Review of Netflix’s: The Confession Killer

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Liar, liar, pants on fire…

This is one of those stories that resonated with me as a true crime writer because I’ve seen it with my own eyes on a case.  More on that later.

The Confession Killer is the story of Henry Lee Lucas, a man that confessed to upwards of 300 (or more) murders in the 1980’s.  He was a killer.  He had murdered his mother and spent time in prison for that crime. Early on in his confessions, he led authorities to the remains of two victims…only their killer could have done that.

The local sheriff and the Texas Rangers had a person in Lucas who was willing to confess to countless crimes, all for a strawberry shake and some cigarettes.  He provided details that only the killers could know, or so it seemed.  Police from all over the country lined up for 20 minute sessions with Lucas where he would confess to crimes in their jurisdictions and allow them to close the cases.  It gave dozens of families closure finally.

Lucas loved the attention and the limelight.  He basked in it. For one time in his life, he had importance.

Then a dogged reporter started actually digging into Lucas and discovered proof that with many of his confessions, Lucas was not able to have committed the crimes – he was in other parts of the country.  The local sheriff and the Rangers ignored the evidence.  I have to say, at first, I thought that the reporter was the real hero of this true crime saga.

If this had been the crux of the story, it would have been a very good documentary.  But wait, there’s more!

A young and determined Waco prosecutor spotted the same errors and opened a grand jury investigation into the Lucas task force.  The Rangers, the FBI, and the IRS were brought to bear on him, framing him for bribery.  Lucas’s information disappeared from law enforcement computers.  A massive cover-up was eventually exposed, complete with law enforcement manipulating the media to go after the prosecutor.

So how did he do it?  Officers fed him information, led him to crime scenes, gave him photographs of crime scenes and pictures of the victims.  Lucas had an uncanny ability to read his audience and give them what they wanted, confessions.  They were able to overlook errors he made, or they even corrected him when he made mistakes.

Henry Lee Lucas played them like a cheap fiddle.

As a sidebar:  My daughter and I witnessed this ourselves when writing The Murder of Maggie Hume. Michael Ronning had confessed to her murder but it was, most likely a false confession.  We watched videos of them taking Ronning to crime scenes and it was eerily similar to what Lucas did.  When officers took him out to another murder site that he claimed credit for (Patricia Rosansky) along the river, Ronning didn’t point out the area where they should turn off.  One officer we heard on the tape said, “Michael, doesn’t that area over there look familiar to you?” as he pointed to it. Another officer off camera can be heard saying, “Damn it Denny, why don’t you just get out and show him where the body was?”

There are officers that swear to this day that Ronning’s confessions were solid, despite errors that cannot be overlooked.  Why?  Because they want Ronning to be a serial killer, they wanted to be the officers that closed cases involving such a murderer. That notoriety, of being involved with a serial killer is like winning the Super Bowl for law enforcement.

Which is how Henry Lee Lucas played authorities.

I really enjoyed this short series by Netflix.  A solid five out of five stars, perfect for your winter binge watching needs.

The Murders of August

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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.

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Maggie Hume – 1980

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.

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Jay Carter – Maggie boyfriend at the time and a prime suspect in her murder to this day
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Michael Ronning – a scumbag killer for sure, but it is doubtful that he was Maggie’s murderer in my mind.  Still, he is hard to ignore.

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.

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The effects of the bomb blast on the Tasty Cafe’
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How the Tasty appeared after the blast – boarded up

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

Book Tour Dates – The Original Battle Creek King of Crime

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People have been asking if we are coming to Michigan to do any speaking or signing events for our latest true crime book…The Original Battle Creek Crime King: Adam “Pump” Arnold’s Vile Reign.  There’s no doubt that Arnold was a devious and despicable character – and a murderer of his own son.  This book provides a Victorian-era glimpse into the nefarious dealings with a kingpin of crime – some humorous, some deadly.

