Frank Eugene Converse, killed at age seventeen by his friend, Postmaster Edward Green, during the first bank robbery/murder in United States history was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery. Buried in Malden, his grave hasn’t moved but it is now located in the City of Everett.
For at the time of the events in my novel, Abel Bodied: Murder at the Malden Bank, in 1863, Everett did not exist.
Everett became a city in 1870. Like its neighbor to the east, Revere, it was also named in honor of a person – though one far more obscure. Edward Everett, like the true story my book is based upon has been mostly lost to history.
Everett served as president of Harvard, governor of Massachusetts, a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. He was known as a great orator. Unlike Paul Revere’s midnight ride immortalized by Longfellow’s poem, Everett is best known for giving a very long speech after the battle of Gettysburg – a few months before the Converse murder.
After Everett finished his two-hour speech, President Lincoln delivered perhaps the most eloquent, meaningful speech in American history, his Gettysburg Address, in just a couple of minutes.
Two of the things I love to do the most are drinking great local craft beer and talking about my novel. Since my novel’s publication, I have combined the two by having many of my book events in local breweries and bars. The City of Malden has staged a series of sold-out Murder at the Malden Bank Mystery Pub Crawls with more planned for the summer of 2023!
After several years of late nights laying on the couch with my laptop, a craft beer on the coffee table by my right and our MinPin, Guinness, curled up next to me on my left – my wife, Jen, is very happy that that I have now discovered lots of other places to discuss my novel over beers!
Public speaking can be tough and in the past, admittedly, I have reached for liquid courage to help ease my nervousness as I did before this speech last June during the Converse Family Reunion where I spoke for a twenty minutes about my novel in the building erected in honor of Frank Converse in front of dozens of his blood relatives. That was a thrill – but also quite daunting.
It occurred to me during the many years of writing my novel that I would love to somehow have a local brewery brew a beer in connection to my book and the true crime on which it is based. I have come across many craft beers named after famous literature but, to my knowledge, “Chalk Outline” is the first beer brewed in collaboration with a local, Indie author.
My reading of the murder chapter in Abel Bodied, during the beer release event, though not as brief as Lincoln’s, like my speech at the library lasted about twenty minutes. It was followed by a lively Q&A about the book, my research and the writing process.
Thanks to all who attended! Shout-outs to my author friends, Mike Sullivan and Jason Rubin! You can click on their names for links to their work.
I would especially like to toast and thank Liz and Jared Kiraly and all of the Bone Up crew for truly making this writer’s dream come true with a terrific, tasty beverage that was well-received by all of those in attendance! Their beers are outstanding and they have a wide variety to choose from since they are constantly creating and brewing.
Chalk Outline is currently on draft in their taproom. My follow-up novel, long past the draft phase, is in a revision stage. However, it has taken longer than I hoped it would to ferment. My goal is to publish book two sometime this year and complete the story that has intrigued me since childhood as I studied each afternoon in The Malden Library below the portrait of Frank Converse.
eBook Promotion Starts a day late but now lasts a week!
As I type this, on a Wednesday evening, it is hours away from the anniversary of the pivotal day in my novel, Abel Bodied: Murder at the Malden Bank.
December 15, 1863 was the day seventeen-year-old Frank Converse was shot and killed in the first murder during a bank robbery in American history.
I published the novel in the summer of 2021 after eight years of researching and writing and re-writing and re-writing. It was a long eight years but a rewarding sense of accomplishment to finish and publish.
Last year on this date that has become very important to me, I visited Frank’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery and left roses there in the morning. That evening at Hugh O’Neill’s pub, dressed as Postmaster Edward Green, I read the chapter which contained the murder. The pub was once the location of the post office where Green worked. On that fateful day, he walked from that spot to the bank across the street and killed his friend Frank and stole $5000.
At this event, my first numbered signed hardcover of Abel Bodied was auctioned off for $90 to our local food bank, Bread of Life. Proceeds from the next sixteen hardcovers sold were also donated. This was to honor the seventeen years Frank had lived and represent the charity of his parents, Elisha and Mary towards the City of Malden. After the tragic loss of their son, they built the Converse Memorial Library and bestowed it to citizens under a trust. The Converses amassed a great wealth since Elisha who became Malden’s first mayor, was also a great industrialist running the Boston Rubber Shoe Company also left public parks like Pine Banks and Fellsmere Park to the city. I wanted to commemorate the day of Frank’s death as a Converse Day of Giving.
This year, my plan was to lower the cost of my book as much as I could so more people could purchase it and read it. With the help of Peter Caso, I created this video stating the Trade Paperback price would be $9.99 and the eBook would be $1.99 on December 15th.
