We Have Finished Our New Book – Unsolved Battle Creek – The Murder of Maggie Hume

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The subject of our book, Maggie Hume, graduating in High School

I haven’t written any updates for a while on my latest true crime project – mostly because we’ve been busy writing it and I wanted to make sure that a few people reviewed it for accuracy (including a member of the victim’s family.)  We’re finally in a position to give an update.

My daughter and I have finished our upcoming true crime book – Unsolved Battle Creek – The Murder of Maggie Hume.   Few people know what it is like to finish a book.  You have a huge sense of accomplishment, a tinge of relief, a sigh of personal satisfaction; and in the case of this book, the knowledge that it is not really done.  The book won’t be complete until someone is brought to justice for this crime.

When you write true crime projects about unsolved cold cases there is that reality that you must confront.  But the book is just a vehicle for telling the story, getting people to talk, and hopefully generating new tips and leads that can bring the case to closure.  Is that possible?  Yes. We both sincerely believe that can happen. And there are a lot of reasons we feel that way, which readers will get to read for themselves in the book.

When we started this project, I thought it was going to be fairly straightforward (despite warnings from people who knew the case.)  Because of our FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request I knew (from experience) we would have access to information that the public never did.  We were sure there were suspects and that the police were closer to solving the case than the public ever realized.

We were unprepared for the incredible journey this book took us on.

When you work a project like this, you have to go where your research takes you.  The book we ended up writing certainly wasn’t the book we thought it would be those months ago when we started.  When  we started this, I assumed it would follow the usual flow for a true crime book: You start with the crime itself, you go through the investigatory process, you narrow the suspects (and in other true crimes about closed cases, you cover the trial and conviction).  This book proved to be different and more challenging from the beginning.

First off there were more potential crimes involved including two other murders and a tragic/fatal auto accident and the cover-up tied to it.  Michael Ronning’s confession(s) and the mountain of legal rulings tied to him were sometimes daunting to process.  The rift between the Prosecutor’s Office and the Battle Creek Police Department about this case was like an open wound for some people, even after all of these years.  Our asking questions only seemed to inflame that old wound.  As much as we wanted to disregard some of these things we uncovered, it proved quite impossible.  All we, as writers, wanted to do was to tell the story.  This one has more twists and turns linked to it than a movie on the Lifetime Channel.

There were times it was confusing for us – so we had to be careful in the telling to make sure we made it so a reader could keep it straight.  We were lucky to have people to help guide us, officially and sometimes off-the-record. A number of former officers and prosecutors came forward to assist and clarify the mountains of information we had.

Along the way on this journey we’ve met with some incredible people.  What stood out for me personally was how almost everyone who had touched this case was still focused on getting to a conviction.  Police officers and Prosecutors are that way.  Cold cases tear at them.  They want justice.  Nobody wants “the bad guy” to get away with murder.  There were different opinions as to who the bad guy was – but that was okay.  We tried to keep some degree of objectivity when we wrote the story, though in some cases we deliberately didn’t.  The readers need to understand the full story and sometimes that requires the writers to make the connections to help them.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was word count.  To be blunt, we exceeded it, and there was plenty that we wanted to include, but we couldn’t because of space.  It’s an envious position to be in as authors, but also painful to contemplate cutting sentences or entire paragraphs. This book will have a lot of photographs as well.  Pictures take you on the journey we travelled as writers.  We have to put the reader back in 1982 and we’ve got a lot of ways we did that.

I believe that there will be people that are happy with what we have written in the end.  I also believe that there are going to be some people that are not happy with what we have penned.  Two people in particular (the suspects) are not going to be pleased at all.  A few others will I’m sure try and pick it apart as well.  We welcome the dialogue.

One thing we can all agree on is that, at some point, justice must be served.

