In June 11 IssueBy Wade Daffron, Columnist
I vaguely remember a conversation from about ten years ago.
Denver E. Wilson leaned back in a chair, and made a surprising declaration.
"Well...I reckon' I'm writing a book," he said.
Curious, I asked him what kind of book it would be, and how long he thought it would take to get it done.
"It's going to be about crime in Russell County," he said. "Have you ever stopped to think about all the murders we've had in this area? I think people would be shocked to know about the history of violence in their hometown."
Denver said it could take "years" to compete the task due to research, scanning archives, and talking with people involved (on both sides) with the crimes.
Sure, he was on to something, but how could someone open the "Pandora's Box" of Russell County without having their hand slapped...or worse.
Every once in a while I'd cross paths with Denver.
"I'm still working on that book," he'd say, leaning out of his truck window.
"Still workin;' on the book," he's shout from the seat of his thundering Harley.
In the past few months, I'd noticed he was ALWAYS at the newspaper office.
I noticed he was pouring through each and every page of old, back issues of The Times Journal.
Within those yellowed, crinkly pages are literally years and years worth of political debate, births, meetings, etc.
What Denver was interested in was the darker side of the news-murders, feuds, bootlegging, drug-running, disappearances, and unusual deaths-the kind of stuff we all seem to want to know more about.
Last week, I was walking into a local convenience store when I saw a crowd of people at the counter.
"Great," I thought to myself, "I'm gonna have to stand in line all night to pay for gas."
It became clear there was excitement in the air.
People seemed to be gathered around something, or somebody and they were all reaching out their hands...with money in them.
OK, now I REALLY had my interest piqued.
There was Denver, surrounded by people thrusting crumpled dollars and checks at him.
"I WANT ONE!" someone shouted.
"Let me go get my purse," a lady screamed.
"Give me two, and I want them signed!" a gentleman said.
Then I caught a glimpse of it.
It. Was. The. BOOK!
At first, it seemed to be floating in the air...magically...like something I wasn't sure I was actually seeing,
"HEY!" I heard someone say in my direction.
It was Denver.
"I told you I was writing a book!" he proudly claimed.
He worked his way through the crowd, and we "escaped" outside.
"Look here," he said, pointing to the back of his truck which was loaded with countless number of boxes...of his new book.
"Just got back from the publisher's with them," he said.
I didn't have the heart to tell him that I thought he probably needed one more, no, make that two, or maybe three truck loads more.
"Flip through that and tell me what you think," he said, handing me a fresh, untouched (and I swear, still warm) copy.
My first impression was....WOW.
Nice cover, good and thick, smelled good, felt good, and as I briefly flipped through the pages, I found myself constantly stopping to gaze at a picture I had never seen before, or reading the details of a crime I remembered from long ago.
"You know what?" I said. "This book is pretty interesting."
Denver excused himself to greet the growing number of "customers" gathering around his truck, and proceeded home.
At each traffic light, I would flip through a few more pages while the light was red.
When I got home, I found myself walking around with the book opened in front of me.
As your hear people say, I literally couldn't put it down.,
And when I did make the mistake of putting it down, Wifey grabbed it and literally ran off with it!
She found and pointed out things that happened while she was growing up (which was not that long ago), then I found and shared things with her I remember from my youth.
"Did things like this really happen?" she asked. "Was is that wild around here?"
And that's when you realize...
Russell County, beautiful as it is, has a sensational and somewhat scandalous history.
You see, it's one thing to hear people tell tales of the widespread violence during the 60s, the notorious family feuds of the 70s (The Hatfields and McCoys ain't got nothin;' on us!), and the many violent and bizarre murders in recent years, but to see the facts actually laid out in front of you in black and white is a revelation.
These things really did happen, and the names, times, dates, places (and occasionally a photo or two) are all presented in "Kentucky Justice."
The author chose to use somewhat of an "oral history" style of presentation (very popular in England, and arguably the best, and most enjoyable format) in which incidents are laid out in chronological order.
One can choose to read the book from beginning to end, and see how crime had ebbed and flowed in Russell County, or "jump around" to different times as the reader's memory is jogged.
Of course no look at the history of crime in Russell County would be complete without mentioning the death of the young Womack girl, and hanging of Elmer Hill.
Not only does Denver dive in with both feet- he also offers up a photo of Hill believed never to have been published before. (And the best-quality photos yet of Hill's hanging are presented within the first, few pages.)
"Everyone always talks about that crime," Denver said, "so that was a fitting was to start off the book. Plus, it's one of the oldest, documented cases I've run across."
The turbulent 70s in Russell County-including numerous murders, gunplay, stabbings, beatings, intentional fires-is not treated lightly.
"There's no reason to embellish anything up about those times," he said. "People unfamiliar with it may be shocked, but it's been presented like it happened. As that old saying goes, 'You can't make stuff like that up!' "
The material presented in the book is presented "matter-of-factly," with an occasional aside, reference, or comment by the author.
"That's probably the best way to do it with a project like this," he said. "People can draw their own conclusions."
Only someone with Wilson's background, could successfully pull it off.
Although he has a vast knowledge of the incidents included within the pages of his book, Denver knew where and how to look for material.
As a former newspaper publisher, he knew, or remembered details of various crimes, and their conclusions.
He also knows many people of which he wrote.
"Yes, I've been blessed with access to things and people while writing this book," he said. "I've appreciated the support and have tried to present everything as professionally as possible."
So, what's next for Denver?
"Well," he said, "I'm thinking about writing another book..."
Those of you interested in Denver's book, "Kentucky Justice," can purchase a copy at Country Folk Realty, on KY. 80.