Having never done a Amazon Countdown Deal, I waited too long to lower the price of the eBook in time – so unfortunately it will priced at $5.99 on the anniversary date. However, to make up for this mistake, it will priced at $1.99 on Friday, December 16th all the way through Friday, December 23rd! So instead of a one day promotion it is for an entire week!
Thanks for your support and understanding!
My next blog will be about collaborating with Bone Up Brewing on making a beer connected to Abel Bodied!
This portrait of Frank Eugene Converse is one few people outside of his family have ever laid eyes upon before.
Frank was born on October 1st, 1846 in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
Before noon on Tuesday, December 15th, 1863, the seventeen-year-old teller of the First National Bank of Malden became the first murder victim during a bank robbery in American history when Edward Green, the indebted Malden postmaster, shot his close friend twice in the head and stole $5000.
Discovered close to fifteen minutes after he was shot, Frank was unable to utter his assailant’s name. Alerted to the shooting, neither of his parents could arrive before their child gasped his last breath.
In 1885, Elisha and Mary Converse constructed the Malden Public Library as a memorial to their slain son as well as a gift to the town in which he had lived. They installed an art museum and established a trust to fund the library so their gift could live on in perputity – even if their son could not.
Like so many others who grew up in Malden, I walked past the familiar portrait of Frank Converse each and every time I entered the long room of the Converse Memorial Building.
I spent hours as a child there, surrounded by books, hoping to eventually write a novel of my own.
During my twenties, I endeavored to finish a manuscript without success. I took a break in my thirties from making another attempt and then in 2012 as I turned forty, I became transfixed by the historic crime committed in my hometown and couldn’t let go of my desire to tell the tale. I was shocked that no one else had ever written a book about it before.
I dived deep, committing eight years of my life to researching hundreds of newspaper reports from the time as well as census records and the genealogy of the main characters involved to create my historical fiction novel. I wanted the book to be based on my gathered facts and then let my muse add dialogue and some scenes to move the narrative.
I published Abel Bodied: Murder at the Malden Bank in the summer of 2021.
You might think that eight years is a very long time to write a novel and I would completely agree with you! It was not an efficient process, but it was the journey I was capable of completing.
I am very grateful to the City of Malden and all of those I have met in person or online in the past year. Thank you!
Special thanks to Malden Mayor Gary Christensen, Business Development Officer Kevin Duffy and my pal, Pete Caso, and his All About Malden Facebook page!
After the success of one event last year, the city scheduled a series of sold-out pub crawls this summer based on the historic crime in my novel. Actors from Incantrix Productions portray the real people involved – immersing participants within the true crime while on a pub crawl held in drinking establishments with connections to historic locations – such as the killer’s office and the scene of the murder. The pub crawl concludes at Idle Hands Craft Ales where I sign and sell copies of Abel Bodied.
Click the the image below for ticket information.
This year, my novel caught the attention of the Converse family and I was honored to be invited as both a guest and a speaker at their long-planned family reunion.
Talking about my novel based on the murder of Frank Converse in the library, a building dedicated to him, before an audience of his relatives was a surreal experience. A bookend of sorts to my childhood dream of becoming an author while studying within those very same walls.
Though slightly overwhelmed by the significance of the moment, I was also thrilled and grateful to where my writer’s path had led me. In fact, in an email I wrote to one of the organizers afterward, I stated that, “it certainly was the greatest family reunion I ever attended where I was not a member. But I felt like an honorary Converse just the same thanks to all of you!”
The welcome reception of the reunion was held on Friday, June 24th at the library. As I stood next to this bust of Elisha Converse, the man beside me introduced himself as Christian Costello Converse and asked me if I could take a photo of him alongside the sculpture of his 2nd great-grandfather.
After taking his photo, Christian informed me that he possessed another portrait of Frank in his home in Annapolis, Maryland.
The portrait we were gazing at beyond our view of the sculpture of Elisha, Malden’s first mayor, was painted after Frank’s death – but Christian informed me that Frank had sat for the artist in the one which had been passed down to him as a family heirloom. He forwarded this image to me.
Though I was aware that this other portrait existed, having an opportunity to finally see it was an unexpected surprise. That flimsy mustache where a boy is almost a man but not quite – sums up the potential of what Frank Converse might have been. A life with promise ended too soon.
Even now, contemplating this novel perspective of Frank as I write this – after being so immersed in the narrative of his murder for so long, I have the sensation of being in very select company – at least until I click on the publish button for this blog.
This likeness of Frank has been glimpsed by very few eyes over the last century-and-a-half. I am grateful to Christian for sending me this image and giving me permission to share it with all of you.
I owe so much to the portrait that I am familiar with, the one that I gazed at as a boy. The Malden Public Library has been a resource of learning for generations and Frank’s tragic end became a catalyst for my creativity. The portrait in the library ignited the fuse allowing my imagination to burn until I was finally able to complete my novel.