People have been asking me what it is like writing with my daughter – and it has been a rare treat.  Usually when I work on a project like this, I don’t have someone to act as a sounding board.  Victoria was fantastic, tackling some of the most complicated and difficult chapters to write.  The book was a true joint venture in every way.  We were constantly bouncing ideas off of each other – running text past each other, tweaking things.  We physically (during that horrible blizzard in January this year) retraced the night of the crime, right down to visiting the Urbandale Ritzee, which is like a snapshot into 1982.  Personally, I think it helped make this product better overall.  It certainly was therapeutic for me to work with her.   This book impacts a lot of people’s lives and such emotional writing can take a toll on you as an author.  She weathered it well.  Victoria can be a pit-bull on speed when she gets her blood up and this book inflames that kind of excitement at times.

It was a little odd, teaching my daughter what it was like in Battle Creek in 1982.  There were so many things happening that impacted the community – from wacky antics of the Guy Brothers to the failure of the Michigan Mall. At the same time it was a little weird to see some of the seedier side of my hometown, Battle Creek, in this book.  There’s a criminal element of society that most of us never get exposed to.  When that culture touches ours, the results are almost always bad.

There are a lot of people we have to thank for this book – and I hope we’ve captured all of their names in the acknowledgements.  The History Press, our publisher, has been great (as usual) to work with.

We don’t have a release date yet.  And for those of you asking, yes, we will be doing a Michigan book tour after the book has been out for a few weeks.  Now we enter the stage where the copy editor does her magic and we wait to see what the final product looks like.

Researching in Battle Creek For My Next Book

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My daughter Victoria and I scheduled our trip to Battle Creek some time ago to do research on our upcoming book Unsolved Battle Creek.  This book is about the unsolved murder of Maggie Hume in August of 1982.  Just finding a gap in our calendars was challenging given our hectic real-life-day-jobs.  On top of this I am working on wrapping up a military history book, Neverwars, which has been eating into my time.  As such, we planned to go up the first full week in January and made the necessary arrangements with the City Clerk’s office to get access to the case files. Getting the access required filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which generally is easy to do, but requires some coordination to execute.

We drove up on Sunday, January 5, with ample warnings of something called a Polar Vortex.  They didn’t even give the storm a cool name like Superstorm Xena.  Instead they just called it a Polar Vortex.  I kept thinking, “Well how bad can that be?  If it was a real storm, it would have a cool name and music theme on the news.”  The turnpike was empty most of the trip – apparently other people heeded the warning (or were just plain smarter than us.)  Around Toledo the snow started.  No problem – it was just snow.  Well, within ten miles the turnpike had become a single lane.  THAT was a problem.  No sweat thought; I had been raised in Michigan, snow driving is something you don’t forget…it’s like that ugly tattoo that you despise but can’t get removed.  Pop the SUV into four-wheel-drive, slow the hell down, and be smart.

For the record – I think I was the only one that played the “smart” card.

We had semi-trailers and cars winging past us, only to end up in the ditch a few a few miles down the road.  In fact, we saw a lot of skidded and snowbound vehicles.  I stayed calm and patient – things I generally suck at.  We got to I-69 and added a near white-out condition to the terror of semi’s winging past us in lanes that didn’t exist.  I thought, “Good, I was feeling unchallenged.” (I lied to myself).  By the time we got to I-94 the one-lane of road was a road in name only – it was really just a series of wheel ruts rapidly filling with snow.  When I exited onto Michigan Ave I told Victoria, “I know the sign says stop – but we’re not doing that.  Isaac Newton is driving.  Make sure I’m clear with oncoming traffic.”  Oncoming traffic – that was a joke.  The only people other than us that were crazy enough to be driving were those heading to Firekeepers to make a frigid offering to the Indians.

We made it to my mother’s home just in time for the temperatures to plummet to historic lows.  I’m not just talking cold  here, -15 below with 34 mph winds which made it something like -486 below zero windchill (my math may be off, I’m a Harper Creek graduate…)

We had two days of city hall and the library being closed we finally got in to review the case files.  I know a lot of you want tantalizing details about what we found.  Sorry folks, not yet.  That’s why we are putting them in the book.  We read, photocopied, and transcribed roughly a thousand pages of material on the case.  I sat back and watched the chilling and somewhat disturbing Michael Ronning video recorded sessions with police – taking copious notes.   It was a complete immersion in the research.  Victoria and I all day nudged each other with comments like, “You’re not going to believe this!”  Even now, we are both still digesting what we found, comparing notes, etc.  The more you review the information, the more of a story it tells.

