Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Murder Mountain' Debuts Later This Week

by Stacy Dittrich

It’s the book that launched my career from street cop to crime author, the book that gave me the hopes and dreams of living a lucrative career as an esteemed novelist. Part of that happened, minus the lucrative and esteemed. Now, I have to replace those words with starving and mediocre. Regardless of the mere pennies in my bank account, I count my blessings daily. Only six months after I left law enforcement full-time, the bottom fell out of the economy. I watched as half of my fellow officers lost their jobs, and I would have been one of them. Now, as they face their unemployment pay nearing a dismal end, they are further faced with zero police jobs available.

Little did I know that on a busy summer day in 2004, I would encounter a situation that would set the stage for a career I couldn’t have possibly imagined.

Working road patrol at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in Mansfield, Ohio, in July, 2004, our shift was running all over the county responding to robberies, domestic assaults, sexual assaults, etc. It was incredibly hot, which seems to bring out the worst in society. Halfway through the shift, an ATL (Attempt to Locate) was put out over the radio. The dispatcher gave a vehicle description and said a man driving the vehicle had numerous weapons with him and was holding his wife and baby hostage. Of course, it was one of those lovely occurrences where I pulled into a nearby gas station for my daily cup of joe and literally almost ran into the suspect. Just my luck. Promptly arresting the man, I determined the wife and baby were unharmed and were not being held against their will. However, there were numerous weapons in the car along with an empty propane tank. After transporting the suspect to jail, I began to interview him, and what he told me was so utterly ridiculous, I laughed out loud. Unfortunately, I learned shortly after that most of what he said was true.

He wasn’t holding his wife and baby hostage; he was protecting them, he explained. He had fled from West Virginia where he was a runner, laymen’s terms for one who transports large quantities of crystal meth back and forth across state lines. His father lived in the area of town where I arrested him and he was hoping to hide out there. He was trying to hide from the county sheriff’s department in West Virginia, but not for why most of us would assume. He was hiding from them because they were the ones he worked for. He alleged that several law enforcement officers and local criminals paired up and ran the entire meth operation. And, if you crossed them, you paid for it dearly--sometimes with your life. A violent drug feud was being waged in a small West Virginia town called Ovapa in Clay County. The locals had given the area the fitting nickname of Murder Mountain. Ridiculous, right?

He further explained that several missing women over the past few years were the direct result of crossing the head honchos. One of the women, Christian Dawn Starcher Seabolt, 18, apparently suffered a horrific death. My suspect alleged that she had been put through a wood chipper and eaten. Those responsible allegedly joked that they had thrown her on the grill and made bitchburgers out of her. Sadly, Christian Dawn Starcher Seabolt's skeletal remains were found in December, 2009, and her father still seeks justice.

So determined was I to prove my suspect’s theory as a fantasy at best, I handed him off to the corrections officers and began to research on the internet. I was completely shocked to find much of what he said was alleged to have happened in numerous articles. It’s possible that he could have heard or read the stories and inserted himself in them to avoid getting into trouble. Not to mention, there was nothing mentioning corrupt law enforcement officers. But, I didn't think so. He seemed genuinely fearful and gave additional information that I didn’t find in any of the articles. Still, I wasn’t completely convinced.

I called my local FBI office where I knew one of the agents had spent a decade in the West Virginia office. “Not only is it possible, but most likely true,” the agent said, after I told him the story. “In a few very remote regions of West Virginia, some law enforcement agencies consist of one guy getting paid five bucks an hour to drive his own truck around. These are the so-called deputies that turn to crime so they can afford to pay their bills,” he furthered.

I handed the case over to the agent who would, in turn, contact the DEA. I was done with it, but it continued to roll around in my head for the rest of that day. To this day, I never knew what became of it once I turned it over. I could never determine if the entire story was true, but all I could think about was it would make a compelling fictional book. I didn’t know at the time, but arresting my suspect at the gas station that day literally changed my life.

Six months later, after constantly thinking about it, I sat down at my computer. I was always a good writer and I was surprised at how easy my fictional story came to me. That was the day CeeCee Gallagher and her colorful counterparts were born, in a book I titled Murder Mountain, inspired by the West Virginia case. Quite frankly, I had no intention of getting it published; I was just doing it for fun. It took me almost eleven months to write. I finished Murder Mountain in December, 2005. The next book in the series, The Devil’s Closet, took me just nine weeks. I relented, got an agent, and eventually a publishing offer. We started the series with The Devil’s Closet, devising the plan to put Murder Mountain out later as a prequel in the hopes of generating new interest in the entire series. The time has finally arrived, and I am truly excited. A little about the book:

When a young woman vanishes from home without her personal effects, Detective CeeCee Gallagher is determined to find her—only to discover she was not the first to vanish. CeeCee and FBI Agent Michael Hagerman follow the trail of chilling clues deep into the West Virginia woods, and a dark world of drugs, torture, and law enforcement corruption. With her family in grave danger, CeeCee will have to risk everything if she is to bring justice to Murder Mountain.”

Murder Mountain debuts later this week at bookstores and online. I am very happy to say that not only are five books now available in the CeeCee Gallagher series, but she will be coming to a television near you. The series has been optioned by Freemantle Distributing and Porchlight Entertainment. The Pennsylvania Film Commission grabbed the series, and filming begins there later next year.

Stay tuned and happy reading!

1 comment:

Kathryn Casey said...

Congratulations, Stacy! Very excited. I can't wait to read the book and see Cece on TV!