A Death at Crooked Creek

The Case of the Cowboy, the Cigarmaker, and the Love Letter

405 pages

28 halftones illustrations

May, 2013

ISBN: 9780814784563

$35

Cloth

Also available in

Subjects:

HistoryLaw

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.

All books by Marianne Wesson

"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
 
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.

Reviews

  • "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

  • "Known for her legal thrillers, University of Colorado law professor Wesson (Chilling Effect) employs her expertise to great effect in this exhaustive study of famous crime that left its mark on the American legal system...Wesson's efforts result in a true crime drama that's well researched, easy to read, and oddly compelling."

    Publishers Weekly

  • "[A] riveting historical investigation of murder, insurance fraud, and a Supreme Court ruling."

    Library Journal

  • "The story of the Hillmon trials has all the hallmarks of a compelling mystery, including hidden pieces of evidence and witnesses changing their testimony....A Death at Crooked Creek is a riveting and well-researched account of the intersection of modern forensics and a cold case from the Old West, one that led to a rule of evidence still in use today.  A helpful timeline of events and a list of important characters are provided, and the index is thorough and useful.  This intriguing true-crime story that made it to the Supreme Court is highly recommended for law, general academic, and public libraries."

    —Stephanie Ziegler , Law Library Journal

  • "The 'whodunit' lives in law professor Marianne Wesson's A Death at Crooked Creek.  Her book tells the story of one of the most intriguing mysteries in American legal history: who was shot and killed at Crooked Creek, Kan., on a late winter's day in 1879?  For evidence teachers, and possibly even law students slogging their way through hearsay and its exceptions, Mutual Life Ins. v. Hillmon, 145 U.S. 285 (1892), is a classic 19th-century mystery story....A Death at Crooked Creek is a productive melange of fact and fiction, of then and now, of mystery and science, and an enjoyable meditation on law and persons."

    —Michael Ariens, The Federal Lawyer

  • "This engaging and vividly imagined work combines the drama, intrigue, and emotion of excellent storytelling with cutting-edge forensic investigation techniques and legal theory."

    —, Kansas State Library