Joe Sharkey – Author of Above Suspicion and more!
Today we are joined by author Joe Sharkey, author of such great books as Above Suspicion, Death Sentence, Deadly Greed, Lady Gold and More!
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Interview scheduled by Jeffery Haas
Theme music by Ardus and Damn The Cow
Announcer: Nathaniel Perry
Joe Sharkey – Interview
Jeff: Hello listeners. A spoiler country today on the show. We have the amazing Mr. Joe Sharkey. How’s it going? Pretty good. How are you doing? Oh,
Joe Sharkey: it’s a great pleasure to talk with you. Same here.
Jeff: So the question I usually do ask all my guests is like an initially Arden story. So do you recall when and you wanted to be a writer, do you recall when that moment can pop into your
Joe Sharkey: mind?
When I want it to be a writer? I’ll try to keep this story short. I was, I was drafted into the Navy actually in 1966 and they sent me to a Pensacola, Florida where my initial job after bootcamp was aviation Boseman’s made, which is the guys that handle the chain on aircraft carriers on a training carrier.
I got there and I thought, whoa, I don’t want to do this. I said, I said to the chief. You got anything else that I, cause I sure don’t want to get hurt here. I want to keep of my arms. And the chief said, why are you a [00:01:00] sissy? And I said, yes, sir. I am. He said, well, they got an opening on the base newspaper. So that was, that’s how I, that’s how I started out sort of accidentally get off the USS enterprise.
Jeff: there’s something to be said for honesty.
Joe Sharkey: Huh. Yeah. I bet it worked out
Jeff: now when you say volunteer you’re are you talking about, you’re talking about the Vietnam war, correct? Yes.
Joe Sharkey: That’s correct. Yep.
Jeff: How, how close were you to the action during
Joe Sharkey: it? I went to Vietnam in, after two years in Pensacola.
I went to Vietnam in 1968, which was the hot year in Vietnam. And I got there right after the Tet offensive. Well, just as the Tet offensive was winding down. So I sort of got there at, at the the most interesting if you will time in Saigon, but I traveled. I, I was then a Navy journalist, so to speak and I traveled throughout the country and out to the fleet pretty much at will.
So that’s, that’s basically how I, how I got [00:02:00] started in the business and how I, I spent my year in Vietnam. Oh, wow.
Jeff: So that’s, so when you pursued journalism after, when, when you returned back from Vietnam or as you said, you kind of, were you officially a journalist Appium, or did you go to the United States and that’s what you kind of became your first journalism position?
Joe Sharkey: I, I lived in Philadelphia at the time and this is, this can not be done today. So let me let sure that your listeners understand it’s impossible to do what this, what I did as dumb as I was I got to Philadelphia back to Philadelphia right after the after Vietnam. And it so happened that the biggest newspaper in town, the Philadelphia Inquirer was on a hiring spree.
They were under new ownership. So I got, luckily I got hired right away. I had some clips from Vietnam, so, you know, some newspaper articles and they put me on right away. And I I thought, I sorta thought it was through my own [00:03:00] brilliant abilities, but it was just, I was in the right place at the right time.
Do not try this today because you can’t do it anywhere. And it don’t like make a, never do it. But you know, cut right in at the Philadelphia Inquirer. And pretty soon they made me a columnist and I thought, oh, why are these people crazy? You know, but that was
Jeff: so were you just like instinctually knowledgeable on how to write a column?
I mean, how did you figure out how to even do that?
Joe Sharkey: I read a lot. I was very fond of Jimmy Breslin, one columnist, there was a columnist on the Inquirer. He stepped down named Joe McGinnis, and I just loved that kind of newspaper writing. And I CA I was just sort of a natural at it. And I’m you know, I’m a bit of a showboat, so that’s the perfect, the perfect deal is to be columnists, you know, when you’re 23 years old, you know, hot shot.
Jeff: So is it hard when you’re writing as a journalist to distance yourself from the story that you’re writing?
Joe Sharkey: No. I just, [00:04:00] it’s in my nature to to plunge into these, these things. So, you know, as a consequence I had this amazing you know, for a dumb kid from Philadelphia, I had these amazing series of adventures that continued even to this day through journalism, through newspaper journalism.
I’m out of it now. I’m you know, I’m fully full-time writer not connected with newspapers anymore, but man, I had, I had an adventure and I thought that’s a really good way to you know, I thought when I was younger, I thought I’ll never have any adventures. And it turned out I had, I had amazing adventure, so it was enormous fun, you know, and I was pretty, I was fairly good at it.
I wasn’t, you know, the world’s greatest was, but I was okay. I wrote well. And every so often I’d find myself in these amazing places. You know, I in 1978, for example, the Pope died and I was, I was not religious or anything, but I had, I had indicated that I was interested in, you know, the Pope and he [00:05:00] croaks in August.
And they the city editor sends me to Rome. Where I, you know, I covered the dead, the death of a Pope and the funeral and a new Pope comes in and in a month he dies, dies in a month and I’m back in Rome, then a new one. So there were three books. And I thought, man, this is really interesting. I don’t know.
I really enjoyed Rome. And you know, it was, that’s the kind of adventure, the kind of chief investors you have as a, as a journalist who writes fairly well. If you write well, you can back then. I don’t know how it is now. You can, you can sort of write your own ticket. And I, I was lucky enough to be able to do that emphasis on the lucky.
Jeff: I mean, it must have been good. I mean, you were a journalist at the New York times I read for 19 years. Is that
Joe Sharkey: correct? Yep. That’s right. For
Jeff: his writing as a journalist, how much different is running as a journalist, different from writing as a non-fiction writer or the skills pretty much similar. Can, can you, do they [00:06:00] transfer well or are they significantly
Joe Sharkey: different?
Well, as, as a newspaper journalist, you’re always under a a constraint with space. You know, a thousand words is a lot of words. I wrote a column for the times, and that was 800 words. That’s not very many words. And when I, I started writing books, I realized, oh, I have like 80 or 80 or 90,000 words that I, that I could write.
It was not a problem. You know, I was, I kept thinking I got to cut this short, but then I realized, no, it’s a book. And I had an editor who said, oh, let it run, let it run, let it run. I thought, wow, this is cool. So, it’s the same techniques. You know, you’ve gotta be interested in people. You gotta be interested.
I was always interested in the, the seat. In the context of, of a story. And I was lucky enough to be able to write those kinds of stories. And when I did I first wrote books my first book was true crime and I didn’t want to write, you know, like a basic true crime. Here’s the, here’s the gory details.
I wanted to step back and set the case in the, [00:07:00] the, the, the timeframe and in the, the context of of of what happened to, you know, to various people. And it turns out you could you know, journalism prepared me for that, that sort of thing. I did then write a novel. And interestingly enough, Jeff I wrote a novel.
Yeah. I had a problem writing it because I kept thinking you’re going to get in trouble for making this stuff up. It was an issue with me. No, it’s okay. You can make it up so that the novel is just full of lies there
Jeff: to confess. That’s an interesting way to headline your novel full of lies.
Joe Sharkey: Nothing is true.
