November 25, 1991 12:00 PM

by Jerry Bledsoe

The story behind these books began in 1988 when Lieth Von Stein, a prosperous North Carolina businessman, was bludgeoned and stabbed to death as he slept in his bed. The attack also left his wife, Bonnie, grievously wounded.

Police eventually focused their investigation on Christopher Pritchard, 19, Bonnie’s son and Lieth’s stepson. The crime, they concluded, grew out of drug-and-aleohol abuse and an obsession with the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons by Chris and two of his college friends. (Pritchard was given life in prison, Neal Henderson 40 years. James Upchurch, who wielded the murder weapons, is appealing his death sentence.)

If nothing else, the situation proved perfect for writers McGinniss and Bledsoe. Both specialize in documenting the turmoil and tortures of family murders, though McGinniss is the higher profiled of the two, thanks to his best-sellers Fatal Vision and Blind Faith. Both writers were drawn to the story for its soap-opera elements—a devoted mother, a troubled son, new-wealth, determined cops, a small town and a dead stepfather.

Cruel Doubt (Simon & Schuster, $25), is the better book. McGinniss attempts to delve deeper into the motives behind the madness. Bledsoe, less analytical, focuses on the greed and obsessions of Chris Pritchard and his accomplice friends. While not nearly as well-written as Cruel Doubt, Blood Carries (Dutton, $22.95) does leave a clearer impression of the sadness and depravity of the affair.

In the end, however, both books prove unsatisfactory because the case is devoid of any vindication or moral lesson. Blood Carries and Cruel Doubt detail the darkest form of true crime story, one in which all the participants are victims.”

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