Arkansas stereotypes, murder case explored in new book

story and photos by Helen LeGrand, special to The City Wire

The year is 1929 in Stone County, Ark.

A gruesome murder case that began in the spring drags on. Local and national media are drawn to the mystery that is the murder of Connie Franklin and the assault of his young fiancée – and now a “ghost” has come to testify.

The big city reporters that came from all over the country begin painting their picture of the small town Ozarkans while covering the story, using and enforcing stereotypes that still exist today.

This is the setting of Brooks Blevins’ most recent book, “Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South.”

The story is an entertaining narrative of one of Arkansas’ most bizarre murder cases that, more than 80 years later, remains riddled in mystery. The Fort Smith Museum of History and it’s Executive Director Leisa Gramlich hosted a book signing and lecture for Blevins on Saturday (Sept. 29). A small crowd of all ages gathered to learn more about the author and his experiences writing the book.

Blevins came across the curious story of Connie Franklin while looking through an old edition of TIME. From that point, he knew he couldn’t let the story get away from him.  What he found in the way of media coverage of the day particularly interested him.

In Blevins’ account, he examines how the story and the regional setting of the rugged Ozarks were interpreted by the media while critically analyzing the stereotypes rooted in the media coverage of the trial.

“Stereotypes of the rural Ozarks and of people in the highland South in general were well established by 1929. Most of the characteristics attributed to these ‘hillbillies’ are familiar to readers today: illiteracy, slovenliness, moonshining, inbreeding, violence, backwardness, etc,” Blevins explained in a Q&A with his publishing company. “ ... Urban newsmen from places like Kansas City and Memphis often crafted their stories with these stereotypes in mind, making the regional landscape one of the key characters in the saga.”

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It is clear that Blevins, originally from the Arkansas Ozarks, has a certain fascination with the area. His previous books include “Arkansas/Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol' Boys Defined a State” and “Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers and Their Image.”

Blevins is the Noel Boyd Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University.

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