A Q&A with Dean Jobb, author of Empire of Deception

Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation (Algonquin Books / HarperCollins Canada). By Dean Jobb. Now available as Hard cover, paperback, and e-editions.

 

I love historical true crime and creative nonfiction, so I was excited when I found out about this latest book by Dean Jobb, an author, journalist and instructor in the MFA program at the University of King’s College in Halifax, NS.  It’s still in my to-read pile by the side of my bed because of my research-heavy project on the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital, but Dean and I had the chance to chat about this book and his work-in-progress (which makes me think of Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City!). ~ DMC

EmpireDeception-pbk-high-res1. Tell us a bit about your book.

Empire of Deception is the untold story of Leo Koretz, a master of the Ponzi scheme and one of the most brazen and successful con men in history. He was the Bernie Madoff of the 1920s and ran an elaborate swindle in Chicago that raked in as much as $400 million, in today’s terms. He claimed to control vast oilfields in Panama and was so successful that some investors begged him to take their money. Not even the exposure of Charles Ponzi’s infamous scam in 1920, which gave the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul investment fraud its name, aroused their suspicions. Koretz’s grateful investors nicknamed their financial guru “Our Ponzi,” never suspecting – until the fraud was exposed in 1923 – that the joke was on them.

It’s a story grounded in an era of wealth and glamour and a timeless tale of greed and gullibility. And Koretz’s story is inseparable from the crime and corruption of 1920s Chicago. Robert Crowe, the state’s attorney who brought Koretz to justice, was a controversial figure with underworld ties and, by coincidence, he and Koretz knew each other – they had worked together as young lawyers. Crowe’s lust for political power became a parallel story in the book, playing out as Koretz established and operated his massive fraud.

 

2. How did you come up with the idea for this work?

Leo-Koretz

Leo Koretz

When Koretz’s scheme collapsed, he fled to Nova Scotia, the Canadian province where I live. He took the name Lou Keyte, posed as a wealthy literary critic and lived like a king on his ill-gotten gains. While researching another subject in the provincial archives, I stumbled on a reference to his arrest in 1924 in Halifax, the Nova Scotia capital. I had never heard of Koretz, and soon learned that little had been written about him. I knew it was a great story and I was determined to find out everything I could about this charming, flamboyant character.

  1. How did you research your book?

My research turned up a wealth of material on Koretz and his scam in court files and archives in the United States and Canada. I also discovered the first-hand accounts of some of his associates and victims. The most valuable sources, however, were newspaper accounts of the fraud and the year-long manhunt for the fugitive swindler. Chicago boasted six daily newspapers in the 1920s, and their extensive coverage provided the detail I needed to recreate the story of Koretz’s scam and his times.

  1. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

This is the stranger-than-fiction story of a larger-than-life character, which made this book a joy to research and write. The challenge was to do justice to the material. Narrative nonfiction should bring people and events to life, transporting the reader to another time and place. The celebrated American author David McCullough, a master of narrative history, encourages writers to “marinate” their heads in a time and a culture so they can produce engaging, vivid accounts of lost worlds. He’s right. I thoroughly researched every aspect of the story and read as many books, memoirs and historical records as possible that touched on the subject and the era.

  1. What was the most exciting/surprising thing you learned?

My most amazing discovery was that Koretz acted alone. He didn’t have a company or a sales force to attract investors, like Charles Ponzi did. He operated in secret and didn’t have a high profile in the investment world, like Bernie Madoff did. Koretz created a make-believe world of phantom oil fields and fake profits, and fooled everybody he dealt with, even his closest friends and family, for the better part of 20 years. And he did it all single-handedly. It was a remarkable accomplishment.

  1. What are you working on now?

I’m researching a new true-crime book for Algonquin Books and HarperCollins Canada, the publishers of Empire of Deception, with the working title The Case of the Murderous Doctor Cream. It chronicles the crimes of Thomas Neill Cream, a Canadian doctor who was one of the world’s first serial killers. He murdered at least nine people in Ontario, the United States and Britain in a rampage that eclipsed the notorious crimes of his Victorian-era contemporary, Jack the Ripper. The press dubbed Cream “The Lambeth Poisoner,” after the London neighborhood where he poisoned four of his victims. This dark tale of murder and madness will be told in tandem with Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation of Sherlock Holmes, the iconic sleuth who transformed crime fiction. As Doyle’s creation solved crimes on the page, police forces on two continents struggled to link a string of seemingly random killings to a single, mysterious suspect.

