The Rockefeller Murders

River Smith

Book Cover



    Core Theme














    It's 2004 and from the heart of Cleveland's LGBTQ community to war torn Iraq, Dr.Josh Miller and his friends work to find out who killed his therapy client. Bombs and beatings, torture and sex abuse, corporate scandals and the long hidden secrets of the rich and famous fuel this quest.

    Target Audiences

    Age: 35-54,55+

    Target Gender: LGBT Leaning,Universal


    Equatorial Guinea, Cleveland, Niagara Falls

    Based on a True Story


    Publishing Details

    Status: Yes: self-published

    Publisher: I'm part of a five person publishing collective.

    Year Published: 2018

    Starting Description

    After the Prologue of a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea, The story opens as psychologist Josh Miller is driving home from a Pittsburgh seminar, the radio news announces that his former client was found dead in Rockefeller Park.At home he opens mail from him with a burner phone and a number to call.

    Ending Description

    The victim's former cop father is on the run, accused of this crime and others. His boss has been arrested. The richest Patriarch in town may be getting away with multiple murders. A couple important relationships get resolved.

    Group Specific

    There's a lot of Cleveland history mixed in.

    Hard Copy Available




    Mature Audience Themes

    Incest, Language/Profanity,Sexual Abuse,Substance Abuse

    Plot - Other Elements

    Meaningful Message,Philosophical Questions,Other

    Plot - Premise


    Main Character Details

    Name: Joshua Miller

    Age: 40ish

    Gender: Male

    Role: Protagonist

    Key Traits: Clumsy,Complex,Empathetic,Engaging,Faithful,Flexible,Educated,Funny,Romantic

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Alexander Howard

    Age: 90

    Gender: Male

    Role: Antagonist

    Key Traits: Adventurous,Aggressive,Villainous,Narcisstic,Decisive,Flexible,Greedy,Unapologetic,Manipulative,Sophisticated,Power Hungry

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Molly Petrovic

    Age: early 30's

    Gender: Lgbt

    Role: sidekick

    Key Traits: Aspiring,Complex,Confident,Decisive,Empathetic,Romantic,Heartthrob

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Jackson Smith

    Age: 40ish

    Gender: Lgbt

    Role: sidekick

    Key Traits: Complex,Decisive,Faithful,Gracious,Skillful,Adventurous,Sophisticated

    Development Pitch

    Stanley Brandon is dead. One of his last acts was to reach out to his former therapist, Joshua Miller. Josh wants to find out what happened, and his roommates Molly Petrovic and Jackson Smith plan to help him. These three residents of Cleveland’s LGBTQ community are joined by Jack’s former co-worker on the police force Shanandra Ferry, ACLU lawyer and Josh’s former lover Peg, and Jack’s partner Robert as they pursue the answer to who killed Stanley. As they pursue this quest they confront military contractors, crooked cops, government spies, private armies, mob hitmen, war criminals, corporate robber barons and corrupt members of modern Cleveland’s founding families. Confronted with both these and Homeland Security and the FBI, their lives are at risk in so many ways. They risk being beaten, being shot, being blown up, burned up, their professional, financial, and personal lives destroyed. Still, Josh continues to pursue the clues in this multi-generational mystery. As he does this he brings the reader/viewer along also through his therapy sessions, giving us insight into the multiple struggles so many folks like Stanley move through. So many stories. So much action. The reader/viewer will find much to interest, learn and enjoy here.




    Following the murder-suicide of an old client and the client’s lover, a psychologist receives a message from the man that leads him to believe it was all a setup. He begins looking into the death onto to discover that the FBI and Homeland Security are also involved, and that everything is much more complicated than the police made it out to be. Death threats abound against the psychologist and his friends, but they all band together to get to the bottom of the long forgotten disappearance of a young boy who was raped and killed by the patriarchs of some of Cleveland’s richest families. The dead client’s brother is brought down by his involvement in a coup and United Nations violations.

    Overall Rating


    Point of View


    Narrative Elements

    Authors Writing Style: FAIR

    Characterization: GOOD

    Commerciality: GOOD

    Franchise Potential: GOOD

    Pace: FAIR

    Premise: GOOD

    Structure: FAIR

    Theme: FAIR

    Accuracy of Book Profile

    Yes, overall the Book Profile accurately reflects the book. The target audience could probably skew more universal, at least 25+.

    Draw of Story

    The mystery of Stanley's death is immediately introduced thanks to Josh getting his note in the first 10 pages, and it’s a great hook into the story. It’s a message from beyond the grave, so it has plenty of intrigue right away. The audience is also drawn in by Josh’s empathy for his former client, as well as the care he has for his current patients and friends. Because he’s convinced Stanley didn’t kill himself, so is the audience. Because he’s so invested in uncovering the truth, the audience is sold on it, too. The mystery opens up to a big conspiracy pretty soon after, which just builds up the world even bigger.

