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.

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.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series Presents Cecil Kuhne

Litigator and author Cecil Kuhne shares a mostly-true story about Rudolph Ivanovich Abel, the subject of his book KGB Man: The Cold War’s Most Notorious Soviet Agent and the First to be Exchanged at the Bridge of Spies. Abel was captured by the FBI in 1957 after an inept colleague betrayed him to the US.  Abel’s trial, his conviction, and his eventual exchange across the Glienicker Brücke (the “Bridge of Spies”) for US pilot Frances Gary Powers is a riveting story that will leave listeners questioning what is fact and what is fiction.

Click on the book cover for a link to purchase KGB Man.

The London Evening Standard, 1962, Feb 10, p. 1.
Frankel, Max. (1962, February 11). Analysts Seek Meaning In Exchange of Spies. The Decator Daily Review, p. 1.
Photo of Rudolph Abel. Axelbank, Jay. (1965, May 5). Russ Admit Abel Spying But Do Not Mention US. The Sacramento Bee, p. 14.








A map of the location of the Bridge of Spies. The London Evening Standard, 1962, Feb 10, p. 1.

Music for this episode is provided by Nick Wylie.

Fact or Fiction is a MaxMinLabs production.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series Presents Connie Yen

Today’s guest, Connie Yen, is the author of Sinner and Savior: Emma Molloy and the Graham Murder, the true story of an 1886 murder in Greene County known as “The Graham Tragedy.” In 1886, the nude body of Sarah Graham was found in a well on the Molloy property. Subsequent investigations uncovered a bigamous marriage and other allegedly scandalous happenings in the home of temperance advocate Emma Molloy.  Connie shares the (mostly-true)

details of this fascinating story.  Listen carefully because it’s not easy to know what’s fact and what’s fiction!

Evangelist and temperance advocate Emma Molloy
The Molloy farm in Greene County, Missouri
Letter written by Emma Molloy to George Graham after she discovered proof he was a bigamist

Author and Historian Connie Yen


Emma’s Escapes. (1886, March 25). The Leavenworth Weekly Times, p. 5.

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Bryan Johnston

In this episode of Fact or Fiction: Author Series, Bryan Johnston, author of Deep in the Woods shares the story of the 1935 kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser, but he adds one fictional detail.  Will I guess it?  Will you?

Play along with me and then order a copy of Deep in the Woods to learn all the stranger-than-fiction details about the kidnapping, the kidnappers, and the rest of the players.

George Weyerhaeuser, age 9
Mr. and Mrs. Weyerhaeuser and their home in Tacoma, WA

Bryan Johnston, author

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Owen Pataki

This is the first episode in what I’m calling the Fact or Fiction: Author Series.  Owen Pataki, co-author of Where the Light Falls and author of Searchers in Winter is my guest.  Searchers in Winter brings events of the Napoleonic Wars to life with its compelling plot, engaging characters, and exciting action sequences.  In this show I have a brief chat with Owen about his book, and then he tells me a mostly-true story related to one of the novel’s subplots.  It’s my job to guess the fiction.  Play along with me.  Listen carefully because it’s not easy to know if something is Fact or Fiction!

Host:  Laura Shimel
Guest: Owen Pataki