The Story

The true story behind Naughty.

Ralph and Iva Kroeger saying goodbye after the verdicts.

Ralph and Iva Kroeger saying goodbye after the verdicts.

The genesis of Naughty is sort of two-fold. There is the history of the Kroeger case itself, and how I came to know about it. Then there is the idea of the novel, Joe Krueger’s story. Though it would seem those two narratives are interwoven, and they are in the published book, in reality both came about differently and were only drawn together by circumstance. I grew up in rural Northern California, three miles or so outside of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County, sixty miles north of the San  Francisco Bay Area.

My parents read both the local and city newspapers, and when I was ten years old, I remember seeing two headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle: one, regarding bodies discovered in the basement of a house in San Francisco; and the other, many weeks later, about the female defendant in that murder trial, banging her shoe on the defense table, Kruschchev-style, disrupting the proceedings. I just thought the entire murder case was creepy, yet intriguing, fodder for a noir novel. And as I got older and began to write fiction, I always wondered what that story would be like to write.

Body removed from the Kroeger’s basement at 490 Ellington Ave, SF, while the neighborhood gathers.

Body removed from the Kroeger’s basement at 490 Ellington Ave, SF, while the neighborhood gathers.

What I had wrong for thirty years was the woman’s name, which I thought was Eva Kruger. That error prevented me from finding out anything else about the story in the subsequent years, until I happened to have a conversation with my old journalism teacher from Santa Rosa, Geets Vincent, about a new crime noir novel I had in mind. I described the plot regarding a drifter who meets a young sociopath in a boardinghouse up in Eureka. I told her I would mate that story idea with a fictionalized version of “Eva Kruger” and make a clever noir novel out of it. Fortuitously enough, Geets corrected my pronunciation of the woman’s name to Iva Kroeger. Furthermore, she told me that a mutual friend of ours, a former newspaper reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat named Bony Saludes, actually covered the case back in 1961-62.Later that afternoon, I called him and had a long talk about Iva Kroeger and her husband Ralph and realized the true story made an even better partner to my novel than I could have ever imagined on my own. Over the next few weeks, Bony shared his old newspaper clippings of the case, and my own family lawyer directed to me to the actual trial transcript of the proceedings, held in the capitol at Sacramento, and just like that I had the entire structure of a novel.

Fact vs fiction in Naughty.

Ive faked an epileptic fit during the trial. Another deliberate disturbance!

Ive faked an epileptic fit during the trial. Another deliberate disturbance!

Since I had conceived the story of Joe Krueger well before really investigating the true murder case of Iva and Ralph Kroeger, I’d pretty well plotted out the entire Ocean City part of my novel. And even after I’d gone through the Kroeger newspaper clipping and read the trial transcript, I liked my fictional portrait of Joe and Ida too well to abandon it in favor of more faithful rendering of the true story. So, Ocean City is all fiction, except for how “Ida” speaks and the poetry she wrote, which comes straight from Iva herself. Once Joe and Ida leave Ocean City, however, and land on Ellington Avenue in San Francisco, nearly everything is true, even much of the dialogue.

Certainly there are suppositions I make, based on the newspaper stories and court documents. And there are scenes whose events I more or less reconstructed from conjecture, but I believe most of what is in the Santa Rosa/San Francisco is true to the spirit and truth of what happened. So, the trip up to Westport is probably close to how it really played out, as is Ida’s long car and plane from San Francisco to Reno and Cheyenne with Bert Wilson. Likewise is that odd encounter  between “Maria Cooper” and “Emilio Sanchez” on a hired ride from Colorado to San Francisco, most of which was based a true report after the fact. Again, a similar story with Helen Kessel and the strange woman who visited her orchard house outside of Pasadena: the heart of the encounter is true, whether the specifics were or not.

On the other hand, the narrative of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles and Irene Bollinger, is pretty true to the San Diego events that led to the arrest of Iva Kroeger, down to the small details of conversation they had with the murderess when she was on the run from the FBI. I included, as well, the minute by minute exhumation of the bodies from Joe Krueger’s basement as reported by newspaper men and police witnesses. Lastly, the trial transcript at the end of the book is taken verbatim from the real courtroom documents, edited only in length, and for context here and there. I’m not sure I changed or added a dozen words in the entire piece.

Of course, Joe Krueger’s story is not Ralph Kroeger’s, so his background and fate is entirely different. Ida’s, however, is reasonably similar to Iva’s: she was released from jail after serving only twelve years of a life sentence.