Jeff: The thing with writing nonfiction, because I dabbled from time to time in fiction writing. I never, I never tried writing nonfiction. And I wonder with non fiction, do you feel like sometimes you can get, like, do you get lost in the details or do [00:08:00] you know when to add and subtract from that part of the story?
Joe Sharkey: I was lucky I did. You know, I think it was a basic newspaper journalism that prepared me for that. Nonfiction is hard because it has to be true, you know? And it isn’t just a matter of writing it. You’ve got to, you’ve got to beat the hustings. You’ve got to get people to talk to you. You have to dig into the the situation in some depth.
But I, I didn’t find it difficult to spin out a book. It was not, not an issue. The, I wrote, I write fast. You know, until lately I’m writing a book now that’s taken me four years to write, well, there you go. So my wife says,
Jeff: I mean, somebody George R. Martin, who’s been running his blood for like what, 20 years.
Joe Sharkey: Right, exactly. And maybe that,
Jeff: so one thing with nonfiction that it, once again, that always, I find interesting as well, is that. I always wonder because when green non-fishing you feel like maybe the event [00:09:00] itself it’s the story, but in many ways, it’s the heat, the humanity involved in the story. That’s actually the real story.
How equals again? How easy is it to write a rap? That’s what I’m saying without focusing so much on the major event that obviously, you know, people are most curious
Joe Sharkey: about. Well, all right, let’s take a murder. My first book was about a guy in New Jersey a sort of a meek accountant who one day up in a murdered, his wife, his mother, and his three teenage children.
And, you know, that’s a, that’s a shocking story. And the details of that are shocking. And that’s the basis of the story, but then, you know, I, I, I really made an effort to figure out not just who this guy was, but who the, the kids were especially. And the context of the time it was 1971. This guy was a real a real repressed deeply pro war guy in his, his daughter who was [00:10:00] 16, sort of brought the Vietnam protests in, into the house.
Every time she came in the house and I dug into that and more and more one person leads to another, obviously the, the the children and the wife and the mother were dead, but this guy was out. He, he had he had disappeared after the murder, if the murders and didn’t get caught until he 18 years later, which is when I came in.
So that was interesting to me because I thought, first of all, this is, I wrote this book in 89. And I thought, how do you disappear in this country? And it turned out what John list was, this guy’s name when he did disappear, you could that’s the last time you could do that. I think in America, he went out to Denver, which is sort of the part of that people who moved west and started new lives, no questions to ask.
And that fascinated me. And so I, I got to know the people who knew him and his new life, who of course, was stunned that he was, he wasn’t, he was, you know, but that was, [00:11:00] I was fascinated by that, by the, the context of the time.
Jeff: Well, 18 years, you said between the crime and I guess when he was found, but that’s a lot of ground to cover.
How w how did you sift through the material decide what was pertinent to your novel or book? Sorry,
Joe Sharkey: it’s just, you just go out and you you, you do as much research as you, as you possibly can. And in this case, you know, once people trust you. You know, it’s always difficult to approach somebody called, but once they do realize you’re not, you know, you’re not a jerk and you’re interested in what happened by and large.
I don’t know how it is today because things have changed with you know, with, with television being so aggressive, but people talk to you and then one person leaves to the next. And before you know, it, you’ve built a kind of interesting story. And you’ve got to just keep your eye on the ball in terms of what makes a good narrative.
I mean, you know, in this case, the story was, the guy [00:12:00] got caught finally because a lady who an old Irish lady who lived next door to him and this guy’s new wife, he had a, a lucky new wife. Didn’t trust them. She saw you know, a television show that that was sort of a retrospective on this case.
And she said, well, that’s the guy. And so she dropped the dime on him. So, you know, and I talked to her and so, you know, one thing leads to another and before, you know, it, you’ve got a kind of interesting yard, but it’s it it’s you know, my model, it’s never been the the quick hit, true crime stories.
It’s always been the ones that that, that delve more deeply into it. I’ll, I’ll mention in cold blood, although I, I have great objections to in cold blood because it turned out the Truman component kind of cooked some of that story that wasn’t as immaculately, as accurate as he always maintained.
Well, he made it, he sort of emphasized the the main cop and it turned out that he, he, he put a lot more in there than was true, but that’s, that’s a good book because of the detail getting into the [00:13:00] head of the. The killers the just the general context and the color of the, of the time. So I thought that was sort of my model and there are of course other, other true crime books that are models.
And you know, that’s the way I work in it’s turned, it turned out. Okay. So far.
Jeff: So how did you get yourself? Well versed in the technical aspect of crime like did you and your friends, I mean, did you like, did you background, did you like go to research, like how this all works? Did you just kind of over time, just kind of pick up how this all forensics and all, everything was functioned in this area?
Joe Sharkey: You know, it helps to be dumb. It helps to approach people and not, you know, not being smart about it, but I’m not being flippant. But to ask the dumb questions because you don’t know, and that is just turns out disarming to people. If you’re not coming in there, like a know-it-all and eventually by and [00:14:00] large, you can get people to talk to you because they kind of, they kind of trust you.
And so, you know, I, I always approach a book like that, knowing that I don’t know squat. I mean, I may know the basic outline of it and it just is a matter of it’s just how reporting is done. Some of the great reporters have been that way. When I worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the editor, there was one of the great editors in our generation, Jean Eugene Roberts.
And I learned a lot just watching him and looking into how he had made his bones as a New York times reporter before he came to Philadelphia. And it’s just a matter of asking questions, listening, not interrupting and Piecing it together bit by bit. And it’s, it’s kind of the universe. It’s almost like building a boat, I guess you hope it doesn’t sink.
Jeff: You know, it sounds a lot like what I’d tell myself on my day job, a little high school teacher. And I tell my students that it’s okay not to know things, you know, it’s like, that’s, you [00:15:00] know, and I, and I really liked that idea that you were saying, which is ask the question, the dumb question, ask it’s okay to say, I don’t know this.
And people are more than happy to explain
Joe Sharkey: things to you. People actually like to help you out if they if they realize that you’re being honest and you really don’t know, we’ll walk you through it. And in the case of above suspicion, which is the book that that’s been made into the movie, I, I went to the the scene of the crime, which was there Eastern Kentucky.
And I, I got to know people there who had. Including the prosecutor who were genuinely overwhelmed with the press attention when the, when this story broke. But when they realized that I, they could explain what they did and I was listening I, I developed these kinds of relationships where people not only trusted me, but, but went to great lengths to understand what I needed and what they wanted, particularly when they wanted, you know, in terms of explaining their own actions, because everything is complicated in these kinds of stories and everybody [00:16:00] has not regrets what they have.
Second, they have reconsiderations about how things spun out, because things happen fast when they start to happen. And you know, you get people to to basically. Go over in their own heads. What, what happened that, what they were doing with what what, what they thought was happening and you just pay attention and you know, you can make a book out.
It turns out. So, so what w
Jeff: what inspired you to want to write the mark Putnam? Susan Smith’s story? The
Joe Sharkey: I, I became aware mark Putnam wife. Who’s Kathy Putnam was an amazing woman. She was a victim in this thing. She stuck by him. And this is about 1990, shortly after he was, he was sent to prison.
