'Run, Brother, Run' author David Berg discusses his brother's murder – a crime made famous for the wrong reasons
Berg's memoir chronicles the death of his brother and the aftereffects of the crime.
Judging by media coverage, the most notable thing about the new book Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My Family is the last name of the alleged killer. It's Harrelson. As in Charles, the father of the actor Woody Harrelson.Skip to next paragraph
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But there's much more to this story than a link to celebrity. Attorney David Berg, whose brother Alan was murdered in 1968, is wry, wise, and heartbreakingly perceptive as he chronicles the extraordinary lives of those around him. He and his brother both struggled to please a difficult and unscrupulous father. Alan ultimately followed the boys' father into a life of shady business practices. His lifestyle brought him into contact with underworld figures – including alleged contract killer Charles Harrelson (who was charged with Berg's death but finally acquitted).
Berg survived the death of his brother and ultimately – after immense emotional pain – found a path forward. "Run, Brother Run" isn't one of those inspirational true-crime books that boast of victims who forgive or criminals who find redemption. His story is much more realistic (Berg finds plenty that's unforgivable, especially in himself) and much more powerful because of it.
In an interview, I asked Berg about the major elements of his story – the state of Texas and the city of Houston, a disapproving father and a son who wanted to please him, and the grief-stricken author's road to a kind of peace.
Q: Houston, where you lived in the 1960s, plays a major role in your memoir and even becomes a character in itself. How does Texas affect your family's story?
A: I remember driving across Texas and loving the freedom as I barreled down the road toward a different kind of life.
But Texas also had a great deal to do with my brother's death in how a man like Charles Harrelson could live and prosper and not be sent to jail for a very long time, how he could be acquitted of my brother's murder because he was tried in a rural, Southern and bigoted jurisdiction.
Q: What was Houston like during this time of incredible growth when it lurched toward becoming one of the five biggest cities in the country?
A: Houston was growing and out of joint, out of kilter, a pinball banging in one direction and then another, a mirror image of my family's life.