Washington’s image, a killer in California, and the joys of crimson clover and ancestry.com: newsletter, May 4, 2018

May 9, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,048) on May 6, 2018


A couple of you responded to my question last week about your favorite true crime book. I’d still like to hear from more of you about that. See the current responses below.

Lots going on this week. In the garden, we now have potatoes with okra, peas, and cucumbers next on the list.

Nothing beats a good book, however, and I have the good fortune to come across one on a regular basis. I am telling you about a couple of them this week. I hope that you have had an excellent week.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

The American Revolution — in pictures

We give far too little credit to people such as Charles Willson Peale, Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart, and the like for what they did to promote and solidify the American Revolution. We think of them today — if we think of them at all — as simply portrait painters. But these talented artists went beyond merely painting the faces of the rich and famous of their day. It was an age before photography, and portraits had a much deeper meaning. A portrait often was a political statement.

The portrait of George Washington shown here is a good example. It was executed in 1779 by Charles Willson Peale, and the story of why and how it was produced is a fascinating one. It was commissioned by the Pennsylvania legislature — the first publicly commissioned piece of art in the history of the nation — and it had a purpose that was both domestic and international. The story comes from the excellent book,Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution through Painters’ Eyes by Paul Staiti.

I have written a blog post about Peale and this painting that you can read here on JPROF.com.

Pravda, still going after all these years

Speaking of revolutions, the Russian Revolution and its instigator Vladimir Lenin produced a newspaper unique in the annals of journalism history. Its name was Pravda, which means “truth” in Russian, and its purpose was neither truth nor news. It existed to give a legitimizing voice to Lenin and all of the Soviet leaders who came after him. Pravda served one purpose — to tell the world the official government view of whatever issue it chose to write about. Soviet-watchers read it closely for that reason.

At the height of Soviet power, Pravda’s circulation reached 11 million per day, but with the fall of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of official support, Pravda fell on hard times. It ceased publication briefly in 1996 but is still going today with a circulation of about 200,000.

The Golden State Killer — the book and the arrest

The arrest recently of a man accused of being the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who haunted California’s neighborhoods and psyche, in the 1970s and 80s, is a story with many threads — including a now best-selling book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by the late Michelle McNamara.

McNamara had pursued the story of the Golden State Killer for several years and had become transfixed by it. Her goal was to find the killer and write a book about her pursuit. Those efforts ended on April 21, 2016, when her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, found her dead. She died of an undiagnosed heart disease that had been complicated by a number of drugs that she had been taking.

Oswalt did not want her story to go unfinished, so, according to the New York Times:

Shortly after her death, Mr. Oswalt recruited Billy Jensen, an investigative journalist, and Paul Haynes, who worked closely with Ms. McNamara on the book as a researcher, to comb through her handwritten notes and the roughly 3,500 files on her computer and piece together the story she set out to tell. (Source: Michelle McNamara Hunted, and Was Haunted by, the Golden State Killer – The New York Times)

The book they put together, I‘ll Be Gone in the Dark, was published in February and has been on best-seller lists ever since.

Meanwhile, California criminal investigators had joined in a task force the previous summer to make another attempt at finding the killer. McNamara was dead by then, but law enforcement officials knew of her efforts used what she found in their search.

Two months after her book was published, California law enforcement authorities announced the arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer in a couple of California districts, and charged him with one of the murders associated with the series of killings. They plan other charges.

Investigators had a big weapon on their side that they didn’t have when the crimes occurred in the 1970s and 80s: DNA. They used that weapon in a creative and unconventional way.

Investigators used DNA from crime scenes that had been stored all these years and plugged the genetic profile of the suspected assailant into an online genealogy database. They found distant relatives of Mr. DeAngelo’s and, despite his years of eluding the authorities, traced their DNA to his front door. “We found a person that was the right age and lived in this area — and that was Mr. DeAngelo,” said Steve Grippi, the assistant chief in the Sacramento district attorney’s office. (Source: How a Genealogy Site Led to the Front Door of the Golden State Killer Suspect – The New York Times)

The arrest of DeAngelo brought a sense of relief to California law officials and completion to McNamara’s project.

Additional sources:

Search for ‘Golden State Killer’ Leads to Arrest of Ex-Cop – The New York Times

Is Joseph James DeAngelo “The Golden State Killer”? Michelle McNamara’s quest to find elusive serial killer – CBS News



The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

Amazon gift card raffle. A group of independent authors with whom I am associated have gotten together to offer a chance at one of five (count ’em, 5) $75 Amazon gift cards to the folks on our email lists. Sign up for the raffle here:


The raffle runs through May 15, so sign up today.