She had hooked up with some kind of a Hollywood agent, some of, you know, basically one of these half-assed Hollywood agents and she, [00:17:00] he was encouraging her to. The outline of a movie and that stuff happens all the time and it wasn’t going anywhere. And I heard about her and I contacted her and it turned out she really wanted this.
She really wanted her story told. And she was the beginning of the research into, into that story. She just opened up in an enormously, emotionally difficult period in her life and she’s spilled everything out to me. And she enabled me to actually visit her husband to kill her in prison.
And he, he was he was forthcoming. He was willing to discuss everything. And so once I had that beginning. I knew I could, I could go to Eastern Kentucky, which is where this awful thing happened. And I could just sort of, just do basic reporting. It helped that number one Eastern, this is Pikeville, Kentucky in the wilds of a coal mine, Eastern Kentucky.
It was enough off the radar that this [00:18:00] particular story wasn’t generating a lot of media attention. So I kind of, I didn’t really have it all to myself, but I had it to myself if I didn’t screw it up, basically, you know, the prosecutor was an old country, lawyer. It’s smart, you know, really, almost like a cliche and how smart he was.
He eventually kind of liked me and he, and I hit it off pretty well. And he had a story because he had to, he had to, he wanted to explain. How he managed to negotiate a plea deal with this guy. And it was very controversial in Pikeville, Kentucky, because people thought, well, as he’s letting this guy get off easy, you know, the killer, the killer got 12 years and, and serve 10, which, you know, a lot of people thought was light.
Jeff: So one aspect of the, your book that I found fascinating, especially considering from a perspective of your reporting is that once again, talking about Pikesville and how sensitive the locals are about [00:19:00] outsiders and you are certainly an outsider, how hard was it for you to get that trust?
Joe Sharkey: It, it helps to be a nice, you know, I’m I’m actually, you know, when I approach people, I.
First of all, they consider me a city slicker, you know, and you just, you’re humble about that, about how you approach people and this and I had done, you know, I knew enough about this part of Eastern Kentucky to realize that this has always been an area of the country. That’s been exploited by outsiders.
And the hillbilly stereotype is, you know, it comes from there. This is where the Hatfield McCoy feud was. And I’ve learned enough about it as much as I could to understand the setting. This is a user enormously independent ferociously, independent people. And to this day, they’re, they’re like that.
And once you get to know a couple of people, they in turn, pass you on to other people because it’s like, oh, this guy is [00:20:00] interested and you can talk to him and he’ll listen. And that was sorta the key in, in Pikeville, in Eastern Kentucky. Too, you can go from one to the, to the next, I spent time there just disingenuously getting to know people and listening and not making, you know, not making judgments and, you know, and these are actually people with great senses of humor.
So you’ve got to tweak into that and realize that, you know, a lot of that lifestyle is kind of a music and it’s sort of the stereotypical hillbilly lifestyle, but it’s actually an interesting lifestyle and enormously independent people and you know, isolated and family oriented client oriented.
But we, we know that from you look into the Hatfield McCoy feud, and that was, that was sort of what was going on there. And and you know, it was just isolated. There wasn’t an interest. It was not an interstate highway anywhere near when I, when I researched this book. So I was able to sort of insert myself into Pikeville was the, the main location.
And, and just let myself be [00:21:00] known. In fact, one cop said to me look, you’re you’re asking a lot of questions. You better, you better have a gun. I said, I don’t have, oh, wow. You gave me, give me, put this under your pillow in the motel when I’m sad. I don’t know what I want to get involved at a shoot.
There’s some, so there’s a history here of shootouts,
Jeff: So it’s the primary suspicion they have outsiders, especially maybe even youth specifically when you first arrived, is that you’re somehow trying to get them in the book and I’ll try to get them looking either look bad or look like or silly. I mean, what, was there a real concern that you have to tell them?
Joe Sharkey: Yeah, yeah. Be silly because this is an era, these people who are hillbillies. I mean, I use that term. Precisely. And so it could be a pejorative term, but it’s not the way I use it. You know, from, from a hundred years ago, they have been sort of the object of ridicule, the, the Hatfield McCoy [00:22:00] feud you know, it’s a ride at Disneyland.
They’re very sensitive to to their, their own dignity. And. I just was very, very sensitive to the fact that these, these folks were sensitive then, but of course they did behave in the way you, you kind of have been led to believe they would like there’s gospel all over the place. Stories get told and exaggerated, you have to knock down crazy stories.
One person talks to the other. You can’t go anywhere without everybody knowing where you are. Right. They call me that, that writer feller,
but eventually, you know, we, we, we, we got to know each other. We got to like each other, but I went back when the, when the, when the movie was made in 2017, the book had been out already for 15 or 16 years. So I went back to that part of Kentucky and I I re-interviewed people that were in the book and I thought, well, Dammit, you know, somebody had [00:23:00] made decide to shoot me because well, everybody was was hospitable, friendly, accommodating, loving them to their houses.
Talk to me the ones who didn’t want to talk, made it clear why and were blind about it. Method. This is that’s been one of the most interesting adventures of my life. You know, I’m still very fond of that whole process. I was, I was proud of the way that book was researched and written and and I think to this day, I’m very cognizant of having made an error.
And I think to this day that book holds up. I don’t think there’s anything that’s even not, not just egregiously wrong. I don’t think there are any mistakes in the book. My first book, I made that my second book aware of a stupid mistake I made, which is in the book still. And it was something that was in nothing.
It was a reference to the band Aerosmith. And I spelled it a R R O w S M I T H. And there it is in the book and I’m like, oh, you Bora,
Jeff: well, they get [00:24:00] past the editor,
Joe Sharkey: easy to get past to that, or basically have to do your own. So for
Jeff: before we get too deep into, in, into your book for our listeners, can you kind of give them the pitch for what the book is about?
Joe Sharkey: F a young good looking guy who always wanted to be an FBI agent. That was his goal in life. Mary’s he, he, he’s having a hard time becoming one because he’s, you know, he’s it’s hard to get in to, Mary’s a very Hard-charging life, very pretty girl, but hard charging. She decides that she’s going to help him achieve his goal and sure enough, she, and he managed to get him into the FBI academy, which is the training, the training regimen that FBI agents go through.
He does that. And of course, he’s great. He’s like, he’s almost the perfect young recruit agent. He’s out of the academy for a week. And the [00:25:00] FBI, the FBI at the time, since him and his wife and their now young daughter to Pikeville, Kentucky, which is on the border of West Virginia in that area where that field McCoy feud was.
And his, his job is, is to crack this to crap crimes. It’s a crime ridden area lots of federal crimes, lots of bank robberies lots of lots, lots of drug deals. Interstate commerce crimes. So he goes to Pikeville and he’s, he’s basically the only agent in the, in the the office. It’s a, that’s a real rural, you know, out of the way office, there’s another agent there who’s about to retire and he doesn’t give a damn this guy.
He’s he’s a PA his name is mark Putnam, a great cop. I mean, just, if you want a definition of a great cop, like break young cop, this, this guy’s a great cop. He does what some FBI agents don’t, don’t always do. He gets to know the local cops [00:26:00] and there aren’t many, you know, it’s, it’s a rural area. He gets to know the deputy in in the, you know, in the far, the far reaches of.
