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Winter of Frozen Dreams: The Shocking True Story of Seduction, Suspicion, and Murder in Madison

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The true story of Barbara Hoffman is a tale of money, men, and the Madison, Wisconsin, massage parlor where a biochemistry major turned into a murderer.   On a freezing Christmas morning, a distraught young man named Gerald Davies led Madison police to Tomahawk Ridge, where they found the body of Harold Berge, naked, bloody, and beaten. Davies insisted that he hadn’t kille The true story of Barbara Hoffman is a tale of money, men, and the Madison, Wisconsin, massage parlor where a biochemistry major turned into a murderer.   On a freezing Christmas morning, a distraught young man named Gerald Davies led Madison police to Tomahawk Ridge, where they found the body of Harold Berge, naked, bloody, and beaten. Davies insisted that he hadn’t killed the man, but that he and his fiancée had simply buried the corpse in a snowbank.   The investigation confirmed that the victim had died in the apartment of Barbara Hoffman—a young woman who had dropped out of the University of Wisconsin and had worked at Jan’s Health Studio, a local massage parlor. She and Davies, whom she met at Jan’s, had recently become engaged.   The circumstances were suspicious already. But when the police discovered that Berge was Hoffman’s ex-lover, that he had signed over his house and an insurance policy to her—and that Davies had also made her his beneficiary—they began to suspect that Davies might also be in danger . . .   The police kept him under watch, but eventually had to stop surveillance. Soon after, Davies turned up dead in his bathtub, a Valium bottle nearby, in an apparent suicide. But, an accomplished student of chemistry, Hoffman knew how tricky it could be to detect cyanide poisoning. It would take a dedicated effort by detectives to sort out the truth about the highly intelligent masseuse, her work in the shadowy local sex trade, and the real circumstances that led two of her clients to their deaths.   Winter of Frozen Dreams is the full story of the case that would become a sensational televised trial and inspire a film of the same name starring Thora Birch. It’s a “snappy read” by an author with a “talent for sleuthy description and psychological insight” (Kirkus Reviews).  


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The true story of Barbara Hoffman is a tale of money, men, and the Madison, Wisconsin, massage parlor where a biochemistry major turned into a murderer.   On a freezing Christmas morning, a distraught young man named Gerald Davies led Madison police to Tomahawk Ridge, where they found the body of Harold Berge, naked, bloody, and beaten. Davies insisted that he hadn’t kille The true story of Barbara Hoffman is a tale of money, men, and the Madison, Wisconsin, massage parlor where a biochemistry major turned into a murderer.   On a freezing Christmas morning, a distraught young man named Gerald Davies led Madison police to Tomahawk Ridge, where they found the body of Harold Berge, naked, bloody, and beaten. Davies insisted that he hadn’t killed the man, but that he and his fiancée had simply buried the corpse in a snowbank.   The investigation confirmed that the victim had died in the apartment of Barbara Hoffman—a young woman who had dropped out of the University of Wisconsin and had worked at Jan’s Health Studio, a local massage parlor. She and Davies, whom she met at Jan’s, had recently become engaged.   The circumstances were suspicious already. But when the police discovered that Berge was Hoffman’s ex-lover, that he had signed over his house and an insurance policy to her—and that Davies had also made her his beneficiary—they began to suspect that Davies might also be in danger . . .   The police kept him under watch, but eventually had to stop surveillance. Soon after, Davies turned up dead in his bathtub, a Valium bottle nearby, in an apparent suicide. But, an accomplished student of chemistry, Hoffman knew how tricky it could be to detect cyanide poisoning. It would take a dedicated effort by detectives to sort out the truth about the highly intelligent masseuse, her work in the shadowy local sex trade, and the real circumstances that led two of her clients to their deaths.   Winter of Frozen Dreams is the full story of the case that would become a sensational televised trial and inspire a film of the same name starring Thora Birch. It’s a “snappy read” by an author with a “talent for sleuthy description and psychological insight” (Kirkus Reviews).  

