The Story Behind “Stalking Susan” by Julie Kramer

Julie Kramer, author of Stalking Susan is here as my guest to to tell us the story behind the Susans:

Because the plot in my debut thriller involves a serial killer targeting women named Susan, people want to know if I have a special enemy by that name. I don’t. STALKING SUSAN is not a personal tale of revenge.

But some stories stay with journalists long after the newscast wraps. A decade ago, as a television news producer, I covered two cold case homicides that inspired me to write STALKING SUSAN. The cases involved two women, both named Susan, murdered exactly two years apart in St. Paul, MN.

My debut story is not their story. That’s why I use the word ‘inspired,’ rather than ‘based on.’ Their cases remain unsolved. But in the world of fiction I was free to ask myself, what if?

Being a career journalist it’s no surprise I’m a rip-it-from-the-headlines writer. But transitioning from writing news to writing fiction did come naturally. It felt like cheating. And it was work to overcome that feeling. Apparently though, I do have an imagination – a vivid one – and it kicks in for the conclusion, if not the set up.

When I wrote STALKING SUSAN, I changed the victims’ appearances, occupations, and the times and locations of their deaths. I also added more victims. I changed their last names and almost changed their first name. But I decided to keep Susan because I never forgot them and I wanted others to remember them, too.

I don’t recommend other authors give their characters the same name — I ended up with five Susans — it complicates storytelling and character development. But if I’d changed their names to Mary, I’d have ended up with a completely different plot. Because the twists in STALKING SUSAN come from using name origination and famous Susans in history as clues. Because of this, readers named Susan tell me they love the story because it makes them feel special.

When it comes to the world of news, It’s the stories without resolution that tend to stick in reporters’ minds. Besides the parallels of name and date of death – which could end up being completely coincidental – what attracted me to these cases was that they were unimportant murders, buried deep inside the daily newspapers with no real follow-up. Fifteen years later a reporter colleague and I made a run for tips and answers and came up empty. That’s how it usually ends in newsrooms, no matter what you see about reporters in the movies or read in books.

In real life, journalists don’t often catch the killer, so writing this book was a little like living a news fantasy.

But it really was just a fantasy, because bottom line, someone, maybe more than one someone, got away with murder. So any opportunity to keep the names of the true victims out there, is a good thing. So here goes:

Susan Ginger Petersen, age 28, was strangled May 17, 1983.
Susan Jean Rheineck, age 16, was asphyxiated May 17, 1985.

Their murders have never officially been connected. Not by DNA, witnesses or any other evidence. But some similarities in the crime scenes are suggestive.

Now the St. Paul Police Cold Case Unit is taking a fresh look at these murders, and privately investigators are saying wouldn’t it be funny if fiction brought attention to bring tips to solve the crimes after all this time.

To learn more about the author visit

Julie Kramer: Stalking Susan

6 Responses to “The Story Behind “Stalking Susan” by Julie Kramer”

  1. Pat Bertram Says:


    Thank you for letting me post this article. I love finding out how authors get their ideas, and this is a fascinating story. Good luck with your books!

  2. Julie Kramer Says:

    Thanks, Pat. Sequel – MISSING MARK – out next July. I didn’t want to do back to back serial killers, so this one is about a dangerous missing person case.

  3. joylene Says:

    Fascinating, Julie, to hear how you came about writing “Stalking Susan”. It adds such a personal touch. You’ve also brought attention to a problem I’m facing in one of my manuscripts. I’m been conflicted for awhile as to what is the moral thing to do.

    I’ve written a sequel that makes a passing reference to all the missing person cases on Highway 16 in central B.C. Although it’s not the theme of my story, I made a point of mentioning them because (2003) so little was mentioned in the newspapers or on TV.

    Then, in 2007 a special task force was formed because the families of the 40+ missing and dead renamed Highway 16 “Highway of Tears”, and made enough noise that the media finally made attention. 50+ hookers were murdered in Surrey before the media picked up the story.

    My concern is whether I should use this tragedy in any form in my novel. There are so many people suffering because we have a serial killer in our midst. And while it doesn’t seem to be a story the country is interested in hearing about, does that give me creative license to exploit it in a piece of fiction.

    By our very nature, are Canadians so passive that they’re immune to that many deaths?

    I sure hope not.

    I think if it was the theme of my book, I’d feel differently. You’ve brought attention to these deaths by using fiction to say “What if?” But in my book, the missing are only referred to indirectly.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about. Your book sounds intriguing, and it’s definitely on my wishlist.

  4. jalex Says:

    Interesting article, Julie. I love knowing the story behind the story, makes it more personal.

  5. xelene Says:

    Julie, Odd coincidence about the two Susans. But it sounds as if you gave them a bit of a requiem in your book.

    Joylene, I would suggest using the murders in your book. Don’t look at it as exploitation — look at it as helping to bring the murders to people’s attention.

  6. Julie Kramer Says:

    Joylene, I do use some real news events in my books, because I think it makes the manuscript more real. Experiment and see how it reads. If it seems awkward, you’ll know and can go back to what you had originally. But it might feel like it belonged all the time. But keep in mind, you are not telling their story, so you will have to change some things. That’s why I say “inspired by” not “based on.” I did not write a memoir. I did not write true crime. I wrote a novel.

Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: