For most of his journalism career Hamilton, Ohio, author Richard O Jones was the go-to guy for arts and entertainment news.
He “covered the whole gamut of the arts, locally and regionally, and had a national music review column for several years,” he recalls.
In 2011 the Ohio Associated Press named him Feature Writer of the Year for his profiles, based on personal interviews, of rock star David Crosby, famed primatologist Jane Goodall and two local persons.
With his “heart” in all things theater, Jones joined the American Theatre Critics Association. In 2004 he was named a Fellow of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts, Theatre and Musical Theatre program, at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in Los Angeles. He spent two weeks there in an “intensive educational program” with other critics from around the country.
But Richard O Jones is a writer with many interests. Two of them are murder and history.
He’s become a master at combining both.
As the self-described “True Crime Historian,” Jones has written two books published by The History Press and self-published ten novella-length e-books. He currently produces and hosts podcasts about real-life crime to a global audience.
With a reporter’s instincts, the former writer/editor of the "Hamilton Journal-News" knows a good story when he sees or hears one -- even if it’s over a century old.
He’ll tell such a tale on Monday, September 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Room of the MidPointe Library Middletown, 125 South Broad Street. His topic will be a page right out of Butler County True Crime: “The Sleepwalking Slasher : A Spate of Bluebeards (1902 to 1904).
Free and open to the public, Jones’s appearance is part of the History and Genealogy Speakers Series at the MidPointe Library Middletown.
Local villainy makes up the bulk of Jones’s print material.
His book, “Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress : The Shocking Edythe Klumpp Murder Scandal,” was published in 2014 by the History Press. It’s a tale about the murder of a woman for which Klumpp was convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair, and the woman’s husband with whom Klumpp had been living.
The sensational case led to public discourse on the death penalty for women (Klumpp was eventually paroled) and the use of “truth serum” on convicts. *
Jones’s next book, published in 2015, was “The First Celebrity Serial Killer in Southwest Ohio : Confessions of the Strangler Alfred Knapp,” also published by History Press. It features a villain with a charming personality and the ignominious title of the “Hamilton Strangler.”
Hamilton, Ohio, “has a rich, dark history that I love digging into,” says Jones, a native and current resident. But crime has no geographical limits. As a result Jones has “branched out to cases all across the country.”
For Jones, a creative writing graduate of Miami University, true-crime writing became “Plan B” after he left his job at the "Journal-News" in 2013.
“I floated several different options for a second career,” he recalls. “One of them was writing a book about the Ruppert mass murder that took place in Hamilton in 1975.”
The horrific crime involved a man who murdered eleven family members on Easter Sunday.
“I had done a ton of research on it a few years previously when I was hired by a movie producer to do a treatment on the case for a documentary. The film never got off the ground, but I was sitting on all this research and I had inherited the photos from the photographers at the paper who worked on the case.”
“I got a lot of interest in the book,” Jones says, adding “I’m still sitting on it, waiting for the right publisher.”
Jones pores over old newspaper archives looking for material for his books. “Most of my stories take place 100 years ago or more,” he says. That requires mostly archival research.
“Because I work on historic cases, there typically isn’t anyone still alive who still knows anything. But for the Ruppert case I did interview the journalists who worked on the stories and friends of the Ruppert family,” he recalls.
“Edythe Klumpp’s children are still living so I reached out to them,” he says. “They met with me, but weren’t especially happy that I was dredging up old dirt. I did make contact with some of her grandchildren who were very interested in the story but didn’t know much because it was never talked about.”
Podcasting has opened up Jones’s world -- literally.
In 2016 Jones launched a twice-weekly podcast entitled “True Crime Historian” ( www.truecrimehistorian.com )
in which he “tells stories of the scoundrels, scandals and scourges of the past through historic newspaper accounts in the golden age of yellow journalism.”
His listeners hail from all over the United States and English-speaking parts of the world. “Since I began podcasting I have researched over 250 murders, mostly in the United States,” he continues. “But since I have an international following, I try to work in a British, Canadian or Australian case every once in a while.”
