Tag Archives: true crime

Now Available in Audiobook Format!

I love, love, LOVE audiobooks. At least two out of every three books I read is an audiobook–CDs in my car or downloads on my mp3 player. I can’t imagine not listening to a book while folding laundry, cleaning guinea pig cages, cooking dinner, or mowing the lawn.

When the opportunity to create an audiobook version of Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Murder presented itself, I was thrilled.

Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder is now available in audiobook format from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder is now available through Audible,  iTunes, and  Amazon. Both Audible and iTunes downloads can also be transferred to CD. Veteran narrator Kenneth Lee really captured the heart of the story, and he brings to life the ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances in 1925 Kansas.

A lot of people out there love a good story, but they don’t have time to sit down and read. Others spend a lot of time trapped in their cars during long commutes. Even more people out there have conditions that prevent them from being able to read–vision problems or arthritic hands that can no longer hold heavy books–even though they might long to do so. Thanks to the magic of the mp3 and the internet, thousands of audiobooks are readily available to this previously non-book-reading audience.

For you self-publishing authors out there, ACX s a company that produces and distributes audiobooks through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, the biggest companies that sell directly to consumers. (Most libraries that offer mp3 or WMA formats use distributors like OverDrive and OneClickDigital.) Originally, I thought that audiobooks were not accessible without a substantial upfront financial commitment, but ACX offers writers the opportunity to connect with narrators who are willing to accept a profit-sharing option in lieu of up-front fees. This means more options for writers who are just establishing themselves (and narrators who are building portfolios and wanting to connect with rights holders willing to take a chance on them).

Find me at Silver Lake Library on February 20!

Shadow on the Hill book cover

Silver Lake Library in Silver Lake, Kansas, is throwing open its doors after hours just for my presentation on Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder. We’ll talk about the murder of Florence Knoblock and the impact the murder, investigation, and subsequent trials had on the small towns and farming communities in Coffey County and Lyon County. Check out a copy from the library or pick up a copy of your very own at the book signing following the presentation.

The library is located at 203 Railroad Street. The program starts at 7:00 p.m. See you in Silver Lake!

In Cold Blood Murders Can’t be Linked to Florida Murders

You might recall that several months ago, the remains of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, the two men executed for the murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, were exhumed in order to obtain DNA samples in hopes of solving a similar case involving the murder of a family in Florida.

On Tuesday, authorities announced that the DNA samples could not be linked to the Florida crime. This is sad news for the family and friends of the Walkers, who continue to be denied closure on a very cold case.

The tests did not clear the men who murdered the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kan., from committing a crime just as grisly while on the lam in the Sunshine State.

But investigators, working with evidence too old and degraded, could not positively match the pair’s DNA samples to Christine Walker, who was slain with her husband and two children about a month after the Kansas killings.

Reflecting on this from a Kansas history and literature standpoint, I can’t help but wonder how much the narrative would have changed had the DNA tests proven to be a match. Part of In Cold Blood‘s eeriness is the idea that the Clutter family murders happened because these two damaged men, neither of whom likely would have committed such a horrible crime alone, came together to commit this horrible act and spent the rest of their lives trying to run from it. Truman Capote’s novel also haunts us because it reminds us that if it can happen in Kansas, it can happen anywhere. To have connected them to yet another, similar crime would have not only solved a cold case, but also completely changed the narrative in both literature and history.

Hear about a Kansas True Crime at West Wyandotte Branch

Information about my upcoming presentation at West Wyandotte Library in Kansas City, Kansas has been posted to the KCKPL blog.


BOOKcoverFRONTThe Kansas City, Kansas Public Library West Wyandotte Branch will host local author Diana Staresinic-Deane on June 23 at 2:00pm.  She will be speaking about her new book Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder and its connection to Kansas City, Kansas.  A book signing will follow.

On Decoration Day 1925, Coffey County farmer John Knoblock and his son returned home to their farm from a trip to town to discover that John’s wife, Florence, had been brutally murdered.  This terrible crime resulted in a multi-county fiasco of an investigation, with inexperienced lawmen, gawking and suspicious neighbors, and a contaminated crime scene.  Desperate to find the murderer, the sheriff and attorney looked anywhere they could.  Hundreds of people were questioned, bloodhounds pulled investigators in multiple directions, and three different men were arrested before they finally set their sights on John Knoblock himself.

