Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

In February, we took our first vacation in several years and went to Anna Maria Island, Florida. It was great, except for the part about being on vacation in Anna Maria Island, Florida.

Apparently, we picked the one week of the year when it’s as cold in Florida as it is in Central Ohio. It was miserable. After a couple of days, we decided to take a walk on the beach because Melissa was sick of being cooped up in a tiny bungalow with me. I mean, because we thought it would be romantic. I thought we had walked out onto the Arctic Ocean. Not only was it freezing, but the wind was blowing so hard the sand hitting our legs felt like we were being attacked by killer bees. It was so miserable, in fact, that Melissa decided being cooped up with me wasn’t such a bad thing . . . so long as she had plenty of alcohol.

I got Melissa a power-washer for Mother’s Day. Let that sink in, boys. You know you’ve got a good woman when she’s happy with power tools for Mother’s Day. She was so excited to try it out, she actually asked if I would mind if she power-washed the deck. I said, “It’s your special day, sweetheart, power-wash to your heart’s content.”

Melissa also wanted a garden. I pointed out that having a garden might not be a good idea because we live in the woods. I began a recitation on photosynthesis, and the necessity of sunlight to . . . Well, never mind, we have a garden.

She Who Must Be Obeyed wanted a raised bed garden. I purchased treated, two-by-tens and built three, ten-foot-by-four-foot raised bed gardens in the back yard – exactly where she told me to build them. After they were built and put into place – exactly where she told me to build them – Melissa decided that a) they spoiled the view from the kitchen window, and b) there wasn’t enough sunlight in the woods where I built the beds.

“Not enough sunlight, you say?” I asked.

She ignored my sarcasm and decided that the garden was better suited for the side yard, about 100 yards southwest of the original construction site. She harnessed me up and I lifted the back of these monsters on a wheelbarrow for her, then lifted the front and carried them to the side yard. These were, what’s the word I’m looking for, oh yes, HEAVY. Such exertion can aggravate an affliction called sciatica, which feels like someone is poking your rear with a cattle prod, keeps you awake at night, and makes you whimper like a little girl. But, hey, we had fresh tomatoes.

And, just to show you that God has a sense of humor, a weekafter the raised beds were filled with dirt, vegetables planted, and a cute fence placed around the garden, a giant maple tree fell out of the woods and crushed the fence and the string beanarbor. I spent several more days cutting up the tree, repairing the fence, and . . . well, you know the drill.

Speaking of falling trees, the nine-footer I put up in the living room fell over the first night it was up. It sounded like a giant redwood crashing through the house. It was fatal for several ornaments.

I’m wishing all my readers the best for the holidays and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2022.

Three-Year-Olds, Ring Pops and Diplomas

I was getting ready for work when the three-year-old granddaughter came into the room, held up a Ring Pop, and asked if I would open it for her. It was 7:30 a.m.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

She pointed toward the kitchen, where the candy dish was apparently within reach of a two-foot, eleven-inch child.

“Did Mimi say you could have a sucker before breakfast?” I asked.

Of course, I already knew the answer to this. She was doing the end-around, testing to see if she could catch Pap in a moment of weakness and cause him to commit a major violation of house rules. Mimi – AKA, She Who Must Be Obeyed – is not giving candy to anyone before breakfast. A violation of this rule would not put the three-year-old in trouble, but I would be facing some serious scorn.

She smiled and gave me, “the look.” She knows “the look” will soften me up. I have never been around a child like this one. She can melt my heart one second, and have me pulling out my hair the next. Instead of answering my question, she said, “Ring Pops taste good.”

She had a point. Cherry Ring Pops are delicious. I said, “Yes, they do, but they have zero nutritional value and they’re bad for your teeth.”

I’m not sure what I was thinking, talking about nutritional values and dental care to a three-year-old with a Ring Pop in her fingers. I might as well have been speaking Klingon.

“Candy is good,” she said.

Her verbal skills are still limited, but she was driving home her point. It was a diversion because she had still failed to answer my original question. Being a former newspaper reporter who dealt with shifty politicians, I was not about to let her off the hook. “Did Mimi say you could have a sucker before breakfast?”

