A True Crime Memoir on the Sidney Reso Kidnapping is Hopeful, Heartbreaking, and Satisfying
In April of 1992, I was five years old, living in Whippany (NJ), and enjoying life. I had no clue that in the next town over a kidnapping was being attempted. I never knew until I read John E. O’Rourke’s Mystery, Millions and Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso. It honestly disturbed me, sickened me, and scared me finding out that a crime this heinous was perpetrated near my quiet and cozy neighborhood.
What Exactly Happened to Sidney Reso?
For those of you who don’t know this story, Sidney Reso was the president of Exxon International. On April 29, 1992, he was abducted from his home by Arthur and Jackie Seale; two people trying to live a life of extravagance with no money to do so. While under their custody, Sidney died from being left in a box within a storage unit with no oxygen or air-conditioning. They buried him somewhere out in the Pine Barrens and still tried to collect their ransom, which was $18.5 million; the highest amount ever asked for in a kidnapping.
After a wild goose chase for the drop-off point, the Seales made one mistake and were caught.
However, this book doesn’t just explain how the kidnapping happened, and what the local police and FBI agents did in order to get Mr. Reso back alive, it also goes into the lives of Arthur and Jackie Seale and explains why they did what they did.
John E. O'Rourke's Writing Style
For such a sad and scary subject, Mystery, Millions and Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso is so beautifully written. Mr. O’Rourke does a fantastic job of not only laying out the subject matter but laying out the scenes to make you feel like you’re there. There were several times when I was reading it, I was seeing the events happen like I was watching a movie. I love when that happens while reading a fiction story, but when reading a memoir like this…it honestly gave me the chills.
One great example of Mr. O’Rourke’s writing is how he opens the book: “The April moon shone on 15 Jonathan Smith Road, highlighting the beauty of the French Colonial set back from the street. The moon’s illumination created pockets of light and darkness throughout the large property…As the moon slowly moved across the sky, the pockets of light and darkness shifted, as did the shadows on the ground.”
His writing was also extremely powerful. For example, Mr. O’Rourke only had to write a phrase in order to get a point across. “Sid Reso pulled from the garage toward the street, slowing as he normally did to get his newspaper. Give a foot or so, it was always where he could open his door and reach down to grab it. Today it was not.”
Another great example is “As families in the region were looking forward to a pleasant weekend, Patricia Reso and her children were living a nightmare.”
Victim (Sidney Reso) vs. Criminal (The Seales)
Mr. O’Rourke was also really good at making you feel for the victims and despise the criminals, like you would in any documentary or crime movie. There are many lines like the one sited above where your heart just goes out to the Reso family. However, when he talks about the Seales’ – how they lived their lives and what they did to Sidney Reso – you feel such a disdain toward them. There are times you feel bad for them, but when you see how they treat Mr. Reso, all so they can get money to live a lavish life (“Their desire for money and material goods became irrational…Their quest for wealth blurred their view of reality.”), that sympathy dissipates quickly.
At one point, Mr. O’Rourke describes what the Seales did to Mr. Reso: “Compounding matters was that his captors had no plans to render aid to him. A few times they gave him a sip of water or orange juice. They gave him no food because they didn’t want him to ‘go to the bathroom.’ The opening of the shed’s door provided a brief exchange of old air for new, but that didn’t matter. Neither did the cooling evening temperatures. Sid Reso’s carbon dioxide intake put him in need of immediate medical assistance – assistance that would never come.”
What was also great about this book was how Mr. O’Rourke incorporated current events of the time or telling the history of a person or place to explain the story even further. It was like you were getting a history lesson within a history lesson. But what I, personally, loved was how he made you feel what everyone else was feeling throughout the book. For instance, when Sidney Reso’s family, police officers, and FBI agents are waiting for the kidnappers to call, you feel their anticipation. You feel Patricia Reso’s pain wondering if her husband is okay. Then when the phone does ring, you stop breathing.
All of that happens in just one tiny section of this 172-page book!
What made this more surreal – at least for me – was all of the locations being mentioned throughout the book since I knew (almost) every single one of them. The Livingston Mall, the Rockaway Mall, even my home post office, the Whippany Post Office – which shut down after being destroyed by Hurricane Irene – were all places where they found letters from the kidnappers. So many different emotions – from being shocked, to being excited, to being uneasy – flooded my system. To top it all off, Mr. O’Rourke included pictures from the crime scene, from Sidney’s life, from the Seales’ life, etc. This made it even more real.
Entering the Mind of Law Enforcement
Lastly, throughout this book, you really dive into the mind of an officer. As a former state trooper himself, I think that’s what Mr. O’Rourke wanted to do. He wanted you to see and understand what the local and state officers, and the FBI agents were doing and thinking. He wanted you to feel their stress, their anxiety, but also understand how they worked.
For example, when Ed Petersen, an FBI agent whose expertise was in kidnapping, went to Sidney Reso’s house for the first time, O’Rourke writes, “‘We didn’t know,’ said Petersen, ‘if we had a kidnapping [or] if it was an actual abduction.’ There was no ‘signs of struggle.’ The three of them all agreed that every possibility needed to be explored. ‘Reso did have a history of some health-related issues. You have to obviously look at all contingencies,’ said Petersen. ‘Including the possibility of family involvement.’ This is necessary to ‘see what [makes] the most sense.’”
However, he does show that these officers are human beings as well. When Jackie Seale revealed that Sidney Reso was indeed dead, the officers interviewing her felt so heartbroken. Even though they figured he was dead, they still felt awful for the Reso family. They also felt bad for a man they never meet personally but got to know through his wife and children.
In conclusion, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of true crime stories. I also recommend it to fellow New Jerseyans as it’s really fascinating and scary to read about a crime that happened in our great state, especially if you’re from North Jersey. To learn more about John E. O’Rourke and his other books, please check out his website.
Policies & Disclosure
Please remember I am not getting paid to write this review. I am just a fan and fellow author helping out another great author. To learn more, please check out my Policy page. Also, I would love to hear what you think of this review and of the book, if you’ve read it. You can either comment below (please read my “Comments Policy” on the Policy page before doing so) or contact me.
The photos featured in this post are my photos. The first is my copy of Mystery, Millions and Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso by John E. O'Rourke. The second is my “signature photo”, me with my copy of this amazing true crime story.
**This post was originally published on July 2, 2020**