By Anna McNeill
Growing up in Mount Pleasant, young Robert Knapp heard tales of his father’s adventures growing up in the city of Clare. He remembers fondly, of his brother and his visits to his grandparent’s home on E. Sixth Street in Clare.
These connections to Clare and the stories his father shared with him brought Knapp to buy his great-grandfather’s1888 log cabin in 1995 and has been working to restore it ever since.
As he traveled back to Clare to work on his great grandfather’s cabin restoration project, he was able to meet many people in Clare. These encounters solidified his interest in the town.
Having heard the story of the murder of the century from his father, who had reflected on the very day Isaiah Leebove was shot dead at the Doherty Hotel back in 1938. Knapp didn’t think much of the murder of the wealthy, gambling man again until a return visit in 1998. During some down time in Clare, waiting for his car to be repaired by a local Clare mechanic, Knapp bough a box of old newspaper clippings from the time of Leebove’s murder, at an estate sale which he had happened to stumble upon. Knapp was reminded of those stories his father and grandfather had told of gangsters in Clare and his eight year research of the incident began a few years later, in 2003.
Knapp has written many books about ancient history, many about the ancient cities of Roman Spain, but he also embarked on a few Clare based books, Clare 1865-1940 was the first of his books about Clare, published in 2012. This book recounted, “the story of a small Michigan town as it emerged from the white pine wilderness to become an oil capital of Michigan.” Now, his second Clare inspired book, Mystery Man, Gangsters, Oil, and Murder in Michigan, is hot off the presses.
Knapp said that the researching and digging wasn’t the oddest part of doing his newest book, he was use to looking into old records, what was new for him, was finding living people to talk to.
Trolling the internet for newspaper clippings was one of the main parts of Knapp’s research.
“The internet has really revolutionized researching.” Knapp said. “Without it I would never have had access to the Tulsa papers. You can find details that never would have been found for months, years or ever with having access to the newspapers online.”
Once he had reached the limit of helpful documents from online, Knapp started looking into those still living who could help give some background on the men involved in the murder at the Doherty. This was a challenge for Knapp, because many of the people from the area who were alive during the event had died relatively recently.
“I began to despair,” Knapp said. “Writing ancient history is different; there is no one alive to tell me anything.”
After much searching, Knapp finally found a living relative of Leebove who remembered a bit. Then, Knapp found the nephew of the another key character in the murder, Carl “Jack” Livingston, who didn’t have much information from personal experience, but whose father had told many stories about Jack.
“It was a very long process,” Knapp said with a sigh.
As few people surfaced, Knapp was able to find the perfect source in Forrest Meek, who had been able to talk with people involved in the murder back in the 70s. He did a great job of taking notes and transcribing his interviews which Knapp said, gave great insight into this murder.
Knapp’s book is finished and is up for sale on Amazon. He has been working hard with Pere Marquette District Library’s Director, Sheila Bissonnette to set up two books signings, and to find local stores and merchants to sell his book locally.
Knapp will be at the Pere Marquette Library in Clare, Friday, April 25 at 7 p.m. and at the Harrison District Library in Harrison, Saturday, April 26 at 3 p.m.
At these two events, Knapp will be giving a public lecture about his book and will then be doing a book signing. Books will be available at the library and a few local stores, such as the Colonville Store, for $15 or there are available on Amazon for $17.
With the book release, lecture and signing, Knapp hopes that he will have more people of Clare come forward with stories and more information about the murder of Leebove at the Doherty Hotel all those years ago.
“I feel as if I’m paying a debt by writing this book,” Knapp said. “I’m paying back my father and Forrest Meek, for his kindness in sharing his research, and giving back to Clare.”