A Daily Dose of History author interview

Once a month or so we offer an author who has written a book of history or historical fiction an opportunity to introduce his or her work to fellow followers/history buffs. This month we are pleased to introduce Daily Dose of History follower Michael Cloherty, author of the historical novel Abel Bodied: Murder at the Malden Bank. The novel, which has received heaps of praise, tells the forgotten story of America’s first murder during a bank robbery. The book has inspired interactive mystery pub crawls and a local craft beer. A stage production is in the works.

DDOH: Please tell us a little about yourself and your novel. 

MC: I’ve worked as a Emmy-award-winning video editor in Boston television news for over two decades. While my work focuses on current events, I’ve always been drawn to stories from the past. That’s why I find your Facebook page so fascinating! I think it’s fantastic that you generously allow myself and other authors a platform to share our books with an audience as interested and curious about history as we are! Thank you!

DDOH: How did you become aware of the story and what led you to write the book?

I have a degree in English literature. In my twenties, I attempted to write a novel based in the 1880s – but didn’t finish it. When I turned forty in 2012, I began to research and write Abel Bodied. Astonished that no other author had written a novel based on this historic crime, I worried one might before I finished. Besides the murder and robbery, there were many other layers to the story that intrigued me both both as a journalist and as a novelist. It took many years and while I was discouraged at times, I persevered. If I needed inspiration, I visited the victim’s grave. His face is carved in the gravestone but has been weathered by time. I also walked along the street where the killer and victim worked and paused at locations to envision what may have occurred over a century-and-a-half before in their daily lives. Immersing myself in a cocktail of history, imagination and persistence, I finally published the novel in the summer of 2021.

MC: As a boy, I spent countless hours in my local library a few miles north of Boston. It was my favorite place. The Malden Public Library, also known as The Converse Memorial Building, was constructed in 1885 by the grieving parents of a slain son.

Each day as I entered, I passed under a portrait of Frank Converse, flanked on each side by those of his mother and father, Mary and Elisha. Before noon on December 15, 1863, Frank, became the first murder victim during a bank robbery in American history. 

Frank’s father was the first mayor of Malden and made a fortune as the president of the Boston Rubber Shoe Company. A few years after Elisha died in 1904, his distant cousin, Marquis Mills Converse, built on that success by founding the Converse Rubber Shoe Company – also in Malden. Converse footwear became world famous with the introduction of the Chuck Taylor All-Stars and the rising popularity of basketball. 

While the Converse name is well-known, the historical Converse murder is not. My dream since my childhood in the library was to one day write a my own novel. About a decade ago, I realized the tale I had been always searching to tell was right in front of me the whole time. The library held some resources related to the crime, the Converses and the history of the town. I also researched through hundreds of newspapers from the time, census records and the genealogy of the main characters involved. 

DDOH: For most of us, murderous bank robberies are something we associate with the Old West, not New England during the Civil War. What was Malden like then and what is like now?

MC: That is what I believed before I began writing this story. The murder at the Malden Bank occurred more than two years before the James Younger Gang shot and killed an innocent bystander after robbing a bank in Liberty, Missouri. An article on Wikipedia considers this crime to be the first peacetime armed bank robbery. 

However, Edward Green’s motives for robbery and murder were completely unrelated to the war. He was known as someone who was not interested in politics whatsoever. While far from a famed gunslinger such as Jesse James, he was someone just as dangerous – a desperate opportunist. Green lived far beyond his means as postmaster and mismanaged the funds for which he was responsible. A newlywed with a child due in mere days, he sought out any solution he could find to solve his debt, retain his position and provide for his family.

His seventeen-year-old friend was the bank teller across the street. The youth was alone in the bank, a pile of cash in plain view. The temptation to solve his problems all at once was too strong for the postmaster to resist. He shot Converse twice and stole $5000, worth close to $120,000 in today’s money. 

The Malden Bank a few years after the murder and the Bailey Building

At the time, Malden, was an idyllic, growing town with a population of about three-thousand. The battlefields of the Civil War, where men were dying by the thousands each day lay distant. The town seemingly outside the reach of such violence.

In my newspaper research, I kept coming across advertisements imploring able-bodied men to join the fight. Since this was the first murder of its kind, I had decided to frame it as an analogy of Cain and Abel. The Civil War is known as a war of brother against brother. The murderer and his victim, although not related, were reported to be the closest of friends. All of these factors led me to title the novel, Abel Bodied. 

Today, Malden is growing, diverse city of sixty-five thousand residents with great restaurants and a growing gaming district which includes such activities as indoor rock climbing and questing game challenges. 

DDOH: The principal characters in the novel are quite interesting. During your research and writing did any of them strike you as particularly intriguing?

MC: When I started the book, I focused on the killer, the victim and the grieving parents. There is a love triangle as well that I discovered that sheds more light on Green’s deceptive character. The Count Joannes was a unique individual who plays a large part in the drama and was treat to write as he added tension and comic relief. But the barber was someone who in many ways become the focus of the novel.

