11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2005
I went to junior high school with Fred Tokars and to senior high school with Sara Ambrusko in Amherst, NY. I knew Fred slightly better however it was only an occasional conversation usually about music. He hung out with a different crowd of friends than I. I do however, remember him as a bit arrogant and somewhat of a "know it all" who would talk to you when he needed information about something. At other times he could walk right by you like he didn't know you. So, the personality traits were already in motion. Sara, on the other hand, was very kind and had a very sweet personality. Somehow I could not really see them together. I guess that Fred did a good job of "putting on a different face" when they dated. After I read about what had happened I was in shock. However, when I started to think about it and especially after I read the book, I could definately see how it happened. I did not know Fred's mother Phyllis but get the impression that she felt her son could do no wrong and maybe that was the start of Fred's problems. It is so hard to understand how someone could be so cold hearted and such a manipulator. I don't know what caused the rift between he and his older sister. I found the book to be well written however it did drag on in some places. It was hard to keep up with the cast of characters and I found myself always looking back to see who was who. I hope that the boys are doing well and that one of Sara's sisters has them. I heard that Sara's father passed away a couple of years ago and I always felt so badly for what the Ambrusko family was put through. I believe that life in prison for Fred is much harder for him to take than the death penalty would have been. I am sure he is still convinced in his mind that he did nothing wrong. It is a very sad story.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2011
"Secrets Never Lie" delves deep into the real-life tragedy of Sara Ambrusko who was brutally murdered in front of her children by hit-men hired by her husband, Fred Tokars, a shady and corrupt attorney who'd insured his wife for $1.75M in order to profit from her death and prevent her from revealing the underbelly of his illegal money-laundering for drug clients.
I read "Secrets Never Lie" to come to some understanding of why anyone would murder this lovely wife and mother. I knew Sara and most of her sisters, growing up in Amherst and spending many, many hours with her family as a little girl. Her family was lovely, comprised of seven beautiful girls who were as kind and charismatic as they were attractive. They seemed completely unaware of their All-American beauty and were popular with everyone at school.
The Ambrusko home was filled with laughter and the girls were raised by loving parents, a successful and ebullient surgeon, John and his extraordinarily kind and loving wife, Phyllis. Days were spent playing in their expansive backyard with rolling hills and a tree house, swimming in their in-ground pool and skating and paddle-boating in the large pond that fronted their ranch home. They had playrooms for the many neighborhood children who'd flock to their home, along with boyfriends of the older sisters, who'd all stay for Bocce pizza on Friday nights.
The older girls, especially Joni, looked after their youngest sister, Krissy, who was my friend. The Ambrusko home was my home away from home. I have so many fond memories of days spent with Krissy and her sisters, hearing her father's arrival from the hospital as he'd joyfully boom, "Where are you yahoos?" Krissy and I were slightly mischievous, always coming up with some new idea to test her mother's patience, like pushing her mom into the pool as Phyllis skimmed off the leaves. Phyllis would emerge from the pool with a smile and a laugh, cheerily chiding us, but never dampening our high-spirited nature. I never heard a harsh word spoken in that home.
The Ambrusko's happy family life left Sara ill-equipped to deal with an increasingly controlling and abusive husband, Fred Tokars. All Sara knew was love and like her mother, especially the love she had for children.
Sara's murder was a tragedy to her whole family and especially her two little children who were only 6 and 4 at the time when their mother was brutally murdered in front of them by a low-life, a career criminal and his partner, hired by Sara's husband, Fred Tokars. One ambushed Sara and forced her back into her car at night, making her drive to an empty housing lot as she begged for her children's lives. Sara spotted the second assailant who had done handy work at her home and was known to her. Frantic and knowing their lives were indeed in extreme danger, Sara's last heroic act was to push her oldest son to the floor of the car to protect him. A split-second later, the gunman who was in the back seat with Sara's sleeping 4 year old, blew her head off with a sawed-off shotgun.
The gunman immediately fled with his accomplice and the oldest child removed the keys from the ignition, got his little brother out of the back seat and ran for a home in the distance to get help for their mommy who had of course, been killed instantly. I cannot fathom the courage that little boy had. He eventually testified against his father when he was just 10.
People who write that Sara came from a wealthy family and could've left her husband at any time do not understand the fear and powerlessness that an abused woman feels. Sara made attempts to leave her husband but feared with his highly-inflated statements that he had connections to judges and attorneys in Atlanta, she'd lose her kids in a custody battle that her husband constantly threatened to control and manipulate her.
Sara hired a private investigator but had little money to continue paying his fees as her husband put her on a strict, cash-only allowance - a leash- that barely paid for the food, mortgage or clothes on their backs. Forced by the pittance of money her husband gave her each week, Sara even bartered for her children's tuition at a Catholic school in exchange for her teaching classes. And when Fred Tokars wrote his will, he put his brother, Andy, in charge of the disposition of all his assets (assets that Sara had no knowledge of) even instructing Andy that in the event of his death, the money must never be used to pay for the mortgage, leaving Sara in an increasingly desperate situation.
