Journal Title

Federal Lawyer




March 2014

First Page


Document Type

Book Review

Publication Information



Marianne Wesson’s A Death at Crooked Creek tells the story of one of the most intriguing mysteries in American legal history. For evidence teachers, and possibly even law students, Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Hillmon is a classic nineteenth century mystery story. The case raises the question: Was the deceased John W. Hillmon, who had recently taken out the extraordinary sum of $25,000 in life insurance, or was it Frederick Adolph Walters, an itinerant who had left Iowa a year earlier?

In addition to teaching at the University of Colorado School of Law, Wesson is the author of three mystery novels. Possibly for that reason, Wesson is interested in writing something other than a legal history of this extraordinary case. Instead, Wesson is interested in a character study, in the people who plodded their way through trial after trial, as well as in the story of whose body it was.

Wesson writes well and the stories, despite the numbing nature of trial after trial, move quickly along. A Death at Crooked Creek is a productive mélange of fact and fiction, of mystery and science, and an enjoyable meditation on law and persons.

Recommended Citation

Michael S. Ariens, A Death at Crooked Creek: The Case of the Cowboy, the Cigarmaker, and the Love Letter, by Marianne Wesson (book review), 61 Fed. Law. 78 (2014).

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