A Death at Crooked Creek: The Case of the Cowboy, the Cigarmaker, and the Love Letter

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Overview


"This is an extraordinary and ground-breaking book, a wonderfully creative mix of fact and theory, imagination and drama…The startling origin of the complex 'intention exception' to the hearsay evidence rule becomes canvas on which a grand and marvelously detailed tale is told. This is modern narrative at its best: a marriage of spectacular writing and hard, documented truth presented by a brilliant author who doubles as a gifted and fastidious legal scholar and historian."
—Andrew Popper, American University

...

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A Death at Crooked Creek: The Case of the Cowboy, the Cigarmaker, and the Love Letter

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Overview


"This is an extraordinary and ground-breaking book, a wonderfully creative mix of fact and theory, imagination and drama…The startling origin of the complex 'intention exception' to the hearsay evidence rule becomes canvas on which a grand and marvelously detailed tale is told. This is modern narrative at its best: a marriage of spectacular writing and hard, documented truth presented by a brilliant author who doubles as a gifted and fastidious legal scholar and historian."
—Andrew Popper, American University

One winter night in 1879, at a lonely Kansas campsite near Crooked Creek, a man was shot to death. The dead man’s traveling companion identified him as John Hillmon, a cowboy from Lawrence who had been attempting to carve out a life on the blustery prairie. The case might have been soon forgotten and the apparent widow, Sallie Hillmon, left to mourn—except for the $25,000 life insurance policies Hillmon had taken out shortly before his departure. The insurance companies refused to pay on the policies, claiming that the dead man was not John Hillmon, and Sallie was forced to take them to court in a case that would reach the Supreme Court twice. The companies’ case rested on a crucial piece of evidence: a faded love letter written by a disappeared cigarmaker, declaring his intent to travel westward with a “man named Hillmon.”

In A Death at Crooked Creek, Marianne Wesson re-examines the long-neglected evidence in the case of the Kansas cowboy and his wife, recreating the court scenes that led to a significant Supreme Court ruling on the admissibility of hearsay evidence. Wesson employs modern forensic methods to examine the body of the dead man, attempting to determine his true identity and finally put this fascinating mystery to rest.

This engaging and vividly imagined work combines the drama, intrigue, and emotion of excellent storytelling with cutting-edge forensic investigation techniques and legal theory. Wesson’s superbly imagined A Death at Crooked Creek will have general readers, history buffs, and legal scholars alike wondering whether history, and the Justices, may have misunderstood altogether the events at that bleak winter campsite.

Marianne Wesson is Professor of Law and President’s Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado Law School. She is the author of best-selling and prize-winning legal novels including Render up the Body, A Suggestion of Death, and Chilling Effect. She lives in a Colorado mountain valley with her husband, llamas, dogs, and visiting wildlife.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Known for her legal thrillers, University of Colorado law professor Wesson (Chilling Effect) employs her expertise to great effect in this exhaustive study of a famous crime that left its mark on the American legal system. The 1879 murder of John Hillmon, which initially seemed like an open-and-shut case, gained notoriety when his life insurance providers, suspicious of fraud (they didn’t believe the body was Hillmon’s), refused to pay his widow. The result: six trials over a quarter century and a Supreme Court ruling that led to a new exception to the hearsay rule, a “durable and influential” precedent nevertheless embroiled in controversy. Wesson juxtaposes the history of the Hillmon trials with her own 2006 attempts to resolve the mystery of the dead man’s identity through DNA testing and other methods, giving readers an opportunity to watch as she loses her historical objectivity and relinquishes her “sympathies” to Hillmon’s widow. While she admits to fabricating some of the narrative (e.g., conversations between long-dead parties), she backs the story up with copious documentation, bringing this bizarre and convoluted tale to life. Wesson’s efforts result in a true crime drama that’s well researched, easy to read, and oddly compelling. Agent: Sam Stoloff, the Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (June)
From the Publisher

"This is an extraordinary and ground-breaking book, a wonderfully creative mix of fact and theory, imagination and drama. Anyone with an interest in law, history, or, for that matter, great storytelling will fall in love with A Death at Crooked Creek. The startling origin of the complex 'intention exception' to the hearsay evidence rule becomes canvas on which a grand and marvelously detailed tale is told. This is modern narrative at its best: a marriage of spectacular writing and hard, documented truth presented by a brilliant author who doubles as a gifted and fastidious legal scholar and historian."-Andrew Popper,American University

“Marianne Wesson brings empathy, imagination, and dedication to detail to this creative reinvestigation of a landmark Supreme Court decision. Meticulously researched, A Death at Crooked Creek reads like the best kind of historical novel and reminds us that behind every famous court case were the lives of real people and families.”-Alafair Burke,author of Long Gone

Library Journal
Readers expecting law professor and novelist Wesson's (law, Univ. of Colorado; Chilling Effect: A Lucinda Hayes Mystery) book about the 1879 death of John Hillmon, a Civil War veteran, to be a riveting historical investigation of murder, insurance fraud, and a Supreme Court ruling on hearsay evidence will be disappointed. Instead, the author studies the six court cases centered around Hillmon's widow and beneficiary, Sallie, and three insurance companies fighting the woman's life insurance claim, as they argued that the dead man was not her husband. The 1892 Supreme Court ruling affecting a particular type of hearsay evidence comes into play with a love letter that one of the insurance companies tried to use to prove that John Hillmon was very much alive. Unfortunately, Wesson's desire to thoroughly illuminate the case and its players leads to a confusing mixture of historical research, legal analysis, and stilted invented dialog. Though the case is interesting, the relevant details get lost in the historical fiction interspersed with the facts and analysis. VERDICT Recommended for those who prefer legal-based historical fiction and perhaps for those with a scholarly legal background. True crime buffs and scholars may be turned off by the work's more creative aspects.—Amelia Osterud, Carroll Univ. Lib., Waukesha, WI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814784563
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 5/24/2013
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 750,243
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Marianne Wesson is Professor of Law and President’s Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado Law School. She is the author of best-selling and prize-winning legal novels including Render up the Body, A Suggestion of Death, and Chilling Effect. She lives in a Colorado mountain valley with her husband, llamas, dogs, and visiting wildlife.

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Table of Contents

contents
Contents
Important Characters in the Story
of the Hillmon Case
xi
Timeline of Events Important
to the Hillmon Litigation
xiv
Prologue
xvii
1
A Winter Journey Leads
to an Inquest: 1879 1
2
The Parties Ready Their Cases
for Trial: 1879–1882 47
3
The Hillmon Case Is Tried
before a Jury: 1882 82
9780814784563_wesson_text.indd 9 3/5/13 3:41 PMontents
?
x ?
4
The Case Is Tried Twice More,
and a Surprising Objection Is Made: 1884–1888 137
5
The Supreme Court Hears a Case
of “Graveyard Insurance”: 1892 168
6
John Hillmon Is Reported to Be Alive
as the Arduous Fourth Trial Proceeds: 1893–1895 186
7
The Fifth Trial Progresses Briskly but Ends Inconclusively,
and New York Life Capitulates: 1896–1899 227
8
The Hillmon Case Is Tried
for the Last Time: 1899 259
9
The Century Turns, and the Hillmon Case
Is Concluded: 1900–1903 305
Acknowledgments
333
Notes
337
Index
361
About the Author
380

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 14, 2014

    Part true crime and part courtroom drama through the use of cour

    Part true crime and part courtroom drama through the use of court transcripts and news articles of the time, creates a fascinating story around what was thought to be a simple case of insurance fraud,  Really good read.

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