The Voelker Papers
As with all trials held in Michigan courts, a complete transcript was made of the trial in the matter of the People versus Coleman Peterson on a charge of murder, held during the September term of the 25th circuit court in Marquette in 1952.. The transcript records the complete proceedings, including those when the jury was excused and sent to the jury room while the attorneys argued a point of procedure or the merits of an objection. The transcript was prepared by George Gauthier of Marquette, the court reporter.
The trial judge was Judge Charles O. Arch of Hillsdale, who is known as Judge Weaver in the novel. As the session of circuit court opens, Judge Weaver explains that he was assigned to preside at that session because of the illness of the beloved Judge Maitland. Judge Maitland was, in reality, Judge Glenn W. Jackson of Gladstone, judge of the 25th circuit, which at that time included all of the central Upper Peninsula. Judge Jackson was seriously ill in the fall of 1952 and unable to fulfill his duties.
Many other characters in the novel have counterparts in the actual trial. Paul Biegler, the trout fishing defense attorney, was John D. Voelker, the trout fishing defense attorney. Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Lodwick was really Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Edmund J. Thomas of Ishpeming, who was in his second year on the job, having defeated Voelker in the 1950 election. As Lodwick was assisted by Assistant Attorney General Claude Dancer, so Thomas was assisted by Assistant Attorney General Irving Beattie of Marine City, a town on the St. Clair River smaller than Ishpeming.
Three excerpts of the trial transcript are presented here. The first is the testimony of Adrian Wentzel, manager of the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay, who is known as bartender Alphonse Paquette in the novel. The second excerpt is the testimony of Lt. Coleman Peterson, known as Frederic Manion in the novel. Peterson's wife Charlotte became Laura Manion, and there really was a small dog that carried a lighted flashlight in its mouth. The third excerpt is the testimony of Army psychiatrist Thomas Petty, who becomes Army psychiatrist Matthew Smith in the book. This testimony revolves around a hypothetical question that was the essential element of the defense strategy.
Click on the testimony buttons to the left to view the the court transcripts.