Frequently Asked Questions
How did you get involved with writing about cold cases?
I’d just gone from working as a full-time Weekender staff writer to freelance status, and my editor (Thomas Ritchie — now with The Sioux City Journal) called to see if I’d be interested in writing about Sioux City’s cold cases. Once the two of us met with Lt. Lisa Claeys from the Sioux City PD’s Investigative Services Bureau and I began work on a triple homicide story, I never looked back.
In December 2005 I launched the Iowa Cold Cases website, not knowing that almost two years later, my beloved stepfather of 25 years, Earl Thelander, would become a crime victim and eventually be added to the site.
Since these cold cases are technically still open, how do you go about collecting information when officials can only say so much?
It starts by establishing a good working relationship with law enforcement officials — both past and present — involved with the case. From there on out, one better love research. Whether combing through public records, digging through newspaper archives or tracking down and talking to every [still living] person whose name shows up in files or is brought up during interviews, close attention to the smallest of details is crucial. One of the most valuable resources, however, is the victim’s family.
Why can’t I find any of your articles on the Weekender website?
Articles from that time period are no longer available in the Weekender’s archives. At one point, I did begin to save my articles once they appeared online (which I later transferred to my Author Interviews and Features pages here), and hope to eventually scan the others from printed issues and include them here as well.
Who is the most interesting person you ever interviewed?
Everyone has a fascinating story, and the right questions will almost always bring out that story. Some of my favorites, though: The Waltons’ Earl Hamner, Jr.; pianist/composer Jim Brickman; author J.A. Jance; U.S. Navy Lt. Shane Osborn; [murder victim] Jesse Hanni’s brother, Ray Hanni; memoirist Barbara Robinette Moss; Dear Abby writer Jeanne Phillips; and novelist Leif Enger.
Why have you waited so long to write another book?
Long story. (Aren’t they all?) The truth is, I have written other books, which now are in various stages of editing or completion. The short answer is my tendency to over-research and continually micro-edit my own work, something I think carried over from my days as a perfectionist journalist. I’m realizing, though, that books, like lives, will never seem fully complete and will often have endings we’ll always wish we could rewrite.
With all the time you’ve put into politics and campaigns, have you ever considered running for office?
I did. Iowa House. 2002. But after three personal tragedies that year, I rediscovered the reasons I’d run to begin with and responded by getting back to what (I think, anyway) I do best: writing about it.