“No.”

She is still brutally honest and has yet to realize the benefits of a convincing lie.

I held out my hand and wiggled my fingers. “Hand it over,” I said.

This did not bring on an onslaught of tears. I suspect because she knew there were more Ring Pops in the candy dish.

They taste good, you know?

***

I was in North Carolina recently and found this diploma on a wall at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. It’s a 1918 diploma from Rayen school in Youngstown, Ohio.

I took the photo because I’m always curious as to how such an item becomes separated from the family. Maybe I’m more sentimental than most, but I would think someone in the family would consider it a prize.

The graduate was Lillian Mary Weisbeck. I went online and found her in a 1940 census. She had married Walter Ball and was living on Logan Ave. in Youngstown. Her parents were Albert and Theresa Weisbeck.

I haven’t been able to track down any additional information. If anyone reading this in the Youngstown area has information on Lillian or her family, please get in touch with me through my website: http://www.robinyocum.net.

***

Just so you know that I do treasure such items, here’s a copy of my grandfather’s diploma from Lincoln High School in Brilliant, Ohio, in 1928. To the best of my knowledge, Raymond Yocum was the first member of my family to graduate from high school. He liked to tell people that he finished in the top 10 in his graduating class, which was true. Of course, there were only 10 graduates that year.

On the other side of the family, my grandfather Ullrich left school when he was 10-years old to work in the glass factory in Brilliant. His father said, “You can read and figure numbers. That’s all you need. Get to work.” He became a self-taught engineer who worked on Andrew Carnegie’s famous Carrie Blast Furnaces at the Homestead Steel Works in Swissvale, Pa.

I’ve had such an easy life.

My Encounters with Conman Billy Milligan

There is a new Netflix series out on serial rapist Billy Milligan. He’s the guy from Columbus who beat the rap on three rape charges by claiming to have 24 different personalities.

I never believed this for one minute. Billy Milligan had two personalities – serial rapist and weirdo.

Fortunately for him, I guess, he was able to pull off the multiple personality ruse and escape conviction. When I was covering the crime beat for the Columbus Dispatch, I heard numerous stories from police officers of Milligan sitting in his cell in the Franklin County Jail and reading the book, Sybil, which was about a woman who allegedly had multiple personalities.

Billy was apparently rehearsing for his performance before the psychiatrists.

Milligan’s life of crime began in 1975 when he went to prison for rape and armed robbery. Apparently, he had only one personality at the time.

After being released from prison in early 1977, he was arrested again in October of that year and charged with raping three women on the Ohio State University campus. Claiming multiple personality disorder at his trial, Milligan was subsequently found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a mental health center. I recall at one point he was given weekend passes from the institution. Apparently, that’s how we protect women from rapists in Ohio.

In the 1980s, when I was on the investigative team for the Dispatch, I was at the office of then-Ohio Public Defender Randy Dana, working on an in-depth story about a man who I believed had been wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death. One day, a guy walked into the office where I was working and dropped off the mail. I looked at him, realizing that I should know who it was, but was drawing a blank.

After he left the room, the defense attorney who was helping me with the story grinned and said, “Do you know who that was?”

“Help me out,” I said.

“Billy Milligan.”

Dana had hired Milligan as an office boy. So now the guy who escaped conviction for three rapes was drawing a state paycheck. Lovely.

I spent much of the next month at the public defender’s office, reading a voluminous trial transcript and working on my story. Every time Milligan saw me in the office, he wanted to stop by and chat. He spent much of this time haranguing me to write a story about him and the injustice he had suffered.

This went up my spine like a flare. I said, “Injustice? It was the justice system that kept you out of prison, remember? You raped three women and claimed it wasn’t your fault because of all that multi-personality mumbo jumbo.”

He did not take kindly to my description of his alleged multiple personality disorder. I certainly didn’t want to be friends with Billy Milligan, but I must admit that it was interesting to hear him ramble on about one thing or another.

