Back in January, I went to Tucson to attend a friend’s memorial service. It was a strange trip in a number of aspects, not the least of which was my reason for visiting. I had lived in Tucson for five years back in the 90’s, but I hadn’t been back in over a decade. After having spent that interim ten years in the Pacific northwest, being back in the Sonoran Desert was very odd. On one hand, it was quite familiar from my presious life there; on the other, the desert seemed really alien after a decade in the Pacific Northwest rain forest.
While I was there, I made it a point to visit the house where John Dillinger was arrested in 1934. It’s a small, neat “territorial” house in the old neighborhood just west of the sprawling University of Arizona campus. Although all of the action in Jackrabbit takes place starting immediately after the Tucson arrest, it seemed like an appropriate place to take a publicity photo.
Also, I’ve learned that Tucson has begun embracing its Dillinger history with an annual “Dillinger Days” celebration, featuring reenactments, a historical exhibit, a vintage car show, and a Tommy gun display. Unfortunately, I had missed the fun by a week or so this time, but I would like to make it in the future. January is a great time to get the heck outta Portland for some desert sun.
Because he just heard that Jackrabbit is available for free eBook downloads!
Yes, once again, the eBook version of Jackrabbit will be available for free downloads at Amazon from January 22 through Sunday, January 26.
It’s 1934, and America is in the middle of a crime wave. Once a small-time crook, John Dillinger – a.k.a. the Jackrabbit – has become America’s first modern celebrity criminal. The public avidly follows his exploits, from gentlemanly bank robberies to violent jailbreaks. Many view him as a modern-day Robin Hood, exacting revenge on the banks responsible for the misery of the Depression.
Having achieved the fortune and fame he’s always desired, the Jackrabbit realizes that it has an enormous price. Now, all he wants to do is settle down with his girlfriend Billie and live a “normal” life. That will be tough to do with the FBI hot on his tail. Agent Melvin Purvis relentlessly pursues him across the Midwest, and every cop in the country has orders to shoot on sight. Now desperate to escape the life that he’s created, the Jackrabbit concocts a daring plan to disappear. As the equally-desperate Agent Purvis draws the noose tighter, the Jackrabbit knows that time is running out. Will his audacious scheme work, or will he go down in a thunderstorm of lead?
Download for free until Sunday and enjoy – and if you’d care to leave a review on Amazon, it would be appreciated!
Greetings and Happy New Year! I haven’t been very active on this blog due to holiday travels, a nasty cold that one of my co-workers gave the entire office right before Christmas, and general laziness.
Right now, Portland is bracing for a “big” snowstorm that probably won’t happen – but if it does, I can actually devote some time to focused writing. I’m still polishing up a “short” story with the working title of Reset. The first draft topped out just north of 21,000 words, which is definitely out of short story range and more like a novella. I had originally thought about wielding a fierce editorial pen to try and trim it down to ~10,000 words, but at this point I don’t think that will happen. There are two reasons for this: 1) my aforementioned laziness, and 2) the way the story wound up left it as a possible springboard for a series. And we all love series, don’t we, gang?
I’m still trying to get my head around further promotion for Jackrabbit (more on that later, perhaps), as well as trying to clean up an older novel manuscript for a story called Fester. Tat is going to require a few bucks for the editor, cover design, etc. – so maybe after we get past tax season (and we get a refund).
I’ve also started research for a story I’ve been kicking around in the basement for a long, long time. It’s about stand-up comedians, and based on the careers of such humor luminaries as Bill Hicks, Andy Kaufman, Lenny Bruce and Doug Kenney. This is a monumental undertaking, and I’d guess that even the first draft would be two years in the making…so, we’ll see.
While I’m still trying to ramp up my creative activities in the new year, I have been able to post an old short story I cranked out while writing the first draft of Jackrabbit. It’s kinda weird and very silly – basically, it’s John Dillinger and his gang going up against a very unusual foe. It’s called Encounter in the North Woods, and you can check it out here.
In all likelihood, the proposed exhumation of John Dillinger is dead in the water. For those who haven’t followed my posts on this (here, here and here), I’ll give a quick capsule review.