With a demanding public and nowhere else to…

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The Florence Knoblock Murder, Bread Dough Forensics, and a Loaf of Grandmother Bread

Shadow on the Hill readers know that bread dough played a role in narrowing down Florence Knoblock’s time of death.

Shards of broken dishes littered the hardwood. Bread dough, long past risen, had flowed over the lip of a crock, down the side of the stove, and onto the floor, where it began to dry out. A pan of washing water, likely pumped from the well that morning, sat on a chair.

We also know that bakery employees were able to testify to the time Florence Knoblock called to place an order for lard because they knew what stage the bread they were baking was in.

“I spoke with Florence on Decoration Day,” Ray said. “We were discussing compound and then she said, ‘John is coming to town and will talk to you.’”
“And at what time was this?”
“About nine o’clock,” Ray said. “I was sure it was nearly nine by the stage of the bread. It had been put in at seven and the dough was put on the bench just as she called.”

But for those of us who aren’t bakers, what does that really mean? Even though my mom was a superb baker, most of the things I make come out of a box. So I turned to someone who really knows her way around a kitchen: Veronica. Veronica not only bakes, but she wins RIBBONS at the Kansas State Fair (and not just the participation ones).  Veronica is going to walk us through baking the old-fashioned way so that those of us who don’t bake from scratch can better understand how bread behaves and why it could be a valuable tool for determining how much time had passed since Florence’s death.

Hi, my name is Veronica and you can usually find me posting recipes over at my blog, Veronica’s Cornucopia. I like to eat (a lot), so I cook because I have to, but my true love and passion is baking. I’ve won many ribbons over the last several years at the Kansas State Fair for my cakes, cookies, quick breads, and yeast breads. Although, I have to admit, many of my yeast bread attempts (especially whole wheat) don’t turn out so well…

Since bread dough plays into the 1925 murder of Florence Knoblock, which Diana’s book, Shadow on the Hill details, she asked me if I would do a bread post for her readers. While I consider myself a yeast bread novice, I have made many loaves, some failures, and some successes, and I suppose I’m moderately suited for the task. In any case, I wasn’t going to turn down such an honor! Thanks, Diana!

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The day Florence was discovered murdered in her kitchen, there was a kettle of over-risen bread dough on the oil stove that had escaped the crock and spilled down the side of the stove, and onto the floor. This was one factor that helped determine the timeline of the morning and her murder, by how much it had over-risen.

Now today if we need bread, most of us pick up a loaf while we’re doing our grocery shopping at the supermarket, but in 1925, bread wasn’t as easily available for purchase if you lived in the country. While Florence had placed an order for lard at the bakery, which her husband and son went to retrieve the same morning she was murdered, she did not place one for bread and had instead started some herself.  Florence obviously was not a wasteful sort, and chose to do the things she had been raised doing, rather than paying a higher price for someone else to do it.  Making the bread was just another daily chore that Florence had begun.

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As tradition has it, each day of the week had it’s own assigned chore: Monday: Wash Day ~ Tuesday: Ironing Day ~ Wednesday: Sewing Day ~ Thursday: Market Day ~ Friday: Cleaning Day ~ Saturday: Baking Day ~ Sunday: Day of Rest. Florence was murdered on a Saturday so this might have been just the beginning of a long day of baking for her. Baking Saturdays would be my favorite chore day! Maybe it was Florence’s too, and she was in a haze of baking bliss before she met her maker. I’d like to think so.

I wanted to bake a loaf of bread in Florence’s memory, something that was old-fashioned and not fussy. I decided on this Grandmother Bread from Chickens in the Road. It’s an old, simple recipe that’s been in Suzanne’s family for generations, and while it doesn’t require you to harvest your own yeast the way Florence might have, it suited my purposes just fine. I’d like to think that Florence approves of me skipping a step made unnecessary by modern convenience, as I got the impression from the book that she was a no-nonsense kind of woman.

Grandmother Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2+ cups all-purpose flour

To start, you need to activate your yeast. I usually prefer to use rapid-acting yeast (bread machine yeast) because it’s easier and faster, but to get into the old-fashioned spirit to a degree, I stuck with active yeast. So sprinkle your yeast, sugar, and salt over warm water and let it rest so the yeast can get happy in it’s warm, sugary bath.

