TRAVERSE CITY — It took three decades, but a former Kalkaska prosecutor and a Leelanau County co-author have finally published a novel inspired by one of northern Michigan’s most sensational murder trials of the last half century – that of English-born battered wife Jeanette Smith.
“Possessed,” co-written by Philip Crowley and Kenneth Wylie, hit local bookstores Aug. 27.
Well-written and fast-paced, the 279-page novel provides insight into the Smith case for anyone who remembers it or wants an inside look at the ugly social forces that keep battered women in violent relationships with men who physically, sexually and psychologically abuse them.
The groundbreaking 1979 trial helped toughen state domestic violence laws and enforcement.
Surprisingly, though, the only specific mention of Jeanette Smith’s four-week murder trial and acquittal occurs on the back cover.
That's because “Possessed,” chronicles a fictional domestic murder set in Ionia and a Kalkaska courtroom. The front cover calls the story "a novel inspired by true events."
In other words, many horrific events in the Smith case occurred to Iris Harris, the fictional battered wife in “Possessed.”
Fictional husband Rodney - handsome, hard-drinking, womanizing Ionia real estate salesman, could be charming, fun-loving and well-liked. But he also was a monster Jekyll-Hyde with an cruel need to possess and control his wife with increasing violence, harsh criticism and terrifying imprisonment in her own home — very much like Jeanette Smith’s husband.
Crowley, now a Florida attorney, said he chose the fiction route because it gave him more freedom to write and create strong characters similar to Jeannette Smith’s real-life attorneys Janet Prater and Traverse City’s Dean Robb, who were merged into Iris’ defense attorney, Robin Blaine, a smart, experienced and successful attorney with years of courtroom experience.
Blaine, like Robb and Prater, argued that Iris killed her husband out of self-defense because she believed that he would kill her.