In late July, a week after the 85th anniversary of the Biograph shooting (and also the release date for Jackrabbit), it was announced that Dillinger’s nephew Michael Thompson had obtained a permit from the Indiana Department of Health allowing him to exhume the body of his famous gangster uncle. Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that this was in some wise connected with a proposed biography of John Dillinger that the History Channel was preparing. The reason for the exhumation was to determine whether or not it was really Dillinger in the grave, addressing the “wrong man theory” that has been kicking around for decades.
Not all of Dillinger’s relatives were happy about this development, and the bickering began in public forums (fora?) as well as in the courtroom. Then things started to go a little sideways. The History Channel, without comment, announced that they were bailing on the putative documentary project. Then Crown Hill Cemetery started making noises about not going through with the exhumation. More complaints were filed in court.
So here we are, largely as I had anticipated, with a bunch of legal wrangling ending in a stalemate. How do I feel about this? Well may you ask! I was agin it until I was fur it. Being a self-referential contrarian, I was vaguely opposed to the idea while it looked like it was likely to happen, but now that it doesn’t look like it will happen, I’m disappointed – and a little pissed.
“Court finds that the statutory requirements for this section of the statute are clear in that disinterment requires the cemetery owner to give consent before disinterment may occur,” Oakes’ ruling says, according to online court records, “and the statute does not require that the cemetery have a valid, rational, or meaningful reason.”
And it can be argued that Crown Hill doesn’t really have a “valid, rational, or meaningful reason.” The cemetery has said that disinterring Dillinger would be disruptive and potentially upsetting to family members of other Crown Hill residents. While that seems a valid concern, wouldn’t that also be applicable to every other exhumation at the cemetery? It’s really only a matter of degree, and if Dillinger’s exhumation would require more equipment and attract larger media attention, it seems that simple planning would mitigate many of the concerns Crown Hill cites.
In addition to being contrary, I am also somewhat conspiracy-minded. Given some of the weirdness surrounding this exhumation drama, I’m having a hard time avoiding the thought that there is more at work here than meets the eye. First of all, the History Channel pulled out of the documentary project with little fanfare and less explanation. It seems to me that even if the exhumation didn’t take place, the attendant publicity would be a boon for thier project. Second, and most obvious, are Crown Hill’s specious reasons for opposing the exhumation. Finally, and arguably the kicker is the FBI’s unprompted assertion that they really did “get their man” back in 1934 and that the body in Crown Point is really that of John Dillinger.
Now, I’ve never touted Jackrabbit as anything but a work of fiction. As I mentioned elsewhere, I had been familiar with the “wrong man theory” that the person shot outside the Biograph was really a low-level crook named Jimmy Lawrence. The novel started as a thought experiment about how that switcheroo actually occurred. One of the plot points was the J. Edgar hoover and the FBI knew that they had gotten the wrong man, but allowed it to be covered up to avoid embarassing themselves. Given all of the weirdness around the Dillinger exhumation, it doesn’t seem entirely too crazy to think that the FBI knows that it isn’t really Dillinger in that Crown Hill grave, and put pressure on the History Channel and the cemetery to put the kibosh on the exhumation.
Of course that’s just me talking my typical crazy-talk. It looks like we won’t find out for sure, at least in the short term. However, the judge in last week’s ruling dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that a clever lawyer still might be able to argue that the cemetery is compelled to carry out the exhumation. Until then, however, the conspiracy theories will continue to circulate.
I was especially flattered as CrimeReads is a well-respected crime book blog; an offshoot of the uber-respected LiteraryHub website. Big love to them for giving me a chance to show off my writing (and, of course, flog Jackrabbit), while other, less-prestigious book review sites gave me the cold shoulder. Take that, “Uncle Bubba’s Best Bad Guy Book and Monster Truck Video Reviews”! You missed out.
