If You Tell Book Summary - If You Tell Book explained in key points
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If You Tell summary

Gregg Olsen

A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

(6 ratings)
22 mins
6 key ideas
Audio & text

What is If You Tell about?

If You Tell (2019) details the story of Michelle “Shelly” Knotek, the mother of three daughters who subjected her family to an ongoing nightmare of abuse and torture. Those who got close to Shelly had a way of succumbing to her methods of manipulation and control. For some, it meant their death.

About the Author

Gregg Olsen is a best-selling author of fiction and nonfiction crime books, with over 30 titles to his name. His writing has also appeared in the New York Post, Los Angeles Times, and People magazine. His other nonfiction true crime books include If I Can’t Have You and Starvation Heights

Table of Contents

    If You Tell
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    Key idea 1 of 6

    Shelly’s Childhood of Red Flags

    When Lara Stallings married Les Watson in 1960, she was surprised to learn that her new husband already had three kids from a previous marriage. They were six-year-old Michelle, her three-year-old brother Chuck, and an infant named Paul.

    Lara was taken aback by this sudden development, but she was up for the challenge. She wasn’t the uncaring type. It sounded like Les’s ex-wife was an unstable alcoholic and the kids needed help, so she welcomed the children into their home, in the town of Battle Ground, Washington.

    But right away, Lara could sense something unusual about Michelle – or “Shelly” as she was called. At first, it was odd that Shelly didn’t let her brother Chuck talk for himself. Whenever Chuck was asked a question, Shelly did the answering. Then, once she felt comfortable in her new home with Lara and Les, Shelly never let a day go by without telling her new stepmother that she hated her.

    When she became a teen, more troubling signs appeared. Shelly liked to put broken shards of glass in people’s shoes. Her idea of washing dishes was to throw all of the plates, utensils, and pans into the trash. Her take on babysitting was to put her siblings in a room and barricade the door with furniture. Then, in 1969, when she was about to turn 15, Shelly told a counselor at school that she’d been raped by her father.

    Lara and Les were stunned. As Shelly was being held in a juvenile detention center, they looked around her room for clues as to where this behavior was coming from. Under her mattress, they found a magazine with the sensational headline: “I Was Raped By My Dad At 15!”

    The medical examiner confirmed that there were no signs that Shelly had ever been touched by anyone. The doctor told them that Shelly was “completely intact” and that she’d be released to the parents on the condition that she see a psychologist. As the doctor saw it, she needed  “serious counseling.”

    But nothing seemed to help.  Rounds of family therapy and counseling failed to make Shelly understand the severity of her behavior, or that what she was doing was even problematic. Soon, her high school informed the parents that she wasn’t welcome back. Not only that, but other schools in the area were also refusing to accept.

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    Who should read If You Tell

    • True crime fanatics
    • Anyone interested in stories of incredible resilience
    • People curious about the psychology of serial killers

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