DEAN-JOBB

Book Review: Separate Beds

Separate Beds is an excellent academic treatment of the system of Indian Hospitals set up in Canada. Dr. Lux says from the outset that she is focusing on understanding the government bureaucracy through the documentary record, but still balances this well with some oral histories from Indigenous Elders, leaders and former patients of the hospitals. In particular, I found her exploration of the Blackfoot and Blood hospitals in southern Alberta really showed the hypocrisy and paradoxes inherent in government policy at the time – as well as the medical pluralism (traditional and biomedical) that occurred in these institutions. The Hobbema (Mascwacis) and Battleford examples in particular demonstrated how Indigenous communities fought for access to health care – a treaty right – on their own terms, especially in the face of discrimination in community hospitals. Finally, Lux shows convincingly that government and medical bureaucrats were often motivated by prejudice, avarice, and their own self interest, even as they cloaked their work in humanitarianism.
Separate Beds is an essential companion book to James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains and Ian Mosby’s work on nutritional experiments on reserves and in residential schools. It shows so many of the root causes of health disparities between Indigenous communities and the rest of Canada, and how Canadians have benefited not just from the signing of the treaties, but through the medical cost savings the government squeezed out of Indigenous peoples. While Canadians are incredibly proud of our Medicare system and count it as a defining feature of our identity, it was in large part funded by the creation of a parallel system that penalized and underserved Indigenous individuals and communities.

Houston Talk: “Writing Stories of Humiliation and Hope”

If you live in and around Houston, I invite you to come to this free talk through The Final Twist Writers Society on Saturday, January 7, 2017!

“Writing Stories of Humiliation and Hope”

January 3, 2017 is Humiliation Day and is observed worldwide on the same day each year. Humiliation Day is thought to be originated from a reaction by the Chinese immigrants to the Chinese Exclusion Act in Canada in 1923. Humiliation can be at any level — individual, a class of people, a race, a nation, etc. And its best remedy is reconciliation.

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, the editor of In This Together— Fifteen Stories of Truth & Reconciliation (Brindle &Glass), will talk about her professional experience. In this engaging presentation, she will discuss her interest in social justice and how things like Humiliation Day have prodded her to look deeper into Canada’s history through picture books, novels, nonfiction publications, radio, and short films.

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail specializes in telling hidden stories. A historian by training, she is the author of For the Love of Flying (Robin Brass Studio), Polar Winds (Dundurn), and the forthcoming Alis the Aviator (Tundra Books).

She is the former Writer in Residence at Berton House in the Yukon, and the Historian Laureate of Edmonton (Canada). When Danielle is not spending quality time with her four-year-old son and traveling, she is working on a WW2-era novel, Sky Girl, and a creative nonfiction project based on her popular http://www.ghostofcamsell.ca serial blog

 

They meet at the Spring Branch Memorial Library in the room off the front entryway, to the right of the restrooms.

10:00 – 10:30 am (Networking)
10:30 – 11:00 am (Chapter Business)
11:00 am to 12:00 pm (Guest Speaker or Round Table)

Community Blooms through Love Thy Neighbor Initiative

15259498_10153861126245194_3213217001454732711_oLigi Varghese and her 3 year-old daughter clutched bunches of roses in front of the Maryam Islamic Center outside Houston, Texas before Friday prayers on December 2. They, along with a dozen or so community members of various faiths and backgrounds passed out more than 400 flowers to worshippers as they arrived at the mosque.

The attendees alternatively smiled or looked surprised as individuals of the grassroots Love Thy Neighbor initiative handed out single stems along with messages of love and support. Several people held up handwritten signs with statements such as “Houston Loves You.”

15235646_10153861233845194_1190003634274050853_oVarghese, who identifies as an Indian-American Christian, felt spurred to act after she saw a rise in Islamophobia and hate crimes in the media. She reached out to her friend Naheeda Spencer who attends the Maryam Islamic Center in Sugar Land with her family, to see if it would be possible to come out in a show of solidarity with the Fort Bend Muslim community. Imam Taquer Shah welcomed the idea.

Every Friday, hundreds of Muslims in the community – with very diverse backgrounds – come for prayers, and Varghese wanted to give a flower to each person as a symbol of unity. She was supported in this effort by private donors as well as Trader Joe’s, who supplied the long stem roses.

