What Happened to Paula: On the Death of an American Girl

Katherine Dykstra. Norton, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-65198-0
Journalist Dykstra debuts with a sobering, well-crafted account of her efforts to solve a 50-year-old cold case. In 1970, 18-year-old Paula Oberbroeckling, who lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, borrowed her roommate’s car in the middle of the night and never returned. Four months later, her decomposed body was found bound and dumped in a ditch. At the time Oberbroeckling went missing, she had a boyfriend, though she had recently broken up with another boyfriend, who was Black, and she might have been pregnant. Neither the police nor the local media had any interest in the case, and in 1972 her police file was closed. The case was ultimately deemed unsolvable due to passing time and the loss of evidence from a flood in 2008. Did Oberbroeckling die of a botched illegal abortion, or was she the victim of someone she knew or of a random killer? The main narrative focuses on the author’s research into case files and interviews with those who knew the girl, but in the end she admits she may never know who killed her. Meanwhile, Dykstra casts a searing light on racism, sexism, and the stigma of being a “bad” girl. This is the perfect blueprint for any true crime writer moved to investigate a cold case. Agent: Duvall Osteen, Aragi. (June)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the name of the town Paula Oderbroeckling lived in.

Reviewed on : 04/12/2021
Release date: 06/29/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 312 pages - 978-1-324-02209-1
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