New Jersey and murder, perfect together

Join me this Sunday in conversation with my good friends Jack Getze and Jane Kelly at the Ocean City NJ library.mwaoc.



Death and taxes

I blog so infrequently these days, I figured the least I could do is to let you know that I’m guest blogging today at the NY chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.

Death and Taxes



Lines on the Pines

To my friends in south Jersey… tomorrow (Sunday) is Lines on the Pines, a gathering of authors, artists and artisans celebrating the Pine Barrens. Spring forward and then join me in the Grand Ballroom at the Renault Winery in Egg Harbor City where I’ll be signing books and otherwise making a fool of myself..



Four from Mr. Romantic

1. It was a scene out of Currier & Ives.  The Victorian cottages, lit up after dark.  Men, women and children ice skating on the frozen pond, sipping hot chocolate and warming their hands by the bonfire.  The horse-drawn sleigh making its way around the property.  We climbed into the carriage and allowed the horses to take us down past the ice-skaters, past the stables, the bells on the draft horses jingling as they pulled the carriage, the carriage creaking as it bumped along the trail.  We followed the path of the Ellis River, snuggling under blankets to stay warm.  I leaned in close to the missus, whispering in her ear.  This would be a good place for a dead body.


2. My wife and I have been married for nearly 37 years.  In May 2005, on the occasion of our twenty-fifth anniversary I posted this –

I spent the Memorial Day week-end with my wife and son and four other families at a beach house in Cape May celebrating my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  I am truly blessed with a wonderful wife, a great kid and remarkable friends.  Only now I plan to write a short story about a man who kills his wife.  Is that wrong?  The first line of the story:

The day that Henry’s first wife was murdered, hundreds of horseshoe crabs dragged their bodies out of the cold Atlantic surf to mate in the wet sand at the water line.

3. It was a chilly day, dry but overcast, puddles all that remained of last night’s storm.  We decided to go for a walk on the towpath, the lake to our right, the canal on our left, great blue herons in the trees overhead. We made our way north, toward Princeton when, off to our left, beyond the canal, on the far side of the canal, we noticed a series of long white tarps, dozens of them, stretched over half-round frames. You might assume that we had stumbled upon a nursery.  But we know this area well.  For nearly forty years we have hiked along the towpath, canoed on the canal and driven the surrounding roads.  Nurseries do not appear overnight.  Or do they? We backtracked to the crossing in Kingston and made our way along the far side of the canal.  My wife counseled caution, but I pushed ahead.  Next time, if there is a next time, I swear I will take her advice.  Arriving at the first of the white structures, I let myself in. It was quiet… too quiet.  I peeked into a private space in back.  That’s when I noticed the pods. I couldn’t stop myself. The pod screamed.  Space aliens rushed in to investigate.  They captured the missus!


4. When people read a book, they don’t always read things like the author’s acknowledgments or dedication.  I’m not complaining.  I still consider myself fortunate if someone takes the time to read the story.  So I thought this might be a good time to re-print the dedication page from A Minor Case of Murder.

Now that I write murder mysteries, I see dead bodies most everywhere that I go. On more than one occasion, I have recounted for my wife Carol the details of her gruesome and untimely demise. Carol listens and smiles and encourages me to write. She is a lover of good murder mysteries and seems to count my stories among the good ones. Carol is not my most objective reader. But I didn’t marry her for her objectivity.
          To my lovely wife Carol, I dedicate A Minor Case of Murder.

the jersey devil rampage – 108 years ago today

Folks in other parts of the country are surprised when I tell them about the Pine Barrens. After all, it’s not what people think of when they think of New Jersey. You might be surprised to find more than one million acres of pine forests and cranberry bogs less than one hundred miles from Manhattan, less than fifty miles from Philadelphia.

Towns have grown up in and amongst the forest, and some are now thriving cities, but, even today, there is vast acreage in the Pine Barrens that remains virgin pine forest. Deep in the forest, amongst the pitch pines and the cranberry bogs, the fragrant berries and the abandoned cemeteries, strange things abound.