30 review for Winter of Frozen Dreams: The Shocking True Story of Seduction, Suspicion, and Murder in Madison

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Bunge

    I found this, strangely, because someone made a comment about one of the local 'massage parlors' on facebook: The Rising Sun. (Which, like the Geisha House, is still in business.) It was a 'yeah, you ever hear about that lady that worked there who murdered two clients?' I've lived in Madison since 2000 and even with the film of the same name starring Thora Birch making the rounds of festivals back in 2009, I never heard about this case. Anyway, the book doesn't stand up that well as a true-crime I found this, strangely, because someone made a comment about one of the local 'massage parlors' on facebook: The Rising Sun. (Which, like the Geisha House, is still in business.) It was a 'yeah, you ever hear about that lady that worked there who murdered two clients?' I've lived in Madison since 2000 and even with the film of the same name starring Thora Birch making the rounds of festivals back in 2009, I never heard about this case. Anyway, the book doesn't stand up that well as a true-crime non-fiction book. It's more of a 'fictionalization based on true events.' Because there is no way 10 years after the event everyone remembered what they were eating and if flies were in the room when they were watching tv, or if their boots got soaked through with snow. It comes off as pulp dramatization, and doesn't contain a lot of fact-based writing about secondary and tertiary characters in their own words. It's a lot of made up 'could have been their thoughts' but other than the author's word that these things came up in interviews... is kinda boring conjecture. It didn't help that there are WAY too many made up sex scenes that read like something out of a playboy fantasy - complete with money shots. (I think a lot of that is criticism because I'm a trained journalist, and you don't 'make up' what people MIGHT have been thinking or feeling just for drama's sake. Maybe it's because I've read a number of decent true-crime books, I don't know.) But as this is the only written account of an admittedly confusing and circumstantial set of (maybe) murders and it's easy to criticize the police procedures that happened in the 1970s when fingerprints and hair samples were about the only provable evidence, and they were utterly absent in the case. There was no CSI units, no poison experts, no DNA evidence (just blood type). There was no internet! So in a way, it's a book of its time. Worth it if you live in Madison and want to know the sordid past, or want to see how convoluted legal wrangling can get. But not really satisfying or terribly well written.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    Tells the tale of the most infamous Madison, WI murder case. In the 1970s Barbara Hoffman, a bright university student turned massage parlor sex worker, manipulated two men and then murdered them for their money. However, Harter manages to make this story tedious, and hardly touches on the drama filled trial - which was the first televised trial un the U.S. Additionally, the sex scenes read like the fantasies of an adolescent boy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Koren

    The murder takes place in 1977. The book was written in 1990. The murderer is Barbara Hoffman, a message parlor therapist who murders two of her clients. While the book is based on a true story, at times it reads like fiction and at times it seems more like erotica. There is a lot of detail to the story that seems embellished, such as thoughts of the murdered man and at times he will preface a sentence by saying 'they must have been thinking …. It was interesting to learn about the seamy side of The murder takes place in 1977. The book was written in 1990. The murderer is Barbara Hoffman, a message parlor therapist who murders two of her clients. While the book is based on a true story, at times it reads like fiction and at times it seems more like erotica. There is a lot of detail to the story that seems embellished, such as thoughts of the murdered man and at times he will preface a sentence by saying 'they must have been thinking …. It was interesting to learn about the seamy side of the massage therapy business.

  4. 4 out of 5

    M

    One semester shy of a bachelor’s degree and a promising career in science or medicine, a beautiful, quiet University of Wisconsin biochemistry major with a 3.9 GPA and a tested IQ of 145 drops out, becoming entangled in a lurid underworld of drugs and prostitution that author Karl Harter portrays vividly along with the trial that sends Barbara Hoffman to prison for a murder the prosecution later discovers she probably didn’t commit. Fans of Rider Haggard’s novel She will recognize in Hoffman the One semester shy of a bachelor’s degree and a promising career in science or medicine, a beautiful, quiet University of Wisconsin biochemistry major with a 3.9 GPA and a tested IQ of 145 drops out, becoming entangled in a lurid underworld of drugs and prostitution that author Karl Harter portrays vividly along with the trial that sends Barbara Hoffman to prison for a murder the prosecution later discovers she probably didn’t commit. Fans of Rider Haggard’s novel She will recognize in Hoffman the archetypal femme fatale: intelligent, manipulative, and deadly. Whether she’s a psychopath or--like her engineer father--an unfortunate stranger to emotion, is among the tantalizing questions Harter artfully puts to the reader yet leaves unanswered. Like the tease at which Hoffman is reportedly an accomplished practitioner, Winter of Frozen Dreams is replete with thrills yet leaves the reader ultimately unsatisfied. The book is an invitation to dissect a life inexplicably derailed, an incisive mind unaccountably gone wrong. One can only hope Barbara Hoffman will write a memoir.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    2.5 stars. I thought the author embellished an awful lot, which made it seem too fictionalized. I remember the trial in the summer of 1980, since it was televised, and my co workers & I would discuss it during our 4p-9p shift. The real mystery involves Barbara Hoffman's family, and why they did not attend her trial, other than to offer perjured testimony. I was not clear if the ending was the author's guess at what happened or if this really happened or what. Telephone records! Wisconsin Bell! K 2.5 stars. I thought the author embellished an awful lot, which made it seem too fictionalized. I remember the trial in the summer of 1980, since it was televised, and my co workers & I would discuss it during our 4p-9p shift. The real mystery involves Barbara Hoffman's family, and why they did not attend her trial, other than to offer perjured testimony. I was not clear if the ending was the author's guess at what happened or if this really happened or what. Telephone records! Wisconsin Bell! Kohl's grocery store! Old days.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Karen C