Sara, who had been divorced prior to marrying Fred, did not want to bring her problems to her parents. She confided only in one family friend and her youngest sister, Krissy, giving her copies of papers that would incriminate her husband and his illegal business activities she suspected he was involved in (and they were far deeper than Sara ever guessed). She made her sister promise that if anything ever happened to her, Krissy should take the papers she'd copied from her husband's safe to the police.
"Secrets Never Lie" is compelling and extraordinarily sad however this non-fiction book occasionally suffers from average writing and florid prose - and a maddening title that means nothing. The book does contain many facts and presents a comprehensive look at a psychopath, Fred Tokars, and the toll that Sara's murder had on the Ambrusko family, particularly Sara's children.
I hold Sara and the Ambrusko family in my thoughts and hope that Sara's boys, whom Joni raised after her sister's death, were able to have reasonably happy lives after the tragedy they witnessed. Sara will always be remembered as the warm and wonderful person and caring mother until her young life was abruptly and violently cut short.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2010
R. Robin McDonald's true crime work, SECRETS NEVER LIE, is the highly interesting story of Fred Tokars, a ruthless and politically striving greedhead. Tokars was concerned with one thing - making money - and he didn't let the inconvenient fact that he had a wife and two sons who needed his emotional support, love, and affection hinder that pursuit. The boys became an afterthought, and his wife, Sara, became a threat when she discovered the depth and breadth of Fred's illegal activities, which consisted of money laundering for drug dealers. As the marriage became more troubled and Fred became aware of the extent of Sara's knowledge of his criminality, he decided he couldn't afford to allow her to continue living. So he hired an amateur hit man, Eddie Lawrence, who subcontracted the job to another amateur hit man and went to the extreme of telling Lawrence that, while he didn't want his sons hurt, it was okay to kill their mother in front of them as "they'll get over it."
SECRETS is not really strict true crime, as there is enough omniscient embellishment to slide it into the realm of "true crime-fiction". A few examples:
1. "Sara's voice had a holiday lilt when she called her parents..." (Whatever that may be.)
2. "Soon, Ricky drifted into a dreamless sleep."
3. "That afternoon, as she and her children hung the first ornaments, Sara's anticipation was as breathless as that of her boys."
McDonald doesn't know these things, but has simply made them up to advance the
story in an interesting fashion. And accepting this for what it is, the first ¾ of the book is fast paced and often a good read. But even early on there are hints of the maudlin and melodramatic morass into which the book's final ¼ devolves in its unfortunate slide to the unpleasant category of "true crime-soap opera".
Chief among the reasons for this is McDonald's propensity for using irritating, often nonsensical, and always ridiculous similes as well as other attempts at "creative writing":
1. "Fred's struggle to govern her stiffened like a salt-soaked rope in the sun."
2. "...a certain independence began to surface like small green shoots on a wind-blistered plain."
3. "...long before night had calcified into an empty dawn."
4. "He was now ten, a serious young man with a heart as wide as the ballfields on which he excelled as a pitcher..."
And my personal favorite:
5. "Silver coveted the wealth of and access to the corrupt but charming men he circled like a queasy moth."
That's right! A queasy moth! I don't think most, if any, of us would know a queasy moth if it puked all over us, but the thought is bizarro enough to be semi-brilliantly Salvador Dali-esque, particularly if the queasy moth had lighted on a sun-drenched salt-soaked rope on a green-shooted, wind-blistered plain.
This is bad writing, folks, and I don't understand why so many true crime writers apparently feel otherwise, especially ones like McDonald who show the ability to write well enough to put together an compelling narrative without sinking to what amounts to 11th grade writing.
McDonald is not remotely even handed in SECRETS, falling totally into the Ambrusko (Sara's) family's camp. This may make sense, as even if half of the vilification she heaps on Fred is true, he is despicable; but the Ambruskos are presented immediately and continually as one-dimensional saints. Sara, as well as her sisters and parents, are without a doubt the brightest, kindest, most loving, and most loyal of all the stars in the firmament. And that's ALL they are. Sara is one of the most important players in the story, but all we are given is a cardboard cutout. NO ONE is that wonderful, that perfect, that totally without even a minor fault all the time,
The last ¼ of SECRETS is devoted to trials and hearings, and Fred's federal trial is well written and interesting. But after that, SECRETS bogs down in a molasses-like slog of mawkish repetition How many times was I supposed to read about the Ambrusko sisters attending every trial and hearing, cringing at the continual attacks on the family by defense lawyers, dressing alike and holding hands to provide each other the strength they wish they'd provided Sara, running tear stricken for the courtroom doors, until I became over-treacled to a point approaching queasy moth status. This is not to in any way diminish the real feelings of anguish and loss the Ambruskos must have felt, but the writing is bad soap opera and bad reading.
