Whether you’re a fan of true crime and regional history or you’re just looking for a new Halloween read, East Tennessee author Dewaine Speaks has written just the book for you.
Called “Murder & Mayhem in East Tennessee,” the book explores the dark side of East Tennessee’s gorgeous countryside, recounting both famous events and others that are not as well-known.
What’s your background?
Speaks, who lives just outside of Knoxville, spent his career marketing industry controls in the U.S. and abroad. Once he retired in 2002, he began to explore writing as a hobby.
“I’ve always been interested in history, and realizing that East Tennessee … in a fairly small geographical area, there’s a lot of historical things that have happened right around here,” Speaks said. “So I guess putting those two things together kind of led me into it.”
What other books have you written?
Speaks wrote two other books before “Murder & Mayhem.” The first, called “East Tennessee in World War II,” explores how industries in the region, including Eastman, contributed to the war effort.
His second book, “Historic Disasters of East Tennessee,” outlines various tragedies that have occurred in the area, including the Eastman explosion in 1960 and the fire in the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016.
What’s your new book about?
Speaks wrote “Murder & Mayhem in East Tennessee” after an editor at his publishing company, The History Press, suggested the idea. Speaks spent about a year, off and on, doing the research and writing the book.
“I would never have thought of that one on my own, but he said people are really interested in that stuff,” Speaks said. “He was my inspiration, honestly, to do that one.”
Speaks said he chose stories for the book that either had interesting subplots or historic value. Among others, the book tells the stories of James Earl Ray, who had assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. and then created mayhem at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary when he led six other men in a short-lived escape; Jake and C.H. Butcher’s elaborate banking scandal; and even the Trail of Tears, which had an impact in East Tennessee.
“My biggest reward, I guess you call it, is when people come up at my little book presentations … (and say), ‘Mr. Speaks, I didn’t know that. There’s stuff in that book that I didn’t know,’ ” Speaks said. “I’m like a proud papa. That’s the biggest reason, I guess you could say, that I do it.”
The book was published Oct. 5 and is available for purchase on Amazon, as are his other two books.
While Speaks said he doesn’t have any other books on the drawing board right now, he wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to write something new in the future.
“It’s really been interesting,” Speaks said, “and it’s been a perfect retiree’s job to work on.”