With an interest in true crime and Michigan history, journalist Tom Carr set out across the state to research some of the most gruesome and memorable murders he could find. He compiled more than 50 of them into Blood on the Mitten: Infamous Michigan Murders, 1700's to Present (Mission Point Press/Chandler Lake Books, 2016).
“I had covered police reports in court when I was a reporter,” says Carr, who worked for several newspapers, including the Traverse City Record-Eagle, for about 25 years. “And I’ve always liked reading about true crime as well as history. I want to emphasize the history aspect of this book as well as the crime story as I want the reader to get the whole picture: what it was like in Michigan in those days.”
Carr collected murder stories from every corner of the state. There are cases from Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Traverse City, Calumet, Alpena, Menominee, and many other Michigan towns and cities. Some of the stories are relatively well known, like the still unsolved disappearance of Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa and General George Armstrong of Little Bighorn fame, as well as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and their involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Others stories are less known. There’s Leo Kwaske, who decided one day to destroy the “negative energy” of a neighbor. He broke into her apartment and killed with her hammer, but stored her severed head in his own apartment. Then there was Martha Haney, who lost her temper with her mother-in-law and served her head on a silver platter with knife and fork set neatly to each side. Or, take Mary McKnight, who had no particular motive for the murders she committed. She just liked having company and funerals were the perfect social event.
Carr says murder has been with us since human history began and probably always will be. “I think murder is probably with us as a species,” he says. “It’s been with us from the start. In Genesis in the Bible, there’s Cain and Abel. But that may also give people hope. Yes, there are horrible things that happen nowadays, but there have always been horrible people. There have always been horrible things that people have done to one another. We can try to do what we can to solve that and lessen that, as we should. But most of us go through our lives and these are the exceptions. These are not the rule. These are unusual occurrences.”
Carr includes many historic photographs, maps, and sidebars throughout his book. If Michigan arguably has more than its share of murders, he says, it may because Michigan has many resources that attract people.
“It’s just speculation on my part,” he says, “but there’s been a race for the great resources in this state. And then there’s been desperation (when the resources run out), and desperation breeds crime. But this is a book not so much about rates as narratives, things that make a good story.”
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