As such, we’ve been talking almost every day about the details.  With a project like this, there is a lot of raw material you have to sift through, and then organize, so that it is readable.  I will say this, the Battle Creek Police and the Prosecutor’s Office has this material well organized compared to some of the case files I’ve worked with.  Police and interviewees hand-written notes, typed notes, transcript of interviews, tip sheets, etc. are full of great details in some cases. But there’s a reason that true crime authors don’t just reproduce the investigator’s reports.  To the untrained eye, they don’t tell the story of what happened.  They are a jumble of information that has to be structured before writing can even take place.  For some people I think it would be overwhelming.  We have our work cut out for us, turning the material into a comprehensive story.  And it is a story that must be told.  If ever a case screamed for justice, it is this one.

We also spent some time pulling information at Willard Library (once they thawed out) – culling newspaper interviews and accounts, going through yearbooks, etc.

I can honestly say that this case – and in turn this book, is going to be something extraordinary.  This is not just about a vibrant young woman being murdered.  There are a lot of twists and turns – enough to make for a good John Grisham novel.  There are possible cover-ups, confessions, etc.  It is like a mental rollercoaster of sorts at this stage.  A lot of fine officers in the Battle Creek Police Department and the Prosecutor’s Office have gone down the paths we were researching.  Reading their notes, you get a feeling for these men. I hope we do them some degree of respect when the book is published.

To be honest, it was odd seeing the names of people I went to high school with associated with the crimes/murders related to this case.  I actually broke out my 1980 yearbook yesterday to review faces with names. Boy do I miss the hair I used to have…and the waistline.

One of the last places Maggie went to in public was the Ritzee in Urbandale.  My mother went with Victoria and I to visit it for lunch.  Not only was it great to have a Ritzee hamburger again – it helped us really get into the local culture. We drove to some of the key sites to get a feeling for the distances and geography.  We wanted to see the sites that factored into all of this – driving the streets, etc.

The next step for us is to contact some of the key people tied to the crime(s).  We generally do this via snail mail at first. When practical, it’s nice to give people a heads-up that the book is coming out – but on a case like this getting to everyone is nearly impossible.   I’m sure some folks will not want to talk to us, that’s understandable.  Others will have memory issues – and I’m confident we can move past those during interviews.  Many people think that the writing is the hard part of doing a book like this.  It’s not.  The hard part is the research – and accurately describing a person we never met – in this case Miss Hume.  We want her to have a voice in this.  She was not a statistic.  She deserves to be remembered for something more than being a victim.  She was a person.  We don’t want to lose sight of this when writing the book.

We have already had a number of people contact us to volunteer information – and we will be responding to you shortly now that we know more of the pertinent points and details of the case.  Victoria and I have been impressed with how people have reached out so far.  It is clear to the two of us that Maggie Hume was well known and respected in Battle Creek.  We’ve also learned just how close and supportive the St. Phil community is too.  She touched a lot of people from what we are hearing.  I only hope we do her justice with this book.

I am also pleased to say that we’ve had a tip come in already – just as a result of us posting blog entries.  As always, these get passed on to the appropriate authorities.  We’re writers – not law enforcement.  This case is still very much open and active.  If you have information pertinent to the case you are welcome to contact us or but we encourage you to contact the Battle Creek Police Department.

If you are interested in this case as we continue to do research, please feel free to follow this blog and/or follow Victoria Hester or me on Facebook.  If you want to contact me directly, please use my email bpardoe870@aol.com.

