Book recently published by University of Iowa Press
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
skull in the ashes book cover

Peter Kaufman will read from Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America, a book recently published by the University of Iowa Press, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, in a free reading at Prairie Lights Books in downtown Iowa City.

The reading also will be streamed live on the UI Writing University website.

On a February night in 1897, the general store in Walford, Iowa, burned down. The next morning, townspeople discovered a charred corpse in the ashes. Everyone knew that the store’s owner, Frank Novak, had been sleeping in the store as a safeguard against burglars. Now all that remained were a few of his personal items scattered under the body.

At first, it seemed to be a tragic accident mitigated just a bit by Novak’s foresight in buying generous life insurance policies to provide for his family. But soon an investigation by the ambitious new county attorney, M.J. Tobin, turned up evidence suggesting that the dead man might actually be Edward Murray, a hard-drinking local laborer. Relying upon newly developed forensic techniques, Tobin gradually built a case implicating Novak in Murray’s murder. But all he had was circumstantial evidence, and up to that time few murder convictions had been won on that basis in the United States.

Robert Loerzel, author of Alchemy of Bones: Chicago’s Luetgert Murder Case of 1897, says of Skull in the Ashes: “Peter Kaufman has pulled off an impressive piece of historical detective work, digging deep into the archives to uncover a remarkable murder mystery and sleuthing adventure that stretches from Iowa to the Klondike and back. The captivating story opens a window on American life in the beguiling 1890s.”

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to attend this reading, call Jan Weissmiller at Prairie Lights in advance at 319-337-2681.

For a UI arts calendar and details about upcoming events visit the Arts Iowa website.