Review of Netflix’s: The Confession Killer

Lucas
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 Golden State Killer’s Arrest – The Perspective From the Desk of a True Crime Author

GOLDEN STATE KILLER
The faces of evil.  

I was overjoyed with the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo for several of the Golden State Killer’s brutal crimes.  For the victims, it means that his crime spree of 12 murders, 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries, was finally over.  He will never call his victims again and threaten them.  He will never cause nightmares with the survivors.  He looks like a pathetic old man who will likely spend the rest of his days behind bars…something I am quite comfortable with.  His reign of fear and torment are done.

We will learn more about this douchebag’s activities over time.  The nuts and bolts of the investigation will be played out the courts.  He may talk, he may clam up.  In the end it doesn’t matter.  It is a rare thing, to beat DNA evidence.

I write true crime books about cold cases.  I was thrilled when the news was announced.  I listened to the press conference live in the background while I worked my day job, hanging on every word.  It gives hope to the thousands of victims and family members out there waiting for resolution on their open cases.  At the same time it sends a ripple of fear into every murderer who believes he or she had gotten away with their crimes.  Justice comes…prodding painfully slow in many cases…but it comes.  Every uncaught serial murderer out there had a restless night of sleep as a result of this arrest.  Once more, they are forced to look over their shoulders and wonder when, if ever, the long arm of the law will apprehend them.  Good. Let these bastards sweat.  Let them worry.  Let them have a healthy dose of fear and mental anguish.

When they held the press conference the first question asked was, “Did Michelle McNamara’s book on the case have any influence?”  Law enforcement said no.  I respectfully disagree.  Her writing of that book, like any book written on a cold case, keeps it in the public’s eye.  Books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark keep the pressure on law enforcement when it comes to cold cases.  While her book did not necessarily generate a tip that led to DeAngelo’s arrest, it spawned at least three documentaries to be produced in recent months.  It made the phrase, “Golden State Killer,” become embedded as part of our true crime lexicon.  It kept the public’s interest in the case and as such, keep the pressure on law enforcement.  While they offered Ms. McNamara any credit, I will extend it at this time.

There are others that wrote books on the case that deserve equal credit.  Countless podcasters covered the case over the last few years too and they deserve a professional nod from the true crime community.  They were part of a secret army of citizens that were struggling to keep this case fresh in the minds of a generation that did not know this murder/rape spree. They are part of that unspoken True Crime brotherhood that refuses to let cold cases remain frigid.  Hats off to all of them as well.  A job well done!

When I proposed writing my first book on a cold case, Murder in Battle Creek, there were publishers that wouldn’t touch it.  Not because of the writing or the content, but because it was about an unsolved murder.  I remember one telling me, “Who wants to read about a case that never gets closed?  True crime books have to have an arrest, a trial, and a conviction…that’s how they end.” It was such a narrow view…and discouraging.  It was as if they were saying the victim (Daisy Zick) didn’t matter, that because their crime was unsolved that no one cared. I felt differently.  I cared, and I didn’t think I was alone.  I think the public likes to be a part of such an investigation.  They want to know what went wrong and set it right.  It is in the public’s nature to want to help.  They want the facts and want to play armchair detective.  They want the pain and suffering of the families to end too.  I didn’t’ give up on trying to sell the book and was eventually successful.

The result – over two dozen new tips and leads…one just two months ago.

My second cold case book, I wrote with my daughter Victoria Hester.  The Murder of Maggie Hume exposed the flaws in some of the investigatory work in that case, as well as exposed a suspect that the public had never heard of.  The two of us had full cooperation with the prosecutor’s office and police.  We reached out to the public in speaking events and made sure the story got to as many people as possible.  The word got out.

The result – new tips and leads for the authorities to act on.

Our second book together, A Special Kind of Evil, The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings, has generated numerous new tips that have been turned over to the authorities. We have met with numerous people that are pounding the pavement in their own way, looking for resolution.  I know some folks think true crime authors make their money off other people’s misery.  They are wrong.  Most of us, the ones I know, simply want to help.

I feel like we’ve done our small part in shaking the stigma about writing about cold cases in the publishing world.  This recent arrest fills me (and my daughter) with renewed energy on the new cases we are exploring, as well as some of the new avenues we are looking into on the Colonial Parkway murders. The new cases we are looking into are exciting and bitterly cold.  We look forward to thawing them out and bringing them into the light of public debate, investigation, and speculation.