But this other portrait, though older than the one I’ve known all my life, perhaps just by a year or two, is brand-new to me and so enthralls my writer’s mind in unique ways. Frank was alive when it was painted, he had a pulse, he had a tremendous future ahead of him – yet no way to perceive how little time he had remaining.
Hundreds of miles away, a civil war was raging with men not much older than him dying by the thousands each day. Frank would not perish on a battlefield – but his death would be just as brutal while also being completely unexpected – for it was at the hands of someone he trusted and knew very well.
The reason I named my novel Abel Bodied is because Frank’s murder, like Cain killing Abel, was the first of its kind. Also, while Edward was not Frank’s sibling, they were reported to be the closest of friends and the postmaster was, in my fiction, and perhaps in real life as well, jealous of the life Frank possessed which was far beyond his own means.
I visited the Converse family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the neighboring city of Everett countless times as I was writing my novel. Frank was buried in Malden but in 1870, Everett broke off to become its own city.
Frank’s image on the facade of his grave has faded with time and exposure to the elements. I imagined the crime and those involved to create my novel – but I also pondered what Frank’s face must have looked like when the stone was new.
I tried to conjure the image his parents and his friends gazed upon when they visited his resting place in the initial years after he was buried. In my novel, I even created a scene where his killer visits the grave of his dear friend. Guilt-ridden, Edward is absolutely transfixed by the likeness of Frank and begins to talk to him as if he is really there. The postmaster then awaits a response which never comes.
The carved image of the friend he murdered lay so very clear, so vibrant before him, almost glowing in the late morning light as the sun rose behind him, that Edward expected an answer.
He paused for several moments. He imagined what Frank would say to him now if he was able to communicate or if he had been able to do so as their eyes met before the firing of the second chamber.
But the stone’s facade of his slain friend just looked past him and deliberately into eternity.
Superimposing Frank’s face from the portrait new to me onto his image etched in stone – but eroded by time, gives us this possible view of how his gravestone might have once appeared and how I imagined Edward Green saw it as he contemplated the great crime he had committed against his young friend.
The Converses were affluent enough to not only chisel their son’s countenance onto his gravestone but also to commission a poet to compose a tribute to him in the short window of a few days between his murder and his funeral.
This tender elegy, written in honor of a slain son – like the portrait of a living Frank Converse – has been viewed by a scant set of eyes. Copies of it were passed out at Frank’s burial service to the mourners. I included it in full in my novel, but you can read it here as well.
A TRIBUTE TO THE MEMORY OF FRANK EUGENE CONVERSE
AGED 17 YEARS
WHO WAS ASSASSINATED IN THE BANK OF MALDEN
DECEMBER 15TH, 1863
The youth went forth at early morn
All healthy, bright and gay:
Before the sun the zenith reach'd
A mangled corpse he lay.
Pity and fear stalk'd through the town, And thrilled was
every breast: Commotion dire filled the day,
And darkness brought no rest.
To hunt the murder'r from his den
Each lent a willing hand,
Nor sought they long before they found
And mark'd him with Cain's brand
Had the wretch died on battlefield
A lustrous name he'd won,
In death dishonor'd now he lies,
That killed the well lov'd son.
The boy's true heart would never yield
From virtue's path to stray:
True to his trust, his life he gave,
The cruel robber's prey.
A life so young, so well begun,
He bravely might aspire
To win the civic crown of worth
With honor to his sire
What anguish tore the parents' breast
When death untimely came,
And treachery with bloody hands,
Put out his life's young flame.
Tears avail not, nor loud laments,
To ease the throbbing heart:
Remembrance of his virtuous life
Alone can peace impart
Where Woodlawn spreads its stately
With winding walks around,
Beside a snow white monument
His bed of rest is found
There flowers are strewn - there wreaths
are hung -
There woodbine marks the grave
Of all that was mortal was of him
Whom Jesus died to save.
Midst that Sacred Sepulchral Scene,
Nearby a shady bower,
Where water sparkling from the fount
Within a rustic tower
Upon the mount the stone is rais'd,
There should you ever coy
In marble you will see impressed
The image of the boy
Time has slowly wore down the face of Frank Converse chiseled upon his tombstone – as it has also erased the story of his historical murder from our collective memory.
I hope with my novel, these two portraits, a poem and a visage of his gravestone restored, at least digitally, that the tragedy of his murder gains meaning and significance once again.
My ego tried to dissuade me from writing about this topic, but my muse was unrelenting.
Today is my fiftieth birthday.
