Author Series present Jeffrey D. Simon and “The Bulldog Detective”

Today’s guest is author Jeffrey D. Simon, author of several books about terrorism and a former RAND analyst who also taught at UCLA. As a guest on Fact or Fiction, Jeff has agreed to share some of the highlights from his most recent book, The Bulldog Detective: William J. Flynn and America’s First War Against the Mafia, Spies, and Terrorists. Flynn’s career provides a fascinating glimpse into early 20th century crimes and detective methods, and his character is one of the most interesting of the era.

As always, Jeff will infuse one fictional detail into this unbelievable but factual story. Will I guess the fiction? Will you? Listen carefully, because it’stricky to know if something is fact or fiction. Ready to play?

Book cover with a large man dressed in a suit, an overcoat, and a hat.
The Bulldog Detective by Jeffrey D. Simon
A flyer with text and a portrait of a man with a mustache.
Advertisement for series of short films described as being incidents in the career of William J. Flynn, who at the time was the director of the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, on page 13 of the January 3, 1920 Exhibitors Herald. Wikimedia Commons.
A sepia-toned photo of three men.
Attorney-General Alexander Mitchell Palmer (left) with William J “Chief” Flynn (right) is head of the Bureau of investigation of the Department of Justice and Francis P. Garvan (center). Wikimedia Commons.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Christopher A. Gordon

St. Louis was a rapidly growing frontier town in 1849. That year, the city experienced a great fire that destroyed the city’s business district, an epidemic of cholera that decimated the population, and a steady influx of would-be miners on their way to the California hills. Also, there was a sensational murder and an equally sensational trial.

Christopher Allen Gorden, author of Fire, Pestilence, and Death: St. Louis 1849, is this episode’s special guest. Listen and learn more about St. Louis in the pivotal year of 1849. Of course, since the show is called Fact or Fiction, Christopher will include one fictional detail in the story. Will I guess the fiction? Will you?

Listen carefully because it’s tricky to know if something is fact or fiction. Ready to play?

Man in a military-style coat and hat carrying paraphernalia that would be useless for a miner.
Satirical image of an independent gold hunter on his way to California. Wikimedia Commons.
The ruins of the Great St. Louis Fire, 17-18 May 1849. A man stands within the wreckage and a church steeple towers over it.
This daguerreotype created by Thomas Easterly in 1849 shows the devastation of the St. Louis riverfront after the Great Fire of 1849. Image courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society Collections.
This 1960 watercolor by George Conroy depicts John Finn digging graves on Arsenol Island during the cholera pandemic of 1849. Image courtesy of Missouri Historical Society Collections.
A sepia image of a multistory hotel with a fire escape prominently shown on the side.
1940 image of the National Hotel in St. Louis where the Montesque brothers shot multiple people. Image courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society Collections.
Book cover with the title written over a sepia image of an old building.
Select the image to purchase your own copy of the book and learn about St. Louis in the pivotal year of 1849.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Amy Kasuga Folk

Nicknamed “Liquor Island,” Long Island was a center for bootlegging and rumrunning for the New York metropolitan area during Prohibition. Amy Kasuga Folk’s book Rumrunners of Suffolk County: Tales from Liquor Island shares highlights from her book and inserts a fictional detail in her four choices at the end of the episode. Will you identify the fiction? Will I?

Listeners will be astonished by what they learn, and it’s mostly true!

Book cover showing title and men on the seashore with illegal booze.
Click on the image above to purchase Amy’s book.
Drawing of men on a ship pointing to boats on the water.
Illustration of Rumrunners from the Asbury Park Press, 14 Jan 1980, Mon · Page 11.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Joe Johnston


In the late nineteenth century, West was wild all the way back to the Mississippi River. Only a day’s walk from the progressive big city of St. Louis, rural Jefferson County citizens were struggling with an outbreak of thefts, arson, and more. Mack Marsden, successful livestock trader and family man, was accused of being involved. After Mack was shot and killed, there remained lingering doubts. Was he a criminal, or was he wrongly accused?

Author Joe Johnston tells the fascinating story he uncovered while researching The Mack Marsden Murder Mystery. Of course, he inserts one fiction into this unbelievable but true story.

The following images are courtesy of Joe Johnston.

Covered Bridge
Covered Bridge over Sandy Creek
A side view of the Sandy Creek covered bridge
A side view of the Sandy Creek covered bridge
Image of a fine boned man with a neat mustache
Mack Marsden
Black and White of a man with a large mustache
Sheriff Weaver
An older man with a beard and his wife
Richard and Elizabeth Marsden
R. W. McMullin, the editor and publisher of the Democrat
black and white drawing of a two story brick building
Drawing of the Hillsboro jail


Cover of The Mack Marsden Murder Mystery by Joe Johnston
Click on the title to purchase The Mack Marsden Murder Mystery.
Image of Joe Johnston speaking at a lectern
Author Joe Johnston

Fact of Fiction: Author Series present Susan Wels


From 1848 to 1881, a small utopian colony in upstate New York—the Oneida Community—was known for its shocking sexual practices, from open marriage and free love to the sexual training of young boys by older women. And in 1881, a one-time member of the Oneida Community—Charles Julius Guiteau—assassinated President James Garfield in a brutal crime that shook America to its core.