Of the mountains. He gets to know you know, other cops and they start to trust him. And that’s unusual for local cops to trust the FBI guy, because usually the FBI guys know that’s hot shot. He starts cracking crimes and as he does, one of the Sheriff’s deputies from the border area, a really rural back of beyond says I know, I know a girl that I grew up with here.
She’s, she’s a real pistol, but she knows stuff. And you know, you needed an informant and she might be your informant. Sure enough. He gets mark Putnam gets introduced to Susan Smith. Who’s a young pistol. Hillbilly girl. I mean, she’s, she’s sassy. She’s she’s trouble, you know, she’s, she’s mouthy.
She’s, you know, she’s out of central casting as she’s pretty, you know, and he, and she eventually he’s very wary [00:27:00] of, of of her as he should have been of the kind of relationship as he should have been, but she starts to deliver and he realizes it. He realizes his career is going to be made in this, this place.
So he gets close. He gets closer to her, then he should have and this got really fascinating to be his wife. Mark’s wife also gets close to this girl because she’s lonely. She doesn’t like where she is because she’s desperate for friends. So she gets close to Susan Smith and Susan Smith in terms.
Starts to model herself after the wife, because the wife is sort of frosty and appears to be elegant and appears to be sophisticated. And Susan Smith starts to even talk like her rather than like in the hillbilly accent. So you’ve got that dynamic and Kathy button who’s Mark’s wife is kind of innocent about this whole thing.
She doesn’t realize that her husband is on shaking shaky [00:28:00] ground with this informant. Eventually they do have an affair. He, he has cracked X number of cases that with her help, including a great bank robbery and in, in the bank robbery, by the way it becomes known that Susan, that the informant has informed and the bank robber, his girlfriend beats the hell out of Susan.
Because she’s an informant. And in the movie, that’s, that’s a great scene in the movie. Just beats her up and Susan as a fighter, but she, you know, she gets her ass whipped by this girl. Eventually there’s a great Kathy decides they’ve got to get out of town. She hates it there and they, they, they do get out of town and he’s transferred and he’s, he’s the hot shot agent that, you know, the of the year.
And he’s transferred to Miami after, I think it’s two years in Pikeville. And so he, and the wife and the kids moved to Miami, which is a great, a great a great bureau. They placed for an FBI guy.
Jeff: And, you know, and having [00:29:00] read your book above suspicion, it really is a fascinating book. I mean, it, it, I felt after reading it that I knew them.
I mean, I want to say, almost say characters, cause I mean, they’re not characters, they’re real people, but. Like you really knew them as people.
Joe Sharkey: I’m delighted to hear that. And when w when the movie I finally got made and it took a while the the actress who played, I mean, I should say that then mark Putnam came, the real mark button came back to town, and there was a blow up with the with the informant.
She said, you, you have to marry me and take me away from this. And you know, a weird and awful set of circumstances. He straggles her. And and, and and, and dishes, the body and a mountain of ravine. And it isn’t found for another year that said this girl the dead girl, I was facet. I couldn’t tell, you know, she was dead.
Like I could talk to everybody else in this story, except her. And I, I spent a lot of time. [00:30:00] I really put in effort to try to give this girl, cause I knew she had dignity and she had Moxie, you know, there was something worthwhile about, about her. She wasn’t just this smart ass sassy and you know, living on the edge of criminal life, Amelia Clark, who’s the actress who played her in the movie was determined.
And I, I was so impressed with Amelia determined to get, you know, to get this. This is really, it’s really out of character for Amelia. She was in game of Thrones and she played a, you know, the the mother of dragons, she was determined to get this girl. And once the movie started, they all the whole crew turns up and, you know, go in the back of a and playful.
Amelia is is not quite happy that she has the character death. So. She asks what, what I can add to that. And I just have tons of transcripts not, not with the dead girl, [00:31:00] obviously, but with Kathy, with mark, I mean, tons, I just said pages and pages and single-spaced transcripts. And I got that to Amelia and she devoured them.
And when she finally got it, the movie started rolling. She had the character. And when I went on location with the movie, I, I said to her, I was watching her and I said, immediately, you’ve done something that I was determined to do. And I’m not sure I did, but you’ve brought the, you brought life and dignity into this.
And she, she really was in character for months. She was speaking in a hillbilly accent, but she looked at me and said, you know, a British accent, don’t think you missed. Thank you, Jay. The first time she went out of character, but she she, I just thought she nailed it. And I think the movie, the great strength of the movie is that because Amelia is a tour de force in the movie,
Jeff: I agree with you a hundred percent.
Having also seen the movie, she does appears in that role so well that it doesn’t take you long to forget [00:32:00] completely that she’s Emilia Clarke. You know, she feels like Susan within the first five minutes, like who, you know, like you’d be amazed and be like, who’s that actress? And you’d be like near the clock.
You’re like, oh shit. I thought it was.
Joe Sharkey: Except for that one time she never got out of character. She’d been in character. She stayed that way on, on set. She, when there’s a scene where the actor who plays mark Putnam Jack Houston, a great actor Kills her. I mean, that’s the, it’s the, you know, the, the great climax scene kills her in the car and really rough syrup in the car and on the set right after that scene was shot.
Everybody loved Amelia and at lunch, people were sort of giving, putting distance between themselves and check because they said he killed Amelia. She’s sitting right over there. It’s, it’s funny how you get you know, roughly 150 people in a movie crew and all of them hold up for months in this mountain, a mountain too.
There’s this sort of Backwoods town. And [00:33:00] I was, I was just fascinated by the movie business and I thought, wow, I wish I’d been into this business a lot earlier. Do you get all these people? All of them enormously skilled, you know, the grips, the electricians, the wardrobe people, and you put them in a place like that and they’re, they, they make do it.
It’s like they even though there’s one motel in town and people were like living in the hotel and also in whatever apartments they could, they could get to read and they make two. And the one that, one of the first things they did was they couldn’t, there was no, it was a dry town, no alcohol, no alcohol in the county.
They organized a of course they organized the you know, run to two Tennessee hours, hours away across mountain roads to stock up on booze. I thought, you know, it just impressed me that how much a skill and endurance there is in making and making a movie. The director told noise was it was just just a good guy.
He rolled with it throughout. It was, it was a fascinating experience. [00:34:00] I highly recommend it. I’d love to do it.
Jeff: I imagine a lot of people would like to participate in the movement in the, in the Hollywood business. Well, one thing I thought that interested in what you were saying, and I mean, often it makes perfect sense is that you were able to interview everyone, but the victim and the thought that kind of popped in my head, which is kind of an interesting situation that you’re in, is that in a very real way, you have the killer speaking for the victim.
You know what I’m saying
Joe Sharkey: was that the killer and his wife,
Jeff: right? It was that, is that ever a concern on how to approach it considered the information you’re getting are from those who did do well. One who did the killing, once the wife oscillate, who supports the case
Joe Sharkey: the wife was very close to the victim.
But you know, you put your finger on a big concern, which is, you know, I spent a couple of days. I’m talking to the killer in prison and I hate to cook, but he has to kill her obviously. And I took him over. He was determined. He really threw himself on his sword. And he was [00:35:00] determined to explain himself, but he didn’t cut himself to any slack.