    I liked the book. I like true crime and am always fascinated by what people will do. But I wish the author hadn't been so vulgar in his descriptions. I do not feel it was necessary and found it offensive. I liked the book. I like true crime and am always fascinated by what people will do. But I wish the author hadn't been so vulgar in his descriptions. I do not feel it was necessary and found it offensive.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie Cramer

    An interesting chronicle of a 1970s double murder case in Madison, Wisconsin. The accused met her victims while working in various massage parlors, so there's no escaping the seamier elements here--but the language and descriptions might be off-putting to some readers. An interesting chronicle of a 1970s double murder case in Madison, Wisconsin. The accused met her victims while working in various massage parlors, so there's no escaping the seamier elements here--but the language and descriptions might be off-putting to some readers.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kathy B

    Because I live in Madison, I greatly enjoyed this book with its local references and persona. I didn't find it as dry as other readers did; I think it is hard to make nonfiction poetic and flowery :). Because I live in Madison, I greatly enjoyed this book with its local references and persona. I didn't find it as dry as other readers did; I think it is hard to make nonfiction poetic and flowery :).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robin D

    True crime story with a healing helping of sex and drugs. Read like a pulp novel from a drugstore. Great quick and trashy read. Interesting story that they are currently turning into a movie.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    just started reading it. sounds like it will be a good book to read. was a interesting book

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kimme

    This was very informative. It was so finely detailed that it read very much as a text book. It reminded me of a Truman Capote book. Very dry.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeanine

    Well written and researched.. My only complaint would how graphic the sex acts are portrayed.. Unnecessary.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Colin Garrow

    When a man turns up at a police station on Christmas Day saying he has buried a corpse, police are led to a naked body dumped in a frozen snowbank. Claiming that he and his fiancé, Barbara Hoffman, discovered the stranger in her apartment, Jerry Davies insists they know nothing about the dead man. However, when police begin their investigation, they uncover a tale of deception, insurance fraud and cyanide poisoning. In any true-crime story, we expect certain things: references to police reports, When a man turns up at a police station on Christmas Day saying he has buried a corpse, police are led to a naked body dumped in a frozen snowbank. Claiming that he and his fiancé, Barbara Hoffman, discovered the stranger in her apartment, Jerry Davies insists they know nothing about the dead man. However, when police begin their investigation, they uncover a tale of deception, insurance fraud and cyanide poisoning. In any true-crime story, we expect certain things: references to police reports, official documents and personal letters, as well as actual evidence that backs up the author’s point of view. This is not one of those books. In a note at the beginning of the paperback version, Karl Harter says this book is the result of ‘extensive research and scores of interviews’. He also records how he has ‘dramatically emphasised’ some scenes. Well, that is certainly true, for Harter ignores the usual set-up and instead goes off at a tangent at regular intervals, imagining what certain people are thinking about, looking at, or doing with their hands. He also spends a lot of time relating intimate details of Hoffman’s sexual encounters, which seems inappropriate at the very least. Maybe I’m just being picky but reading about real events is only interesting when we are given the facts rather than imagined scenarios. In ‘Winter of Frozen Dreams’ I’m left with the feeling that the author’s writing style would have worked better in a novel. Of course, this is only my opinion and I may well be doing him a disservice, and to be fair, the last section of the book which details the eventual court case, is positively riveting. But all in all, this is an interesting and thought-provoking case that could have been expressed far more effectively.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Quanita

