Dr. Selden Lambert talks to an audience at a book signing for “The Yellow Ribbon Murders” Aug. 18 at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. Photo by: Zach Odom/Dispatch Staff
August 23, 2014 11:33:20 PM
Those who know Dr. Selden Lambert as a visual artist may experience a double-take at learning her doctoral dissertation was on serial rapists. Or that she was clipping crime stories from newspapers even in elementary school. But for those who know this creative Columbus woman as the true crime aficionado she is, it will come as no surprise that Lambert has penned "The Yellow Ribbon Murders."
The 126-page fiction in paperback follows a string of seemingly unrelated murders that take place in the small town of West Port, Mississippi. The police struggle as a pair of unknown assailants carry out cruel attacks with no evidence of a cohesive motive. Chief Detective Bird studies the trail of cases, eventually noting a recurring clue.
Lambert did not have to go far afield for insider knowledge of her subject. Much of her career was spent interacting with people who had run afoul of the law.
Student of crime
After graduating from Mississippi University for Women with a major in psychology, Lambert earned a master's degree at Mississippi State. She later earned her Ph.D. at MSU in criminology and counseling. As a licensed counselor, she often did contract vocational rehabilitation work for the court system. "I was in and out of prisons, jails and courtrooms a lot," she said. "I visited Parchman many times."
On those days, advance calls would be made to clear Lambert's visit with the Mississippi State Penitentiary warden or his staff. At the prison entrance in Sunflower County, she would be relieved of the .38 police special in her glove compartment and all but a very few dollars in her pockets. Some of the inmates she met with once inside helped inform the eventual book.
"I wanted to write about serial murderers because they are so complex," the retired counselor said. "They are different from the rest of us -- even their brain waves are different."
One of Lambert's challenges was to come up with a motive for her fictional string of crimes. "Although serial killers don't necessarily have to have a motive," she noted. "They do it because of a lack of feeling or empathy for other people. They do it because they can. ... To compare them to animals is a disservice to animals: Animals can feel."
Lambert describes finishing her crime tale as "liberating."
"It's liberating because I love writing," she said. "After the many types of people I've worked with and encountered, the characters are easy," she added. She is, in fact, four chapters into a sequel.
In the "The Yellow Ribbon Murders" acknowledgments, Lambert thanks Betty Stone, Jim Calaway, Barb Welby, Judy Howle and former law enforcement investigator Robert "Uncle Bunky" Williams for their assistance. And there is another special person who had a role -- her late grandfather, Thomas Oliver Tate. The book is dedicated to him. Family legend has it that he was a spy.
He "bequeathed to me the excitement of creativity and mystery via his ceaseless travels through Central and South America during World War II," Lambert credits. "Wherever he rests, may he rest in peace, a true voyager to the end."
Editor's note: "The Yellow Ribbon Murders" (Outskirts Press, 2014) is available at amazon.com and other online booksellers. Lambert's artwork can be found at the Caron Gallery in Tupelo and the Columbus Arts Council's Gallery 2.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.