The September 16 date for exhuming John Dillinger’s body has come and gone – and he continues to rest in peace, at least for now. In previous posts (here and here), I outlined the effort spearheaded by Dillinger nephew Michael Thompson to have his famous uncle’s boy disinterred for DNA testing. Now it seems as if the planned exhumation is on indefinite hold.
The exhumation was announced shortly after the 85th anniversary of the Biograph shooting that allegedly took down the famous gangster. The Indiana State Department of Health had approved a request by Thompson to disinter Dillinger’s body. The reason given was to establish once and for all whether or not it was John Dillinger in the grave. For decades, rumors had circulated that it hadn’t been Dillinger who was gunned down outside the movie theater in Chicago, but rather a look-alike. This “wrong man” theory had been supported by some fascinating anecdotal evidence, and Thompson claimed that he wanted to prove or disprove the theory.
Shortly after the announcement, it was revealed that the drive to dig up the Jackrabbit was connected with a History Channel documentary on the life and crimes of John Dillinger.
Then things started to get weird. Surprise!
First, there were other Dillinger relatives who were opposed to the exhumation. Dillinger great-nephew Jeff Scalf, who has some manner of legal control over Dillinger’s name and likeness, was adamantly opposed. “It’s my opinion that this effort was done for 15 minutes of fame and 30 pieces of silver,” he said.
Then Crown Hill Cemetery started to get cold feet. “We also have concerns that the complex and commercial nature of this exhumation could cause disruption to the peaceful tranquility of the Cemetery and those who are visiting to remember their loved ones.” This is a legitimate concern, as accessing Dillinger’s remains would involve a fairly robust construction effort. Concerned about grave tampering, Dillinger’s father had his body reburied under huge slabs of concrete and scrap metal shortly after the initial burial in 1934.
Not to be thwarted, Thompson filed an injunction against Crown Hill to compel them to cooperate with the exhumation. Thompson’s attorneys claimed that Crown Hill’s objections were disingenuous. They stated, “Thompson and others in his family should not be prohibited from confirming the identity of their uncle merely because he is infamous. If identity is confirmed, Thompson and all other descendants of the deceased can put to rest their legitimate questions about identity.” A hearing is scheduled for October 1 to discuss the case.
In the latest twist, the History Channel announced on September 11 that they would no longer be associated with the documentary project. No reason was given. Two days later, Thompson announced that he planned on moving forward with the project. Personally, I’m not sure if that will happen without the History Channel support. I think that the logistics involved in getting around John Sr.’s tamper-deterrent measures may require some outside financing. Perhaps some sort of “angel investor” will appear to fill the void.
The whole thing has been – and continues to be – a soap opera. I’m sure that the lack of consistent explanation from Crown Hill Cemetery and the History Channel about their sudden withdrawal from the project will fuel further conspiracy theories. I suspect that there will be a few more chapters to play out, but I think this drama is headed towards denouement.
At the end of the day, I think that maybe it wasn’t that good of an idea in the first place. Of course, I’d love to really know whether or not John Dillinger is in the grave with his name on it. And as an author who has just published a book about Dillinger, I would welcome the free publicity attendant to such a spectacle. However, the idea of disturbing someone’s remains for the sake of a TV documentary never seemed right.
There’s nothing better than a good read on a long summer weekend. For Labor Day, the Jackrabbit eBook will be available for free at Amazon on Friday, August 30 and Saturday, August 31J. Enjoy a great summer read, and please leave a review at Amazon.com.
Just a week after I released Jackrabbit, a novel about John Dillinger, he is back in the news again. In fact, he’s all over it. On Monday, it was announced that Dillinger’s nephew had petitioned for the gangster’s body to be exhumed from the cemetery in Indianapolis for examination. Two of the latest stories, from CBS and the New York Times have good information. As August is typically a slow news month, I expect to see more. (Oddly enough, there’s been nothing in Oregonian so far, but it has been in many other small-market newspapers. My Dad called me from Raleigh to let me know that the News and Observer ran a piece.)