None stranger than the Jersey Devil.

The Jersey Devil is one of the enduring legends that have come out of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, dating back to the early 1700s. There are several accounts of the birth of the Jersey Devil, but the most common story dates back to 1735, to Mother Leeds, pregnant with her thirteenth child, saddled with a drunken, ne’er-do-well husband, and burdened with far too many responsibilities. Mother Leeds cursed her unborn child to the devil. And then she gave birth to a horrible creature, with a horse-like head and hooves, bat-wings, a forked tail and an ear-piercing shriek.

Sightings of the Jersey Devil have been reported ever since, terrorizing south Jersey (although, curiously, rarely causing any actual damage). The most extensive sightings date back to 1909, to the week of January 16-23. During that week, in 1909, the Jersey Devil was seen in more than thirty different towns, by hundreds, if not thousands of individuals. The terror was so widespread that schools and factories were closed and posses were formed in an attempt to capture the elusive Jersey Devil.

The sightings began late at night, January 16 in Woodbury, NJ and early on the morning of January 17 in Bristol, PA. The sightings in Bristol included eye-witness accounts by a police officer (later to become the Bristol Chief of Police) as well as the town’s postmaster, who described the creature as follows:

“Its head resembled that of a ram, with curled horns, and its long thick neck was thrust forward in flight. It had long thin wings and short legs, the front legs shorter than the hind. Again, it uttered its mournful and awful call – a combination of a squawk and a whistle, the beginning very high and piercing and ending very low and horse.” (from The Jersey Devil, by McCloy and Miller, published by Middle Atlantic Press).

Over the subsequent twenty-four hours, reports of the Jersey Devil, or Jersey Devil tracks were reported in Burlington City, Gloucester City, Columbus, Hedding, Kinkora and Rancocas. On Tuesday, January 19, the Jersey Devil made a well-documented appearance in Gloucester City, that resulted in the following description by Nelson Evans:

“It was about three feet and a half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse’s hooves.” (from The Jersey Devil)

In the ensuing days, the Jersey Devil was spotted in Haddonfield, in Moorestown and in numerous other towns in south Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Public meetings were held to address citizens’ concerns.

On Thursday, January 21, the Jersey Devil’s rampage intensified, with an attack on a trolley car in Camden. Before the day’s end, there were sightings in Trenton and Ewing, in Roebling, Pitman, Bridgeton and Millville, in West Collingswood, Mt. Holly and Atlantic City, as well as Philadelphia, PA. Trolley cars in Trenton and New Brunswick armed the drivers in an effort to protect the trolleys from attack.

The panic was palpable. By Friday, January 22, people had locked themselves in their homes in towns all across the Delaware Valley. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Sighting continued on Friday in Camden and Woodbury. The final reported sighting of the week occurred Friday night in Salem.

And then the Devil was gone.

There have been occasional reports of the Jersey Devil since that harrowing week, but nothing comes close to the magnitude of the events that transpired 108 years ago, this week, in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

The Jersey Devil is a suspect in my first Cassie O’Malley Mystery, Who is Killing Doah’s Deer? originally published in 2004 and still available today in paperback and kindle editions.

Murder on the Newlywed Game and Other Life Lessons Revisited

I don’t do resolutions, but it’s hard to avoid the urge to contemplate the meaning of life at the beginning of a New Year.  So I’ve decided to share a few of the life lessons that have served me well in the past year and that will continue to guide my actions in 2017.

1. There’s nothing irrational about the fear of nurses with golf clubs.


2. You can’t spend your entire life sitting on the porch (but you can try).

3. When your wife says, C’mon dear, it’ll be fun, put on your hat and smile for the camera.


4. Your party hat.


5. Everything is creepy after watching a Hitchcock film.

6. Never discuss your wife’s thighs on broadcast television.

newlywed game