    Possible Drawbacks

    Though the conspiracy aspects of the book are fascinating, and the fact that it’s far-reaching in its implications ads even more intrigue, the whole twisted-up plot can get a bit confusing. There are a lot of characters and families to keep track of, and how they all connect feels a bit nebulous at times — or, at others, even too convenient. An adaptation would do well to streamline the central narrative a bit, so there’s an easier path for the audience to follow that also feels earned.

    Use of Special Effects


    Primary Hook of Story

    The murder mystery aspect is a fantastic hook to get an audience into this story. As that murder spirals out into broad conspiracy stretching across the globe, it just gets that much more intriguing. It’s easy to envision a film trailer that capitalizes on all of these elements to get audiences into the theater. The diversity of Josh’s friend group is also a good draw.

    Fanbase Potential

    Conspiracy thrillers often secure a large audience, and there’s no reason to think this would be any different. There are a number of good roles for actors, and the mystery aspect is a surefire draw.

    Awards Potential

    Due to the genre, it’s unlikely this would have traditional awards potential. That said, with the right cast the possibility for acting awards for the protagonist is definitely there. Josh is a complex character that could draw the right eyes for it.

    Envisioned Budget


    Similar Films/TV Series


    What’s New About the Story

    One of the most unique parts to this story is the way the mystery is introduced, with the protagonist receiving a note from a man he’s just learned is dead. It’s immediately compelling, and it would be great if there were more moments like this. It introduces a sort of creepiness that is really only addressed again with the boy’s body that Stanley remembers his uncle burying. These eerie parts make the story more original, and they feed in well to the overall tension of the book.

    Lead Characters

    Josh is a dynamic and complicated lead. His values make him stand out, as do those of the people he surrounds himself with. It’s important to him to do the right thing, which makes him very relatable to an audience. At the end of the day, he’s still only a psychologist, and he needs the help of others to get to the heart of the mystery. He’s not afraid to rely on his friends, or to admit that he’s in over his head. Because of this, he’s extremely empathetic, as he reacts like a real person would to extreme situations.

    Uniqueness of Story

    In addition to the mystery aspect, one thing that makes this a rare gem is that many of the people in Josh’s life are a part of the LGBTQ community. It’s unfortunately still rare to see that, and this could be even stronger if he were LGBTQ himself. Of course he’s an ally and supportive of the community, but it would be great to have true representation. Similarly, he’s clearly a feminist who believes in gender equality, but this aspect would be even better if he were, in fact, a woman. The minority characters are relegated to supporting cast currently.

    Possible Formats

    Film: Studio, Streaming TV Series: Limited Run / Mini-Series

    Analyst Recommendation



    Though it gets a bit convoluted with the conspiracy elements in places, overall the book presents a compelling plot that would make for a great adaptation. The characters are strong and interesting, and it’s easy to see this as a marketable and engaging feature or television show. The mystery presented is intriguing, and the world the characters inhabit is well built. Conspiracy thrillers are always a popular draw for audiences, so it’s worth the investment to give this story a chance.


    In 2004 Cleveland, a man allegedly kills a woman before taking his own life, but first he sends a cryptic message to his old psychologist. Spurred by his belief that his former client was murdered, the psychologist is soon drawn into a world of conspiracy at his own backdoor. Trying to uncover the secrets of the old money elite soon puts a target on his and loved ones’ backs, and they have to get to the bottom of why the man was killed before they’re the next ones in the ground.

    What We Liked

    Josh constantly fights to do the right thing, as do his friends. He’s a strong protagonist who values his morals and beliefs above all else. He doesn’t only get caught up in the mystery surrounding his client’s death out of curiosity; he’s driven to learn the truth because he trusts his own judgements of human nature. He puts his clients first and is invested in their journeys to getting better, to living better lives. He’s surrounded himself with a support group of caring and constant friends, and it shows in the way that they don’t abandon one another at the sign of trouble. Josh is brave, but he’s never ruthless, and he’s not afraid to admit his faults or fear. This makes him such an empathetic character for audiences to connect with.

    Film: This book has all the great landmarks of a conspiracy thriller just waiting to be adapted for the screen. There are always interested parties willing to develop thrillers, just as there are always audiences excited to see them at the box office. The suspense throughout the story will translate well to a feature, and the action is never-ending excitement from bombs to fires to Josh’s house and roommates being harassed. It would be incredibly cinematic, and the historic Cleveland that comes across so well in the novel would make for a perfect backdrop.

    TV: It’s so easy to see these characters inhabiting a television series. There are several characters who already have their own interesting subplots and lives outside of the central narrative, and all of that could be fleshed out even more over the course of a show. It could work both as a limited series focused on this specific conspiracy, or it could easily be spread out over several seasons. The elite power players that Josh gets wrapped up with can’t be the only ones in town, and even so they’re bound to have other coverups that can be investigated so as to bring their evil deeds to light. All of the political connections just make this more clear, and diving further into those offers a new world of possible plots.