And I, by this time had been around the track enough that I, I could, I thought I could, you know, I was pretty good at spotting. Somebody who was, who was jiving me and I took him over and over and over the story about how he killed this girl the details of it and everything checked out. I believe, you know, everything.
He, the story was always the same. There was never any other version of that. Nobody else had any other version of help how this girl was killed in a car on a mountain road when, when she decided to fight him and, and also the weird way he behaved after he killed her. He he stripped the body.
This is awful. This is on a dark mountain road. He puts the body into the trunk of his car and, and being the boy scout that he is, and this is like this, I almost couldn’t get my head around this, but it’s true. He then spends the night at the motel at a motel the next morning [00:36:00] he has to go to Lexington, Kentucky, two hours away across mountain roads.
Debrief is his superiors in a, in a main office in Lexington. He drives there with the body in the trunk of his car and spends the day talking, you know, business to his superiors and Lexington, and then drives back with the body and then drives back up to the mountain top and dumps the body in a ravine.
And I believe this thinking, he says that the body would be discovered and he’d be cooked. Great, you know, emotional trauma, obviously. The body is not discovered. The Susan Smith, the you know, the informant had a history of occasionally skipping town. She had two kids and she, she always made sure the kids were taken care of.
It’s the kind of place where people watch your kids. Excuse me. So, you know, months go by before anybody’s even asking questions about where wait a minute. She had gone off on drug adventures [00:37:00] before. So the body wasn’t discovered until push really came to shell almost a year later. And that’s where the local the prosecutor, the the, the the county attorney, which is the equivalent of a district attorney, had to negotiate a deal with mark Putnam in Florida, where they, they didn’t have a body.
All they had was, you know, a an assumption that this girl had been killed, the deal being a, a prison term in a federal prison rather than a state prison. And you tell us where the body is, and then, you know, you’re, you’re basically you’re cooked, but it took a week to negotiate that. And he did it step-by-step and you know, th there was sort of a cat and mouse game.
Mark was confessing, but he was a little coy about it. You know, you want it to get the best. He and his lawyer wanted to get the best deal they could get for him. So it took a while, but then, you know, at the end is he tells them by phone, we tell us where the body is. The [00:38:00] body is then discovered and pretty quickly, Marcus is all back to a Kentucky.
It wasn’t a trial. He confessed, there was just a, the confession and he’s, he’s a hustle will have to to prison. Well, well, one interesting thing that
Jeff: you, you discussed several times in your book is that after having murdered Susan, mark develops kind of a odd habit of, of scratching his chest.
Joe Sharkey: Yeah, well, he was really I mean, he goes back to, to Florida, back to Miami he was really torn.
I mean, okay, I’m not trying to cut this guy a break. He killed this girl, but he he’s he’s is killed stricken. Okay. You or I would be as well, but he developed this habit of scratching his chest and, you know, you know, to the point where he’s, he’s bleeding, you know, that, that’s the only thing people notice that that’s odd about him.
He’s in his new job. He’s making a name for himself again throughout [00:39:00] though he he tells me, you know, and, and his wife as well. Don’t forget the wife doesn’t know about this yet that he’s troubled. And when it finally, almost a year later, when it finally goes down, The because there’s a scene in the book that the, both he and the wife described to me, and they’re the only ones who were there, where he had to take a lie detector test.
He agreed to take a lie detector test with the FBI, and then comes back from that test and goes with his wife to a holiday and to have a drink. Now, the wife doesn’t know this what’s what’s happened yet. Although the wife is very upset about the fact that he took a lie detector test, she thinks to clear himself why detective that showed that he was guilty.
They’re sitting at a table and the wife whose name is Kathy says, all right, what’s the deal here? Did you have an affair with this girl? And critical? She didn’t know that she said that she didn’t know that I think that’s true. And he says, yes. [00:40:00] And then she sort of score things as well as you kill her.
And he says, yes, and suddenly her world, their world. She then she falls off and belts him and not someone is Keester in the, in the holiday Inn lounge. And that’s the moment she found out that, you know, her, her life, as she knew it was basically over and you know, this quite traumatic scene.
And she, again, I took her over it and over it and over it, and I took him over and all the, all the anecdotes checked out, including what they were drinking and, you know what they said. That’s the point at which the the lawyer that he had acquired in in Miami sorta took over and did what he could to to cut the best deal for mark Putnam.
But then Kathy stayed, Kathy, his wife stayed loyal and moved to Rochester, Minnesota, which is where the federal prison was, where they sent mark and was basically loyal move with the kids. And when I went to see him in prison, knowing full well, I mean, the cat’s out of the bag and now [00:41:00] everything is, is clear.
She she’s deeply troubled. She she’s obviously, you know, but she she’s pissed off at the FBI because she, she correctly knows that they, they put this guy in a situation where he was unsupervised in, in in Pikeville and got into this jackpot with the female informant. And she’s very pissed off at an agent who got, who got sent to the office, sort of midway through this story of a narrative.
Well, they run pool, basically a screw up agent that they just wanted to get out of, out of everybody’s site. So they sent him to Pikeville and his, this guy’s pool pulls in interesting character. He’s like, yeah, He’s been there. He’s always causing, you know, he’s just needling all the time. He, the pool knows Susan at all pool wants to do is get in Susan’s pants.
And Susan was absolutely nothing to do with pool. You know, she’s in love with mark, but pool just makes things extremely difficult. And he’s the one [00:42:00] who make sure that mark is aware that Susan claims to be pregnant. But Paul doesn’t know eight or after Susan disappeared. Paul doesn’t know that mark killed her.
He’s. He’s just in his own zone. Screw he, well, he’s dead now, but he’s in his own screwy world, but he was an interesting car. I didn’t, I didn’t get to know him. He was on the Lam researching the book. Well,
Jeff: one thing, like I said, that I really think was fantastic about your book and it really was fantastic is, as I said earlier, you felt like you knew these characters and one character and you definitely know a lot, or you feel like, you know, a lot or, you know, well, is mark Putnam to the point where you almost feel sympathetic towards mark.
And I was wondering in your mind, should he be sympathized with Izzy, a sympathetic character from
Joe Sharkey: your no, I don’t know. Jeff it’s, it’s one of the, the issues with the book was I had to be aware that people were [00:43:00] going to say, you know, you cut this guy a lot of slack because he’s in the book, it’s fairly sympathetic and I was.
Sympathetic to mark you know, I, I spent time with him you know, he I would say this, he when he began a professional relationship with the informant with Susan Smith, he was the only man in her life. Whoever treated her with respect until he killed her, of course. But she had had a succession of really crappy relationships with men and he was, he was like Galant and you know, he, he, he treated her well and I had to, you know, those are, I had, you can only do what you can find out to be true.
And I was reasonably, I was very sure that I had his side of the story. I didn’t have, Susan’s obviously. And I thought, well, I’m going to just let this play this as it lies. There, you know, there is, there is some certain amount of sympathy for what a lot of women who’ve read the book who, I don’t know, but readers have [00:44:00] contacted me and said that they’re in love with mark.
And I thought, well, there you go.
