers are not black. Harvey turns the stereotype on its head in his book, providing readers with information into the case that disturbed this community.
"I was attracted to writing this book because I had never heard of a black serial killer at the time. More importantly, it all happened in Sacramento," related the author.
"It’s important to note that serial killers come in all colors and you can’t regulate them to one area."
Solomon, now 69 years old, was charged with seven homicides, but convicted of six in Sacramento. He is on death row in San Quentin State Prison for four first-degree murders and two in the second degree.
Harvey described the setting for Oak Park in the 1980s as a “scary place to be.” He elaborated that the influence of narcotics and drug addicts, and the presence of gangs made it a dark, chaotic and violent time for the neighborhood.
The most unsettling aspect of this novel was that many of the murders discussed in the book happened not too far from where the book signing was held. This fact alone made the reality of the novel disturbing and utterly authentic.
"The county of Sacramento had its highest rate of murders between 1986 and 1987. It was more than 120 murders, nearly all of them connected with crack cocaine and heroin," Harvey said.
"There are a lot of moving parts to Solomon’s story. But, the one thing that I discovered about writing this book was the ‘handyman’s’ upbringing—and how he eventually got to the point where he wanted to kill people."
Readers may be curious about the novel’s peculiar title. Harvey explained that Solomon loved sports, music and vocational studies.
“He was a handyman by trade—he was good with his hands. Wherever houses were being built Morris Solomon was there,” said the author.
“He worked in houses from Oak Park to Meadowview and in the states of California, Arizona, Texas and Louisiana."
It is best to read the book for more information into the case. It spares few details and the research is extremely thorough.
"The most chilling part of my research was looking at the victims’ crime scene photos down at the courthouse,” stated Harvey.
“I put some of them in the book, but there are plenty of graphic photos that I decided not to use.”
“In the same regard, I was trying my best to do the victims’ side of the story with dignity. It was a difficult thing to do when I think about those photos,” added the author.
Harvey says that he was motivated by focusing on the victims and providing them with "a voice." The author’s message strikes our core values about humanity and the value of life.
"I want to relay that women living on the margin of society are not throwaways. No one should be overlooked, ever," said the author.
"Most of these victims have mothers, fathers and children. Their families end up as victims too."