An unsolved murder case literally fell at her feet one day while she was chasing kids around the Emporia Public Library, she said. Hand-labeled “Knoblock murder,” the folder on the floor contained old newspaper clippings from the Emporia Gazette.
“The clippings outlined a story about a murder that happened in Coffey County in 1925,” she said. “But the person who left it behind didn’t leave how the trial ended and I wanted to know how the story ended.”
After her shift at the library, Staresinic-Deane, Ottawa, now a board of trustees member for the Franklin County Historical Society, said she sat down and pored through the clippings and soon found herself heading to Burlington, Kan., to find out more information.
“My interests grew more,” she said. “The family [involved in the murder case] didn’t know the story either because once this was all over, they never talked about it again. It sort of vanished in their own history.”
According to Staresinic-Deane’s book, “Shadow on the Hill,” Florence Knoblock, a farmer’s wife, was found slaughtered on her kitchen floor May 30, 1925, in Coffey County. Many innocent men were taken into custody before the victim’s husband, John, was accused of the crime, she wrote. John Knoblock endured two trials before being acquitted, leaving the murder unsolved.
Staresinic-Deane’s background was not in writing, she said, but at the time the folder landed at her feet, she was dabbling with the thought of writing a romance story.
“I was looking at [writing romance] as a potential writing path because my goal was to continue a more creative pursuit. True crime was not what I was doing,” she said. “Most true crime writers are former journalists, cops, or lawyers. They have some legal connection, and I didn’t have that so I approached it from the perspective of a historian.”
“The families — the Knoblocks and Mozingos [Florence Knoblocks’ family] — they’re full on genealogists, so originally I contacted them about the newspaper stories [from the library] and thought maybe they wanted it and they did because they didn’t have access to it necessarily,” she said. “As I talked with [relatives], they were curious and had lots of questions. Growing up, they’d heard stories that great-aunt Florence was murdered, but there was no discussion and they couldn’t ask questions.”
Descendants of the family wanted answers and helped Staresinic-Deane in any way they could, she said. Having brought an interest to the story, she had the research and ability to write it, but getting the book published was another story.
“I think what sold this project was I was selling it more as preserving a piece of Kansas history and making it available,” she said. “I received positive responses on the manuscript, but since it’s not solved and I’m not a well-known true crime writer, no one would publish it.”
After hitting what she thought was a wall, Staresinic-Deane went to Kickstarter.com, a website that helps individuals raise money through online donations, to fund getting the book published. She wanted to hire a professional editor, someone to do the cover art, and to publish the book herself. Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects, according to its website.
“As a former librarian, it was important for [the book] to be of the kind of quality a library would want to include in its Kansas history collection,” she said. “Just because a large publishing house didn’t want it, didn’t mean it should stay hidden away on microfilms. And people could appreciate it [in Kansas] at the very least.”
Through Kickstarter, she was able to raise more than enough money to get her book published in paperback and all e-reader formats, she said. She even received funding from across the globe from people whom she’d never met, but who had an interest in the story.
Staresinic-Deane said she feels, and has always felt, a connection to the unsolved crime ever since it practically landed in her lap.
“I think that there were too many serendipitous things that led me along the path of finding information,” she said. “In some ways, there’s almost a mystical component, that the story and I were meant to connect to each other. From finding the story, to the people I’ve met and just the whole process.”