Jeff: I mean, the way mark is described and his is actually based in, in the book, it kind of does kind of. Create an interesting question, which is, can someone be both a good person and they kill her? Yeah. And I kind of felt like mark is in that kind of weird gray area where he seems like a legitimate, good person, but he, on the other hand, he’s definitely a killer
Joe Sharkey: strangled that grill and put the button, don’t forget, put the body in the trunk of his car and the Lexington,
Jeff: which is the most bizarre thing.
When you, when you, when you read the story of the, of the guy prior to that moment, you can’t envision him being that almost callous with the body, that person to be killed. But once again, it, there seems to be a interesting to the economy between once again, pre murder, mark and postmark murder. Mark.
Joe Sharkey: Yeah. [00:45:00] A tightly wound guy. I mean, definitely tightly, well, all his life. Totally. Well, And they’re so fixed on, on, on, on on, on achieving successes that FBI is
Jeff: Pearson. And to create your, your book to the movie for, for, for a moment, your book feels more focused on or through the eyes of mark where the movie definitely takes it through the eyes of Susan.
How do you think that changed the perception of the event?
Joe Sharkey: Well that was Amelia doing she knocked it out of the park as far as I’m concerned. She she took that. She made that into her movie and good for her. And to me it’s like, it’s separate from the book, even though, you know, the movie is the book.
And I was delighted at how she brought that girl. How’s she brought that girl the light, then I thought, okay, however, you have a you’ve you’ve seen both the movie and you’ve read the book. You have a pretty good understanding now of what happened, and you’ve got some insight into it to Susan, some more [00:46:00] insight into enter the dead girl.
Then I had in the book and I thought, well, Amelia brought that to the package. And I think that’s why the, you know, the movie is two hours long. And I remember saying to the to the, both the screenwriter, Christopher almo, and to the director that they were talking about, you know, the book and what things that may that may not be in the movie.
And I said, look, if you put in the movie, everything in the book that I think should be in there, that’s, that’s going to be a nine hour movie, you know, and it’s a two hour movie and that’s, that’s what a movie is, you know? So, but you know, at Jack Houston who played mark, I thought played him. Very hard to play against the powerhouse.
Unfamiliar Clark played him pretty well. I mean, he sorta looked like mark and he I thought he, he kinda nailed it. Now, the movie, the most popular guy in, in where the movie where the movie was shot in Eastern Kentucky, they thought Amelia was going to [00:47:00] be good to go. She was a star of you know, game of Thrones.
So they, they had you know, protection for her that not that you needed protection, but they were concerned about her, but the guy who everybody followed was Johnny Knoxville. It was in that town. And and he was just as gracious as could be with everybody so that, you know, and the people in that town, they, they shot it in Harlan, Kentucky rather than there’ll be.
Cause spiteful was a little, had become a little too modern for the the setting, right. People to this day in Hartland or. I think they were really proud of having been a part of that movie, if you know what I mean, they all, they were, they were gracious and they welcomed people and, you know, it was, it was an interesting experience.
Then I would do it again in a, in a heartbeat.
Jeff: Well, like I said even though, I mean, the book is obviously definitely nonfiction. It’s definitely based on it is definitely a non fiction work. But as someone who, as an English teacher, I teach English as my day job as a, as a high school teacher. [00:48:00] I’m looking at the book from the point of view as an, as, as, as a work of literature, almost like fiction literature.
And I thought to myself, the idea of the climax, the climax is usually defined as the moment of no turning back for the characters in the story. And for mark Putnam, I mean, it’s easy to kind of say that the climax must be the murder, cause that’s the point of death and no turning back because she’s dead.
But do you think there was an earlier point in the events that would be the point of Notre-Dame back where so many it was so set in motion that it was almost inevitable. That was gonna end that way.
Joe Sharkey: Hmm. Yeah, I think so. It was, you know, I, I knew Kathy really well. And I’ll have to tell you something about her while you’d already noticed.
Not, not being able to, but not knowing Susan. I knew I didn’t Sue, you know, Susan’s sister and I knew people that had grown up with Susan and knew her. Kathy was, was I was fixed on Kathy as this poignant character. Her life was basically ruined. And she and I had long, long conversations hours long by phone and in person.
And at the [00:49:00] time, this is now after the, even after the book came out. I I wa I was aware that Kathy was drinking but I wasn’t aware of how heavily she was drinking and. I, I have a certain regret here because after a while I stayed in touch with her, but I was no longer a close friend and I got a shocking phone call from her mother one day in 1998 telling me that Kathy had died now, Kathy was 38 years old.
And the the cause of death was complications from you know, from drinking. And, and I think also, you know, a heart issue. She was 38 years old and I, I deeply regretful that I, I kind of wasn’t there as our friend at the end. I might have gone on to do other things. I was, I was extremely I was fond of Kathy, but I was just determined to, to tell her her story, right, because of the living people, she was the, you know, the worst, the worst of the [00:50:00] victims.
So, I mean the book the there’s a new that I wrote a new edition of the book. And that’s, I think that’s the, the ending of the book now, as I
Jeff: recall. Yeah. I, I didn’t notice. I think that that you wrote that you did include this longer epilogue, so w what was it Kathy’s desk that triggered your interest in creating the epilogue?
Joe Sharkey: No, it was partly, but I went back to Eastern Kentucky right after the movie wrapped. And I was also determined to do more on Susan Smith. And Susan had been born in make one West Virginia right across the river from where she grew up. And I went to make one is a famous town in, in coal, mine, legend.
John Sayles wrote a movie called napalm did a movie called makeup. And it’s a sort of for Lorne lonely town now. And I, I thought I could at least get into, I don’t, you [00:51:00] know, I don’t care about spirits, but I could get in touch with part of the essence of Susan Smith of, I went to this, this godforsaken town when she was born and ended the book there and it turned out it was just, it was just odd enough that town on this particular day that I think it made for a kind of poignant ending of the book.
Jeff: I must say I did not. After having read the epilogue and I’m in your book, I couldn’t imagine the book existed without it, you know, it could be honestly, I, I didn’t, I read, you know, the newest edition and I couldn’t imagine the book not having the epilogue because the epilogue is so pointed. When you find out what happens to, you know, Kathy would happen to one of Susan’s children.
I mean, I mean the tragedy, isn’t just the murder, but it’s so many ripples of tragedy that came out from. Yep.
Joe Sharkey: You got it. I think you understand that fully well, that that’s my reading. I agree with your reading,
Joe Sharkey: I do
Jeff: said [00:52:00] story and I do think that epilogue is absolutely necessary to come to express that.
Joe Sharkey: No, it’s a sad story, but thank you. I appreciate that the epilogue, the new epilogue, but there are elements of humor in that story. And you’ll remember the bank robber, whose name was cat eyes, Lockhart, and a very active banker. There are a lot of small banks in this area at the time. In these, you know, these Hilco hill country towns, cat eyes was, was amusing because he was, he was like, he was he was generous.
He bragged about his bank robberies. He was, he was like, he had no skill as a banker. As a bank rapper, except to actually Rob the bank and then run away. He was in prison at the time I researched the book and I couldn’t get through to him. But after the book came out, his I think it was his sister said contacted me and said that she was contacting me on [00:53:00] behalf of cat eyes who loved his depiction.