Those of us that write about cold cases never are done with our work; not until the arrest and conviction takes place.  We are on the cases until they are resolved.  That’s part of the commitment on our part. We don’t take that responsibility lightly.

In the meantime, the good guys have racked up a heck of a triumph.  This arrest is a victory for the law enforcement.  It is vindication and resolution (hopefully) for the many victims of this scumbag.  And, despite what was said in the press conference, it is a win for Michelle McNamara and her countless long hours of work and effort to keep this case in the public’s eye.

#truecrime

#GoldenStateKiller

Public events for A Special Kind of Evil and other books – Fall/Winter of 2017

Hester-Pardoe-4
Clearly she gets her looks from her mother – though I often am credited for her “colorful” vocabulary and temper.

Victoria Hester (my co-author and daughter) have a number of public events coming up this fall and into the winter – most centered on our book on the Colonial Parkway Murders.

As a note, we don’t bring books to sell at these events.  These events are not about selling books, but rather about talking about the victims and the crimes.  We are more than happy to autograph your books or your Kindles (no joke, people ask us to do this) at the events however.  We encourage you to support your local bookstores or Amazon.com.

I will be keeping these dates current.  Sometimes things change on-the-fly with some libraries.  Bookmark this post or simply follow my blog to keep abreast.

We hope to see a lot of locals show up at these events to talk about the crimes.

October 4 – Olivet College, Michigan.  Criminology Class discussing our book The Murder of Maggie Hume and that investigation.

October 5 – Battle Creek Math and Science Center, Battle Creek Math and Science Center, Battle Creek, Michigan.  Two Forensic Classes discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

October 9 – Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – Udvar Hazy Center at Dulles, 7pm.  Blaine will be discussing his book on Frank Luke Jr. – Terror of the Autumn Skies, for the AHS Group meeting there.  Open to the public.

October 17 – Tabb Library, Yorktown, Virginia, 6:30pm – Discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

October 25 – Norfolk Public Library, Norfolk, Virginia. 5-8pm  Discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

November 4 – Culpeper County Public Library, Culpeper, Virginia, 3:00pm.  Discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

November 28 – Newport News Library, Grissom Branch, 7:00pm.  Discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

Williamsburg Library will be January 20 at 2:00pm in the Kitzinger Room at the James City County Branch.

Needless to say we hope you are able to join us!

The Murders of August

Writer

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.

035
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.

Carter
Jay Carter – Maggie boyfriend at the time and a prime suspect in her murder to this day
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

chronicle1
The effects of the bomb blast on the Tasty Cafe’
Tasteebombphoto
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

Visiting Crime Scenes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ragged Island Refuge – where Robin Edwards and David Knobling were murdered.  The map of the refuge has been blasted with a shotgun, an indication of how creepy and dangerous some of these locales are.  

As a true crime author, I visit crime scenes.  I feel obligated to do so.  The only way you can really appreciate or even describe a place is to stand there and look at it yourself.  I’m not looking for clues, but for the kind of subtle nuances that you cannot pick up when you pull up a place on Google Earth.

I primarily write about cold cases.  I’m not looking for any evidence or something that will change the case.  I just try and get a feel for the locations.  You wish the trees or the road could talk though.  They bore witness to horrific acts and stood mute as the crimes unfolded.  If only…

I was talking with my publisher, Steve Jackson, and we both relayed stories of how we have found there are true crime readers that make pilgrimages to these locations.  Steve actually was driving by one such locale in Colorado and spotted a woman walking in the snow, carrying a copy of his book.  Both he and the fan were a little surprised when he approached her in the frigid snow.

Ron Franscell, an outstanding true crime author, goes so far in his Outlaw series (the latest being Outlaw Los Angeles which you should go purchase) to include GPS coordinates for the key locations.  Ron clearly is ahead of the curve on this topic and gives his fans what they want – a physical connection to his written words.

I encountered this with every true crime book I’ve written.  Readers go to these spots to see them for themselves.  I remember after writing about the murder of Daisy Zick (Murder in Battle Creek) the owners of her house told me that they had been unaware of the murder that took place in their home.  They noticed right after the book came out that there was a steady stream of cars on their little dead-end road, all slowing as they drove by.  People went to Jono Drive to see the home where Mrs. Zick died.

Zick Home
The former Zick home in Battle Creek, from my own convert visit.  

Similarly I get people asking me online where the Tasty Café was in Marshall Michigan, the subject of my book, Secret Witness.  I understand the curiosity.  For me as a writer, the location is important.  It is a stage where heinous acts took place.  It is a setting, a tangible link to a crime.

