I recently reported on Facebook that a book I wrote is about to be published. I received my printed copy —the first off the press—at the beginning of this week, and its availability is scheduled to be announced in a week to ten days. I have been working on rounding up names of family and friends, along with their email and postal addresses, to whom I’ll ask the publisher to send announcements with the opportunity to purchase the printed and/or e-versions of the book. I’ll include the announcement on my website (skillunlimited.com) when it comes out.
Several people have asked what the book is about and are surprised when I tell them that it is a true crime story about a decades-old murder case in which a young man was convicted of murdering a twelve-year-old girl with manipulated and manufactured evidence. It is more complicated than that, because it is really about how our criminal justice can be abused when prosecutors and police. with an eye on career advancement or political gain, fall prey to tunnel vision in pursuing suspects.
Instead of rehashing something that required 300 pages and over 100,000 words to research and write, I decided to sum it up with the following query and synopsis similar to those I sent to literary agents.
Synopsis… “Mosaic Pieces: Surviving the Dark Side of American Justice” Author: Wes Skillings True Crime, Narrative Nonfiction, Law, Investigative, History 101,500 Words (Completed)
This work of narrative nonfiction might at its heart be a true crime story, but it encompasses so much more than a murder case. Make that several decades more—three generations of one family before and after the murder— with the evolving story of the crime serving as the keystone of this arching narrative.
The 1973-74 murder case itself is alternately fascinating and disturbing — if only because of what was learned in the months and years following the trial at which Kim Lee Hubbard, 20, was decreed guilty of the murder of twelve-year-old Jennifer May Hill. He is a free man and has been for the past three decades and counting after paying his presumed debt to society. Yet a debt is something you owe, and this convicted murderer, despite leading a productive and fulfilling life in the very community where the crime for which he was tried and convicted occurred, has his own debt to collect. The debt is exoneration for a crime he swears he didn’t commit and, for the record, one for which, as the facts confirm, he was falsely and unfairly prosecuted.
The investigation, arrest, prosecution and jury’s verdict required only four-and-a-half months from the day the child’s remarkably well-preserved body was found on October 28, 1973 in a cornfield a few hundred yards from her home. She had lain dead between the withering and tasseled cornstalks there, according to evidence presented by the Commonwealth, for 216 hours (nine days) in unseasonably warm and dry weather for Pennsylvania. And yet the body on the autopsy table the evening of October 29, 1973, “was as fresh as if she had died just the day before,” according to the man who picked up the body and later embalmed it.
This was belatedly confirmed for the record by two renowned forensic experts some six years after the trial based on documented postmortem findings from the autopsy and photos. Among the explanations, after considering body condition and other factors, was either the girl was killed as much as a week after the prosecution claimed or her body had been refrigerated for a comparable period before being placed in the field where she was “discovered.” In either case, it rendered evidence used to convict Hubbard as unfounded and opened the real possibility of evidence tampering by law enforcement. Then there were revealing signs and eyewitness attestations indicating convicting tire casts, supposedly taken at the field near the body scene, were poured in the municipal garage where the suspect’s car was impounded at the time. One of the tires— the only one with deep treads allegedly cast on the field— was not installed on the car until after the body was found, which is an evidentiary impossibility.
They were among the first shadows of doubt darkening the prosecution’s case, much of which came to light after Kim’s conviction. A few years later, two Justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared he should be granted a new trial, but the majority disagreed that there was malicious intent.
Other aspects of the case, including misuse and abuse of DNA by an apologist for the DA’s office in 2014, bring the impact of this story two decades into the 21st Century. I offer readers the opportunity to form their own impressions based on facts and expert opinions. Then again, it is a unique and thought-provoking true crime story with solid human-interest components and insights into murder case essentials like forensic science, expert witnesses, hypnotism of eyewitnesses, evidential chain-of-custody and fast-and-loose DNA technology that is not questioned often enough when wielded to solve both active and cold case crimes.
“Mosaic Pieces” required a lot of research and access to evidentiary photos, trial transcripts and key figures in this case, many of whom are dead, including Joe and Dorisann Hubbard who never gave up seeking a new trial and subsequent exoneration for their son. This is as much about them as about Kim or his sister, Ruth, taunted and shunned by her peers, who survived an arduous childhood and adolescence in the aftermath of her brother’s conviction and imprisonment for the murder of her closest friend.
I first met the Hubbards as a young reporter in Williamsport, PA, while looking into the case three-and-a-half years after the murder trial. This resulted in a multi-part investigative series revealing a conglomeration of discrepancies casting considerable doubt on evidence used to convict the overwhelmed defendant. The belated findings unveiled shocking alternatives to where, when and how the young victim lost her life.
There is a website about the case that is quite revealing; something true crime buffs will find invaluable in acquainting themselves with the case just as it played out before the jury in February 1974. At Kim Hubbard: The Real Story, I introduce readers to the crime, investigation and trial on the Home Page in “Anatomy of a Murder Frame-Up.” Elsewhere on the site, developed by a third-party developer at the behest of Kim Hubbard, readers may absorb much of the trial evidence and testimony in trial transcripts to come to their own conclusions on what really happened to Jennifer Hill on October 19, 1973, on what should have been a fifteen-minute walk home from the Hubbards where she was spotted barely a block from her destination. Together, as a contemporary jury, we can go as far as the facts will take us in determining the likely fate of Jennifer Hill.
I retired from newspaper journalism on April 1, 2011, after 38 years as a reporter, columnist and editor at three different newspapers where I covered murder trials and criminal cases over a span of more than three decades. I have received numerous Keystone Press Awards from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association (PNA) — fifteen of them over my last 11 years in the business and eight placing first in the state in their respective categories. I continue as a rapidly aging but healthy freelance writer doing corporate biographies and website content, as well as writing weekly blogs on my own website at SkillUnlimited.com.
Additionally, I am a self-published author through LifeRich Publishing of a book about one man’s triumph over traumatic brain injury (“A Matter of Recovery: The Story of C.B. Miller”), which is still available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
(If you are interested in receiving the announcement of the book’s release, send your postal and email addresses to me at WeSkillings@gmail.com by the end of Sunday, Oct. 2.)