“I’m working on episode 267 now, and only a fraction of them take place in Southwest Ohio,” Jones says.
“But one of my favorites is the seven-part series, ‘Crane Neck Nugent : Prohibition Trigger,’ about a man who beat a murder rap in Hamilton and later went on to become one of the machine gunners in the infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Jones has done episodes on Lizzie Borden, The Black Dahlia and other famous true-crime cases.
“But I really like finding the obscure cases that might have been national front page stories for months at the time but are nearly forgotten today -- people like ‘Jolly Jane’ Toppan, a nurse who poisoned several patients, or Winnie Ruth Judd, who murdered and dismembered her roommates in Phoenix and shipped their bodies by railway to Los Angeles.”
Jones has also created the “Two-Dollar Terror” series of novella-length e-books about historical crimes. “Half of the Two-Dollar Terrors take place outside of the Hamilton-Cincinnati area,” he says.
Grade school : A writer is born...
“I knew I was a writer as early as the second grade,” Jones recalls. “I read well above my age group and began writing poems and humorous personal essays while still in elementary school.
“I plowed through dozens of Hardy Boys mysteries and true crime and adventure magazines and my earliest writing impulses were along those lines...In high school I wrote several plays for the drama department and humorous op-ed pieces for the school newspaper, but I was never on the staff or anything like that...
“I really had no interest in becoming a journalist until I actually became one because I needed a job,” he admits. “What I really wanted was to be the next Kurt Vonnegut.” Hence the creative writing degree.
“I’m a night owl,” says Jones, “so a lot of my writing is done in the wee hours. But when I’m working on a book, I’m usually writing from the time I wake up until I fall asleep at the keyboard.”
These days Jones’s time “is divided between freelance writing for hire and true-crime podcasting. I do have a list of about six or seven big historical true crime stories that I would like to write a book on but I don’t have the time to dive into that process.”
“I have been writing a series of non-crime history for a local magazine, mostly biographies of notable people in Hamilton’s history,” he continues. “Once the podcast is earning enough to support me and the process of creating it, I plan to cut back on the other stuff and get back into writing more books.”
Jones’s advice for writers...
“Writers should always be writing, so write constantly unless you’re doing other chores related to writing. If you’re not writing new stuff, edit the old. Writer’s block is an excuse for the undisciplined amateur. A real writer doesn’t have to be inspired or in the mood to write. Writers write.”
“The publishing business isn’t what it used to be, so when you get a book published be prepared to wear the marketer’s hat and distributor’s hat as well as the writer’s unless you can afford to hire a publicist.”
A love of history....
When he’s not writing or podcasting, Jones serves as a board member of the Butler County Historical Society, a member of the History Speakers Bureau and a regular presenter in a program titled “Yesterday’s News” at Miami University.
The Michael J. Colligan History Project of Miami University presented Jones with a Special Recognition for Contributions to Public History for his coverage of the Centennial Commemoration of the Great Flood of 1913.
...even without the crime.
* From “Edythe Klumpp and the ‘Case of the Century’” by Janice Schulz, University of Cincinnati Libraries LiBlog
MidPointe Library welcomes local authors who need a place to write, do research, and-or meet as a group in any of its locations: Middletown, West Chester, Trenton and Monroe. A new branch will open this fall at Liberty Center in Liberty Township. Contact MidPointe Library for information.
Local independently published (“Indie”) authors looking for a forum to meet the public are invited to register for the “ReadLOCAL Indie Author Fair” Saturday, September 29, from 10 a.m. to noon at MidPointe Library, 9363 Centre Pointe Drive, West Chester, Ohio.
The popular program gives readers a chance to meet authors and ask about their writing processes and backgrounds. Visitors can also buy books and have them signed by the authors. There is no admission fee.
Authors of adult, teen and children’s literature should contact Martha Matthews, Information/Reference/ Programming Librarian at MidPointe Library West Chester, 513-777-3131 if interested.