To many of us, fifty feels like a median point and society points to the number as being middle-aged. Though in reality, very few among us live to a hundred. In the United States, the average life expectancy is seventy-nine. Fifty may be just how I and many of us are wired to look upon a sum which is half of a number viewed as so important to us. Our history is built on centuries. We hate zeroes – but love them if a single number exists to the left of several zeroes in money and a single figure next to a zero in age.
There are many rights of passage in our society at specific ages, sixteen allows us to acquire a drivers license, twenty-one the ability to order a legal drink.
Otherwise, as we age, any number ending in zero holds all the power: ten, twenty, and thirty mark the milestones of youth, while forty is on the very cusp of something else, a transition of a sort. By then, our minds and bodies have both transformed like a favorite article of clothing, worn and perhaps frayed with small tears – but hopefully still retaining function and comfort.
Sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, and one-hundred are significant and show continued longevity and with planning as well as chance, good health and vibrancy for the fewer and fewer of us who arrive to those ages.
But the big 5-0, it is an age to be contemplative. This is a peak many of us expect, from a young age, to attain. Even if this milestone is not possible for all, we always assume it is for ourselves. With luck – it can act as a base camp on our way to some higher summit.
The days, the years, the decades – in fact each second whirls by at a variety of speeds. Your first day in school, your first kiss, your first grown-up job, your first apartment, the birth of a child, the loss of someone dear to your heart, your first love, perhaps a true love who envelops your entire heart over many years.
Joy, anger, fear, success, failure. Each life is a unique myriad of so many things – but one thing is undeniable, there is only so much time. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Animals are wiser than we know and certainly sense so many things outside of our realm of understanding – yet only we humans wear watches. We are obsessed with the passage of time and live our lives within its constructs. That’s why time travel books and movies fascinate many of us. In fact, that is true of fiction of any kind, for reading or writing a story allows an escape for us from the very moment in which we’re living and the uncertainty of the future to come.
While finishing my novel, Abel Bodied, in 2020 – my imagination was often distracted from the chaotic events of the world around me as instead I immersed my mind in the Malden Bank murder of 1863.
They say time slows down during a car crash. Life is a series of ebbs and flows. Time is constant, yet our perception is fluid and distinctive to the both individual and the situation.
In the end, I believe, each one of the moments we are given has the possibly of ultimately transforming into either a pebble or a feather… for life’s decisions, big and small, all begin either with the weight of a rock or the flight of a bird. The choice is ours. We can be weighed down by our inaction or we can attempt to fly.
Our circumstances or our abilities are often beyond our power of will – but our attempts to accomplish a task always lay within our decisions. The result of our inactions or actions are all we are left with in the end, remnants of pebbles and feathers.
I won’t tell you to wear sunscreen, since that has famously been done, yet truthfully you should. But I will advise you to rise higher than you think you can achieve, for we are all capable of doing so, not always… but on occasion. If a goal really means that much to you – or if you feel in the very center of your being that inaction will only lead to regret, your effort is worthwhile. There is no shame in failure. Life is full of it yet sometimes effort is rewarded.
This advice is meant as much as a reminder for myself as it is for you and others. By this stage in life, I have amassed a large collection of my own pebbles – but I am happy to realize that there are some feathers scattered among the pile that now consists of my five decades.
The clock is ticking and the choice is yours. Are you a bird or are you a rock? For the reality is we will only leave feathers and pebbles as consequences of our choices for time erodes all that exists in its wake.
For my fiftieth birthday, I could have chosen to be at a beach or in the mountains, but the biggest joy I have received in the past year has been at book signings and conversing with people about a project that required so much effort for me to create. At times, I was reluctant to fly. But I persevered.
I do not have a quill to sign my novel with – but I imagine the sharpie in my hand represents a feather of a sort and that is how I choose to celebrate my half-century of livng – in Malden square during a summer festival, steps away from the scene of the true crime that has so captivated me, that drove me to research and then write a novel, no matter how daunting the task appeared.
If you have something you wish to accomplish, try your best. My friends, life is not easy but if you have a passion for something, follow it to where it leads. That is my birthday wish for all of you!
Page one of fulfilling my childhood dream of writing a novel began in this very building. I just was not aware of it at the time.
When I was a boy, I spent hours and hours in this library. I was a student at Cheverus which is a block away.
I would come here after school, do my homework, borrow books from the shelves. Dive deep into another form of knowledge, a form of escape – which is the joy of reading.
As I entered, I would look up at the portrait of Frank Converse, surrounded by the portraits of his father, Elisha and his mother, Mary.
I was aware this library was built as a memorial to Frank but I was a child and didn’t fully comprehend the significance of his young life ended far too soon. I was too focused on the book in front of me and to where it led my imagination.
In high school, I did some creative writing and then I was an English Literature major at Suffolk University. Four years of reading, Four years of delving into the minds of Joyce, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald and others. However, I wasn’t sure if I could make a living a writer.