    Two men are dead. The circumstances so bizarre they read like fiction authored by a writer that has had one too many. But this is a true story. One woman working in the sex trade can turn men into puppets. This book allows you to look inside the "massage parlors", see a "masseuse" manipulate lonely men to do the unthinkable, and remain aloof during the investigation and trial. Everyone that Barbara Hoffman touched was changed forever, but she remains a mystery. Two men are dead. The circumstances so bizarre they read like fiction authored by a writer that has had one too many. But this is a true story. One woman working in the sex trade can turn men into puppets. This book allows you to look inside the "massage parlors", see a "masseuse" manipulate lonely men to do the unthinkable, and remain aloof during the investigation and trial. Everyone that Barbara Hoffman touched was changed forever, but she remains a mystery.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    This was a very interesting book. Probably helped that I was born and raised only 60 miles from where the crime took place, Madison, Wi, and that my son attended college there, although not during this time period. It was one of those books that I couldn't wait to return to. Well written and easy to follow. This is an older book, 1990. I'm not sure how I missed it when it came out, but I'll glad I found it now. True Crime readers should read this book. This was a very interesting book. Probably helped that I was born and raised only 60 miles from where the crime took place, Madison, Wi, and that my son attended college there, although not during this time period. It was one of those books that I couldn't wait to return to. Well written and easy to follow. This is an older book, 1990. I'm not sure how I missed it when it came out, but I'll glad I found it now. True Crime readers should read this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Interesting story. But the central character has never granted an interview, so it's hard to get a handle on her. The best part of a true crime story is some attempt to elucidate the "why." If you're looking for an explanation, you won't find one. The writing is also more florid than it needs to be (sweat popping out like translucent kernels of corn?). I borrowed this and kind of glad I didn't buy it. Interesting story. But the central character has never granted an interview, so it's hard to get a handle on her. The best part of a true crime story is some attempt to elucidate the "why." If you're looking for an explanation, you won't find one. The writing is also more florid than it needs to be (sweat popping out like translucent kernels of corn?). I borrowed this and kind of glad I didn't buy it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I'm fascinated by all abnormal psychological types, and psychopaths are the most mysterious of all. Why do they do the stuff they do? How can they never suspect they will be caught? This book plumbs the story of a brilliant, icy woman who poisoned two men that she had taken out huge life insurance policies on. It's amazing to me how she ever thought she would get by with it. An excellent and compelling book. I'm fascinated by all abnormal psychological types, and psychopaths are the most mysterious of all. Why do they do the stuff they do? How can they never suspect they will be caught? This book plumbs the story of a brilliant, icy woman who poisoned two men that she had taken out huge life insurance policies on. It's amazing to me how she ever thought she would get by with it. An excellent and compelling book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    An interesting book, I'd like to know the "end of the story" as it is stated Hoffman says she didn't do this. It's always fun to read books mentioning the area you live in. I must have been under a rock during these years, because I knew nothing of this story at all. The language was a little uncomfortable, I would not read it again.... An interesting book, I'd like to know the "end of the story" as it is stated Hoffman says she didn't do this. It's always fun to read books mentioning the area you live in. I must have been under a rock during these years, because I knew nothing of this story at all. The language was a little uncomfortable, I would not read it again....

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    I’ve always enjoyed true crime books and this story of Barbara Hoffman is an interesting one; however, I find fault with some of the words the author chose to use. I consider myself to have a pretty decent vocabulary but words like polemicist and rodomontade make me think he pulled out his thesaurus now and then to select the most uncommon words possible.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Amazing Reporting This book mixes factual detail with suspense and psychological twists that would make a great movie. The final chapter offers a theory that could not have been predicted. I loved this book!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lorie

    Reads like an old school gum shoe detective novel at first. I wasn't sure I'd even chosen a true crime novel, but then everything became clear. It struck me as unusual, but I think that was due to the time frame in which it was written. Interesting, but not riveting. Reads like an old school gum shoe detective novel at first. I wasn't sure I'd even chosen a true crime novel, but then everything became clear. It struck me as unusual, but I think that was due to the time frame in which it was written. Interesting, but not riveting.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Traveltrip

    OK book. I thought the book was a bit tedious at times. The story/plot was interesting therefore I kept reading not to be discouraged by the tedious parts. Don’t know anyone that I would recommend it to.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Meh. I love true crime but this one was a bit boring for me.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    this is okay detective/mystery novel. while the body of the book will keep you reading, the closing leaves too many loose ends. fortunately, this was a free download for me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette Conti - Baskin

    The case did not need all the vulgar language, you would think a writer of true crime would not find it necessary to use fictional street language.