The putative reason for this exhumation was initially pretty hazy. Over the last day or so, it has come out that the relatives “have evidence” that it’s not really John Dillinger buried in the grave with his name on the tombstone. This is nothing new – rumors of the “wrong man” being killed in Dillinger’s place have been circulating for ages. In fact, it’s a major plot point in Jackrabbit. I had heard the stories about the “wrong man” since junior high school, and wanted to explore how the switch may have occurred.
Of course, the FBI is standing by their story that they “got their man,” but given the circumstances of Dillinger’s death and some of the events that led up to it, their contemporary accounts may not be entirely believable. Dillinger pulled off a number of incredible escapes that were also incredibly embarrassing for J. Edgar Hoover’s nascent FBI. The worst of these was a shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin several months prior to the Biograph shooting. The FBI agents killed a WPA logger and wounded two others, thinking they were gang members trying to make a run for it. One of their own agents was killed by Baby Face Nelson, who also wounded another agent and a local lawman. IF the FBI had killed yet another innocent person in its pursuit of Dillinger, it would have been devastating for Hoover and the FBI. They certainly had a strong motive to conceal another screw-up, if that’s in fact what happened.
Also, perhaps not coincidentally, the History Channel has a documentary about Dillinger in the works right now. Call me cynical, but I suspect that the History Channel offered a bunch of money to the relatives in question to have them initiate the exhumation in order to promote their special.
While you’re calling me cynical, you might as well call me hypocritical, as I am looking to capitalize on this exhumation as much as the History Channel. In fact, I was thrilled to pieces when this story initially broke. From my point of view, the timing couldn’t be better. I’m also plotting a major promotion to take advantage of the actual exhumation, currently scheduled for mid-September
But I’ve got to admit that it makes me feel a little sleazy, too. Take a good look at the picture above, and consider the carnival atmosphere that surrounded this man’s death. That’s about to be repeated, and I suppose I’ll aim to get my slice of the sleaze. John Dillinger was a colorful character, and a true American in more ways than one. It seems wrong to dig him up for the sake of a cable TV special – or a self-published novel.
John Dillinger was a colorful character, and a true American in more ways than one. It seems wrong to dig him up for the sake of a cable TV special – or a self-published novel.
Of course, Dillinger was a massive publicity hound. He loved the attention that he got in the contemporary press, but it also pretty much guaranteed that he was not going to end his career any way but the hard way. Hell, he’d probably be pleased as punch to know that he’s still grabbing headlines 85 years later. Putative book sales notwithstanding, I’d be just as happy if they left that grave undisturbed.
Amazing coincidence in timing here, but word got out yesterday that there are currently plans to exhume John Dillinger’s grave in Indianapolis!
The details are still thin on the ground, but Indy station WTHR reported yesterday that Dillinger’s nephew, Michael Thompson, officially requested to the state Department of Health that his famous gangster uncle’s body be exhumed. The request was granted, with the exhumation (and reburial) to take place on September 16.
Initially, Thompson, the Indiana Department of Health and Crown Point Cemetery were all tight-lipped about why they were going to dig up the Jackrabbit. Reports today have indicated that the History Channel is somehow involved in this effort, and that they are working on a documentary about Dillinger.
The details are still hazy, but I think there’s a good chance that this is related to the plot of Jackrabbit. [SPOILER ALERT] One of the main ideas of the novel is that it wasn’t really John Dillinger that was killed outside the Biograph, but a low-level criminal named Jimmy Lawrence. This theory has been kicking around for years; Jackrabbit was an exploration of how it might have happened.
One interesting piece of Dillinger lore is that Dillinger’s dad had him re-buried underneath several huge slabs of concrete. This was allegedly so that souvenir hunters wouldn’t be tempted to rob the grave. Conspiracy theorists surmise that John Dillinger Sr. (and other family members) knew that it wasn’t their relative in that grave, and that the concrete was placed there to prevent the FBI from discovering their mistake.
This is a very interesting development, and I will be following the story closely. I think a lot of other people will as well – I’ve already seen stories about this on CNN, Fox News, the Associated Press and the New York Times.
In the meantime, you can still download Jackrabbit for free from Amazon until midnight, July 31, by clicking THIS LINK.