Here’s the one’s we know at this time:

Thursday, Oct. 13, 7pm

Heritage Battle Creek

 

Friday, Oct. 14, 3-5pm

Books & More of Albion

 

Friday, Oct. 14, 8:10am

WBCK Radio (TENTATIVE)

 

Friday, Oct. 14, 6:30-8pm

Willard Library

 

We hope to see you there if you are in the area.

New true crime book is out…Pump Arnold The Original Battle Creek King of Crime

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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. 

Humorous Yearbook Awards

 

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I kid you not, this is the 1999 yearbook from my high school.  I graduated in 1980 so I can’t be blamed for “Beaver Fever” in the title.  It was funny enough when they would announce at a football game – “Here come the Beaver Cheerleaders…”  

When I was a kid we had little quotes under graduates photographs in the yearbook.  Little things like “Voted Most Likely to Succeed.”  I always was suspicious of this, since I honestly don’t remember any of us actually voting for this stuff.  Then again, I mentally have purged most of my memories of high school in general.

With graduation season just around the corner, I thought I would attempt at a cynical/snarky list of contemporary things that students could be put in a modern yearbook.  Enjoy!

  • Most likely to live off government welfare (and complain about it.)
  • Voted most likely to appear in a compromising act on YouTube.
  • Semi-professional instigator.
  • Unlikely to move out of parents basement in the foreseeable future…if ever.
  • Likely to fail filling out the University of Phoenix entry application.
  • Best attempt at alcohol poisoning before the age of 25.
  • Best looking in their old letterman jacket ten years from now.
  • Most likely to appear on Catfish or Tosh.O
  • Future semi-professional pole dancer.
  • Most likely to be unable to walk past the Entemann’s display in the grocery store.
  • Worst future parent – AKA The Britney Spears Award.
  • Most likely to remain terminally bitchy in later life.
  • Most likely to die in a meth lab explosion. (Also qualifies for Worst Home Chemist award)
  • Leader of the best fight at an upcoming class reunion.
  • Most likely to grow up and be a semi-professional asshat (or ambulance chasing lawyer – your choice)
  • Most likely to make little out of a life full of bad decisions.
  • Most likely to become a bitter social media troll posting angry political posts aimed at offending those of lesser minds.
  • Future Walmart department head.
  • Poster-child for the terminally geeky.
  • Most likely to have children that cut themselves.
  • Most likely to drive their future spouse to suicide.
  • Best Goth Wannabe.
  • Destined to be a bad gym teacher.
  • Most likely to appear in an episode of Cops.
  • Most likely to appear as a douchebag on an episode of the Bachelor.
  • Most likely to be a purification supervisor at the Flint Michigan Water Plant.
  • Destined for a career in small town politics or running a used car lot (or both).
  • Most likely to be that guy that makes loud noises when working out at the gym.
  • Peaked in Junior High.
  • Most likely to leave a trail of wrecked souls and crushed dreams throughout her life.
  • Still on the run from reality…
  • Most likely to be referred to on TV news as: “A quiet loner…I’m not surprised he killed all those people.”
  • The guy who takes a penny but never leaves a penny.
  • Future Pall Mall spokesperson.
  • Most likely to explode with the barista gets their latte order wrong.
  • Will pass on his/her bullying skills to another generation.
  • Voted most likely to be the champion burrito folder for the Midwest Chipotle restaurants.
  • Destined to hold school record for tobacco spitting.
  • Potential for being the worst mother in-law in human history.
  • Aspires to own a new double-wide.
  • Future involuntary bald guy.
  • Terminal underachiever.
  • Destined to raise children that will burn down the entire neighborhood.
  • Future home – in a van down by the river.
  • Destined for terminal pregnancy throughout her life.
  • Poster-child for Housefrau’s of America
  • Future body canvas for horrid tattoo’s.
  • Best upcoming mid-life crisis.
  • “Would you like fries with that?”
  • Most likely to be in the left lane with his/her blinker on going 45 mph oblivious to the world.
  • Can’t text and breathe at the same time.
  • Believes Breaking Bad is a tutorial.
  • Goes commando even when not in vogue.
  • Most likely to grow old, alone, with 60-ish cats.