So, in the last semester of my senior year, I interned at New England Cable News and I have worked for the last 27 years in Boston television news, as a video editor, as a writer, tuning in liveshots.
During that first summer after college, I had a nightmare of a Union soldier chasing me around my childhood home. The next day I started writing a novel set in the 1860’s to the 1880’s in Malden. I worked on that novel throughout my twenties without ever finishing it. It is on a hard drive and I hope to return to it at some point.
In my thirties, I married, life goes on, work, commuting, vacations. My desire for becoming a novelist was set aside.
As I turned forty in 2012 – I wrote an article about the bank murder as a piece of Malden history. I knew a little bit about it but found myself truly drawn to the story, more and more.
Part 2 The Novel:
Writing this novel, I thought of myself as an archeologist, digging and digging until the story revealed itself. I researched hundreds of newspaper articles related to the crime.
Many of the numerous articles I read on a particular topic were often verbatim as they were transferred around the country by telegraph from one newspaper to another.
But occasionally, after reading the same words over and over, I would find one new little fascinating tidbit. It was like panning for gold. If you think of the task of what the 49ers did in California, it was many hours of tedium for that one moment of discovery and that for me was what the research of this book was like. It was always the thrill both of the research and then forming that research into the narrative.
Besides newspapers, I also sought out the census records and the genealogy of the main players in this tale, The Greens, The Shilohs and of course, The Converses, not as much as Peter knows by any measure – but I did my best.
I enjoyed researching the facts from long ago – but my muse also wanted to be creative and imagine how these real people lived, how they thought, what life was like in the time they lived, the struggles they encountered that were unique to them and more importantly the struggles that are familiar to us today, issues truly timeless to all people.
I was learning as I was going. Both of the history of the story and also of the craft of becoming a writer.
I have been working in journalism for more than half my life – but truly pining to be a novelist since I was a boy, this book is a combination of the two, allowing me to write a novel based on the true events.
I had been waiting my whole life to write a novel and this story and the era in which it occurred allowed me to explore the themes which are universal to the alchemy of America since its inception which include race, class and gender.
But I like to think of all of my research as tent poles. I acquired all of this knowledge, the whole story, the timeline of these people’s lives, of the murder, of the Edward Green, the postmaster’s involvement and hints of what his motivations were. Of William Shiloh, a black barber, who witnessed all that occurred on Pleasant Street and testified of seeing Green pass back and forth across the street often to visit his young friend, Frank. And I filled in these tent poles with dialogue and the what-ifs of a fiction writer until I had my completed structure.
This is historical fiction. The title, Abel Bodied, is initially based on the fact that this was the first murder during a bank robbery in American history, more than two years before the James-Younger Gang, which may have included Jesse and his brother Frank that day, robbed a bank in Liberty, Missouri shooting and killing a bystander as they rode away. Coincidentally, the victim was also 17 just as Frank was.
I was fortunate since the story occurred here that I could visit many of the pertinent locations like you are doing on this reunion weekend. Like Frank’s grave, the location of the bank and the former location of Green’s post office which is currently where Hugh O’Neill’s pub stands. It didn’t hurt that this pub was my local.
So, I thought of Cain and Abel. Though not blood, Frank and Edward were reported to be the closest of friends by many townspeople after the crime. Green, a horrible bookkeeper was deeply in debt with a baby on the way, his daughter, Alice, was born just ten days after the murder on Christmas day 1863 – so, it was an easy leap to think he was jealous of Frank the way Cain was jealous of Abel. I also thought of the Civil War raging where brother was killing brother.
The original First National Bank where the crime was committed was demolished before 1901, the current larger structure had housed a variety of other banking institutions until it recently was converted into Faces Brewery.
When I began this book, I wanted to visit the scene of the crime to get a sense of the place where it all occurred.
In 2012, it was a Bank of America. I was not a customer, had never been in the building before but my mind was full of my research and the portions of the novel I had started writing, I walked to the middle of the bank, did not approach any tellers or anyone else. Knowing the former footprint of the smaller original bank, I began to pace around like I was traveling back to 1863. It was as if I was all alone, just me and the story unfolding in my mind. Those around me vanished as I entered further and further into my imagination.
After a couple of minutes. Quite content with my visit and the sense and time of the crime, I wandered back out on the street, imagining how Green, the postmaster, had done so almost 150 years before. Trying to conjure what he was thinking after the crime, his emotions, what was going through his mind after killing his friend, regret, fear of being caught, relief of having a large amount of money, $5000, for the first time in his life.
I stood there contemplating all of these ideas and didn’t budge. I was disturbed from daydream by the fast approach of a burly security guard who must have thought I was a lunatic or was simply casing the joint. I walked away slowly and luckily, he went back into the bank. I never returned to that bank after that.