Or you could forget to add the sugar and salt like I did, and then add them along with your first cup of flour. See, it’s OK to mess up to a degree. If you’re new to bread making, it’s important to ask yourself, “What Would Florence Do?” Do you think she’d waste her precious yeast and start a new batch of dough because she forgot to add the sugar and salt at the right time? Heck to the no! She’d soldier on like a good early 20th century Kansas housewife. So will you.

Mix that all up with your spoon and then gradually add the remaining flour, stirring as you go.

When it gets too thick to stir, flour your hands and start kneading more flour in until you get a smooth and elastic dough. Most people, including Florence, would flour a counter and knead it there because it’s efficient, but I went against my WWFD (What Would Florence Do?) theme and did what I usually do, kneading it in the bowl so I don’t have to clean up a bowl and a counter afterward. It’s aggravating and makes your neck and back sore, but hey. I’m all about less mess to clean up. Florence put off sweeping up her husband’s and son’s hair after cutting it that morning, so I’m thinking she’d be all about less clean-up.

Once the dough feels right (if this is your first time making bread, then knead flour in until it’s not very sticky, just very slightly tacky, and is nice and stretchy and elastic and smooth), oil your bowl and turn the dough over in it so that all sides are oiled.

Cover your bowl with a cloth (or plastic wrap if you’re not feeling the WWFD thing) and set it in a warm, draft free place. Florence chose to put it on top of her stove, which we know she had going and was warm since she was using it to boil a kettle of water for tea. My trick is to preheat my oven to 350F for one minute, then turn it off and put my bowl inside. Works great! Oh and sorry, Florence, please forgive my dirty oven that I’ve never cleaned.  I don’t think you would have shirked that chore as long as I have.

Let it rest for an hour, or until doubled in size.

Most people, including Florence, would then place the dough on a floured counter and smooth it into a rectangle, then roll it up into a loaf, pinching the seams, and place it in an oiled bread tin. Again, I didn’t want to flour a counter and have to clean it up so I kinda just smooshed it together in my hands and then patted it down as evenly as I could in the pan. Florence is probably rolling over in her grave.

Cover the pan and let it rise until doubled, about 30 minutes or more depending on the temperature and humidity. I forgot about it and left it for an hour and you can see how much it had over-risen with only and extra half hour of rising.  I imagine it really would have run out of the pan and down the sides like Florence’s dough if left unattended for hours on end.

But WWFD if she lost track of time and found her dough in this state? She’d smack that dough down and start over with the rise, that’s what! We ain’t gonna have no over-risen mushroom bread with big holes up in here. I had to go to our evening church service, so I put it in the fridge this time to slow down the rise. By the time I got back, about two hours later, it was perfectly risen–no shrooming over the sides.

Once risen, bake for 25-45 minutes at 350F. I found I needed to bake a lot longer than the recommended 25 minutes because I had to add soooo much flour to my dough (maybe the humidity, although the recipe does call for a lot of water IMO) so my dough was a little more bountiful that it probably should have been. Also, I was multi-tasking and toasting pecans for cookies at the same time. I’m sure efficient and no-nonsense Florence would approve.

Look at that gawjus loaf! You know it’s done when you take it out of the pan and it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. I think I could have baked mine a little longer but it was still so, so good. If you under-bake your bread a bit, you can always toast the slices. That’s WFWD!

Now slather the top (and the sides and bottom) with butter while it’s still hot and try your best to wait until it’s cool to slice it. Oh who am I kidding? Well, wait at least fifteen minutes for best slicing. You’re probably thinking no-nonsense Florence wouldn’t be going hog wild with the butter so it’s time to ask, WWFD? Well, Florence’s family had cows, so I’m sure they had plenty of butter on hand, and despite her usual thrifty ways, according to me it was her secret pleasure to slather copious amounts of butter on freshly baked bread. So slather away! 😀

I want to thank Diana for writing this incredible true-life story of a Kansas murder, for all the hard work and research she put into it, and offering me some satisfaction in the long-time unsolved mystery. And for offering me this opportunity to be a part of her book in a small way as well! And thank you for reading. Now go get your bake day on! 😀

Recipe source: Chickens in the Road <–click the link for the two-loaf recipe

The Knoblock Murder From Outside of Kansas

Florence Knoblock’s murder and the subsequent investigation and trials captured the attention of people all over the United States. Here is a sampling of some of the articles that appeared outside of Kansas.

This story announced the murder and presumed suspect almost immediately after the murder occurred. Mexia Daily News (Texas), June 1, 1925.

