HOUGHTON - Murder. It's one of the few things that can both fascinate and repulse us. Perhaps that's why Sonny Longtine has taken murders that have happened in the Upper Peninsula and written them down in his new book: "Murder in Michigan's Upper Peninsula."
Longtine said he was inspired to write the book when he had read about a few unsolved murders that have happened in Marquette, which piqued his interest. He also believes that a fair amount of people like to read about murders.
"My thought was that there are some interesting murders that have happened in the Upper Peninsula that I could write about," Longtine said.
Longtine believes people take an interest in these stories mainly because they're true stories of life
"It's an unsavory side of life, but still true life," Longtine said. "It's not fiction and made up."
Longtine also took an interest in some of the older murders in the U.P. when forensic science was not available to catch the killer.
"In a lot of cases it was hard police work determining who the killer was," he said.
While doing some of the preliminary work for the book, Longtine discovered there was an average of about five murders in the U.P. per year and only about 50 percent were solved.
"I took that number, that five in the U.P and based on our population, had we been living in an area like Detroit or Flint, that murder count would be 250 per year. We live in a relatively safe area compared to the urban areas," Longtine said.
Through his research, Longtine would often come across newspapers that would like to make judgement calls on the accused person(s), but Longtine said he has tried to avoid doing that in his book.
"I make very little in terms of moral judgments on it," he said. "I really present what is there, what happened and what occurred," Longtine said.
As mentioned in the book, a lot of times people thought they could pick out a murderer based solely on a person's looks, but Longtine finds this to not be the case, citing Ted Bundy as a notorious serial killer who presented the classic boy next door look, despite his many murders.
"Murderers are anybody," Longtine said. "We think murderers should look very evil and sinister but the reality is not so."
Longtine said it took him about two years to write and would go to the library to research what he could about them. For other murders, he was able to conduct personal interviews with those involved, like family members or friends who knew either the victim or the killer. Longtine also spoke to police officers who worked on the case. "That is very interesting. When you start talking to the family members, I often would get a stone wall. They would not talk about these things to me. They wouldn't want me to bring it out and were even angry at me for printing this stuff," Longtine said. "In other cases I had, like in the Richardson case in Munising where a husband pushed his wife off a cliff several years ago, those parents were very welcoming and talked to me and sent me pictures."
If Longtine was unable to reach family members, he would then try to reach out to friends or neighbors in order to receive information on the victim or perpetrator.
In the Jodi Watts case that took place here in Houghton, Longtine spoke with the arresting officer and was able to speak with him about the case.
"It's always nice when you get somebody who had some association with the crime," he said.
So far Longtine said the reaction to his book from readers has been somewhat mixed. For his other books, he said people will pick it up and look it over to see if it will interest them. For this one, people would look at it and know right away whether or not they wanted to read it.
"People would look at it and say, 'God, true murder stories. Great. I want to read that.' or they would say, 'A murder book, I don't want to read that. Don't get that book near me.' There was more of an emotional response to the book on murder than my previous books. It's either love or hate.
So far, Longtine doesn't have any other books planned regarding true crime in the Upper Peninsula. He's currently working on a book about architecture in the U.P., which should be out this summer.
"That should be taking up my time for the next six months or so," he said.
"Murder in Michigan's Upper Peninsula" is available in bookstores and online now.