My novel, Abel Bodied: Murder at the Malden Bank, took 8 years to research, write and edit. At some points I was concerned I would never finish it. My fear was that like so many others, I would be a middle-aged man with a half-written manuscript buried deep in a desk drawer.
Forgotten about just like my first attempt at writing a novel in my twenties. Yet, I persevered because I was compelled to tell this story. To finish it. I couldn’t stop working on it. Even when I took a pause from writing, I couldn’t cease thinking about this historic event in my hometown which was unknown to most people.
I was shocked a book had never been released on the subject before. I wanted to finish as soon as possible in case some other author stumbled across the first bank robbery murder in our country’s history before I could publish my book.
Part 3 Finding the story arc:
The novel focuses on the grief of Frank’s parents and also on Edward Green’s wife, Clara, who had a difficult time being married to him.
But there are three people involved who are the main focus of this novel for me and this story. There is, of course, Frank, the victim, Edward, the killer, his motivations, the reasons he would do this to his friend and then you have someone I didn’t expect initially to be such a big part of my novel, William Shiloh.
William, a black man born in Delaware below the Mason/Dixon line, moved to Malden before the Civil War to ply his trade as a barber. At this time in our nation, there were some German immigrant barbers but African Americans made up a large portion of the profession.
A barbershop was a place for affluent white men who expected an ornate parlor and a certain standard of elegance in these parlors. To put it simply, they wished to be waited upon.
One of the greatest compliments I have received as a writer was from my proofreader who loved my line that Wiliam’s shop faced north and the south was behind him. He had moved north, away from the threat of slavery. Yet, though his and his family’s lives were safer, they remained fraught with peril while the war to determine the freedom of his people was fought hundreds of miles away.
In between haircuts and shaves as he awaited his next customer, William could see everything that occurred on Pleasant Street. I imagined him as a careful, tactful man who observed the townspeople with great detail without being truly seen by them himself.
So, he allowed me to have a character with a unique perspective. He was a witness and as a black man certainly saw things differently than his white peers. He was an outsider who had carved out a little place for himself in town as a barber.
I had trouble finding the perfect way to start the novel. There were at least three first chapters which I wasn’t happy with. I moved a chapter I liked a lot, originally in the middle of the book, where William sees Edward approaching his barber shop days after the murder which William suspects Edward had committed, to the beginning of the novel.
This allowed me to have one of the main focuses of the story hinge on William’s decision whether to come forward or not with what he knows while considering the consequences of both options.
I wrote his character as someone who desires justice for the Frank and the Converse family – but also a man who has to be cautious for the safety of his own family and their place in Malden. For a story to work, a character has to face a dilemma or challenge and so William became the engine to move the narrative.
Part 4: Conclusion:
I’ve looked at your itinerary the last couple of days and I think it is terrific! The reunion organizers did a great job of connecting you to every part of the Converse family in this area. What your family has imparted to this area, particularly to Malden. What Elisha meant to our city as its first mayor and what Frank’s passing meant to his parents and all they gave to the city including this beautiful building in Frank’s memory. The legacy they left of philanthropy is truly astounding.
I published my book last summer and the city has been very kind in supporting me. They gave me a prime spot on Pleasant Street feet from the scene of the crime during several summer festivals last year and more this year.
Last year, they also staged a pub crawl with actors portraying the real people involved in the crime at locations pertinent to the true story like the killer’s office and the location of the bank robbery and murder. This year, we have some staged another pub crawl and five more are planned. There are 80 tickets per event. The next one on July 9th is sold out like the previous one and the others are also selling quite well.
Click the image below for ticket information and availability
The crawl starts and ends at Idle Hands Craft Ales which is not too far from where the Boston Rubber Shoe Company once stood. At the end of the tour, I sign and sell copies of my book. I tell my wife all the time, the two things I enjoy doing the most are drinking beer and talking about my book and she is very happy that I have now found a place to do so outside our home! It did take 8 years to write the book.
When Mayor Gary Christenson read the book, he tweeted, “I started it on Saturday and finished it today. It was that good and the only thing that could top it is if the book was made into a movie or Netflix series!” And I said, “Keep talking, Gary!”
I am very grateful to his and the city’s support especially Business Development Officer Kevin Duffy.
I had so much research and detail of this book that a few years into writing it, it grew to about 900 pages. It was too long and too unwieldy to finish so I cut it in half and focused on the first part, rewriting and editing it before I hired a copy editor, a cover designer, an interior designer and proofreader.
I self-published because I wanted to retain creative control of my work. Oftentimes, a publisher can change the characters, the plot, the cover, anything they want. I didn’t want to cede my autonomy – but I did want to hire professionals to allow me to create the best book I was capable of writing.