On one instance, for the book, The Murder of Maggie Hume, my daughter (and co-author) went with me to compare the confession of Michael Ronning with the physical placement of the apartments.  It proved important.  From where Ronning said he saw Maggie in the window, it was physically impossible to have done so because of the angle of the building.   We retraced her steps as best we could that night, even grabbing a bite at the Ritzee in Battle Creek, where she had been before her murder.  Distances and travel time become important for us to try and replicate.

As an author, I don’t advocate or recommend that people go to the sites I write about.  In some cases, they are downright creepy, if not dangerous.  I don’t recommend it – but I know people do it anyway.

For our upcoming book, A Special Kind of Evil, The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings, I will be doing a number of blog posts in the coming weeks talking about the crime scenes we visited and our observations and some photos we were unable to include in the book.

Victoria Hester and I spent time at all of the spots, so that we could get it right in the book. There are problems we faced with the visits, as well as some weird stories along the way.  In the case of one of the murders, David Knobling and Robin Edwards, the exact spot where the bodies were found has long since eroded away, the victim of storms over the decades.  In the case of Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey we can only visit where Keith’s car was abandoned.  There has not been any physical evidence they were actually on the parkway.  With Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Dowski; we visited where their bodies were found, but again, there is no evidence they were killed in that spot.  Only in the case of Annamaria Phelps and Daniel Lauer can we be relatively sure they were killed at or very near where they were found.

For those of you that visit the sites, I offer this advice – be careful.  Some locales attract bad people.  #TrueCrime  #ASpecialKindofEvil

 

Discussion of True Crime at the Historical Society of Michigan’s Meeting

True Crime Covers

Small wonder that people have a strange perception of true crime authors…

Last week I was honored to attend/present at the Historical Society of Michigan’s: Michigan in Perspective: The Local History Conference in Sterling Heights Michigan.  I was on a panel with fellow New York Times Bestselling Author Mardi Link and award winning author and documentary producer David Schock.

I got the idea for the event a few years ago for the panel because of a rejection letter.  I had written an article about an unsolved murder in a community from the 1960’s and had submitted it to an unnamed state history magazine.  I was told that true crime, especially unsolved crimes, was not considered historical.  Ouch – that hurt.

That response resonated with me.  In my mind I had not written about a murder as much as I had also provided a lot of historical context for the community where the crime took place.  It hit me then that many mainstream historians probably don’t hold true crime writers in the same category of historians that they themselves are in.

In my presentation I hoped to raise awareness around the role that true crime authors play in documenting history. Historically true crime writers got associated with the seedy-side of authoring.  When you look at the covers of old issues of True Detective magazine you could get the wrong impression of us – that we are into female dominance and bondage.  There is also an element of true crime writing that doesn’t go after current high-profile crimes.  These books are often bestsellers but don’t provide a lot of history and their sensational nature tends to paint true crime authors as a modern form of ambulance chaser.

The work that David and Mardi and I do however is not contemporary crimes but those from the past.  We document the local history as context for the crimes we are writing about.  We have to.  Local history provides the social framework where these murders took place.

We have to document local history so that the reader understands the people, their motivations, and their place in the drama.  Without including a lot of local history, the victims can become faceless and voiceless to the reader.  Many true crime authors are stewards of local history.  We are often some of local history’s prime champions.

Major crimes play a role in a community.  They are often defining events etched into the memories of the people that are there, even if they had not role in the crime itself.  People remember significant crimes.  They become part of the local culture, part of a shared memory of a key event.  Consider this:  People remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy was killed or when the World Trade Centers were taken down.  These were crimes, albeit large scale criminal acts, that are burned into our memories.  Smaller murders have the same effect on a smaller, more community-wide scale.

In one of my books, The Murder of Maggie Hume, I (along with my co-author Victoria Hester) wrote about the urban development of Battle Creek Michigan in the 1970’s.  If I had written a traditional non-fiction history book on the subject – it would have sold roughly three-to-five copies.  By weaving that history into the book about the crime, it has been read by a significantly larger audience.  True crime, as a genre, is much more broadly read than traditional history books.

Most people don’t realize that the research we do on books and films is almost identical to the techniques used by non-fiction writing historians.  I feel safe in saying that because I write non-fiction history books (mostly military).  Some historians may cringe at the thought of us being the same, but trust me, we are historians through-and-through.

Finally, as David likes to point out, our works are often calls to action.  The three of us primarily work in a niche in true crime that deals with unsolved cases.  When we write a book, we are looking for new answers.  We generate tips and leads.  We ensure that the crime does not slip into the darkness unremembered or unsolved.

