Coal Country Killing: A Culture, a Union, and the Murders That Changed It All

Post Hill. Jun. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9781637588482. $30. CRIME
On December 31, 1969, Paul Gilly, Claude Vealey and “Buddy” Martin murdered Jock Yablonski, his wife, and their daughter. The crime was ordered by Tony Boyle, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) president, who had just defeated Yablonski in a contested election. But Yablonski filed a lawsuit challenging the election due to allegations of fraud, tampering, intimidation, and ballot box stuffing. Boyle figured that the lawsuits would be dismissed if Yablonski were dead, and he thought the crime could not be traced back to him. The murder made national news, and homicide prosecutor Richard Sprague was appointed to lead the case. Authors Tanenbaum (Without Fear or Favor) and award-winning journalist Jackson (No Stone Unturned) relate how Sprague, a lifelong friend of Sprague’s, connected the dots that eventually led to Boyle’s conviction. The court overturned the election, and Boyle lost in the next election before he was found guilty of conspiring with others to cause the murders. This story integrates history with descriptions of how the plot was hatched and executed.
VERDICT With research and trial transcripts, the authors masterfully narrate this true account that reads like a novel that cannot be put down. A must for all libraries.
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