This story announced the murder and presumed suspect almost immediately after the murder occurred. Mexia Daily News (Texas), June 1, 1925.

John Knoblock's arrest is announced in the Kansas City Star (Missouri), August 15, 1925.

John Knoblock’s arrest is announced in the Kansas City Star (Missouri), August 15, 1925.

This story reveals the discourse regarding the bloodhounds evidence. Fayette Democrat (Arkansas), March 20, 1926.

This story reveals the discourse regarding the bloodhounds evidence. Fayette Democrat (Arkansas), March 20, 1926.


The Men Who Told the Story: Reporters John Redmond and William L. White

I never would have known about the murder of Florence Knoblock if I hadn’t stumbled upon a folder of newspaper clippings at the library in 2007. Although radios were finding their way into homes during the 1920s–John Redmond even reports that a Day-Fan radio was installed in the jurors’ room in the basement of the Coffey County Courthouse–the newspaper was still the most common form of daily widespread communication.

As a both a reader and a researcher, I was really fortunate that most of the important newspaper articles were written by two extraordinary newspapermen: John Redmond of the Daily Republican in Burlington, Kansas, and William Lindsay White of the Emporia Gazette in Emporia, Kansas. Smart, funny, and extremely observant, both men vividly portrayed the events and people connected to the murder of Florence Knoblock in their own distinct writing styles.

John Redmond (1873-1953)

John Redmond, 1940.

John Redmond, 1940. Photo courtesy of the Coffey County Historical Society and Museum.

A native of Burlington, Kansas, John Redmond had all but finished law school and was ready to sit for the bar exam when legendary newspaperman William Allen White (father of William Lindsay White) rerouted Redmond into a journalism career with the Emporia Gazette. Redmond would go on to work for the Topeka Daily Capital, the Wichita Star, and the Wichita Beacon before returning to Burlington in 1898 to buy a paper called the Jeffersonian for $400. During the next several years, numerous local papers would be acquired and merged together into the Daily Republican, whose masthead would first appear in 1921.

Redmond was an incredibly civic-minded man. During the Depression, he put a lot of energy into the Civilian Conservation Corps, which provided education and training to about 3,000 men during the years it was open. When Kansas began building reservoirs and enacting other flood prevention measures, Redmond championed Coffey County’s need for a reservoir, which would be named for Redmond after his death.

John Redmond’s writing style was a reflection of the man himself. His stories not only reported on the events of the day, but how the community responded to them. For example, in “Some Wierd [sic] Tales Being Circulated About Burlington,” which ran June 5, 1925, he reports on how other newspapers are portraying Burlington: “Burlington has been getting some very undesirable notoriety from the outside papers in connection with the brutal murder of Mrs. John Knoblock. Many wild and wierd [sic] stories have been published in them under a Burlington date line, and some have worked up stories of their one [sic]…” Similarly, in a June 11, 1925 article called “Another Tourist Wandering Around Brought to Jail,” he writes, “With the nerves of the people still on edge following the brutal murder of Mrs. John Knoblock on Decoration day, it is unhealthy for strangers to wander around much on the country roads or even in the towns.”

Reporters still run the Coffey County Republican out of the same building John Redmond built in the 1920s. His face is painted on a mural on the wall. Photo courtesy of Mark A. Petterson.

Reporters still run the Coffey County Republican out of the same building John Redmond built in the 1920s. His face is painted on a mural on the wall. Photo courtesy of Mark A. Petterson.

His writing could be compassionate, such as in the June 17, 1925 article “Mrs. John Mozingo Made Very Ill By Thoughtless Talk,” where he wrote, “Mrs. John Mozingo is quite ill from a nervous breakdown at her home west of Burlington, made so by the thoughtless people who have phoned or talked to her so much concerning the brutal murder of her daughter, Mrs. John Knoblock, and the efforts to find the murderer.”

Redmond could also be extremely funny.  In the middle of a January 8, 1926 article listing all of the citizens subpoenaed to testify at John Knoblock’s first trial–an incredibly long list that goes on for several column inches–he throws in, “[George] Eaton’s dogs are not subpoenaed.”

John Redmond's humorous quip in the middle of a long list of subpoenaed witnesses in the January 8, 1926 Dialy Republican.

John Redmond’s humorous quip in the middle of a long list of subpoenaed witnesses in the January 8, 1926 Dialy Republican.