The turnout for our presentation was pretty large and we got a lot of positive questions and comments.  People always bring up crimes we should be looking at.  I have to admit, I knew only a little about the Oakland County Child Killings (OCCK) but now I am doing a little bit of digging into that subject.  It seems this is one of those unsolved cases that is screaming for the right attention – a historical true crime perspective.  More on this later, depending on what my digging unearths.

I encourage you to go and read Mardi’s and David’s books and view David’s stunning documentaries.  As I told Mardi, I read her book, When Evil Came to Goodhart, at least once a year.  You should too.  Overall, I had a blast – I met some neat people, and got to spend an hour or so with some top-notch talent in my field, which was a great treat.

#BattleCreek

Wrap-Up Of Our Book Tour in Michigan – The Murder of Maggie Hume

The week in Michigan on book tour for The Murder of Maggie Hume, was incredible.  We met a lot of neat people and were welcomed with a tremendous amount of support in having this crime resolved once and for all.  Like many books I’ve worked on, this one is never fully complete – not until the case is tried.

I know people think book tours are about selling books.  Not true.  Oh, I’m sure some authors subscribe to that – but not us.  When you write about a cold case it is about getting the story out there.

We started out with an interview with WBCK radio in Battle Creek.  For Victoria, this was her first radio interview and she did great.  I’ve done all of this stuff before, so for me this is old hat.  It was fantastic to watch my co-author daughter go through her first radio and TV interviews though.  It brought back the memories of when this was all new to me.

IMG_1942WBCK – getting the word out. 

Victoria and I paid our respects to the victim as well.  This wasn’t a photo-op, this was us fulfilling a solemn duty, an obligation, to a young woman we never met.

Mandi Zimmerman, a Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department officer, has become our buddy over the last year and is one of those handful of people that worked behind the scenes to make this book come to fruition.  Mandi was one of the first people to say, “look into this case,” and facilitated some of the meetings we had that started this entire project.  Mandi invited us for a tour of the jail in Battle Creek.  I will admit, touring a jail sounds a little off the beaten path – but this was four quarts of awesome sauce.  The jail is highly innovative in their approach to incarceration.  It really is a city within the city.  We learned a lot – and even got a view of the cell that held Michael Ronning (as well as a chance to talk to folks that knew him then).  I came away deeply impressed with the administration of the facility.  The staff were top-notch officers who have difficult jobs to do but work with incredible focus.

Our October 9 Willard Library session at the Miller-Stone building was packed – quite literally standing room only with over 181 guests.  For Victoria, this was the largest audience she had ever spoken too.  She even got to put her nursing skills to a test when a guest fell. Victoria gets a lot of experience helping elderly people who fall in her day job.  The audience was very supportive of our talk.  We were surprised when we finally got to meet John Hume.  We had been corresponding with him for some time but had never seen him live.  The support of the family was important in our efforts and it was nice to associate a face with a name.  The Hume’s have been through a lot and it had to be warming to see that the Battle Creek community was solidly behind them in hoping this case is resolved.

Miller StoneFrom the BC Shopper – a glimpse of the crowd

The family of Bart Thiessen were there as well.  By the end of our trip we felt like unofficial members of their clan.  Our book released details of the auto accident that took their son’s life and the possible ties to this murder.  The book was a means of getting that story out in public for the first time.

Also at the meeting was the mayor of Battle Creek and his wife – both of which were former police officers.  We really liked meeting Barbara Walters who had worked the case, she had such energy and memories of this investigation.  Calhoun County Prosecutor Dave Gilbert was there as well as our friend Bill Howe who was wonderfully instrumental in our research efforts as a former investigator for the Prosecutor’s office.  Mr. Gilbert was quoted the next day in the Enquirer saying that he hoped the book would lead to new tips in the case.  I’m pleased to say that has started to happen.

We can’t thank Bill Howe enough for his guidance and support in the writing of the book.  Former officer Elwood Priess was also there which was a real treat too, I even saw him signing some books.  Judge Mike Jaconette, a former cold case investigator in the Hume murder was present as well.  In total, there were almost a dozen former officers with some sort of connection to the case who were there with one objective in mind – getting final justice for Maggie Hume.  Some of the retired officers even said they were willing to work the case in their spare time pro bono.  The community is solidly behind resolving this case for Maggie and it was an honor to meet these people.  I came away thinking, “this case is going to get closed.”