And to talk to me, good pad, eye cat eyes is almost like comic relief in the book.
Jeff: I mean, I mean, like the one another, if it wasn’t good, if I were to look at the book from the eyes from a pure literature standpoint of like an English teacher would it was if it was fiction. I always also look at, I could teach my students a lot about the idea of the tragic flaw. What do you is, was Mark’s tragic flaw, do you think?
Joe Sharkey: that is a good question. Blazing ambition to the exclusion of everything else. He was blazingly ambitious to I mean, all of us have ambitions is the ambition. God help us was to be a great FBI agent. Now he had he grew up in you know, his father was an alcoholic, although he adored his father you know, he, he was, he grew up, he, he was you know, he, he accomplished things.
He was good at, he was good in [00:54:00] school. He got a soccer scholarship, but he became, I think the floor was, he was, he was so animated. That he didn’t use his, his his, his brains. And once he B once he was cracking all these cases and becoming a FBI star, he was to start working at the time. And one of the FBI agents who became a good friend of mine who went back when this thing actually started to fall apart, it wasn’t, it wasn’t supervising.
Mark told me that it broke his heart, that if he, because he and Huggins who’s the FBI supervisor from Lexington said, if I had been there, I would, I would have taken it. By the short hairs and said, look, you’re going to get yourself jammed up with this girl. Be careful because that’s like a well-known thing is you don’t get involved that closely within an informant.
And Jim, you know, Jim was a real, he was Mr. FBI. He was like each cell as he was friend of mine. It broke Jim’s heart to see what happened, not just to mark, [00:55:00] who he came to like very much, but to the the reputation of the FBI, as, you know, as a crime fighting organization. And, you know, the FBI was pretty good at that.
And mark was very good at it, but there was that one great flaw that allowed him to throw questions to the winds and, and get involved with this. And you know, it was not a raging sexual relationship, according to mark it was you know, it was quick and opportune and in the backseat of a car, basically a couple of times you know, I’m not sure about that, but that’s Mark’s story.
And I have no no, there’s a lot of rumor in Pikeville, but that, you know, that area depends on river runs on river. Well,
Jeff: one thing I thought it was really kind of interesting is, is that when, you know, when, when you’re, when you’re dealing with the entire situation, is that mark has some, or one of the true tragedies of Mark’s experience in Pikesville.
He’s stuck with some real shit, FBI agents. I mean, that, that were extremely [00:56:00] indifferent to him. And what’s going on with him. Do you think if he was with a, more of a partner, would these events will have occurred? This one that,
Joe Sharkey: that was Jim Huggins is a point throughout that, you know, th they were the FBI was using this office, you know, it’s in the middle of nowhere.
There’s not a high prestige office. Mark put the office on the map, but they were you know, they, this guy, Ron Poole, who they, they they sent it to this office, had some successes as a a drug as breaking drug cases. So we dealt with, with drug informants but he was a terrible, terrible, terrible agent.
And, you know, as Jim Huggins was horrified at at Ron pool so basically mark was in this office. He didn’t have a, he didn’t even have a secretary up. Kathy was the one who handled the clerical duties. He was on his own and he was young and he, you know, he didn’t know squat about some of the things you got to know about in terms of running.
And he was a good cop though. He was truly good up until he [00:57:00] killed that girl. There’s always that
Jeff: no matter what he does end with that as a
Joe Sharkey: right. And don’t forget, put the body in the trunk of his car and drove to Lexington.
Jeff: It was just kind of, but what I mean, it’s so interesting. I mean the actual killing of the girl, once again, it’s a, it’s a horrible tragedy and obviously hopefully you think at first we know that a complete accident and you can, it can, it can almost understand.
That, those things, that, something like that was possible, but it’s the sticking in the trunk thing, which kind of moves into almost the monster category. That just a little bit. Yeah. And it’s just a weird thing to be like, well, here’s this guy who seems like a nice guy has just horrible acts, but then kind of this weird monstrous thing after that, is it shocked that he did it or was it just, you know, confusion or
Joe Sharkey: I believe it was shock.
And you know, an enormous fear of getting caught. So I mean, you, and I wouldn’t think, well, the best move is to put the body in the [00:58:00] trunk of our car. But he did when they made the movie Phillip Noyce, the director wa and, and, and also the screenwriter, Christopher almo, they were a bit ambivalent on the, the actual killing.
And I think they, they made it more violent than the book indicates. Oh, you know, it was a violent killing. They. In, in the movie, as I recall the the actor Jack Houston really beats the hell out of, out of Susan Smith in the choir. And interestingly enough, after that scene was shot the, the crew of the the crew and the actors were, were gathered, I guess, at lunch.
And I was talking to Jack and he said, people are a little standoffish because they really like Amelia and I killed her. She’s sitting right over there.
She was enormously popular. That set. They were like, you don’t have to, you don’t have to do that door. [00:59:00]
Jeff: I really interesting in what they did in that movie. And I don’t, I’m not sure how exactly I felt about it is that in the movie they have it. So. In event as told by Jack, I mean, sorry as the character mark Putnam how the murder happened, that Amelia Amelia, his character as Susan says, but this is how it also happened.
In my opinion. How did you feel about having the contradiction? Where what we understood as what happened from mark is contradicted by another character in saying, well, that’s not really, probably what
Joe Sharkey: has, well, I thought it solved a problem that I couldn’t solve in the book because obviously I couldn’t talk to Susan, but a movie is, is you know, there are elements of fiction in a movie and I, I thought it solved that problem.
And I’m happy with that in the movie. I couldn’t, I couldn’t, you know, a nonfiction book is everything, has, everything has to be true. You can’t make anything up. I had to work with what I had, what I, not only what I had, but what I had reason to believe [01:00:00] was was, was accurate. So I thought the movie handled that very well.
I’m going to go see the movie again, it’s better.
Jeff: And another, I’ll say one of the major triggers for what eventually happens to Susan is Susan telling Mar that she is pregnant and that is his baby now because it took almost a year for the body to be rediscovered that evidence I don’t think ever came out or whether or not she actually was pregnant.
Am I correct on that?
Joe Sharkey: That’s right. There was a a report from a clinic that Ron pool made sure that that, that Susan gave to mark and that reporting. I think I reproduced that report in the book. It it’s a, it’s a pregnancy test. Yeah. It’s a bit, it’s a bit hinky and the way in is finding, but it definitely checks the box that says that, you know, she went to a clinic, she was pregnant.
If, if that was the case, you know, I think it’s probably true. She was in [01:01:00] a couple of months pregnant five, four or five months. I don’t think it was by anybody else other than mark this girl, she had a reputation as somebody who slept around, but it wasn’t true. She was you know, she was always true, you know, in the, the the the, the play kiss, me, Kate.
She was always true to who she was within her fashion. You know, she, I believe she was faithful to mark. She was in, she was in love with it. So if she was pregnant, it was his kid.
Jeff: I mean, the idea of the pregnancy, if Susan had not died, there was no way mark would have come up. Positive in this story anyway, correct.
Because, I mean, I assume the story, he would have to tell his wife eventually what happened. Yep.