SECRETS NEVER LIE gets 3 stars for the highly readable and fast-paced true crime- fiction segments, at least those segments that are written in an adult manner.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2004
There is a certain type of true crime book that spends a great deal of space making the victim look perfect so the villain looks even blacker. I think this is a ploy that shortchanges the victim and the readers. The author spends so much time telling us how perfect the victim was that she seems more a plaster csst than a real woman who suffered and died.
There was potentially a very powerful story there: the struggle of the family's quest for vengeance (sort of an Old Testament eye for an eye thing) against the defense team who was trying to save the accused from the death penalty with equal passion. Of course the author spends too much time beatifying one side and demonizing the other to write a really good book. I found myself feeling somewhat queasy about some of the actions on both sides. And as someone else complained, there's no explantion as to how these people arrived at the place that led to the tragedy.
Finally, I would like someone to tell me that the title means. Secrets don't lie and they don't tell the truth. They just are-- and sometimes when they are revealed they cause problems for someone.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2000
While fairly well written, this book would have benefited immensely from more objectivity and less creativity. I was annoyed by all the colorful and descriptive adjectives the author kept using and would have appreciated more of the objectivity reporters such as she are supposed to have. Just a straight-forward telling of the story would have been better. Where is a good copy editor when you need one?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2011
The book is just the tip of the iceberg of what and who Tokars was involved in. Sadly, most of the gangsters that he was in practice with are, at this date, getting away with ... all of it. Sara wasn't his 1st victim. There is a trail of tears behind the actions of Fred Tokars and his Days Inn associates going decades back ... decades! They are rather unhappy about how World War II turned out in Europe.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2011
I am a big fan of true crime. I really want to know this story- but as it is told in this book- it seems like the author just can't get to the point. Currently, I'm at my second attempt at reading it- from the beginning again. The author did his homework, I'll give him that- actually, I think every fact he uncovered is in this book- relevant or not. And with the small print, it just makes it even worse. I can finish a good book in a day if I want to- but right now I'm on page 124...and I keep having to go back to find out who people mentioned are, and what they have to do with this story. To me, it's just sloooooow. There is a happy medium- some true crime books don't give you enough info, and some give you too much. This is just my opinion- Obviously I have more to do than just read all day (most days anyway) but as much as I want to know this story, I just can't keep reading it. There are too many characters to remember and what part they play. I think there is alot of irrelevant info. But then again. I havent read the whole book yet. Slow. Thats all I can say.
15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 1999
I found the cover and blurbs about this book somewhat misleading. They say Sara Tokar was "the perfect wife and mother," but I got no sense, other than a very generic one, of who she was at all. I think the other characters could have been revealed more as well. Why was Fred the way he was? What's his childhood background? Any speculations?
The book also states on the cover that this story is "A Southern Tragedy of Money, Murder and Innocence Betrayed." I believe both Tokars were from N.Y. and moved to the South - they weren't really Southerners. In addition there doesn't seem to be any "innocence betrayed." Everyone seemed to know the situation between the Tokars was dysfunctional.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 1999
I really enjoyed this book. My heart really goes out to Sara's family, especially her sons who had to watch her die. I thought the book was very fair to both sides, and did show, that although the defendant was finally convicted, the criminal justice system does not always work well.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 1998
Sara, although a loving and beautiful woman, was involved much more deeply than the author is able to convey. Firstly, to say that she accidentally saw Fred on TV following her divorce from Weigand is absolutely false. She was on his arm as early as 1976, when Fred was at the University of Miami. Some of the timing as told in the story does not ring quite true. Lawrence, Rower, and Tokars were indeed associated together as early as 1990. Further, to say that Tokars was the only caucasian involved begs credulity. This is a small part of what Bobby Lee Cook himself called, "The mother of all scandals". Mr. Cook made that reference regarding "Iraqgate", the lost scandal, involving an Atlanta branch of Italian bank, Banca Nazionale de Lavora. The author makes cursory references to bank accounts in Bahamas, Switzerland, and Germany. Guess what? ... BNL/Iraqgate and the BCCI mess are woven intricately in the truth of the whole story. Sara and Fred's operation were not apart from any of this much larger scandal ... involving ... sad to say, Robert E. "Lee" Turner, owner of the CNN center where Tokars and Silver had an office and owner of the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, and Hawks where Dominique and Deion played their professional ball. No, Ms. Cook, it is much much more than a story of Southern tradgedy and the implication that Sara was completely and innocently duped into all of this ... is frankly untrue. Yes, after a while, Sara found the activities of this gang to be wholly insufferable, but earlier on, she played a much larger role than is implied by the author. There is much much more to tell on this .... This is, after all, GEORGIA.