On Friday morning we went to Grand Rapids to be on Take 5 and Company to talk about the case.  http://www.wzzm13.com/story/entertainment/events/2014/10/10/murder-maggie-hume-book-authors-battle-creek/16975391/ That afternoon we did a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Grand Rapids – and had dinner with cold case specialist and documentary creator – David Schock.  Dave wrote the intro to my book, Murder in Battle Creek, on the murder of Daisy Zick.  If you remember that Janet Chandler case a few years ago, it was Dave’s class (and his leadership) that did the documentary that drove that case to being reexamined and leading to multiple convictions. People that write about cold cases are a different breed of true crime authors.  It’s a tight-knit community and David is one of the most dynamic and innovative men you will meet.  We are on the same mission, using different media to achieve those goals.  Check out his site (and the cases he documents) at www.delayedjustice.com.

book signing in BC

Saturday was our book signing at Barnes and Noble in Battle Creek.  We continually had 3-5 people gathered at the desk talking to us or getting autographs.  Several tips were generated there, right at the table at Barnes and Noble.  We also had people out in the store just in case the suspect we named in the book, Jay Carter, appeared.  We had a potential sighting of him, hovering behind us, but this remains unconfirmed.  We got photos as well from our friends in the store.  The mystery man left the store after pacing behind us for a few minutes.  If it was him, and the intent was to intimidate or somehow confront us, it failed. I tend to think it was just a mistaken sighting.

Sunday was a lecture session with the Battle Creek Historical Society.  The turnout here was good as well.  People in the community all seemed to share a common theme – they want this crime resolved.  They want an arrest.  They want the families involved to have closure.

We met up with family over at the Dark Horse in Marshall for dinner.  It was actually nice enough to have a meal outside, probably the last for the year.  It was great to see that the Horse hasn’t changed with all of the publicity their TV show had heaped upon them.

Monday we did an interview with Dave Eddy for his local cable TV show which will air in a few months.  We are related to Dave by marriage and his interests in the case were keen.  Sheri Sherban also had us on for a segment of her TV show Be Scene too.   People liked to focus on the fact that we are the only father daughter team writing true crime books but the real story was the case itself.

Sheri3

That evening we had dinner with the Thiessen family.  These fine folks attended a lot of our events and were far too complimentary of the work Victoria and I did.  We now have a bond that is beyond words.

While in town my blog got hit by someone associated with the suspect of the crime, Jay Carter.  It was pretty clear from the content.  This person tried to spin a story around Mr. Carter’s innocence.  My blog is not a forum for murder suspects to try and vindicate themselves.  Mr. Carter refused to meet with the cold case team in 2005, hardly the act of someone who was interested in resolving this case or clearing up old questions/issues.  One thing was clear – we are generating some tension out there.  I am more than willing to be the lightning rod for that kind of anxiety if it brings about an arrest in his case – be that any of the suspects or someone else.  Maggie and Bart deserve at least that.  Victoria and I put ourselves out there in public because we know the value of generating media interest in a case.

Tuesday we went to Ann Arbor to speak at the Pittsfield Library about the book.  We had a good size audience there, including people who knew the Hume family and/or lived in Battle Creek.  We did events in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids because we wanted the story of this crime to go far and wide in hopes of generating tips.  This is a crime that goes beyond Battle Creek.  People everywhere are interested in cold cases.

The results…the tips are coming in! 

So far Victoria and I have received four tips related to this crime and have turned them over to the BCPD.  They have them and will be following up on them.  As an author, I won’t solve this case, I am simply the teller of the facts and the crafting of the story in a readable format.  The professionals will solve this – and they have more tools and techniques available to them than ever before.

I understand people want to know what tips we received.  Sorry, that’s for the police.  When this case goes to trial, which we hope it will, we’ll write about it then.  This book isn’t done.  It won’t be complete without the arrest and conviction chapters…chapters I’m looking forward to writing when the time comes.

We encourage people to share their copies of the book (sacrilege to most authors) with people that may have lived in the area at the time.  I’m sure my publisher cringes at that thinking.  Everyone that reads this book is a possible source for new information that can bring this case to an end.  So spread the word, tell the story.

We aren’t going to solve this case.  One of you, however, may.  Don’t worry if the tip seems inconsequential.  Contact the Battle Creek Police Department. The key to this case is someone out there that heard or saw something. Like the X-Files used to say, “The Truth is Out There.”

