The Original Battle Creek Crime King: Adam “Pump” Arnold’s Vile Reign is finally out. My daughter Victoria Hester and I penned this book and it is a neat Victorian-era look at a small city boss – Pump Arnold.
The idea for the book came to us from the folks at Heritage Battle Creek. Mary Butler and Elizabeth Neumeyere suggested that Pump Arnold was worth looking into. They were right. Arnold was far from being a criminal mastermind…if anything he was very public and downright flaunting of his criminal escapades. For several years it was rare that he was not in the newspapers for either going to court or being arrested. His criminal enterprise was diverse – everything from illegal liquor sales, to arson, to bank fraud, to prostitution. He ran a bar/casino in the “bad lands” of Battle Creek Michigan – clashing with the mayor, the press, law enforcement, and even his own lawyers.
Ironically, the biggest seller of illegal hooch in the city was married to a member of the Women’s Christen Temperance Union (WCTU). Arnold’s life was chock full of strange twists and irony. His son, George, was essentially the town drunk, a very public drunk – like a violent version of Otis from the Andy Griffith Show. Like Otis, George even showed up at the jail to check himself in! The Arnold Clan’s clashes with the law all have a Keystone Cops feeling about it, set in the “wild west” era of Michigan’s history. Arnold was so crafty that upon his death, he tricked the WCTU to erect his tombstone. A man that wily practically demanded that a book be written about him.
And while parts of this book are humorous, others are quite serious. Pump Arnold murdered his own son George. There is a Greek tragedy tone to their relationship and the fact that the father was the purveyor of what turned his son against them. Their clashes were public; played out in the streets and in the press. When George’s body was plucked from the frozen Battle Creek river all eyes turned to Pump as the perpetrator. The trial was the “biggest in the history of Battle Creek.” Citizens packed the street just to catch a glimpse of Arnold getting a shave. I have to admit the man was a true character.
This is more of a traditional fare for true crime readers. For me it was a break from writing about cold cases which tend to be emotionally and mentally exhausting. The real challenge was to paint a picture of the setting for readers. This is not the Battle Creek of “Cereal City” fame. This was the era before Kellogg’s and Post when BC was more of a frontier town. It’s a period that rarely gets written about.
In writing this we had to delve into some interesting side journey’s as well. For example: I spent one entire week researching prostitution in early Michigan. I got to work with historical societies in New York as well while on the trail of Pump’s earlier life. As with any good story, you have to go where the research takes you. Sometimes those places can be pretty strange.
The title – well, that’s the marketing staff weighing in. I like having the word “vile” in there – you don’t see that on many books. I’m more of a fan of three word title books…but these allegedly know more about book marketing than me…
It is always a treat to write a book with my daughter Victoria. We kind of enjoy our status of being the only father-daughter duo writing true crime. She tackled the hardest part of this project – Pump’s trial for murdering his son George. We easily could have written another 15k words about the twists and turns of this almost comical trial. I think my favorite part is that they brought a couch into the courtroom for Arnold to rest on, and that he verbally clashed with witnesses and his own defense team.
Many of you probably think I have something against my hometown given the number of true crime books I’ve writing about mid-Michigan (Secret Witness, Murder in Battle Creek, The Murder of Maggie Hume, this book). That’s not true. In fact our next true crime book is not in Michigan but in my birth state – Virginia. More on this in another blog post I promise!
We are planning to go to Battle Creek mid-October for a few book signing events and lectures.
Obviously I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Original Battle Creek Crime King: Adam “Pump” Arnold’s Vile Reign. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.