The remaining manuscript will be part two of the story which ends with Mary passing in 1903 and Elisha in 1904. I hope to have it published in the next year or so. While still a work in progress, I would like to read a passage from it now.
Appropriately enough, it’s Elisha speaking to Mary. It is how I imagined they discussed building this library as a memorial to their slain son.
“Our lives are finite and the best intentions we leave in our wakes are also finite – but with some luck, they can span not just decades but centuries.
For this reason, we must try. We must give even after our last breaths, Mary. Frank loved books and reading. He always had a book in his hands. We will construct this library for our home of Malden and in our heart of hearts we build this for our son. We do this for Frank!”
A terrible act of violence shows the fragility of the human body and the temperament of the mind of a troubled man. Edward Green was a desperate opportunist; he robbed the bank and killed his friend.
In contrast, the parents of the victim were givers, not takers. Years of philanthropy by the Converses proves the enduring triumph of their spirit after such a tragedy.
When the anniversary of the bank robbery and Frank’s murder, December 15th, was approaching last year – I went to the mayor with an idea. I wanted to emulate the philanthropy of Elisha and Mary on the terrible anniversary of their son’s murder. Just as their lives were a beacon of charity and giving after the horrendous loss of Frank, I wanted the date of his murder to focus on the good works they had accomplished. I proposed we honor the legacy of your family to the city with a ‘Converse Day of Giving.’
I had only sold and signed trade paperbacks up to that point. I numbered my first signed hardcovers from 1-17 since that was the age to which Frank had lived. The first signed hardcover raised $90 in a drawing for Bread of Life – our local food bank.
I gave the majority of the profits of the next 16 signed hardcovers, as well for a total of over $400 to Bread of Life. I plan to continue this event on the anniversary this year and hopefully for many years to come. To give back to Malden as the Converse family always has.
I have lived in Malden all of my life. Three weeks from today, I will celebrate my 5oth birthday.
My writer’s journey began here when I was a child and it is truly a marvelous bookend for me to be speaking about my novel based on the tragic murder of Frank Converse in the building dedicated to him surrounded by members of the Converse family knowing Abel Bodied graces the shelves of this library.
It was a thrill when the first copy of my novel arrived in the mail. It was fun for me to visit the gallery@57 in Malden Square steps from the scene of the crime, some Barnes and Noble locations and other book stores and take a picture of my novel on the shelves surrounded by so many other books. I felt a pure sense of accomplishment and joy.
Yet, when I met Dora St. Martin here last year and donated copies to the library and she informed me the library had purchased even more, this was surely the greatest thrill of them all.
To have my novel about a significant event in my hometown on the shelves of this library is astounding. Something I never could have guessed would occur when I was a boy doing my homework here or reading a book someone else had written. I have written my own novel and it is on the shelves in this library. There is nothing I am prouder to say.
Elisha left an indelible mark on this city. I am humbled and hopeful to say, I may have left a minor mark myself in Malden with this novel as well.
Thank you ever so much for listening and all the Converse family has given and continues to give to the citizens of Malden!
It was a great honor to be invited by the Converse family to be a guest and speaker at their family reunion this past weekend in Malden, Massachusetts.
The family initially planned to gather in 2020 to mark the two-hundredth birthday of Elisha Converse, but had to reschedule until this year.
Elisha was the first mayor of Malden, the founder of the Boston Rubber Shoe Company and the president of The First National Bank. His son, Frank, a teller in the Malden Bank, was the first murder victim during a bank robbery in American history. On December 15, 1863, Edward Green, the town’s postmaster, shot him twice and stole $5ooo.
Last year, I released my novel, Abel Bodied: Murder at the Malden Bank, which is based on the crime.
The Malden Public Library was built by Elisha Converse and given as a gift to the city by he and his wife, Mary, to stand as a memorial to their slain son. The library opened to the public on October 1, 1885 which would have been Frank’s thirty-ninth birthday.
As a boy, I spent hours in this room surrounded by books and dreamed of one day writing and publishing a novel of my own. The young boy in these pictures below, with his clip-on tie, had to wait decades to finally fulfill his dream.
I worked on a novel through all of my twenties and just couldn’t finish it. I gave up. In my thirties, I put my ambition of being a writer on hold.
Abel Bodied took eight years to write and I didn’t start it until I was forty, yet the subject matter and the story was always right in front of me, waiting to be written. I just was unaware of it at the time.
For each time I entered The Converse Memorial Building since childhood, I would pass a portrait of young Frank, with the portraits of his loving, grief-stricken parents on either side of him.
Elisha and Mary’s images in these portraits reflect their long lives, but the image of Frank shows that he would remain forever seventeen.