  • Destined to nag spouse into suicide.
  • Likely to be fired in a sexting scandal in later life.
  • Unable to tells the difference between social media and the real world.
  • Unlimited career potential…in the prison commissary.
  • Looking common sense in the rearview mirror.
  • Runs with scissors.
  • Future victim of alcohol, bad decisions, and raging hormones.
  • Destined to turn lottery tickets into a failed personal retirement program.
  • Most likely to have the correct body weight for a 17 foot tall human.
  • Future helicopter mother.
  • Wears bib overalls with no shirt.
  • Future stripper name:  Lotsa
  • Will always own a car that is at least ten years old.
  • Most likely to have bodies buried under the front porch.
  • Most likely to have an outstanding collection of NASCAR collector plates.
  • Most likely to have his pants sag down just above the knees.
  • Will attempt to set the Guinness world record for number of divorces and failed relationships.
  • Elementary school bus accident in the making.
  • Last words he/she will say, “Here, hold my beer…”
  • Will own a winery and likely consume the profit margin.
  • This person will leave their bumper stickers on out of pure laziness (that and they are holding the bumper on).
  • Future star of an episode of Hoarders.
  • Will wear SpongeBob sleepwear on an airplane with no regard to anyone else’s sense of taste.
  • Believes flip-flops are formal attire.
  • In charge of the “expensive beer” at upcoming college parties.
  • Willing to ruin other people’s lives to appear in Rolling Stone feature article.
  • Plays with matches.
  • Decapitates Barbie dolls as a hobby.
  • Regularly listens to the voices in his/her head.
  • Is preserving his high school football jersey in case he makes it to the NFL.
  • Future stripper name:  Dizzy
  • One word for her future – Macramé
  • Most likely to spend her weekends attending scrapbooking seminars.
  • Will own an alpaca farm because it is trendy.
  • Thinks the TV show Moonshiners is career instruction video.
  • Is working on a new strain of pot (FFA Award winner)
  • Will spend the majority of her life looking for “that special guy.”
  • Voted most likely will be that annoying parent on a field trip who talks too much.
  • Sexts himself just because he’s lonely.
  • Will build a highly successful career off the hard work, sweat, toil and suffering of others.
  • Secretly records videos of his neighbors and posts on the web.
  • Is still wearing the same shirt and pants as the first day of high school.
  • Supports non-medical marijuana use, daily, no, hourly.
  • Misuses the word “Brother.”
  • Will one day own four cars, none running, in his front yard.
  • Voted most likely to spend her day surfing WebMD for medical conditions she does not have.
  • Future self-filmed porn star.
  • Runner up for a starring role on Teen Mom.
  • Future stripper name:  Chugs-Alot
  • Future winner of the Uncle Rico look-alike contest.
  • Destined to invest heavily in lotto and casino futures.
  • Believes working at the movie theater is a stepping stone to starring with Ben Affleck.
  • Most expensive piece of clothing:  Tennis Shoes
  • Put the Douche in Douchebag
  • Finds Legos confusing.
  • Life Ambition:  Being a metal band’s roadie
  • Collects dryer lint as a hobby.
  • Voted most likely to own an illegal Rottweiler fighting arena
  • Abuses gerbils in his spare time.
  • Misuses the word “Dude.”
  • Would vote Cloe Kardashian as president.
  • Makes Kanya West seem subtle.
  • Set record number of days in Juvie during his senior year.
  • Least likely to master any form of birth control.
  • Believes she’s a future MILF
  • Poster Child for Mental Health Issues
  • There’s a lot of Fried Chicken, Pizza, Twinkies, and disappointment in her future.
  • Voted Most Likely to be a Celebrity Stalker.
  • Oddly Content
  • Picks and then sniffs his own toe jam
  • Should not work with or near electricity.
  • Reigning county champion in Halo
  • Will rock on even when they should have stopped years ago
  • Believes working at a movie theater is the same as being “in the movie industry.”
  • Is writing a book – that is 65,000 words in on continuous sentence.
  • Destined to annoy us for years in roles at the community theater.
  • Will become a big shot in something pointless.
  • Will sacrifice purchasing healthcare to finance his/her next tattoo.
  • Grows medical marijuana but has not been diagnosed with any illness other than “the munchies.”

