When you write true crime the book is never really done, even when the book is printed. You are always getting new information. With cold cases this feeling of ongoing attachment is multiplied. When you decided to write a book about crimes, you are stuck to that crime forever.
I think about the victims I have written about almost daily. They don’t haunt me. I do think of them though. There are so many things I wish I could ask them…so many details that only they knew.
August hits me hard (and I suspect September will too, given our new book). Two of the crimes I have written about took place in August. It is inescapable that I think of these victims and the heinous manners they met their fate.
On August 16, 1982, a murderer climbed into the apartment of Maggie Hume in Battle Creek, Michigan. This killer brutalized her, strangling her to death, then hid her body in her closet.
To this day, this murder remains an open wound in that community. Maggie’s father was the coach for the city’s only Catholic school and was immensely popular. Adding insult to injury, a convicted killer, Michael Ronning, gave a false confession to the crime in an effort to get relocated to a Michigan prison. Maggie’s death was senseless and vicious, and her true killer has managed to hold justice at bay.
On August 18, 1967, Nola Puyear was working in the tiny Tasty Café that she and her husband owned on Marshall, Michigan’s main street when a package was delivered to her. When she opened it a bomb went off, killing her instantly and injuring several others. In an age before the Unabomber, a killer had struck in broad daylight in the heart of the town, taking out an innocent woman that had no known enemies. The investigation was a rollercoaster ride, involving salacious sexual escapades of some of the citizens of the town – but all leading to dead ends. It would take a daring citizen to come forward with a tip to finally bring her murderer, Enoch Chism, to justice…only to have him released on a technicality.
There must be something in the air to have two deaths I have written about both falling in August. I have to wonder if there is something subliminal that draws me to crimes that happen in the fall. Even writing this I pulled up the crime scene photos and look at them again, wondering if there was something I might have missed, some miniscule detail that might leap out at me. The photos are mute however. They have no more stores to tell me.
I wrote about Nola’s grisly death in my first true crime book, Secret Witness. I had always read true crime but to tackle writing one was a new experience. I learned a lot of lessons in interviewing people and how to deal with the survivors and especially the families of the murderers. Thanks to Mardi Link, a fellow true crime author, I learned a lot nuances about writing in the genre…just by reading her books.
Writing about Maggie Hume (The Murder of Maggie Hume – Cold Case in Battle Creek) I had a co-author, my daughter Victoria Hester. You might think that writing with another author is hard, but with Victoria it was natural. It changed our father daughter dynamic forever. She brought a closeness to the age of the victim that was helpful in many of our discussions. She proved herself to be adept at devouring reams of research material to make some semblance of sense out of it.
The crimes are horrific, but that is not what occupies my thoughts. It is the victims that stir my memories. Contrary to logic, you don’t get jaded to violence and murder when writing true crime. Over time, you actually get more sensitive about the people whose lives were severed from the rest of us. In those quiet moments near the dates of these crimes, I will wrestle with the memories of their senseless murders. Over time you want justice in the cold cases even more than when you wrote about them. That is the curse of writing true crime.
It is part-and-parcel with being a true crime author. We don’t create our own demons, we do write about them. #truecrime