Joe Sharkey: Did
Jeff: mark ever discuss with you what the alternative would have been if those events that happened the way they were, they didn’t see any bright light on how he dealt with this?
Joe Sharkey: No, he was just fixed on the idea that he had to confess and he had to take his punishment like a man that was mark.[01:02:00]
And eventually mark stayed. He stayed in contact with me for years afterwards. But then after Cathy died, even after Kathy died, he, he was in contact with me. But then he sort of, we sort of lost contact and he remarried, he got out of prison after I think, 10 years of good behavior. And after Kathy died, she died while he was still in prison.
He then remarried and began a new career as a, as a physical trainer in Florida. So, no, I mean, he’s no longer with he and I are no longer in contact. He sees he, he wants no parts of, of this.
Jeff: So the one, the reason why mark eventually does, does admit to what happened is that honestly, the, the issue of guilt you wanted to kind of, release the guilt that he’s feeling and by confessing and then obviously take his punishment.
But as punishment, once again, it is [01:03:00] 10 years. And once he has a 10 year sentence versus obviously a, the death of, of a woman, you know, in early in her kind of early life, does, did it once he got free, did he feel like that punishment was enough to, to relinquish the guilt.
Joe Sharkey: I don’t know. I don’t know. I do know that in in Eastern Kentucky, the the prosecutor, John Paul Runyon, this, his name had to deal with enormous public pushback because they thought that mark got off like lightly.
And you know, and as, as Ron, you and explained to me that was the best deal that they could make since they didn’t, they didn’t have a crime, they didn’t have a body until he confessed. And, and also if you’re gonna, I don’t mean to be flip about this, but if you’re going to kill somebody, Kentucky’s a pretty good place to do it because the funny Smith for second degree homicide is.[01:04:00]
I think it’s 15 years or whatever, it’s not, you know, it’s not like life, you know? So that, that became complicated and it’s still obviously an issue in Pikeville and in parts there they’re there thereby,
Jeff: and, and after all that occurred, do you think, you think mark was able to, once he got out to think, you know, I served my time.
I don’t have to feel guilty about that anymore. Do you think he’s still kind of, you think it’s still something that Hanson? I
Joe Sharkey: don’t know. He and I are not in contact anymore. That would certainly be that’s something I would want to know, but I have no way of knowing.
Jeff: Well, and another interesting aspect that you, you hit on multiple times in your book is that is, is the issue with the FBI who do not come off well in the book at all.
And basically how it handles, especially in how it handles this informants. In the epilogue you write that Jim Huggins the . The informers are handled, how they’re handling it has been tightened by the [01:05:00] FBI. Is there any evidence that that’s true, do you think it actually has happened? And is that enough of a silver lining to, you know, to, to the overall story?
Joe Sharkey: Yeah, I think so. Huggins was, I mean, Huggins was, was, was a, a wild man on this fishing informants and FP, there were X number of a couple of FBI supervisors who should’ve had some handle on that. The Pikeville office, even though they were in places, far farther removed were, were fired, lost their careers over it.
And then I know the FBI issued a stronger guidelines on how, on how to deal with you know, that there’s something cops have to do. They have to know anyway, but how to deal, particularly with with a female agent in intimate situation. So it’s pretty clear to, excuse me, it’s clear to me that that, that the FBI did in fact, I mean, this was a horrible, horrible embarrassment for the FBI.
It was the only time an agent who’s ever been convicted of a [01:06:00] homicide. It’s pretty clear that they did put they, they did put new restrictions in place, particularly don’t, don’t forget mark had access to X number of, into, you know, a pile of money to pay Susan from the FBI that I know they, they cracked down on that and it’s a lot harder to go and say, Hey, can you, you know, can you get me $600 so I can pay this girl?
I don’t think that’s done. I think the mark button of cases is the reason why I think any good young FBI agent is like, oh boy, don’t get it. And don’t get it to that kind of a jackpot. Well, you know, the example.
Jeff: Well, like I said, I found the book and totally engrossing and, and, and I will totally met when I decided to interview you, I decided, you know, I’m going to read the book to make sure I’m prepared.
And obviously there’s a thought, you know, I’m gonna have to initially know what I have to struggle through the book to get done. And I will say the book just flew for me. I just read it. I got so engrossed with it that, you know, I mean, when you, I mean, you know, what’s going to happen to mark, you know, I’m thinking myself marked on do it, you know, don’t it.
I know it’s gonna, God [01:07:00] goddammit, mark. Goddammit. It’s. So it was such an engrossing book. And I so felt, I mean, like I said, I felt that. Which is unusual for me in a lot of, in, in, in a lot of books, but I felt like I knew them as like a new mark. Like I thought, like, I don’t know, almost like, you know, like a friend, but you knew him like someone who you knew and you’re like, God, mark, you know, after all this, don’t do these things, you know, how is this going to happen this way?
And it’s just tremendous how you did
Joe Sharkey: well. Thanks. I appreciate that. But you, you obviously got it. I mean, it’s a, I’m an enormously pleased to hear that.
Jeff: Yeah, I, it, like I said, it was in a very gratifying read that, like I said, the only from the point of view that I think it really opened up my eyes to just how well you can create a sense of realism to these people and not lose your narrative thread of keeping, make sure the evidence is being told and making sure it is factual.
And it felt like it was a hard thing to balance, but you [01:08:00] pulled it off completely.
Joe Sharkey: Yeah, the issue is you can’t make anything up.
Jeff: I mean, like in the dial you put in mostly it felt genuine as well. And that was all based on conversations with
Joe Sharkey: interviews. Yeah. I mean, obviously you can’t always be exact and reproducing dialogue, but in every case I had at least one participant in the conversation who I took over the con took them over and over the conversation.
So, you know, I’m reasonably confident that the, the dialogue is, is by and large accurate as it was spoken.
Jeff: So are you able to give our listeners a. Some insights into what this book is that you’re working on. You said for the last four years, is that something you can share? Oh
Joe Sharkey: man, it’s a, well, if I can make stuff up, I would be in good shape.
Sometimes you get, you get involved in a book and you think why did I start? This is a book about [01:09:00] probably a guy it’s about the Catholic scandal abuse scandal. And it’s based on a guy who I think is the worst example of a victim of of having been abused by a priest, but the guy is a murderer and he’s like, he’s a complete criminal.
And you know, it’s like, the, the issue is how can I, how can I frame this guy story as part of a bigger book? You know, looking like I I’m sympathetic to him because he’s, you know, he killed, he killed two people in prison. He, he made it as his job to hot out and kill child molesters. And it’s, it’s hard to present somebody like know and he’s, you know, he’s a criminal, you know, so it’s, it’s difficult.
I, I, I suppose I’ve got to pull it off, but I ain’t there yet.
Jeff: When, when it’s ready. I definitely want to read it. And I really hope I have a chance to talk to you about
Joe Sharkey: thank you. I appreciate that. You’re, you’ve [01:10:00] actually inspired me to renew my efforts on it.
Jeff: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate that.
So thanks Mr. Sharkey. It was a great honor to talk with you. I really liked, I really enjoyed your book and I really do hope to talk to you again.
Joe Sharkey: I’ve enjoyed talking to you. Thanks so much. I have a very good night, sir. All right. You too.