William Shiloh in front of Shiloh and Co. Barbershop

William Shiloh was born a free man in Delaware but by the end of the 1850’s, he was not certain he would remain one much longer. He fled north with his growing family to Malden and opened a barbershop, along Pleasant Street, catering to the affluent men in the town. From his windows, William could witness all that transpired in Malden Square – although he was barely seen by the townsfolk he observed.

Life was difficult, but William remained optimistic that it was improving day by day. That hope was obliterated by dread the morning Frank Converse was found shot and the bank robbed. Being the only one who held the knowledge that Edward Green was the last person to exit the bank before the crime was discovered, William suspected that the postmaster was the villain and that belief would only continue to grow.

In many ways, William Shiloh is the heart and soul of this novel. A righteous man, yet a reluctant witness. He fears the townsfolk won’t believe him for the mere fact that he is not one of them. He is an outsider. The color of his skin also makes him worry that an accusation directed toward a white man as the criminal might instead fasten the guilt squarely upon himself.

The fact that Edward Green committed murder in broad daylight terrifies William. William’s main priority is to keep his family safe and the best way to accomplish that, he believes, is to not bring any undue attention on to himself. Yet his conscience struggles with the dilemma of what is safe for him – and what is just for the family of the murdered Converse boy and the frightened people of the town.

DDOH: Abel Bodied has received lots of glowing reviews. You must be very pleased with how the book has been received.

MC: Though it’s impossible to please every reader, it’s been extremely rewarding to have my novel be so well-regarded by so many! I have received truly wonderful compliments from people, some saying they felt transported back in time to when the events took place as they read. A few have bought several copies to share with friends and relatives so that is just incredible. I am grateful to my friend, Peter Caso, who helped promote my novel on his All About Malden Facebook Page

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson tweeted out after reading the novel in just a couple days that the only way it could be better was, “if it was made into a movie or Netflix series.”

My most gratifying and nerve-racking moment occurred when I was invited to the Converse Family Reunion last summer where I spoke about my novel, with Frank and his parents’ portraits hanging on the wall behind me, to a dozens of Converses including some direct descendants of Elisha and Mary.

I am quite fortunate to have the support of the mayor and the city. My book was released just as a wave of covid was receding and the city was planning a series of summer festivals to revive local business and bring people back to Malden Square. My first book signing was across the street from the site of the bank robbery, now a brewery and in front of what was once Green’s post office, now an Irish pub. I signed those novels with, “from the scene of the crime!” 

Next Kevin Duffy, the city’s Strategy and Business Development officer, next came to me with an idea that floored me. Malden had hired Incantrix Productions to stage interactive Murder at the Malden Bank Mystery Pub Crawls with performers in period costumes playing the key roles of Green, Shiloh and the Converses. The stops include the aforementioned brewery and Irish pub as well other drinking establishments that are pertinent to the crime. We have now sold-out seven of these pub crawls with more planned for the coming summer. The city also commissioned a phone app with augmented reality that brings Malden’s history alive including the bank murder. 

My own marketing idea was to have a local brewery brew a beer in connection with my novel. Bone Up Brewing Company in the neighboring city of Everett debuted, “Chalk Outline” Hoppy Amber Ale in their taproom during a book-signing event in January of this year. Future book-signing events at other locations with the beer on tap are upcoming.

DDOH: What’s next for you? Are you working on anything new?

MC: I am editing the follow-up to Abel Bodied and hope to have it published, fingers crossed, later this year. It continues from where the first novel left off. There are plot points to complete and some added twist and turns based on true events which have been a joy to write. I have some other local history I am contemplating using as a basis of a novel as well. Also, a newly formed local opera company, Mystic Side Opera Company, approached me to turn William Shiloh’s part in Abel Bodied into a stage production. It will be called, “Shiloh’s Razor.” This is in development but I am very excited to hear my words sung and performed on the stage! 

DDOH: Where can readers find your book?

MC: Abel Bodied is available in some Massachusetts stores and many online retailers. Please ask your favorite local bookstore to order it for you. Here is link on my website link for purchase options:

Also, for further details about my novel and news about my upcoming book and events, please like and follow my Author Facebook page: PlottingthePast

Thank you Daily Dose of History and all of you reading this post!

DDOH: Thanks for participating and thanks for helping to keep history alive! Once a month or so we give a randomly selected Daily Dose of History follower who is the author of a book of history or historical fiction the opportunity to introduce other followers to his or her book. If you would like to participate, just send a message with the title and a brief synopsis of your book.

Here is the link to A Daily Dose of History Facebook Page. It is a great informative follow!

Thursday, March 9th at 6:30 P.M. I will be at Pearl Street Station in Malden reading Chapter One of Abel Bodied for the first time – It focuses on William Shiloh and sets up his dilemma in the novel of how he should handle the knowledge that the postmaster sitting in his barber’s chair may be bank robber and killer of Frank Converse. “Chalk Outline” Hoppy Amber Ale brewed by Bone Up Brewing Company as a collaboration beer with my novel will be on tap for the first time in Malden! Stop by for great food and drinks and a novel based on the first murder in a bank robbery in American history. Cheers, Michael!

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