Unsolved Kansas murder muse for Ottawa author
An unsolved Kansas murder mystery literally fell into Diana Staresinic-Deane's hands one day in August 2007. For the next five years, that mystery would consume the Ottawa resident's spare time, culminating in her just-published first book, "Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder."
Staresinic-Deane, working at the Emporia Public Libary, was chasing some rowdy kids around the stack, when a folder fell off the shelves.
"Knoblack murder," was scrawled across the folder.
For the rest of the afternoon, Staresinic-Deane pored through the newspaper clippings in the folder about the unsolved 1925 brutal murder of Florence Knoblack at her farmhouse in Burlington, Kan. The apparently motiveless crime grabbed local headlines as it progressed through two trials of Knoblack's husband, one resulting in a hung jury, the other in an acquittal.
She read through the articles, the hours passed, and her husband called to check on whether she was coming home that evening. But there wasn't a conclusion to the case in the folder, simply an obituary for Florence's husband, John, who died in 1957.
"I was so irritated," Staresinic-Deane said.
A Kansas City, Kan., native and english literature major at the University of Southern California, Staresinic-Deane always loved reading and writing, but her interests leaned to happy stories, she said. Until that day.
"It started out as a little curiosity and eventually occupied my thoughts and dreams," she said.
For several years following her discovery of that folder, she researched the crime, contacting a wide array of Knoblack family members related to the case. While most of those actually involved in the case had since died, stories had been passed down for generations in the small town of Burlington.
Staresinic-Deane thought she might be opening old wounds by contacting families, but she received the opposite reaction, she said.
"They love the idea of someone pulling this story together," she said. "They wanted to see this book written."
Staresinic-Deane had what she thought was an interesting topic of high interest to those in central Kansas, but like many first-time authors, she faced the frustration of publisher rejection.
The letters piled up, and at some point, Staresinic-Deane decided to self-publish, after hiring a professional editor and designer for the cover.
But she needed some start-up funds, and created a Kickstarter campaign to get the book off the ground. In the first 24 hours, she raised double the roughly $1,000 she needed for the project.
Staresinic-Deane has been able to get hard copies of the book to museums and book stores, and the book is available for download online.
Taking some time off from her administrative job at the Elizabeth Layton Center in Ottawa, she's been invited to speak at several events.
The book has been a popular seller at the Town Crier, a bookstore in Emporia, according to manager Becky Smith.
"It appeals to not only Kansas history buffs, but true crime buffs," Smith said.
So far, Staresinic-Deane said she's sold about 600 books. Not enough to quit her day job, but enough to keep her thinking of that second book.
In the end, the Knoblack murder remains an unsolved mystery, Staresinic-Deane said. She mentions a suspect or two in the book, but they will probably always remain just that.
What does she plan to write about next? Well, as she researched "Shadow on the Hill," she came across some newspaper clippings about several other Kansas murders from the 1910s.
Maybe enough for a book, she said.
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