Sometime after that, I was at the Rhodes State Office Tower working on another story when I happened upon a reception being held in conjunction for an art exhibit by Milligan. Not only did we give this rapist a state paycheck, but we were sponsoring his art exhibit.

I will give Milligan this – he was a talented artist. I was looking at one of his paintings when he spotted me and walked over. It was a Rube Goldberg-type painting of a chain reaction. The final scene was a candle burning through a rope that was holding a grand piano over a baby in a cradle.

He said, “Makes you think, doesn’t it, Yocum?”

I said, “It sure does, Billy. It makes me think that you’re even more bizarre than everybody thinks you are.”

Again, he wasn’t amused.

On July 4, 1986, Milligan escaped from the Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital and ran to Bellingham, Wash., where he was living under the alias, Christopher Eugene Carr. He moved into the same apartment building with Michael Madden, a student at Western Washington University.

Madden disappeared Sept. 3, 1986. Big surprise here, Milligan sold Madden’s car after he disappeared and cashed Madden’s $7,000 disability check. Not long after that, another big surprise, Milligan disappeared from Bellingham.

I received a phone call from Lt. David MacDonald of the Bellingham Police Department, who was trying to locate Milligan. MacDonald gave me information for a story on Madden’s disappearance and Milligan’s possible involvement. He said Milligan was the only suspect in Madden’s disappearance. I wonder which of his personalities was capable of that?

To my knowledge, Madden’s body has never been found. Milligan was never charged in connection with the disappearance.

Milligan was eventually captured in a hotel bar in Florida and sent back to an Ohio mental institution.

He was released in 1988 and died of cancer in 2014.

Vacations, Wine and a Confederate Submarine

Melissa and I took a little break last week and went to Seabrook Island, S.C. It’s just outside of Charleston, so we took a day to visit the history of downtown – Rainbow Row, The Battery and White Point Garden.

However, by far, the most fascinating part of the day was our visit to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, which houses the Confederate submarine, the H.L Hunley.

On the night of Feb. 17, 1864, the man-powered Hunley made the first successful submarine attack in the history of warfare when it detonated a bomb in the hull of the USS Housatonic off the coast of Charleston. The Housatonic sank in minutes; the Hunley never returned from its mission.

The late adventure author Clive Cussler funded a mission to locate the sub. It was discovered in 1995 and raised in 2000. Since then, researchers have been painstakingly working – with dental tools – to preserve the Hunley, which is on display in an underwater tank.

The remains of Lt. George E. Dixon, the leader of the mission, and his seven crew members were found entombed in the sub. In 2004, thousands of people turned out for the funeral procession through Charleston to their final resting place at Magnolia Cemetery.

If you’re in the Charleston area, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the museum. I guarantee it will be worth the trip. In the meantime, you can visit the museum’s excellent website at www.hunley.org.

A Visit to the Vineyard

We made a side trip on our way south and stopped by my favorite winery – Stony Knoll Vineyards in Dobson, N.C. This is a former tobacco farm that has been in the Coe family for 125 years.

Van Coe began converting from tobacco to grapes in 2001.

Very nice people and great wine. My favorite is the Chambourcin.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by. The vineyard is located at 1143 Stony Knoll Rd. in Dobson. You can check them out at www.stonyknollvineyards.com.

A Nice Tribute to Our POW/MIAs

Over the weekend, I went to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to watch my daughter’s University of Tennessee-Martin volleyball team play in a tournament at Western Kentucky University. (Yes, I’ve been logging a lot of Interstate miles lately.)

I was touched by the display WKU has for our soldiers who were prisoners of war or missing in action. It is a single black chair with the POW/MIA logo, with black stanchions cordoning it off. The display includes a plaque that reads:

Since World War I, more than 92,000 American soldiers are unaccounted for. This unoccupied seat is dedicated to the memory of those brave men and women for the sacrifices that each made in serving this great country.

Meet WKU’s Big Red

It was my first visit to WKU. It’s a beautiful campus.