Book Tour for The Murder of Maggie Hume

IMG_0303

The Willard Library event at Miller-Stone last year for Murder in Battle Creek

When you write a true crime book a book tour is fairly commonplace, the publishers expect it. I enjoy and dread them at the same time.  I do look forward to discussing the subject of the book, not because it sells books – but because hopefully it will generate a tip or lead that might bring this case to the courts.  I like fielding questions about, “what didn’t you put in the book?” or “what are you working on now?”  Because I’ve written a few books on Calhoun County MI (Lost Eagles, Secret Witness, Murder in Battle Creek, and The Murder of Maggie Hume) as well as other genres, I have to be prepared for questions about a number of topics.

This book tour is great because I’m not alone – my co-author and daughter Victoria is coming along.  For her, this is all new.  I remember those days on my first book tour in New York for Cubicle Warfare, it was fun and stressful and a bit crazy, all rolled into one.  It will be great to see her experience some of this.

I enjoy connecting email addresses to faces and reconnecting with some of the great people that made this book possible.  We are also going to look into doing some research on some future books.  There’s plenty of crimes out there that need new light shed on them.  Working on cold cases you get the nagging feeling your work is never really done.

The book has been selling VERY well – it’s going into a second printing after a month (with a handful of corrections).  That’s a big deal in the publishing world.  Our first reaction was, “Great – The more people that read the book, the better the odds of getting to the right people that can drive this case to closure.”

Personally I will admit, these events can be exhausting. You never know who is in the audience or what agenda they might have.  I’ve had some strange encounters over the years.  Crowds of people tend to keep you on your toes mentally. I’ve had hecklers before – which is fascinating to deal with.  Now and then you get family and friends of the victim (as well as the suspects) showing up.

As a tip, when you introduce yourself don’t just drop your name but give us some context.  Victoria and I have a lot of followers on social media and correspond with a lot of people – so often times just a name isn’t going to ring a bell.  In my case this is especially true if you are someone I graduated high school or college with. Thirty-plus years can make face/name recognition a little tricky.

Some people come forward and say they know something pertinent to the case.  I cannot stress enough that if you have any information related to the death of Maggie Hume (or any other murder), please contact the Battle Creek Police Department.  We want to hear your information but we are not tasked with bringing this case to trial.  Any tips you give us, we pass on to the authorities.  We have to.  We want this case resolved.

Finally, our schedule is going to change (be added to) as we get closer to our arrival.  It happens.  The media sometimes spring things at the last minute.  I will be updating this blog entry to help keep things straight.

We are looking forward to seeing folks in Michigan, making some new friends, and answering your questions.  With your help – this case can finally see the light of day in a courtroom!

Thursday, Oct. 9, 8-8:30am – WBCK Radio, Battle Creek

Thursday, Oct. 9 at 6:30 pm

Willard Library Lecture – Miller-Stone Building, Battle Creek

Friday, Oct. 10 between 9-10am

WZZM-13 TV – Grand Rapids MI

Friday, Oct. 10 from 5 pm – 7 pm

Book Signing, Barnes & Noble, Woodland Mall Grand Rapids – 3195 28th St. SE

Saturday, Oct. 11 from 2 – 4 p.m.

Book Signing, Barnes & Noble, Lakeview Sq. Battle Creek – 5701 Beckley Rd.

Sunday, Oct. 12 at 2 pm

Battle Creek Historical Society Lecture – Fieldstone Center, in Conference Room 3 at 165 N Washington, Battle Creek

Monday, October 13 – Pre-recorded Interview with Dave Eddy

Tuesday, Oct.14 at 7 pm

Lecture, Pittsfield Branch Library – Ann Arbor – 2359 Oak Valley Dr.

We look forward to seeing you!

Anniversary of a Crime – The Murder of Maggie Hume

Late last week we received our author’s copies of our book:  The Murder of Maggie Hume – Cold Case in Battle Creek.  The timing of the release of the book, which came out last week, was something my co-author and I noted – it was related to the anniversary of her murder.

Maggie Book Cover

When you are a true crime author, the anniversary of a murder you have written about has special meaning to you.  It is a date that sticks in your head – it nags at you like an ache in your joints.  You can’t let it pass without recognition of some sort.

As a writer, you like to delude yourself that you “know” the victim after writing about them, but in reality you only scratch the surface about the person and their personality.  The victim’s family and friends knew them and the best you can get is stories and fading memories of events from survivors.  As an author, you find yourself just chronicling facts with that desire to tell more about the person.  You want to give the victim a voice in your work, and you try to do that, but it is often just your perception of that person.  Time and a violent act separate us permanently from those we write about.  Authors are left to document a crime and the reaction to it, and try as we might, we never get to fully know the victim on the level we desire.  With this case that was even more important.  Lost in decades of political turmoil and positioning is the victim herself.

