By Crime Historian Laura James, Esquire (c) 2005-10 WELCOME to my study of historic true crime, a literary blog where the chairs rest at the intersection of history, journalism, law, and murder, and the shelves are filled with the finest true crime literature. STEAL FROM THIS LIBRARY AND IT'S PISTOLS AT DAWN.
Ted P. Yeatman will long be remembered as one of the foremost scholars of the James Gang ever. After a long battle with illness Ted passed away recently. The Baltimore Sun ran a nice obituary.
The author was lauded for his truly groundbreaking biography of the James Gang, which was published in 2001. He was featured in a spot on C-SPAN's Booknotes program, archived online here.
His book was soon overshadowed by a nicely written and spectacularly successful biography of Jesse James by T.J. Stiles, which Random House published the following year. Yeatman was bitter about the comparative success of that later book, both privately and publicly, perhaps understandably. The tension between the authors erupted online. (For details, see T.J. Stiles, Ted Yeatman, and the Jesse James Journalism Extravaganza.)
Yeatman lamented difficulties with his now defunct publisher. He did not make as much from the book as he thought it warranted. He complained that heavy-handed editing had introduced errors in one middle chapter and also cited a lack of publicity for the title (a virtually universal authorial lament).
But I think his book was much more successful than he gave himself credit for. When I was in my local Barnes and Noble a couple weeks ago, it was still featured prominently on the American history shelf, full cover facing out. I don't think his noteworthy contribution to the James Gang history will ever go out of print.
Crime historian and author E.J. Wagner was kind enough to read The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son, and she asked me to answer a few questions she had about the book and its subject, Dr. Zeo Wilkins. The interview is posted on E.J.'s new-ish blog, E.J's Dissecting Room.
Photo: Zeo Wilkins on her 5th honeymoon, from the Ogden City, Utah Standard-Examiner.
On the same note, the book was recently featured on the Missouri literary website Winding River. I've been invited to speak at my local library next week and at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City next year.
Meanwhile J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet called the book one of the best non-fiction titles he's read this year. Though this he said back in July.
And on another note, a documentary film crew is going to be in the Midwest soon, pursuing the legend of Belle Gunness. I might poke my head in on that production.
And so it was the MansfieldNews that gave the "tabloid" ribbon to the story of Dr. Zeo Wilkins and Jesse James Jr. Ah well, it can't have been nearly as much fun to read it as it was to write it. From the Mansfield News in Ohio: Crime story offers bountiful sin and scandal (What a great headline!)
And what I've been reading lately....
A true crime story that would appeal to runners? This I have to read.
Though the online edition did not include photos, the hard copy of the paper included pictures of Dr. Zeo Wilkins and Jesse E. James that I had not seen before. They came from the archives of the newspaper and a wire service archive.
The last time Zeo was in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was 1924, when that newspaper published accounts of the corner's inquest into her murder.
The piece started like this:
Zoe Wilkins, 20 Years on the Down Grade,
Meets Her Last Adventure.
Missouri Osteopath and Divorced Wife of Joplin Millionare Began Her Escapades While Still in Her Teens and Kept Up Steady Pace Toward the Lower Levels, Ensnaring at Least Four Husbands and Bankrupting Several Lovers. Along the Route--She Might Have Gained Wealth Straightforwardly, but Chose to Gain It by Intrigue for the Sake of Adventure and When She Had Run Her Course It Was Her Own Intrigues, So the Police Believe, That Cost Her Life.
Dr. Wilkins made headlines in the Kansas City Star for years as that publication followed her wild marital shenanigans. Eighty years after her murder, she's made headlines in the Star again in a nice writeup on my book by Conger Beasley Jr (who I am told is "no slouch").
Meanwhile, Booklist blessed it with a star, and author Robert Waters was also kind enough to give it a nod.
These are photos from my recent visit to the James Farm in Kearney, Missouri, where I signed copies of my book The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son and also enjoyed a day's worth of activities as part of the annual reunion of the Friends of the James Farm.
The James Farm as it appears today.
The left end of the house is original, the rest a very late addition.
At the New Hope Baptist Church with "Revered Robert James," a/k/a Pastor Russell Hyatt of Woodland Baptist Church in Liberty, MO. If my local pastors were as enjoyable as he, my shadow would cross a church threshold much more often.
Based on a true story, this pair of storytellers conjure Cole Younger and Frank James in their "Wild West" show. They proved it was possible to entertain a crowd with talk about your outlaw days when you can't actually admit to being an outlaw.
On Saturday, June 13, 2009, I'll be at the James Farm in Kearney, Missouri to talk about my modest contribution to the literature of the family whose principals need no introduction.
At 9 a.m., I'll talk about how I found the story of Dr. Zeo Zoe Wilkins and Jesse James Jr., sign books, and present my research for donation. The boxes of materials I collected to write The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son will go to the Milton F. Perry Library there at the James Farm (now owned by Clay County).
There is an entire day of events planned for Saturday as it's the annual reunion of the Friends of the James Farm. On the intinerary, besides my book from 9 to 11, are:
11:30 Memorial Ceremony
12 noon The "Jesse James Was My Neighbor" Tour of historic sites connected to the family, with lunch at the New Hope Church
4:00 Annual Friends Meeting
5:00 Writers Contest and Awards
7:00 The Cole Younger & Frank James Wild West Show
At some point in the day I'm hoping to steal over to the Trysting Place, 2425 Park Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri, and sashay through the lobby of the Muehlebach Hotel. Whether I get around to these side trips or not, Saturday promises quite an extravaganza for students of the James Gang, and I'm looking forward to a day of interesting conversations. I'll try to remember to take plenty of photos to share.
I'll next tout it at the James Farm in Kearney, Missouri. On June 13, 2009, the Friends of the James Farm is having its annual gathering, and if Zerelda Samuel does not rise from the dead to bar my entry, I'll be there.
NewspaperArchive My most very favorite site on the internet. Millions of digitized, text-searchable newspapers from across the U.S. and the world. If my computer somehow froze up and I had access to only one website, this would be it.
Paper of Record Another pay-to-play website that features searchable historic newspapers. Canada is particularly well represented in its collection.