William Lindsay White (1900-1973)

William Lindsay White

William Lindsay White.

A native of Emporia, Kansas, William Lindsay White was the son of the same William Allen White who rescued John Redmond from a career in law and set him on the path to journalism. White’s family home hosted people like Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Douglas Fairbanks, and his father was known far and wide for his forward-thinking editorials.

Groomed to take over the paper some day, he would complete his degree at Harvard and would marry a New Yorker. When he returned to Emporia, he came back with a monocle, a walking stick, and a British accent–definitely NOT a typical Kansan and not nearly as well liked as his father.

However, W. L. “Bill” White was an extraordinary journalist. He served as a war correspondent during World War II, wrote several books, and took the reigns to the Emporia Gazette after his father’s death in 1944. He was very involved in politics and even served in the Kansas Legislature. He was not popular for some of his in-town causes, however; he argued that the beautiful second courthouse should be repaired instead of replaced, and he fought against the construction of the Civic Auditorium, which was, ironically, named in his honor.

The Emporia Gazette building in Emporia, Kansas.

The Emporia Gazette building in Emporia, Kansas. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Unruh.

Like John Redmond, Bill White was an excellent observer, and took the time to describe what people looked like as well as what they said and did. In the January 19, 1926 article, “Stand By Knoblock: Relatives Substantiate Defense Version,” he describes Florence Knoblock’s sister. “Mrs. Ella Kellerman, a sister of the murdered woman, then testified in Knoblock’s behalf. She is a pretty, young woman in her early thirties, whose hair is more of a reddish gold than yellow. ” He was also keenly aware of the atmosphere at both trials, and in “Accept Two Jurors,” an article that appeared on May 3, 1926, during the second trial, he wrote, “The general atmosphere of the trial seems to be different in Emporia. The attorneys are the same…the principals are the same and the judge is the same but some unknown something that seemed to hang over the Coffey county [sic] courtroom like a fog is missing today.”

Bill White's description of John Mozingo ran in the January 19, 1926 Emporia Gazette.

Bill White’s description of John Mozingo ran in the January 19, 1926 Emporia Gazette.

Bill White did not feel the need to hold back out of respect for the feelings of others. He would write that Florence Knoblock’s father, John Mozingo, had a head shaped like a pear; he waxed poetic on attorney Owen Samuels’ comb over; and speculated on how much tobacco juice an autopsy would find in attorney W. C. Harris’ neck–all in a space of three paragraphs (January 19, 1926).

Covering the Murder, Investigation, and Trial

When Florence Knoblock was murdered, John Redmond and Bill White were at very different places in their careers. John Redmond had been running his own newspaper for 27 years. Just shy of his twenty-fifth birthday, Bill White’s career was just beginning.

Everyone in the courtroom was fair game. John Redmond tattles on Gazette reporter Bill White in the January 18, 1926 Daily Republican.

Everyone in the courtroom was fair game. John Redmond tattles on Gazette reporter Bill White in the January 18, 1926 Daily Republican.

We know that John Redmond was recording the story from the very first moment word got out about the murder. He arrived at the Knoblock farm with County Attorney Ray Pierson and Dr. Albert Gray shortly after Sheriff Frank Hunter and Coroner J. O. Stone were called to the scene. Determining when Bill White began covering the story is a little trickier. We know the murder and investigation were being covered by the Emporia Gazette because of the newspaper articles, but because newspapers generally didn’t run bylines back then, we are only sure of Bill White’s presence when John Redmond mentions him in a Daily Republican article during the first trial.

The newspapers have two goals: report the news and sell newspapers. Because most people like to see themselves in the papers, newspaper reporters know that including as many names as possible is a great way to increase interest and sales. However, there is a caveat: you don’t want to irritate people into canceling their subscriptions. You don’t slam your own people. People outside your subscription area, though, are fair game. As a result, you almost have to read both the Daily Republican and the Emporia Gazette in order to get the complete picture.  And because the two reporters report on each other, you get to know John Redmond and Bill White, who become part of their own stories.

Read more

William Lindsay White entry at the Kansas State Historical Society

Coffey County, Vol. 1 – A glimpse into its past, present and future!, compiled by Wanda Christy and published by Coffey County Today in 1987, is a good history of Coffey County with lots and lots of historic photographs.

William Lindsay White: 1900-1973: In the Shadow of His Father, by E. Jay Jernigan, University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.