New Major Book Project – Unsolved Battle Creek

I am pleased to announce that I will be writing another true crime book this spring – Unsolved Battle Creek.   This book will be published by The History Press who did such a masterful job with Murder in Battle Creek.  I am even more excited that I will be doing this book with a very talented co-author, Victoria Hester.  Victoria comes by her skills genetically – she’s my daughter.

I have dropped hints, some subtle, some less-so, about the subject of this project over the last five months.  We were waiting to make sure we had extended contact to the family of the victim.  This is a matter of respect on our part.  We also had to make sure we properly initiated/filed the appropriate Freedom of Information Act request with the authorities to obtain access to the case files.  Having done our due diligence, we’re comfortable with saying that the subject of this book will be the unsolved murder of Maggie Hume August 17-18 1982.

On August 17-18 of 1982 Margaret “Maggie” Hume was brutally attacked and strangled in her apartment in Battle Creek Michigan.  It has been acknowledged as one of the city’s best known unsolved murders.  Maggie and her family were deeply respected fixtures in the Battle Creek community.  She was not the kind of person that generated enemies, yet someone savagely killed this young woman. She is a woman that deserves to have her story told and the facts/evidence laid bare for the community.  She deserves justice.

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Personally I have to consider any project like this carefully.  To me, it comes down to some basic questions.  Is the story worth telling?  Is there plenty here to keep people engaged when they read the book?  With an unsolved case, is there a chance to make a difference and perhaps help the case by generating attention and possibly new leads?  Are people even interested in this case?

I had no less than 15 people tell me that I needed to look into this murder, including several involved with law enforcement.  That, is what you call, “a subtle hint.”  Still, I did my due diligence and poked at the case just to make sure for myself that it was a sound potential project.  It is.  In fact, I think it is one of the most intriguing murders I’ve looked into in years.

Just from the handful of interviews we’ve done, it is clear that there is a lot of complexity in this case; many twists and turns.  There is much that the public never knew about the crime and the suspects.  Add into the mix that a convicted murderer, Michael Ronning, confessed the crime.  So why is the case still unsolved?  You’ll have to read the book for that level of detail.  Which means, of course, we have to get going and write it.

The Hume family has been through a lot and has asked for privacy on this matter, which we are respecting.   The Hume’s are deeply respected in Western Michigan and in Battle Creek proper, so I ask that anyone reading this extend them the same respect we are.

I decided to have my daughter write with me on this because she’s good at writing, she’s won awards for her historical writing and research  – and she’s the same relative age as the victim.  Sometimes a different perspective makes for a better product.  In this case, I’m sure it will.   At the same time, Maggie and I graduated the same year, 1980, (from different high schools) so this crime is something I can offer some perspective of – namely Battle Creek in the 1980’s.  Our writing styles are very compatible.  Between the two of us, this should be a good book for readers to consume. I’m once more relying on the good people of Battle Creek to help us.

Victoria and I are going to Battle Creek the first full week of January to do the bulk of the primary research (and some interviews).  Should you have information you think might be pertinent, we’ll be happy to discuss it with you.  Bear in mind, we can’t do the real heavy interviewing until we complete reviews of the case files etc..  In the meantime my email is bpardoe870@aol.com.

It will take us several months (at least) to research and write the book.  During that period we will be reaching out to the Battle Creek community to ask for your help, insights, memories, etc..  I encourage you to tell us any memories you have about Maggie or about the crime.

This case is solvable…I am convinced of that.  The few informal discussion I’ve had with individuals familiar with the case certainly points to possible resolution. I also know that any case like this has to be handled carefully.  There is a killer out there.  Unlike my book on Daisy Zick, this is not a senior citizen or dead person that committed these crimes.  This individual might very well still be alive and free.

Personally, I have already been contacted by people who don’t want this book published.  They have their reasons.  We understand their concerns but we have to error on the side of justice for the victim.  We, as always, are going to stick to the facts.

Our job is not to solve the crime but to tell the story in a compelling manner, present the facts, and engage the community.  One of you may hold the key to resolving this murder.

What was it that Shakespeare wrote in King Henry IV?  Ah yes, “…the game is afoot…”