After being invited inside the beautiful mosque for prayers, volunteers and faithful alike listened to Varghese read a statement she had prepared. “We are all so much more similar than we are different,” she said. “We have to start getting to know each other.” This initiative was meant to do that – create awareness in the non-Muslim community, build trust, and forge relationships.

15235784_10153861233990194_3439498266227919922_oThe Maryam Islamic Center, for its part, has been doing community outreach since it was built in 2009, and even before then when it operated out of a trailer further up Sartartia Road. It offers public events such as a carnival annually, coordinates interfaith activities with area churches, and often does fundraising or volunteering for area nonprofits such as the Houston Food Bank.

Deputy John McCoy, one of several Fort Bend County Constables who direct traffic each week as well as during special events has seen this first-hand. “The mosque offers so much and these folks are really part of the community,” he said.

15288677_10153861233835194_3764588772864256438_oEven so, several attendees shared stories of how their children and teenagers have been targeted in school for being Muslim. This is something that troubles Varghese, a mother of a new baby and a preschooler, in particular. “Children aren’t born with hatred. Someone taught them to hate, and never taught them what it was to love.”

This initiative, along with increased connections between mosques and schools, Boy Scout troops, and other organizations are helping to break down these barriers and foster understanding. Varghese hopes small gestures like a flower will show a commitment from other Americans to stand by Muslims in the face of bigotry.

As volunteers cleaned up rose petals outside and carried the food the Maryam Islamic Center gave them, a man in his thirties stopped to shake hands. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “This is what America is all about.”

 

15326183_10153861125575194_1262858046815072967_o

 

One young reader’s thoughts on In This Together

I read In This Together, and wow. There were stories in there that I connected with emotionally, stories in there where I could relate to what the author was saying, and stories that made me question myself. All the stories made me think. Thank you for this book. I honestly believe that it needs to be read by all High School and University students.

Also, thank you for including the contact information for the contributors to the book. I’m in the process of contacting them just to thank them, and for a few, to ask questions. ~Salman Ahmed, college student in Edmonton, Alberta

p1040234

Liz Muir launches new books about Canadian aviation for kids this month!

sept-23-small

The Charles Camsell Indian Hospital: From Haunting to Understanding

I was walking around my new neighbourhood here in Houston, Texas, and all the pumpkins, witches and ghosts decorating homes got me thinking about the Charles Camsell Hospital and how far we’ve come.

In 2014, when I first started researching the Camsell in earnest, most news stories and internet hits talked about its status as a haunted building. There were “Top 10 Edmonton Haunted Sites” lists and shivery stories about breaking in after dark. But, as I’ve been learning, urban legends keep knowledge shallow. They keep us from looking into the complex nature of places and experiences, and the roles we play in them.

To read the full post on my Ghosts of Camsell site, please go to http://wp.me/p5S7BR-5n

10653808_449434961900291_906808341870623762_n

A Celebration and Transformation

p1040234When I decided to throw a party to launch my new book in the US, I wondered the best way to do it. While traditional book launches are lovely, this book has been all about creating community, having tricky discussions, and seeing each other through new eyes. I wanted my young son to be able to enjoy the party. I wanted my new friends here in the Houston area to gather, bring their families, and meet each other.

p1040255So I threw a ‘book birthday party’ that Namita Asthana at Off the Vine Bistro generously offered to host. About thirty of us got together to drink her delicious pumpkin-spice punch, eat her home-made French macarons, and chat while the kids drew on poster board with crayons and glitter paint what it looks like to work together and to listen. My new friend, Catherine, of Sienna Plantation Face Painting, brought her kit and her creativity to show us how we can all make small steps to transform ourselves.

 p1040239

The kids are already ahead of us on this. The ones who came were mostly in the four to six year old range, and have pretty good ideas about what’s fair and what’s not in the world. But they’re still elastic enough in their thinking to adopt new ways of doing things if the old ones aren’t working. They’re able to ask tough questions because they really want to know – they’re just so curious. They don’t realize adults might find the questions awkward or embarrassing (albeit necessary). They know they can expand their experiences by pretending to be a rainbow leopard or Spiderman, or anyone or anything else.