Fast-forward to the present day, and I found myself standing in this very same library, on a very warm Saturday afternoon in late June, delivering an address about my novel to relatives of Frank, Mary and Elisha, including Rosie Converse Morgan, who is the great-granddaughter of Elisha and Mary.
My talk detailed the journey of a child with many books borrowed from the library’s shelves to an almost fifty-year-old man whose own novel based on a seminal moment in my city and their family’s history now exists among those same shelves.
My literary odyssey was truly coming full circle – not just being within the library where I daydreamed about being a novelist – but also speaking to the descendants and relatives of the people whom this horrific, historic crime affected so greatly. I am humbled and very grateful to the Converses for including me in their reunion! Thanks to them all and especially to Cici Spaulding for inviting me as a guest and a speaker.
‘Surreal’ is often overused but I can conjure no other word to describe the sensation of participating in these moments after decades of thinking about the 1863 crime and the long process of writing and finally releasing my novel detailing it in 2021.
Click the image of library below to continue and read my speech
The gallery below has images of the Malden Public Library, the reception for the Converse Family Reunion on Friday, June 24th, a dinner at Pine Banks Park Saturday and a memorial service on Sunday for Elisha and Mary Converse at the First Baptist Church where Elisha once acted as deacon.
Today will the first of several Murder at the Malden Bank pub crawls planned this summer in my hometown of Malden, Massachusetts. I am very grateful to the City of Malden for giving this first time novelist such a tremendous platform!
My novel, Abel Bodied: Murder at the Malden Bank is based on the December 15, 1863 crime where Frank Converse was the first murder victim during a bank robbery in American history. This occurred over two years before the James-Younger Gang, which may have included brothers Jesse and Frank on that day, robbed the Clay County Savings Association killing an innocent bystander as they left the town of Liberty, Missouri.
Actors from Incantrix Productions will be portraying the real people depicted in my novel while interacting with participants trying to solve the crime. I will be signing and selling my novel in the first and last stop of these pub crawls, Idle Hands Craft Ales. Tickets for these numerous pub crawls are selling fast and can be purchased for $10 at this link:
This video from the first pub crawl staged last year was shot and edited by Urban Media Arts. I have added some images related to the crime to this version.
For eight years, I toiled away on my book. An English literature major in college, my goal in life was to eventually become a novelist. It took a while but I never gave up my dream.
I kept the book-in-progress mostly to myself, afraid of the cliche of being middle-aged with a half-finished manuscript gaining dust in a desk drawer – like a treadmill in the corner of the laundry room used only to dry items of clothing.
Afraid of being asked the questions, “what is it about?” or “when is it going to be finished?” – I lived the life of a solitary writer with a story pleading to be finished.
One year ago today, June 8, 2021, after all the research, writing, re-writing and editing as well as all of the procrastination and self-doubt – my novel was ready to be revealed to the world.
The response at a Facebook announcement of “what I had written” and “what it was about” was wonderful. 158 likes, 124 comments of which half were surely my responses to thoughtful reactions. I thank all of you and everyone I have encountered who has said a nice word. Not every word has been kind, but that goes with putting out any creative endeavor. Thankfully, the good has drastically outweighed the bad by a very wide margin.
I am not one to dispense advice on finishing a personal project in a timely fashion. Things take the time they take. But I can say a few words about perseverance. Believe in yourself! We are all a combination of our greatest critic as well as our greatest ally.
If you have a passion for something, keep chipping away at it! I run a bit, eight half-marathons in the last several years – and perhaps a full one in the future. I can’t say I am a marathoner but I like to joke that I have run the equivalent of four marathons. Take your victories where you can find them.
I like the comparison of running and writing. Completing my novel was a journey, the finish line seeming quite distant, but with one more word – just like with one more step, I edged closer and closer to my goal!
You can too if something means so much to you that even if it is daunting at times – you simply can’t stop thinking about it.
Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a book called The Four Agreements. They are:
1) Be impeccable with your word
2) Don’t take things personally
3) Don’t make assumptions
4) Always try your best
I promised myself I would write a novel and I did. It wasn’t an easy task at times but the struggle added to the sense of accomplishment.
I don’t blame myself for taking so long to do so or get mad at the handful of others who have been unkind or simply don’t like my book. It helps quite a bit that so many have enjoyed the novel and the joy I feel of engaging with someone who loved the novel is tremendous, like no other feeling I could have ever imagined – sort of like a runner’s high – but even better!
I didn’t assume great success or that this self-published, self-funded novel would make me rich. Breaking even and building on that is all I wanted. The one thing I really desired was to finish what I sent out to do.
I hoped to have the follow-up novel out by now, but finances and circumstances have slowed the process. It is mostly done – but again things take the time they take. After publishing the first one, I have no doubt that the second one will be ready sometime in the near future. All I can do is try my best.