Crimson clover – plant in September so you — and the bees — can enjoy it in April

Crimson clover, a plant that honeybees love, produces a long, beautiful bloom that is full of nectar for the bees. In our garden, we planted several patches a number of years ago.

The clover re-seeds itself and grows in abundance.

If all goes well, here’s what will happen if you plant the clover in September as recommended:

The clover seed will germinate and sprout fairly quickly (especially if we get rain). The clover will grow at a reasonable speed this fall so that where we have planted it, the ground will be covered in a deep, dark green. The plants will maintain this color after the fall frosts and through the winter. When warmer temperatures begin to creep in next February and March, the clover will start to grow in height.

By early April (see the photo on the right, which shows some of our clover), we will begin to see some blooms sprouting. Usually, in the second or third week of April (sometimes earlier), the long, deep-red blooms will appear.

The next thing you see will be the honeybees, and they will be everywhere.

There’s a bit more about all this, plus a video, on a post I wrote for JPROF.com.

Ancestry.com: More than genealogy

Genealogy is not my thing, so I did not expect much from the presentation on Ancestry.com that I attended last week as part of the Foothills Voicesproject at the Blount County Public Library. I was wrong. Ancestry.com is, of course, essential if you’re into genealogy, but it is also a strikingly useful tool if you are doing any kind of historical research. It contains millions of documents from a wide variety of sources, and it is very likely to have something related to your research.

That’s the first big thing I learned. Here’s the second: Your library may have a special subscription that will allow you, a cardholder (you are a cardholder, aren’t you?), access to Ancestry.com while you are at the library. If this is the case, your access is free (the library has already paid for it). Ask about this service the next time you’re at your local library.


Martin Luther

Dave T.: Jim – Re: your piece on Martin Luther – I just finished an outstanding biography on Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas – a phenomenal read – an exceptional in depth history of a truly theologic genius who truly did transform the religious landscape – didn’t want to leave the Catholic church only reform it – and, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story”.

You’re right, he was really a marketer utilizing the press for his short tracts!
Metaxas also authored ‘Bonhoeffer’ (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy), another excellent work.
Isaac Asimov
Marilyn H.: I particularly enjoyed your information about Isaac Asimov (right). I’ve read all of his science fiction (many of the books more than once) but haven’t known much about him and as a person.
True-crime books

Robin K.: Favorite true crime book? I don’t know – “favorite” with books is like asking me what’s my favorite grain of sand! As for Kate’s list, I believe I’ve read Helter Skelter,and I’ve either read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil ( the title had a very familiar ring to it) or it’s on my TBR list. I read so many things in my younger days, before computers started sucking up my time and my eyes have weakened, that I don’t remember many of the books.

I recently ran across The Falcon and the Snowman, which I read in high school, and I plan to read it again – it’s about a brilliant young man who starts selling secrets to fund his drug habit. He bought drugs from his best friend. It’s an interesting contrast between the two young men, and a well-told story about how the one guy gradually slipped down the rabbit-hole of selling America’s secrets to China, I think. There’s also a book about espionage that was current events here in Hampton Roads when I first moved here. I can’t think of the names, but it was about a father and son espionage team – one or both of them were in the Navy, stationed here in Norfolk, and their arrests were big news here in the early 1980s.
Back to Kate’s list – I have not heard is most of them, but about half of them are now in my TBR list!
Katherine C.: Hands down the best true crime book I ever read is Erik Larsen The Devil in the White City; also The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerdale.

The bees and the beehives

Tricia H.; . . . thank you for helping save bees by beginning new hives. Too few people are doing that, in too few places. We hope to get bees ourselves here in mid-west Georgia in the next year. There is an active bee-keepers’ group here, and perhaps this year we will attend the educational meetings they have. I really want the fresh honey made from the local pollen. There is a LOT of pollen around here. And I just might be slightly allergic to all of it. Honey from home will help with that problem Pollinating the fruit trees, garden, and wildflowers is just icing on the cake. And they are entertaining flying around and they sound good.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Charles Willson Peale (caricature)

This caricature is based on a painting of Peale as a young man.

Best quote of the week:

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” Mary Wollstonecraft, reformer and writer (1759-1797)

I’ll have more on Mary Wollstonecraft and her more famous daughter in a subsequent newsletter. Both of them are highly interesting women and courageous for their time.

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 


You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Martin Luther, Isaac Asimov, and the value of libraries; 50-plus true-crime books; and more; newsletter, April 27, 2018


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