On a less somber note, the WKU mascot is called “Big Red.” You may have seen Big Red on the commercials for the old Capital One College Mascot Challenge.

While at the tournament, Big Red stopped down to visit my granddaughters. You can see by the photo that Cali was excited to meet Big Red. Cami . . . not a fan!

Buckeye Book Fair Set for Nov. 6

I was accepted to participate in the Buckeye Book Fair on Saturday, Nov. 6.

If you’re a book fan, this is a great book fair. This year it will be held at the Greystone Event Center in Wooster, Ohio.

Here’s a link to the authors and illustrators who will be participating in this year’s fair.

Official Release of The Sacrifice of Lester Yates

T-minus six hours until the official release of The Sacrifice of Lester Yates.

This book has been in the works for about 12 years. It stemmed from an encounter I had when I was a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch in the 1980s. I was working on a series on wrongful convictions and one of the interviews took place at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. While I was there, I took a tour of the death house and saw a panel on which were three buttons – red, white and green. On execution days, three prison guards would each be assigned a button. On the warden’s signal, each would push their button, but only one sent the fatal jolt into the condemned. That, I believed, was the genesis of The Sacrifice of Lester Yates.

I started work on a novel about a prison guard who comes to believe a death-row inmate was wrongfully convicted. I created the crime for which the accused would be convicted: Four boys somewhat accidently kill another kid, then conspire to cover it up. I became very interested in the plight of those boys, so the entire direction of the book changed. That novel became Favorite Sons.

Not long afterwards, I began work on a sequel. However, I couldn’t get any traction with it, so I put it away. A few years ago, I dusted it off and tried again. This time, I moved most of the action from Columbus back to the Ohio Valley, and things fell into place.

I hope you enjoy it.

The Columbus Dispatch reviewed The Sacrifice of Lester Yates on Sunday and had nice things to say.The review said, “a well-paced, well-written thriller. . . Yocum has a gift for characterization. . . The Sacrifice of Lester Yates is a good read – full of bantering dialogue, plot twists and a sense of place.”

Here’s the link.

Local author’s thriller set in Ohio full of plot twists and turns (dispatch.com)

The Akron Beacon-Journal recently printed a review that said, The Sacrifice of Lester Yates (is) an exciting political thriller. Yocum ramps up the tension as Hutch tries to beat the clock . . . with conspiracy that goes in unexpected directions. The investigation energies him and adds to the suspense as Hutch uncovers more dirty secrets, corruption and abuse of power.

I did a fun Q&A with Bowling Green State University’s alumni blog. It’s called: 5 Questions.

Here’s the link: 5 questions with Robin Yocum ’78 (bgsu.edu)

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I enjoy March because you can finally see some light at the end of winter’s tunnel – the longer, warmer days. Melissa has started planning the garden and I’m looking forward to the first buds on the trees. When I was a kid, this is when I would start oiling up my ball glove in anticipation of getting out on the diamond. It also was a time when the outdoor basketball court at the Lincoln Junior High in my hometown of Brilliant, Ohio, was the hub of activity for young men. Call your own fouls. Games were to 40, switch baskets when a team hit 20. Winners stay, losers walk, the next five guys in line take the court. Between games, we’d walk over to Homer’s Corner Market for an RC Cola.

I had a short story accepted by Mystery Weekly Magazine. It’s about a woman who kills her mob-enforcer husband. No publication date yet. I’ll keep you posted.  I just finished another short story. It’s in the editing phase. I usually have a lot of ideas for short stories, and I work on them between novels. It’s a fun diversion.

The Sacrifice of Lester Yates will be released April 27. It received a nice review at librarything.com – 4.5 stars. The reviewer called the book, “exceptionally satisfying.” The novel was supposed to be released April 6, but it was pushed back three weeks because of a COVID outbreak at the printing company.

I did an interview recently with Erin Moriarty for the television show, 48 Hours. She is working on a story that I covered for the Columbus Dispatch when I was the crime reporter. Not sure when it will air, but I’ll keep you posted.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope this message finds you happy and healthy. I think we can all agree that it’s nice to see 2020 in our collective rear view mirrors.

