Detective in the White City: The Real Story of Frank Geyer
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What is your book about?
Detective in the White City is the true story of a 19th-century detective who took down one of America’s first serial killers, H. H. Holmes, known now as the “Devil in the White City.” It is the remarkable story of Detective Frank Geyer, who never lost his family in a fire before starting his incredible investigation of H. H. Holmes as other authors claimed. It features the sensational murder cases of Holmes and his trial, the Hannah Mary Tabbs torso murder case, Modern Borgia killer (first woman hung in Philadelphia), “White Chapel Row,” and more, and includes ninety-five rare historical illustrations with sources.
What inspired you to write your book?
I was inspired to write Detective in the White City after reading two books, Harold Schechter’s Depraved and Erik Larson’s wildly popular Devil in the White City that Leonardo DiCaprio bought the rights to adapt and is collaborating with Martin Scorsese for the film. The two books feature H. H. Holmes, who confessed to killing twenty-seven men, women, and children in 19th-century Chicago and Philadelphia. Something I read did not ring true. Both authors stated Philadelphia Detective Frank Geyer lost his beloved wife and only daughter in a fire just before he investigated H. H. Holmes and set off on a journey to find three missing children of Holmes’ business partner whom he killed. But what man could lose his family and home to a tragic fire and then set out shortly afterward to investigate a world-famous case across numerous states and into Canada?
Among performing emergency management duties, I taught public safety—specifically the impact of traumatic stress. After learning about Detective Geyer’s profound loss, I knew I had to find out the truth and embarked on a year-long research journey where I found out Detective Geyer’s wife and daughter lived on. They never died in a fire and even more astounding was that Geyer’s great-great-grandson and his family moved twenty-eight hundred miles away from their hometown to within five miles of my home. Come to find out, he and I graduated high school the same year! This was a book I knew I had to write.
Can you describe your writing process?
Prior to writing Detective in the White City, I conducted extensive research and traveled to Philadelphia; New Jersey; Washington, DC; and the Library of Congress. I wanted to include historical facts about the Civil War, 19th-century Philadelphia, the police department, and high-profile cases Geyer investigated. Once satisfied with the research data, interviews, and historical photos, I used Scrivener to organize and write the book, bibliography, and endnotes.
How did you come to do what you’re doing today?
I had a long, rewarding career as an internationally Certified Emergency Manager, where I managed jurisdiction-wide emergency management. I worked with all levels of government agencies and law enforcement, homeland security, fire & rescue, military, hospitals, and educational institutions. Throughout the years in my profession, I had opportunities to author government plans, proclamations, and resolutions, and wrote press releases and articles, but in the back of my mind, I dreamed of writing books. That dream became a reality after I retired and pasted a note on my wall that read, “Never give up on your dream.” Every day I looked at the note and thought about what I wanted to write. I taught emergency response to terrorism courses during my career, so I gathered over thirty thousand pages of FBI and Department of Justice documents on the 2001 Amerithrax investigation of the anthrax attacks after 9/11. I outlined and organized the research, wrote out index cards, and pasted them on a board in my office. However, after I read the glaring inaccuracies in those two books I mentioned, I released the book Holmes’ Own Story: Confessed 27 Murders—Lied Then Died and then focused my research on Detective Geyer.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
I’m a multi-tasker and have several projects going at the same time. The nice thing about that is if I get bored with one, I work on another. That’s why I love Scrivener. Once I outline a book, I set up chapters and write in any order I want.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
High school students in the U.S. and Europe request interviews for school projects from time to time. I love that.
Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?
My favorite authors have inspired me along my writing journey. They are Vincent Bugliosi, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, John Grisham, Brad Meltzer, Jeffery Deaver, Harlan Coben, Stephen King, and Lee Child.
Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?
People would be surprised to learn that I used to do crazy bucket-list-type of activities when I was younger. Acrobatic flying, hang-gliding, parasailing, scuba diving, and mini-car racing were among some of the wild things I’ve done. I wanted to skydive, but everyone I asked to go with me chickened out. Maybe I’ll do that by myself on one of my birthdays.
What’s next for you?
I have several books in the works including the one I mentioned about the Amerithrax investigation and a couple thrillers.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I love to connect with people on social media. I’m most active on (in order of highest activity): Twitter @jdcrighton; Instagram @jdcrighton; and Facebook @jdcrightonauthor. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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