 

Cover for our new Pump Arnold book is in!

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Pump Arnold for President – The Greater of Three Evils

Even after all of these years I get a bit of a thrill to see what the marketing and art departments at the publisher come up with for a book cover.  This one is special for two reasons – it’s my second book with my daughter Victoria; and it’s about the town I was raised in, Battle Creek Michigan.

Our original title was a lot crisper, in my opinion, but the marketing gurus love to rework a title.  It’s a rarity that my working title actually makes it on the book.  Such is life.

I like this story.  One, it’s the Victorian era, which is something I haven’t done much writing or research in before.   Second, there’s a murder and a huge trial – the biggest in Battle Creek’s history up until that point.  Third, Adam “Pump” Arnold was involved in just about every kind of crime at the time.

There are times this book will make you cringe – and at times you will laugh.  There’s almost a Greek tragedy about Pump killing his son George, which is kind of neat. We tried to tie it all together with the history of the burgeoning community at the time…the era before Battle Creek was “Cereal City.”

The book comes out sometime in August.  We will come back to Battle Creek in October to talk about Pump (and the things we didn’t put in the book!)  For now, I’m just happy to see this awesome red cover of this new true crime story.

We just finished our latest true crime book!

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An image we were unable to use for the book – Adam “Pump” Arnold

Smell that?  That’s that new book smell.  There’s a certain feeling you get when you finish a book and today I’m basking in it.  My daughter (and co-author) and I just finished, The Original Battle Creek Crime King:  Adam “Pump” Arnold’s Vile Reign.  When you finish a book there’s a sense of relief, happiness, and a hint of dread (will people like it?)

The book was re-titled last week by the publisher, before they read the book.  I know, it doesn’t sound like it makes sense but almost every publisher I have had seems to be keen on renaming the book.  As I told my editor, “You could call it Free Beer if it will help sell books.”  By the way, I am someday going to title a book just that to prove the point.

This book was fun to write.  Victoria did a lot of the heavy lifting with Pump’s trial for the murder of his son.  It wasn’t easy work given the months of testimony, trying to distill that down into something that made sense.  Arnold was a character almost worthy of a Dickens novel.  There’s a bit of Victorian villain about the man that makes him both hated and entertaining.

The publisher insisted on a lot of photographs for the book and Heritage Battle Creek and Willard Library came through for us.   We tried to weave in the early history of the city into the story of Pump’s rise to power.  There’s some great stuff we came across and I think the large number of photographs will only enhance the book.

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Pump’s foe’s – the Battle Creek Police Department.  I love the dog in the photo and the sign of the police department.  

Every city out there had a Pump Arnold lurking in the shadows.  This is not as much the story of Battle Creek, but of every city.  We hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did writing it.

So what is next?  We begin the final edit process, then the magic happens and it becomes a book.  We have been told that the book will be out sometime this summer.  As authors, we are often the last to know the release date.  It’s a strange industry to say the least.  Victoria and I will then schedule some events in Michigan to lecture about the book.  Follow my blog if you want to know more.

Are we looking at any other true crime books?  Victoria turned in her chapter and said, “What’s next dad?”  We may shift to Virginia next.  I wrote an article about the Colonial Parkway Murders and interviewed one of the victim’s brother – Bill Thomas.  I have to admit, that story is tugging at me.  Of course, it’s an unsolved string of murders and I have to be mentally ready to tackle a cold case.  You get emotionally involved any time you embark on an unsolved murder…or in this case, eight.  As the only father/daughter duo writing true crime, we both need to determine if we’re ready to commit to these murders and do it right.

In the meantime, I need to do a little bit of fiction – just to clear my mind.