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University of Iowa News Release

April 14, 2005

Unsolved Iowa Ax Murder Subject Of April 22 WSUI Reading, Java House Show

An unsolved 1900 Iowa ax murder will be the sensational topic when University of Iowa alumni Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf read from their new book, "Midnight Assassin," at 8 p.m. Friday, April 22, on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910. Listen on the Internet at

The reading, hosted by Julie Englander, will be a free event in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

Also, the authors will appear on WSUI's April 22 edition of "Talk of Iowa Live from The Java House" at 10 a.m., with host Ben Kieffer. The show is free and open to the public at The Java House, 211 E. Washington St. in downtown Iowa City.

"Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America's Heartland" is the story of a grisly homicide that took place in Warren County, but it is also a portrait of early feminist Susan Glaspell, who covered the case as a young reporter and later used it as the basis for her acclaimed work "A Jury of Her Peers."

Margaret Hossack, the wife of a prominent Iowa farmer, was arrested for bludgeoning her husband to death with an ax while their children slept upstairs. The community was outraged: How could a woman commit such an act of violence?

Firsthand accounts describe the victim, John Hossack, as a cruel and unstable man. Perhaps Margaret Hossack was acting out of fear? Or perhaps the story she told was true -- that an intruder broke into the house, killed her husband and was still on the loose?

Newspapers across the country carried the story, and community sentiment was divided over her guilt. At trial, she was convicted of murder, but later was released on appeal. Ultimately, neither her innocence nor her guilt was ever proved.

A starred review in Publishers Weekly stated, "Historical whodunit devotees who have devoured all the literature on famous real-life mysteries will delight in this stirring and evocative account of an obscure turn-of-the-century Iowa murder. Law professor Bryan and her husband, Wolf, a writing consultant, vividly bring to life the baffling events of the night of December 1, 1900, when a well-to-do farmer named John Hossack was fatally attacked with an ax while sleeping in his bed. . . .

"(T)hey vividly portray the era's attitudes toward women (indicated by a tolerance of domestic abuse) while crafting a tale that reads like a good novel, complete with clues -- like a dog that failed to bark -- that feel straight from Perry Mason. The tale is given heightened immediacy by the authors' description of how alive the case still is in the minds of local townspeople even a century later -- Bryan and Wolf were even warned they might be in danger if they got too close to the truth."

Bryan, a professor of law at the University of North Carolina, is the author of "Stories in Fiction and in Fact: Susan Glaspell's 'A Jury of Her Peers' and the 1901 Murder Trial of Margaret Hossack," which was published in the Stanford Law Review in 1997.

Wolf received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and now works as a writing consultant for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The Java House program can also be heard on WOI AM 640 from Ames/Des Moines, KTPR FM  91.1 from Fort Dodge, KOWI FM 97.9 from Lamoni and KWOI FM 90.7 from Carroll. The broadcast can also be heard in streaming audio at by clicking on "Listen to WSUI"; it is rebroadcast on WSUI at 10 p.m. Fridays. The Prairie Lights program can be heard on WSUI and WOI.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,