As to the anniversary, it was on this date, in 1982, that Margaret “Maggie” Hume’s body was discovered in the closet of her apartment in Battle Creek MI.  The discovery of her body was the start of an investigation that continues to this day.

We know a few things about her last few hours on August 17, 1982.  Along with a friend, she consoled a co-worker who had been terminated that day.  She met up with her boyfriend Virgil “Jay” Carter at the Ritzee in Urbandale.  The two of them went back to her apartment..  Her roommate called her and told Maggie that she would not be back until late morning from picking up her sister at the airport.  Maggie received a call from a friend (a former boyfriend) about a beer delivery for an upcoming birthday party.  Maggie pretended to not know who was calling, apparently to avoid her boyfriend from having a jealous reaction.  We know her phone was off the hook sometime after 11:00pm.  At some point we know Maggie went to bed for the night.  We have her boyfriend’s account of the evening in detail, but much of that has to be called into question.

The evidence tells us fragments of what happened after that.  We also know that someone climbed up onto her balcony that night and entered through the door into the apartment.  They went down the hall directly to her room and attacked her.  There was a scream heard by the neighbors at 2:00am (August 18), which was assumed to be the time she confronted her killer.  She was sexually assaulted and strangled with a ligature.  Her murderer picked up her body and placed it in the closet, then covered it up with a “Snuggie” sack and blanket in an attempt to conceal the body. The murderer went out the way he came in, via the door on the balcony.

Those are the things we know for sure.  Everything else, and there’s a great deal more, is open to debate.

After that horrific crime her body would not be discovered until the afternoon, and then only after her roommate, Margaret Van Winkle, insisted a more thorough search of the apartment. “I don’t want to open a closet door or find a body under a bed or behind a couch.”  The Battle Creek Police Department took this crime seriously – Maggie’s father was a prominent local football coach and revered in the community, but their initial walk-thru of the apartment was cursory at best. In fairness, Jay Carter and Maggie’s brother John had searched the apartment and had not discovered her too.  Mistakes were made in the investigation, almost from the beginning.  Crime scene investigation has come a long way since 1982.  When they did a more detailed search they discovered the victim’s body they had overlooked before.

What followed was three decades of determined but sometimes misdirected investigation.  This was a case that would pit the Calhoun County Prosecutor’s Office against the Battle Creek Police Department in a bitter contest of wills, egos, and the law.  Even today, the case stirs passion in the former investigators.  The legal wrangling intertwined with a confession by a convicted murderer wrecked havoc on all parties involved.  One thing I can say with some assurance, we didn’t talk to a single officer today that doesn’t want justice served.  Investigators are like that.  What varies between them is their thoughts as to who actually killed Maggie.

But tonight isn’t about our book.  It’s not about small-town politics and infighting.  It isn’t about theories.  It IS about not forgetting the victim – Maggie Hume.  For one night, we have to remember what happened in 1982.  Letting this crime slip from our collective memories would be an injustice – an injustice in a case that has already suffered enough with that stigma.  In a newspaper interview before his death, Maggie’s father said, “I just don’t want people to forget.” Tonight we honor her by not forgetting what happened in that waning summer of 1982.

In researching our book on this case, we spoke to a lot of people tied to the victim and many were supportive of our digging, our probing at what went wrong in the investigation.  The anniversary of this crime should strengthen our collective resolve to bring her justice.  A good friend of mine, David Schock – an expert on Michigan cold cases, told me, “Somebody always knows something,” a quote he borrowed from retired detective Jim Fairbanks.   It’s just a matter of the right people coming forward.  As an author, I believe this mantra.  Someone does know what happened to Maggie that night, or saw something and never pieced it all together as part of the crime.  The killer talked – they often do, confiding in a friend or lover what they did.  Karma is a patient stalking beast…and the killer should fear the retribution that karma and time can bring.

Maggie Hume should not be remembered for her death, but for the lives she touched when she was still alive.  We should not be caught in our personal opinions or egos, but strive to resolve this case.  We must respect the family who lost a loved one – and her dear friends who lost a beloved companion.  For them this anniversary is a painful injury that recurs every year, a nagging reminder of what was lost.

Most importantly…we should not rest until justice can be delivered.

