When you write true crime or non-fiction history – people give you things. Sometimes it is a scribbled note. Sometimes it is a big envelope filled with papers. You get lots of emails with tips of murders you should look into. Example: This weekend while in Michigan, a historian passed me a whole folder of clippings about a Battle Creek citizen’s murder. Other times it is something small like a sticky note. These bits and pieces can relate to your current book or any other book you have written. I tend to smile and thank people, then later go through the information. Over the years I’ve gotten everything from solid tips/leads (which I turn over to the authorities), to data for books that people suggest I write, to information I have no idea what it is. I get photos, newspaper clippings, you name it. Tips and leads are high priority – since these go directly to law enforcement. Many times it is not something I can use, but I go through it carefully anyway. You never know where the idea for your next book may come from.
When I was in Battle Creek with my daughter talking about our book on the murder of Maggie Hume, I was approached by one of the wonderful folks at the Battle Creek Historical Society. She passed me an envelope and told me they had found some things I was welcome to have. They had come from photo files donated by the local newspaper. I flipped through them and found some photos related to Daisy Zick (who I had written about in Murder in Battle Creek ) and some negatives in a photo-envelop labeled “Enoch Chism.” With everything going on I set the images and negatives aside, promising to delve into them.
I wrote about Enoch Chism in my first true crime book – Secret Witness. Chism was convicted of the postal bombing murder of Nola Puyear in Marshall Michigan in 1967. His conviction was overturned years later on the basis that he did not have a speedy trial. The crime was shocking because of its raw violence and that it took place on one of the quaintest main streets in America. Enoch Chism put his family and the community through a great deal. I didn’t have a lot of images of Chism in the book when it came out. Using newspaper photos is always difficult given their quality.
I finally took the negatives to a local photo shop in Warrenton VA and got them developed. Frankly, I had no idea what was on the film, so it was a bit of a shot in the dark. There were several strips of negatives which show a progression of photos of Chism. The first is at the time of his arrest based on his clothing which matched other images in the newspapers at the time. There was a batch taken at some unknown period of time which I will assume was during his incarceration for the Puyear murder or for his subsequent arrest for conspiracy to commit armed and unarmed robbery in 1977. The other batch of posed shots were taken just prior to his trial – one of which appeared in the Enquirer and News newspaper at the time.
True crime authors all of the time are accused of opening old wounds, profiting off of misery, etc. I want to assure you, I’m not entirely insensitive but I recognize that people have a curiosity about local history events. That’s what crimes are, bits of local history that often touch people in the community. In reality authors in my genre are more like historians than the scandal mongers (or grave diggers) we are often associated with. In terms of profiting; writing is far more emotionally rewarding than financial. When you factor in the hours spent and the costs for supplies, trips, and everything else – we make less per hour than most McDonald’s employees. When I saw these images, my thought was to share them via this blog because some folks will find them as interesting as I did.
I found the photos fascinating to look at. Chism’s lawyers did a great job in physically preparing him for trial, as evidenced in the photos at the time of his trial. I have to wonder if that man walking down the hall in one image is Detective Kenney on the day of Chism’s arrest. I also am curious as to who the deputy is in the one photo.