Susan Wels, author of An Assassin in Utopia, shares this interwoven tale. Of course, she inserts one fiction into this unbelievable but true story. Will I recognize the fiction within the facts? Will you?


The Oneida community members lived and worked together in ways we might find shocking by today’s standards. Wikimedia Commons
John Humphrey Noyes was the founder of the Oneida Community.
John Humphrey Noyes was the founder of the Oneida Community. Wikimedia Commons
Image shows Charles Guiteau, the man who assassinated President James Garfield. Wikimedia Commons
This poster advertises Horace Greeley for President. Wikimedia Commons
Newspaper owner and editor Horace Greeley sponsored Utopian communities. Wikimedia Commons
President James Garfield was the 20th president of the United States of America. Wikimedia Commons
This image shows Major Pauline Cushman, Union spy and friend of future president Jame Garfield. Wikimedia Commons
This drawing illustrates the aftermath of the assassination of President James Garfield. Wikimedia Commons
In addition to writing An Assassin in Utopia, Susan Wels has developed a discussion guide for book clubs wishing to study An Assassin in Utopia. Click on her picture to learn more.
You can click on the book cover here to learn how to purchase your own copy of An Assassin in Utopia.

Forrest E. Mars: The Candy Man

For this special episode Tracy Marak, member of the Belle Toffee family, is my guest. She shares the Belle Toffee story and tries her best to distinguish fact or fiction as I tell a mostly-true story about another candy maker, Forrest E. Mars.

Although this story doesn’t fit neatly into the true crime category, Forrest Mars’ road to ownership of Mars, Inc. wasn’t a smooth one and it certainly wasn’t sweet. Today, the Mars, Inc. is one of the largest privately held companies in the world, and Forrest’s descendent are among the world’s richest citizens.

Listen to learn how Forrest Mars achieved his success, but remember that one fiction has been inserted into the story. Will Tracy guess the fiction? Will you? It’s tricky to know if something is Fact or Fiction? Ready to play?

Image of Forrest Mars, Sr.
Forrest E. Mars was the businessman behind the success of Mars, Inc. Wikimedia Commons
MRE military food kit including M&M's
In WWII, M&M’s were included in US soldiers’s mealkits. this image from 2007 shows some MREs still include them. Wikimedia Commons
Image of Frank Mars
Frank Mars was the father of Forrest Mars, and the original owner of Mars, Inc. in the US.
Image of Ethel Mars, Frank's second wife
Ethel Mars was the second wife of Frank Mars and the stepmother of Forrest Mars.
Image of European Smarties chocolate candy-coated discs.
Forrest Mars encountered Smarties when he was in Europe in the late 1930s. These chocolate disks encased in a hard-candy shell inspired him to create M&M’s. Wikimedia Commons
Halloween Ad for Mars, Inc. candies
In 1962, the Bridgeport Telegram ran this Halloween ad for Mars, Inc. candies.
Image of Uncle Ben's rice ad from 1951
This 1951 advertisement is for converted rice, a product sold by Food Products Manufacturing, another business owned by Forrest Mars.
Image of a candy bar
The Mars bar was the flagship candy for Frank’s Mars, Inc. Forrest sold the same bar in Europe under the name Milky Way. Wikimedia Commons
Order Belle Toffee from their website and have it delivered to your home!
Image of Belle Toffee


Cadbury, Deborah. (2010) Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers. Public Affairs.

Clayman, Andrew. (n. d.) Mars Inc., est. 1911. Made in Chicago Museum. Retrieved from

Kaplan, D & Adamo, M. (2013, February 4). Inside Mars. Fortune. Retrieved from

Fortune Editors (2013, March 31). The Sweet, Secret World of Forrest Mars (Fortune, 1967). Retrieved from

Mars Overview. (n. d.) Retrieved April 10 from,largest%20chewing%20gum%20maker%20Wm

McKnight, Marshall. (2002, September 30). A Clandestine Company Creeps Out of its Shell. NJBiz, pp. 10 – 11.

Serena, Katie. (2020, March 17). The History of M&M’s Isn’t As Sweet As You Think It Is. Retreived from


The Goat-Gland “Doctor”

In the first half of the twentieth century, John R. Brinkley was a celebrated and successful “doctor” renowned for his ability to use goat organs to help humans with infertility. In addition to his “medical” success, Brinkley was also an early adopter of radio technology, which he used to advertise his hospital and his other medicines.

