Links

Columnists



Site Search


Entire (RSS)
Comments (RSS)

Archive Calendar

November 2020
S M T W T F S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930  

Guides

How to Become a Bounty Hunter



Tag: hemingway

Stejskal: A Very Cold Murder Case in Detroit Dating Back to 1857

poster

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.

By Gregory Stejskal

There is an apocryphal story – Ernest Hemingway was having lunch with some writer friends when he proposed a wager. He bet $10 that he could write a story in six words. With no doubt some curiosity, everyone at the table put $10 in the pot. Hemingway wrote on a napkin, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Hemingway passed the napkin around the table and collected his winnings.

Hemingway’s six word story is an extreme example of what is called flash fiction. My experience with something that might qualify as flash fiction was an 1857 reward poster that my wife found at an estate sale in Ann Arbor (Michigan).

The poster had a place, Detroit, and a date of April 14, 1857, and was offering “$1,500 Reward!” for information regarding a missing man, “John Rodgers, a resident of the town of Farmington, age 27.” The poster provides a physical description of John Rodgers and the clothing he was wearing when last seen leaving “Finney’s Hotel stable at dusk Tuesday evening, April 7th” (1857) where he left a span (pair) of horses.

The poster also indicates a suspicion of “foul play” and offers $1,000 “for the detection of any person or persons who may have been guilty of the murder of John Rodgers….” The reward is offered by Stephen Rodgers.

Like Hemingway’s baby shoes, the poster doesn’t so much tell a story as it suggests one.

My wife had the poster framed, and it has hung next to my desk. I have often wondered about the fate of John Rodgers, and what clues were contained on the poster.

The thing that literally stands out is the reward amount, “$1,500” In 1857 $1,500 was a very large amount of money worth about $42,000 today. It isn’t clear who Stephen Rodgers was from the poster, but he must have been a man of some means.

Since having the poster, I have made sporadic inquiries of local historians and checked records trying to find the rest of the story behind the poster.

Lee Peel, a historian of Farmington (Michigan), was able to determine that Stephen and John Rodgers were prosperous farmers with land in Farmington, but he wasn’t able to find any information regarding the incident described in the poster.

Later I happened on an article in the Detroit Free Press about the abolition movement and the rise of the Republican Party in Michigan. In the article Seymour Finney was mentioned. In the 1850s Finney was an abolitionist who ran a hotel in Detroit. Behind the hotel he had a large barn on the northeast corner of State and Griswald Sts. (Today there is an historical marker there.) Finney used the barn to hide runaway slaves until they could cross the Detroit River into Canada. The barn was located just blocks from the river.

Canada was a haven for the erstwhile slaves because in 1837 England had abolished slavery in their entire empire. So any slave that made it to Canada was free.

In the 1840s and 50s, an Underground Railroad developed in the US. Slaves followed established routes to northern states where they were relatively safe. Some of those routes led from the south to Michigan where there were many sympathetic people willing to hide them and aid their passage to Canada.

Read more »