The Kansas City, Kansas Public Library West Wyandotte Branch will host local author Diana Staresinic-Deane on June 23 at 2:00pm. She will be speaking about her new book Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder and its connection to Kansas City, Kansas. A book signing will follow.
On Decoration Day 1925, Coffey County farmer John Knoblock and his son returned home to their farm from a trip to town to discover that John’s wife, Florence, had been brutally murdered. This terrible crime resulted in a multi-county fiasco of an investigation, with inexperienced lawmen, gawking and suspicious neighbors, and a contaminated crime scene. Desperate to find the murderer, the sheriff and attorney looked anywhere they could. Hundreds of people were questioned, bloodhounds pulled investigators in multiple directions, and three different men were arrested before they finally set their sights on John Knoblock himself.
With a demanding public and nowhere else to turn, they arrested John and charged him with Florence’s murder. This decision tore the community apart. His friends and family were convinced he was innocent, but just as many in the community were sure he had to be guilty. The trial was as much of a disaster as the investigation. Evidence disappeared, witnesses - including the coroner – simply vanished, and the key witness for the prosecution admitted to being bribed. The county’s most sensational and expensive trial ended in a hung jury. The prosecution pushed for a retrial and it was moved to Emporia where John was acquitted. Despite being found innocent of the crime, he was left a broken, penniless man who would forever be found suspicious. The murder was never officially solved and many eventually forgot about it.
Then, more than 80 years later, local librarian Diana Staresinic-Deane discovered an old folder in the stacks of the Emporia Public Library. The folder contained newspaper clippings covering the Knoblock Murder. Fascinated by the story, Staresinic-Deane decided she had to learn more.
I had to know how the story ended. I had to understand why a tight-knit farm community—people who worked together, worshipped together, raised their children together—would ultimately choose to believe they had identified but failed to convict a murderer rather than accept the possibility that the real murderer lived and worked among them in anonymity – Staresinic-Deane
Thus began three years of research into the life of John Knoblock, his wife’s murder, and the investigation. She dug through old newspapers and records, interview people who remembered the trial or had heard about it from relatives, and visited the crime scene. She ultimately made her own conclusions about the murder and turned her experience into the book Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder.
To learn more about the case, the fallout, and the connection to KCK, join us at the West branch on June 23 to hear Staresinic-Deane discuss her research and the answers she discovered. Her book will be available to purchase after the discussion. For more information, contact the West branch at 596-5800 or visit kckpl.org.