Writing Update – So Many Words…So Little Time

I have been quite busy on a few fronts (both of my careers) and negligent in updating my blog.  So, here’s an update on various writing projects for those that are interested. Pardon me if I ramble…

 Fires Promo

First up – I discovered today that my book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Fires of October, (Fonthill Media) is a finalist in the History category for the Military Writers Society of America.  I couldn’t be happier.  The book breaks new ground in Missile Crisis studies, revealing the invasion plans for Cuba in 1962.  I have gotten two silver medals in the past for my books – I’m hoping that this year I score a gold.  The book has been getting good coverage in the media, so I’m honored just to be considered again.  http://www.warbirdsnews.com/warbird-articles/interviews/blaine-pardoes-the-fires-october.html

My next book to reach readers is the true crime project, The Murder of Maggie Hume: Cold Case in Battle Creek. (The History Press).  The title of this project changed from Unsolved Battle Creek and I’m happy that it did – I like having the victim of this crime brought up-front-and-center.  This is a case where the victim has sometimes been lost in the chaos of the investigation, so I’m glad she gets top billing here.  When you read the book you’ll understand what I mean.

Maggie Front Cover

Sidebar:  For some reason publishers like changing my titles, and I’ve learned not to cringe much at this.  You have to have a thick skin in this business.  Like I told one marketing person who questioned one of my titles several years ago, “You can call the book, Free Beer if you think it will sell the books to the right people.”

This book will start arriving in bookstores in August, and it’s available right now for pre-order from The History Press and on Amazon.com.  This book was an incredible amount of labor to research, but I was lucky because my co-author, Victoria Hester, is so talented and full of energy.  She’s my daughter as well, and from what I have found, we’re the only father/daughter true crime author team out there.  She tackled some of the hardest parts of this book – and did a great job.

This book hits home for both of us because, as a cold case, this one is one that could be brought to trial.  There have been a lot of rumors over the years in Battle Creek MI, where the crime took place, as to the perpetrator(s) and motives.  The national media got involved and really muddied the waters, as you will read in the book.

We’re hoping this book can give people the answers to some long open questions regarding this senseless and brutal murder.  Books on cold cases tend to make some people uncomfortable – especially those responsible.

We will be in Battle Creek in mid-October doing some lectures and book signing events. More on that later, when the book is finally out.

Sidebar Number Two:  There must be something going on where I was raised because Western Michigan is getting a lot of air-time soon. CBS has a new TV series coming out soon called Battle Creek.  And Marshall MI, the nearby town my family hails from (and that I wrote about in my true crime book, Secret Witness) has a TV show airing this week on The History Channel – Dark Horse Nation.  My family and I have long been patrons of the Dark Horse, so it is extra cool to see Aaron and the guys get some much deserved publicity. The Dark Horse Nation is strong in Virginia guys. But I digress…

I just finished the last editorial pass on Never Wars The US Plans to Invade the World. (Fonthill Media).  This book covers the US’s war plans starting in 1904-1941.  The details of these plans for attacking Great Britain, Germany, Canada, etc., are fascinating reading.  They really give you an insight into the political realities of the era, as well as the gradual evolution in US military planning.  Wargamers out there are going to love this because it is fertile material for any number of “what if” gaming sessions.

 NWars

Sawney Bean – Dissecting the Legend of the Scottish Cannibal. (Fonthill Media) will be coming out sometime this fall.   Ever see The Hills Have Eyes?  It was based on this story.  This is a cross between a history book, a horror story, and a true crime book.  Did Sawney Bean and his family kill over a thousand people in the Galloway region of Scotland, only to devour their victims?  This book really emphasizes how folklore evolves and changes over time as well.

Other stuff.  I’m writing fiction again, military sci-fi.  That’s all I can say.  No, it’s not BattleTech.  I know my fans what BattleTech, but there are tangible reasons I am not writing those novels right now.  I just finished the first book in this new and exciting effort – well over 110k words – so this is not a small book at all.  This is something new, something huge, something different and more importantly, fun.  It has been great for me to get back to doing some good military fiction again.

So what’s next?  More on the fiction front – follow my blog for information.  I have two ideas in mind for Michigan history books, something I enjoy doing.  I’m heading to Ithaca NY in October for a silent film viewing of Bert Hall’s film, A Romance of the Air, which was filmed there.   Since I wrote his biography (The Bad Boy – Fonthill Media) , I thought going there was a great idea.  I am also penciled in to speak at the September meeting of the League of WWI Aviation Historians in Dayton on another subject I wrote about – Frederick Zinn (Lost Eagles – University of Michigan Press).

Thanks for tuning in…there’s a lot coming.