In this first episode of season 3, which focuses loosely on the KC area, Fact or Fiction welcomes podcasters Cam and Jen of Our True Crime Podcast as guests who attempt to distinguish between fact and fiction. Listen carefully because it’s tricky to know if what you hear is Fact or Fiction. Ready to play?

Dr. John R. Brinkley. Wikimedia commons.
A young Dr. Brinkley is shown here with his signature goatee and round glasses
Dr. Brinkley and his wife Minnie pose in front of their home in Milford, Kansas
A man and woman stand on the front steps of their home.
The advertisement Dr. Brinkley posted in newspapers across the country announcing the successful "goat-gland" surgery.
A man wearing round glasses holds a smiling baby under the heading “He’s First Goat Gland Baby.”
Dr. Brinkley in surgery at his Milford Hospital.
Medical personal operate on a patient
The goats in a pen near the Brinkley Hospital
Goats graze in a pen
The home of Dr. and Mrs. Brinkley in Milford, Kansas
A multistory building with surrounded by trees.
Advertisement for Brinkley's station KFKB.
Advertisement for Brinkley’s station KFKB.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Mike Vance

James Brockman rose from shady character to preeminent defense attorney in Houston, Texas representing clients including gang leaders, jilted spouses, wealthy storekeepers and drunken on-duty policemen. His career gained national recognition, including his involvement in the most famous American murder case of the young twentieth century, when he himself was murdered leaving a dubious legacy.

Houston historian Mike Vance’s book Getting Away with Bloody Murder examines Brockman, the criminals he defended, and the crimes they allegedly committed. In this episode, Vance shares several riveting stories from his book. As always on the show, he inserts one fictional detail. Try to identify what he made up, but be warned: it’s not easy to know if something is fact or fiction.

All images courtesy of Mike Vance.

Image of J. B. Brockman
J. B. Brockman was a successful defense attorney in Houston until he himself was murdered.
Brockman, Kahn, and Williams were lawyers in Houston, TX.
Henry Kahn and J. B. Brockman were law partners in Houston, Texas in the early 1900s.
Albert Patrick is shown after his release from prison.
Lawyer Albert Patrick, shown here after his release from prison, was convicted of murdering William Marsh Rice.
Getting Away with Bloody Murder book cover
Click on the book cover to  purchase your copy of Mike’s book, learn more about Mike and his other projects, and check out the merchandise on his store.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Murderous Matrons

In this episode, authors Victoria Cosner and Lorelie Shannon share a mostly-true story from their book Missouri’s Murderous Matrons.  Emma Heppermann, a black widow killer, and Bertha Gifford, an angel of mercy killer, used arsenic to murder unsuspecting family and friends for decades. The story of how they managed to evade discovery is unbelievable. As always, these authors insert one fiction into our discussion. Try to identify what they made up, but be warned: it’s not easy to know if something is fact or fiction.

All images below are courtesy of Victoria Cosner.

Vikki and Lorelie
Lorelei and Victoria at a book signing event
Murderous Matrons
Click on the image to purchase this book.
Grave of Tony Heppermann and wife
Tony Heppermann’s grave–he was not buried with Emma.
A sweet old lady?
Emma Heppermann, potato soup maker and poisoner
Victoria and Lorelie smiling for the camera.
Co-authors and friends Victoria Cosner and Lorelei Shannon
Renz Farm Prison
Renz Farm prison was a working farm. Emma was incarcerated here before she was transferred to a facility in Fulton, MO
Close up of unmarked grave.
Close view of the unmarked grave of Emma Hepperman in Fulton, MO.
Grave next to unmarked grave of Emma Heppermann.
Grave next to unmarked grave of Emma Heppermann in Fulton, MO.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Kimberly Tilley

On Christmas Eve of 1900, someone got away with murder. Frank Richardson, wealthy business owner and family man, was shot as he entered his home. Although many people may have wanted him dead, the crime has remained unsolved to this day. Kimberly Tilley, author of Has it Come to This? The Mysterious, Unsolved Murder of Frank Richardson tells us the mostly-true story about Frank Richardson and his murder. She inserts one fiction into this unbelievable story. Try to identify what she made up, but be warned: it’s not easy to know if something is fact or fiction.

Has It Come to This? cover

Frank Richardson was trying to turn his life around when he was murdered on Christmas Eve.
Addie Richardson was an attractive woman.








Bessie worked for the Richardsons and lived in their home.
Stewart Fife
Young Stewart Fife was the attractive son of Frank’s business partner.







The Richardson Home
The Richardson’s home and the scene of Frank’s murder.


Note: All of the above images are taken from Has It Come to This? by Kimberly Tilley.