  26. 5 out of 5

    T. Rose

    Interesting book! Very well written, a bit repetitious at times, but an engaging story. Suitable for mature readers due to subject matter and language.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brad Gillespie

    Strange but obviously true You are really never sure who killed who, and exactly why. Good book. If you like to try and figure motive then this book is for you.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    I happened to read about this book in one of the literary newsletters I receive in my e-mail. The book was interesting, but it brought up more questions in my mind than it answered. (Apparently, the book was made into a movie in 2009). Barbara Hoffman is a brilliant woman from Illinois, who in 1975, and 1976 was a student at the University of Wisconsin studying for a degree in biochemistry, perhaps preparing for a career in medicine. By 1977, she was no longer attending college, having obtained a I happened to read about this book in one of the literary newsletters I receive in my e-mail. The book was interesting, but it brought up more questions in my mind than it answered. (Apparently, the book was made into a movie in 2009). Barbara Hoffman is a brilliant woman from Illinois, who in 1975, and 1976 was a student at the University of Wisconsin studying for a degree in biochemistry, perhaps preparing for a career in medicine. By 1977, she was no longer attending college, having obtained a job in the thriving sex industry in Madison where she was the most sought after of the "girls" in several massage parlors. I have to say that Barbara's personality is extremely introverted and withdrawn. To this day, she has refused to be interviewed about what happened in the Christmas season of 1977 and around Easter in 1978. On Christmas day of 1977, she called her fiance, Jerry Davies saying she had come home to her apartment and there was a male corpse there. She needed Jerry's help in getting rid of the body. Jerry felt so guilty and sick about the whole incident, he reported it to the police. (Barbara had met Jerry at one of the massage parlors). It turned out that the corpse was that of Harry Berge, also a man she knew through the business. What follows is two counts of first degree murder being leveled at Ms. Hoffman, since both corpses had cyanide in them. I personally believe that she meant to kill one of the men, but the other one was an accidental death. The trial made nationwide headlines as it was the first televised trial in the state of Wisconsin. The woman definitely has a very strange personality. Having worked in the field of social services for some years, she has some of the earmarks of a person who may have been abused as a child, but that of course is just my opinion. At this time, she is almost 63 years old, and has never married or had a close relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Mitchell

    True crime books intrigue me which is why I selected this particular book. A young woman with a history of a's in her college classes suddenly drops out to work at a massage parlor... I had to wrap my head around this. Not only has she dropped out of college, worked in the skin trade. but now is accused of not one but two murders. The trial is the first televised in WI, yet the defendant never testifies. Although I had to continuously look up legal references it is an interesting read. The one t True crime books intrigue me which is why I selected this particular book. A young woman with a history of a's in her college classes suddenly drops out to work at a massage parlor... I had to wrap my head around this. Not only has she dropped out of college, worked in the skin trade. but now is accused of not one but two murders. The trial is the first televised in WI, yet the defendant never testifies. Although I had to continuously look up legal references it is an interesting read. The one thing that puzzled me was how she did it. To this day no one has the answer because Barbara Hoffman never spoke of it

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kelly MacIver

    Not as thrilling as it could have been...an interesting case but nothing really came out about it other than what was generally known. No big gotcha or reveal moment. Not the fault of the writer obviously as it's a true story with a little fictionalizing thrown in as to how things could have occurred. On a side note, something that was very annoying about the copy I borrowed from the library was that a previous reader decided all other readers needed to see how they would have edited it. I hate Not as thrilling as it could have been...an interesting case but nothing really came out about it other than what was generally known. No big gotcha or reveal moment. Not the fault of the writer obviously as it's a true story with a little fictionalizing thrown in as to how things could have occurred. On a side note, something that was very annoying about the copy I borrowed from the library was that a previous reader decided all other readers needed to see how they would have edited it. I hate that. I don't care what word you would have used instead, keep it to yourself unless it's your own book. Please no one do this ever again.

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