Wouldn’t it be great if we adults were that playful and open? Willing to walk in the shoes of someone else?

p1040269That’s the heart of this book. To see through someone else’s eyes, walk in their shoes, and imagine what life might be like if you were born in a different time, place and body.

 

p1040246Thanks to everyone who came from the Houston Writer’s Guild and the local chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And thanks to my amazing husband and son who have supported me in this work and celebrated along side of me.

If you live in the Houston area and would like to buy a copy of the book, please contact Brazos Bookstore or your local Barnes & Noble. Hopefully they’ll have some in stock soon, or can easily order them in. And, of course, you can get them through your favourite online retailer. You can also request that your local library bring in a copy. All you’ll need is the basic book information found by clicking here.

p1040268And if you belong to a book club, church group, school or conversation circle and you’d like to buy copies for your members and have me come and speak, please get in touch through this website. I’ll help you figure out how we can make that happen!

 

 

p1040242

 

p1040266

p1040238p1040241

ROSELLA BJORNSON: CELEBRATING WOMEN OF AVIATION

Rosella Bjornson is Canada’s first woman commercial airline jet aircraft pilot and Canada’s first woman airline captain.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2016
1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Alberta Aviation Museum, 11410 Kingsway Avenue, Edmonton

Rosella Bjornson makes history by becoming Canada’s first woman airline jet aircraft pilot – April 1973.
The Alberta Labour History Institute (ALHI), the Alberta Aviation Museum, and Elevate Aviation (an organization to promote women in aviation) invite you to come to learn about and celebrate the historic achievements of Capt. Rosella Bjornson and her contributions to the advancement of women in aviation. Capt. Bjornson is Canada’s first woman commercial airline jet aircraft pilot and first woman airline captain. She is also the first woman member of the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association (CALPA). She was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. Originally from southern Alberta, she now lives in the Edmonton area.
At the November 5 celebration, the Alberta Labour History Institute will be presenting excerpts from its new videos featuring Capt. Bjornson and her historic achievements and contributions.
Admission to the event is free. Please let us know by e-mail if you are planning to attend. The ALHI e-mail is office@albertalabourhistory.org.
ALHI’s project Moving Forward: Alberta Women and Work is generously supported by the Edmonton Heritage Council and the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

1297590287170_original

Time To Celebrate – and Work – Together Stateside!

12322475_895983110470947_683162362249974662_oI am beyond thrilled with how much In This Together has connected with readers, teachers, reconciliation advocates, and politicians in Canada. Since it launched in April, it has become a regional as well as National Post bestseller and has gone to a second printing. And every week I hear from someone by email, on Twitter, on Facebook and beyond about how one – or more – of the stories really spoke to their experiences or blew their mind (in a good way).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is obviously a Canadian entity. The journey and relationships this book speaks to are largely Canadian, as are the voices. But at least one of the authors talks about her European heritage, her work in New Zealand, and minority Indigenous language issues. Another author lives and works in New York City. Yet another speaks about his cross-border travels to Indigenous gatherings and protests, showing how the Medicine Line (49th parallel) is really just a geo-political construct.

So I am ready to launch In This Together in the US, where I now live, and I hope it connects with people here too. Not just around our often shared histories of colonization, residential schools, good intentions, and broken treaty promises. But around our struggles today to deal with systemic racism and discrimination. Because that’s what is at the heart of this collection, these fifteen personal stories and ‘aha moments’. And here in the US, where we’re faced almost daily with an innocent black man being killed by police, or by police (of many different ethnicities) being targeted in retribution, we need these kinds of stories. We need to look deep into our histories, systems, and own hearts to see how we can move forward with empathy and understanding. How we really are all in this together.

If you’re in the Houston area, I hope you’ll come out to our book birthday party on Saturday, October 15 from 3-5pm at Off the Vine Bistro (2685 Dulles Avenue in Missouri City) to have some punch, snacks (including Indigenous-East Indian fusion bannock), and fun with other folks. We are also lucky to have artist Catherine Gauche Visagie doing exquisite face painting for all ages with the theme of “seeing with new eyes”. Please RSVP directly with me through this site or through my Facebook event page.

If you’re an author, academic or activist elsewhere and you’d like to set up a panel discussion, please get in touch through the contact page. If you’re a book club, church group, nonprofit or school, please ask me how you can get books in bulk at a discount – I would love to come and chat with your group either in person or via Skype!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.