    Key points:
    1. Empathetic protagonist
    2. Diverse supporting cast
    3. Intriguing mystery
    4. Widespread conspiracy
    5. Complex and dynamic narrative


    Psychologist JOSH MILLER learns that an old client of his, STANLEY BRANDON, has apparently killed himself after murdering a woman, OLIVIA TORRES (in this country on her sister ANGELA’S passport). Stanley and his sister SANDY were sexually and physically abused as children by his prominent GREAT UNCLE, GRANDMOTHER, and FATHER. He once recalled to Josh that his uncle murdered a YOUNG BOY, burying him on the Brandon property. Josh receives a package with a note, a phone, and a key from the late Stanley. The note includes a quote from HENRY FRANCIS, a social justice philosopher, and Josh turns it all over to SHAUNA, a detective. Both Jack and their other roommate MOLLY are as interested in this strange case as Josh is, as is Jack’s partner ROBERT, who uses his own connections to find information.

    The FBI are interested in Olivia’s death, and Shauna works alongside a task force to try to figure out what’s being covered up. Stanley’s MOTHER is convinced that her ex-husband STEVE BRANDON killed her son. JOHN HOWARD comes to Josh as a client. He has a terrible relationship with his father, ALEXANDER HOWARD, a business magnate. DONALD FRAZIER owns Cobra Security, which Brandon runs. John also knows Angela Torres. Stanley had been good friends with Henry Francis, who coincidentally had projects funded by the Howards’ family foundation. Josh is being followed by silver Lexus cars, which are used by Cobra, and he’s being harassed by police for not leaving the Stanley murder alone.

    Jack and Robert are in a car crash that lands Robert in a coma the same day he learns something explosive about the case. It’s not an accident. Josh goes to Robert’s office to find his computer, but he’s interrupted by THREE POLICE who set the building on fire. Josh barely makes it out. REBECCA FRAZIER, Donald’s wife, keeps turning up everywhere and Josh sees her car outside Robert’s building. He receives Stanley’s computer disks which seem to implicate Henry Francis in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea that Cobra carried out. Francis appears to have gotten involved in order to get an environmental project off the ground. Neither Francis nor Angela know why Stanley and Olivia were killed, and both are carted away by Homeland Security. ACLU lawyer and Josh’s girlfriend PEG thinks the State Department knows something.

    Children’s remains are found when a new development breaks ground on Brandon land, and Josh thinks it must be the boy Stanley’s uncle buried. Josh meets with Brandon, who surprisingly wants his help with discovering who murdered Stanley. Josh accuses Brandon of following him with Cobra cars, but Brandon knows nothing. John reveals that he’s close with Rebecca, who in turn knows Francis. Alexander Howard was actually behind the coup in order to pin it on Francis. Frazier meets with Josh, as he wants Stanley’s disks. Robert wakes from his coma and tells them that Cobra Security as well as Frazier and Howard are all being investigated by the UN for human rights abuses, and Angela Torres is on the UN legal team.

    Josh accuses Rebecca of following him around. Though she can’t tell him why and begs him not to tell Frazier, she’s on his side. Howard is behind everything, and Frazier and Brandon just work for him. The police uncover more children’s remains. Shauna and the task force get material from Stanley’s disks which implicates Cobra in all their dirty dealings as private security in Iraq. Howard offers Josh an amazing opportunity to help the mentally ill in exchange for his client records and silence regarding everything he’s learned so far. Josh refuses.

    Frazier is arrested, but Howard isn’t even though he’s on the board. Brandon would be, if anyone could find him. John is showing signs of being homicidal toward Howard, and Josh is required to let the police and Howard know. John winds up dead on his father’s property, and the official story is that he killed himself. Rebecca reveals she’s Sandy, Stanley’s sister. She wanted revenge on her father for the abuse, and the way she got it was helping the US District Attorney to build a case against him, her husband, and Howard. She doesn’t think Frazier killed Stanley or Olivia, though. She has another disk of Stanley’s, one that implicates his great uncle as well as Howard in the children’s murders.

    About The Author

    A widely published poet and author, River Smith is a community-based psychologist who has written many books, including A Conspiracy to Love and The Power Handbook. A feminist-systems therapist, his clinical work has focused on post-traumatic stress, gender roles, LGBTQ issues, and relationship healing. As a lifelong resident of The North Coast, he is a former commentator for WCPN-FM (NPR), a guest columnist for The Plain Dealer, and a featured writer for The City News. He now writes for Liberation Brew TV and This is River's first mystery novel, and the first in a series of books that will feature Cleveland.