Monday, November 28, 2011

Local Author, Local Story

I have lived my entire life in northeast Iowa, and had thought I knew many of the stories and history of this area. This summer during a librarian workshop we had a discussion about different newsmakers in Iowa. The Mark murders came up, which not only had I never heard of, but then learned took place just a few miles from my home.

The Mark murders occurred in 1975, when I was too young to remember them. Now, Scott Cawelti has written a book, Brothers Blood: A Heartland Cain and Abel, that explores this gruesome murder. Back in 1975 near Cedar Falls, Iowa, a young family was murdered on Halloween night in their home. When they were discovered by the husband's parents and hired hand the next morning there was little evidence besides their bodies. Eventually witnesses were interviewed, and Jerry Mark, the victim's oldest brother was convicted of the killing. Cawelti traces the steps Jerry took to commit this murder down to the very smallest detail. Today Mark is serving four consecutive life sentences, and has been in prison for 35 years.

After I finished this novel, there wasn't much doubt in my mind of Mark's guilt. Cawelti does not explore other possibilities. However, my husband read this book as well, and after he finished he questioned Mark's conviction. While I did not read the trial notes at book's end, my husband did, and this seems to have made a great deal of difference in our interpretation. I may still go back and read this portion of Blood Brothers to get a fuller picture, but even without this portion, this is a fascinating (and of course devastating) story of a family taken from this earth much too soon.

Reading about places and people I know is always interesting and adds to a story, and Brothers Blood is certainly something that Iowans should read and know about. I will admit that the cover was an initial turn-off to me, but once I knew what the story was about, I was able to look past that and enjoy (if that's the right word), this account of the Mark murders.

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