“Livingston County’s [Missouri] full of dead bodies.”
This was the headline in both the Des Moines Register and The Omaha World Herald one fall afternoon in 1989. M. John Dougherty, of southwest Iowa, read the headlines.
“My dad, my brother, and I were sitting at the kitchen table during a fall harvest break in Lenox, Iowa, amazed at the scant, yet intriguing story from Chillicothe, Missouri – Ray and Faye Copeland,” stated Dougherty. “How could an old couple from rural Missouri use such a simple technique – using lone transients from shelters – to write bad checks to purchase cattle?”
Some 25 years later, Dougherty began writing, “And the Cock Crowed,” a novel based on true events involving the Copelands, who lived on a farm in rural Mooresville. The setting for the novel is a time when a man’s word was golden at local livestock sale barns. In addition, it is a dichotomy of religiosity – one’s words versus one’s actions.
Dougherty used to farm in Taylor County, Iowa, bordering Missouri, so he had an interest in the Copeland case for that reason – close proximity – and being a farmer who also traded cattle.
“This made it something I was very familiar with,” he said. Though using actual events, minimal fiction is intertwined in the book to make it an interesting read. In writing the novel, Dougherty chose to use ficticious names. “Many of the people in the book still reside around Chillicothe, so I wanted to be sensitive to that,” he said.
The book was written in third person with the deputy (who in real life would be former deputy Gary Calvert) being the main character.
“Something strange is happening in Livingston County, Missouri – bounced checks, disappearances, and one man who just keeps on showing up,” reads the book’s summary. “Earl Calroy, a 70-something with a bad temper and a past, knows something, but he isn’t talking.”
This is Dougherty’s first book he has authored; however, he has had peer-reviewed journal articles published pertaining to PTSD, a psychiatric area in which he was trained.
Researching the book was the most fun in the writing process, yet most time consuming, Dougherty said. Northwest Missouri State University, in Maryville, provided him with multiple articles from its library. This, however, was not enough to base characters so he purchased part of the court proceedings from a stenographer.
He later learned from a friend (the Iowa deputy attorney general) that information of all capital cases are at the state capitol’s library. For that reason, Dougherty spent a week at Jefferson City, Mo., gaining access to all depositions, interrogations, copies of bad checks, the list of names used to convict Faye Copeland, etc. He also spent time at the Livingston Courthouse where minimal information was available.
Dougherty talked several times to a neighbor of the Copelands and visited with both the acting sheriff and two deputy sheriffs at the time the event took place, as well as the acting Livingston County prosecutor who was still working there during his research. He talked to many other people around the area to get a clearer perspective of Ray and Faye Copeland’s personalities. This involved co-workers at a glove factory and a motel employer. He also spent a day at a Kansas City conference on personality disorders.
He took multiple pictures at both farms where bodies were found to get a feel for the surroundings; as well to some neighbors in those areas. Dougherty returned to Chillicothe on Saturday for a book signing event at Boji Stone Cafe. The 344-page book is available for purchase ($16.95) locally and online.
For more information, visit www.cockcrowed.com.