CU Arts & Sciences grad Erika Krouse wins prestigious Edgar Award for true-crime memoir about CU’s early 2000s sexual-assault scandal
Erika Krouse hardly fits the romantic, literary or cinematic stereotype of a private eye, a gumshoe, a sleuth. But she’s got an ace up her sleeve that even Sam Spade, Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes couldn’t play: People can’t seem to stop themselves from revealing their secrets to her.
“I became a private investigator because of my face,” writes Krouse (MEngl’96) in her 2022 true-crime-memoir mashup, "Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation." “Give me twenty minutes alone with you, and you’ll … tell me all your secrets.”
In April, more than two decades after her first case as a private eye, University of Colorado Boulder graduate Krouse received the prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award (aka Edgar) in the Fact Crime category from the Mystery Writers of America for Tell Me Everything. In addition, Colorado Humanities announced June 10 that the book had won the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.
But in 2002, she was a struggling author scraping by on temp jobs in Boulder, so as not to crimp her writing time. Though she’d published one well-received short-story collection, it hardly set her writing career on fire. Meanwhile, at one job, her name tag read “TEMP” and employees referred to her blithely as “the new Linda.”
That’s about the time Krouse reached for a Paul Auster novel at the Boulder Book Store at the same time as a local attorney. After a laugh and a brief literary exchange, the lawyer found himself confessing how much he hated his job as a partner in a local law firm.
“Wait,” says the attorney, dubbed “Grayson” in the memoir. “I’ve never told anybody this stuff.” Perceiving Krouse’s unique talent, he offered her a job on the spot as a private investigator.
“I didn’t want a job that would take all my writing time away,” she says. “But the PI job paid so much more than I was making. And it was an amazingly cool job as opposed to data entry or accounting.”
Krouse bumbled through her first six months on the job (“I wondered why he was still paying me,” she says with a laugh) before Grayson asked her to delve into an ugly sexual-assault case involving CU Boulder football players. (Krouse uses pseudonyms throughout the book, and names neither the city or university, preferring to let her details do the talking—how many Colorado college towns, after all, rest beneath “the Flatirons”?)
Suddenly, she found her groove as a gumshoe, finding, interviewing and convincing assault survivors and witnesses to speak with Grayson on the record for the case.
“It probably helped that I was female, that I was younger, compared to (Grayson). I wasn’t a stuffy lawyer in a suit and I didn’t even own heels. So I was a little bit more like the women I was talking to,” she says.
Krouse’s hard work would go on to play a key role in the nation’s first Title IX sexual-assault case, which resulted in a multi-million-dollar settlement and a slew of resignations all the way up to then-CU-system president Elizabeth Hoffman.
(Krouse quotes just one transcript in the book: Hoffman’s notorious claim that the anti-female slur often referred to as the “c-word” can be “used as a term of endearment”—“The extent they tried to cover up was so ludicrous,” Krouse says. “That quote was too good not to use; no one would have believed me otherwise!”)
For years, Krouse had no intention of writing about the case. But she changed her mind after reading a well-regarded history of Title IX that failed to even mention the precedent-setting CU case.
“How can you not mention the first Title IX sexual-assault case?” she says. “The case was complicated, with so many twists and turns, and really needed a book of its own.”
She also had no intention of including the story of her own sexual abuse between the ages of 4 and 7 at the hands of a man dubbed “X,” which she had revealed to few people outside her family. But working on the book gave her a renewed appreciation for the young women who came forward in the CU Boulder case, most of whom stood to gain nothing materially.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, these women risked everything, their futures, safety, privacy, the other people in their lives, their relationships with their families and peers to do this, but I’m going to be a big chicken?’” she recalls. “I knew that I wouldn’t have integrity if I didn’t also include my personal history.”
Critics—and Edgar voters—enthusiastically responded to Krouse’s dual approach.
“(W)hat began as one woman’s justice becomes a battle Krouse fights against her own inner demons that eloquently contends with systemic issues still plaguing American institutions today,” wrote Publisher’s Weekly. “The emotional catharsis delivered by the book’s end turns this sensational tale into a stunning story of redemption and hope.”
Krouse remains estranged from the family members who have denied, invalidated and disputed her accounts of being raped as a child since she was 4 years old. But she recognizes that telling the truth can help others.
The CU Boulder case “started with one party, and by the end 11 women came forward willing to go on the record about being assaulted by football players,” she says. “Once you start talking, so many people who have been silent about their own experience feel they can start talking and find far more allies than you can imagine. That’s the power of narrative, the power of speaking up.”
Krouse was so sure someone else would take the Edgar Award in her category that she didn’t even write a speech, she says.
“I was shocked and completely unprepared,” says Krouse, who is currently polishing up a second short-story collection for publication. “I babbled like an idiot and cried a lot, but I don’t remember what I said.”
After her first experience with the Mystery Writers of America—“They are my kind of people!”—she’s mulling over ideas for a mystery novel.
“There was glamor, but an unpretentious, fun kind of glam; sequins and heels, but also writers with bra straps hanging down and vintage tuxes,” she says. “I want to be part of that; so maybe I’ll just write mysteries from now on.”