Posted by Mardi Jo Link in geneaology, Leininger, true crime, work-in-progress on May 19, 2016
In true crime, starting with the body is often the instinctive place to begin.
Here’s a quote from one of the first pages of Truman Capote’s masterpiece, In Cold Blood:
“At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them — four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.”
(Yes, I know In Cold Blood is a controversial representation of the true crime genre. There’s a good overview of why that is here.)
But back to my point. Another true crime writer I admire, Edward Keyes, begins The Michigan Murders like this:
“A few years ago, a normally peaceful mid-American community was wracked by a succession of inexplicable murders. The victims — seven young females — ranged in age from thirteen to twenty-three; each was killed with unspeakable savagery.”
And I used the body in the opening line of Wicked Takes the Witness Stand:
“If there is a more inhospitable place to die then the back of a long-bed pickup on a winter night in northern Michigan, it doesn’t come quickly to mind.”
So yes, “Start with the body!” is what I say to writers who email me for suggestions on getting started in true crime. Even though this is a blog and not a book (yet), and even though I’m peripherally writing true crime but probably attempting more of a memoir/history hybrid, I’m going to take my own advice.
The body belonged to Sebastian Leininger, my six times great grandfather, a German immigrant who was either ruthlessly murdered or else had it coming. He died in 1755 on the Pennsylvania frontier when he was 58. In my writer’s mind, he died like this:
All his labor had come to nothing. That was my first thought when I learned of his murder. A tomahawk buried in his skull, the cabin he’d built by hand in flames, his crops burnt, his livestock felled, their blood seeping into the acreage of unimaginable wildness he’d toiled to clear, his son gut-shot, his two screaming daughters carried away, and finally the smallest of the day’s many tragedies. As his girls went sideways and kicking into the forest, each of them lost their shoes.