T-minus three months and counting until the April 6 release of my next novel, The Sacrifice of Lester Yates. Janice Kiaski, the community editor of the Steubenville, Ohio, Herald-Star recently did a very nice article about me and The Sacrifice. Here’s the link: https://www.heraldstaronline.com/news/local-news/2020/12/suspenseful-political-smart/

It you like my novels and fiction set in rural settings, check out the Bell Elkins series by my former Columbus Dispatch colleague, Julia Keller. Julia won a Pulitzer Prize as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune. She’s an incredible writer and has created an enduring character in Bell Elkins, who is a prosecutor in the fictional Acker’s Gap, West Virginia. (Julia grew up in Huntington, West Virginia.)

It’s been a rough six weeks for the Yocum family. My younger brother, Matthew, died Dec. 7 of cancer. He was only 61, and died just 10 days after being diagnosed. My brother had an amazing life. In August of 1983, Matt fell out of truck while working at the Cardinal electric generating plant in our hometown of Brilliant, Ohio. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was life-flighted to Pittsburgh where doctors gave him a one-in-a-thousand chance of living through the night. He spent five weeks in a coma and six months in rehab, learning to walk and talk again. He survived and thrived. Was he a pain in my rump at times? You bet. He was my little brother, after all. That was his job. I will dearly miss our shared history, tossing back draft beers at Roosters, and sharing stories of our childhood and hometown. Rest in peace, my brother.

“The Last Hit” featured in Best American Mystery Stories 2020

On Tuesday, the Best American Mystery Stories 2020 was released by Mariner/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. My short story, The Last Hit, which originally appeared in The Strand Magazine, was one of 20 stories selected for the annual anthology. The legendary Otto Penzler once again served as general editor of the series, which Kirkus Reviews called, “highly regarded” and “a stellar collection.” C.J. Box, who creates the Joe Pickett series, made the final selection of stories. It’s humbling to have a story included alongside such great writers as Jeffery Deaver and James Lee Burke. Many thanks to Otto and C.J. for the honor.
Here’s a link to the Kirkus review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/…/best-american-mystery…/

It is the second anthology in which one of my short stories appeared this year. The first was The Satin Fox, which appeared in Columbus Noir, which was released in March. If you’re a fan of short story mysteries, both anthologies are excellent reads.

Today is Nov. 6 – five months until the release of my next novel, The Sacrifice of Lester Yates.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A lost piece of West Virginia history found in Ohio

Thanks to everyone who signed up for my email updates. I hesitate to call this a blog, because there is a certain expectation of regularity associated with a blog. I don’t know if I’m up to that challenge. If I have something that I think you’d be interested in hearing, I’ll pass it along. It might be book related, it might not.

Since those are standards, let me start off with a non-book story.

About 15 years ago, my friend Ken Farmwald and I started a company to buy, fix-up and sell houses. On a good day, we do it for a profit. As we were cleaning and doing the demolition at a house this summer, we found a nickel wrapped in a tiny piece of paper, on which was written, “This 5¢ piece was on the eye of Susan Heflin Cooper after death. Arlie has the other 5 cent piece.” After finding the note and 1901 coin, I did an internet search for Susan and located her grave at the Gnats Run Cemetery near Pennsboro, West Virginia.

Susan was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, in 1817. She lived to the age of 90 and died in Pennsboro on Christmas Eve, 1907. 

As a novelist, I am fascinated with the mystery of how this fell out of the hands of the family and ended up amid so much trash in a house in Columbus, Ohio. However, as a former newspaper reporter who liked his stories wrapped up tight, I find it maddening not to have those answers.

A friend did a little research on an ancestry site and believes that Arlie was her son.

I donated the items to the Ritchie County, West Virginia, Historical Society, which is located in Pennsboro. They operate the Old Stone House Museum, where hopefully the coin and note will find a new home.

Today is Oct. 6 – exactly six months until the release of my next novel, The Sacrifice of Lester Yates. Pre-order your copy through my new site here.