Today we have Jeannie Walker, Author of “Fighting the Devil” – A True Story of Consuming Passion, Deadly Poison and Murder. Jeannie is an Award Winning Author, Award Winning Songwriter, and a freelance writer. She studied creative writing in New York and Connecticut and is a member of the International Association of Writers. She is an avid reader of mystery novels and the ex-wife of a murdered man.
Jeannie Walker on “Fighting the Devil”
Twenty years after the death of my ex-husband, Texas millionaire Jerry Sternadel, the traces of his case and the journey to put a killer behind bars was laid out in my book “Fighting the Devil.”
On June 12, 1990, I received a call from my daughter, who told me her dad had just died in the hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas, and she had overheard the nurses say something about arsenic poison.
In Texas, rumors started circling about two women who had possibly poisoned the rich rancher. His widow and bookkeeper had stayed with Jerry Sternadel throughout his sickness, even keeping visitors at bay.
After the stomach-churning phone call from my daughter, I immediately flew to Wichita Falls, the town I had called home for many years, to console my two children by Jerry Sternadel. During my stay and at the funeral, I met with members of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, advising them I would help in any way with the investigation. I subsequently learned all the signs seemingly pointed straight to the widow and bookkeeper of Jerry Sternadel.
I started taking notes on the plane ride from my home in Long Island, N.Y., to Texas. I started writing down the thoughts and memories that were racing through my mind. That note-taking was paired with the snapshots I took during my first visit to Texas after the murder.
After I met with Clay County Sheriff Jake Bogard, I started getting deep into the case. I started making phone calls, talking to specialists and did large investigation projects the county could not afford or did not have the resources to do. “The sheriff would call, ‘Do you think you could help us out on this?”
In the book I recall a predicament. I started getting questioned by some of the people I called, “What agency are you with?” The sheriff fixed that problem for me. Sheriff Bogard had me put my hand on a Bible, and, over the phone, he swore me in as a deputy of Clay County.
Over the years that followed, I collected information, studied things for the sheriff’s office and became a key player in the team that ultimately held one woman accountable for Sternadel’s death.
Encouraging words by family members and people investigating the case kept me in tune with Sternadel’s murder for 20 years.
“They would say, ‘I’m not giving up because you’re not giving up,’ and it continued to encourage me.”
Over the years I lost sight of the goal. After a suspect was convicted and sentenced to probation, I sort of lost steam. My work on the murder case was becoming overwhelming. Everyone was depending on me to keep track of everything. That’s when I thought about giving up. But, since I am not a quitter and don’t give up easy, I continued to search for justice. I continued to take snapshots and keep notes. I was encouraged by the sheriff to record interviews if I could. I started documenting my memories and putting them in a folder. I would write down what was said in an interview and transcribe the tape if I recorded it. “People would tell me, ‘This needs to be a book, and you’re the one to write it.’ I started thinking, ‘I need to write a book about this.’”
Through the years, I would start writing, then I would put the book aside. Something would trigger me, and I would write some more, then put it aside. I had a multitude of folders to go through, and I basically wrote three or four books.
For a while I struggled with how to end the book. “How do you end it? Debra Baker, the one woman who was tried and convicted for the murder of my ex-husband was on probation. That’s not a very good ending.”
But in 2003, Debra Baker was put in prison after she violated the terms of her probation. This again triggered me to pick up and start writing. But this time, I had an ending — at least one suspect was behind bars.
I interviewed jurors who sat through Baker’s murder trial. I reviewed medical records. I stayed close with investigators and friends of the murder victim. I tried to make my book as interesting as I could — if murder can be interesting.
On May 15, 2011, The National Indie Excellence Awards selected my book, “Fighting the Devil” as the 2011 NATIONAL INDIE EXCELLENCE AWARD FINALIST in the category of TRUE CRIME.
On June 25, 2011 At a ceremony during the American Library Association Conference in New Orleans, my book. “Fighting the Devil” was selected as the 2010 BOOK OF THE YEAR SILVER AWARD WINNER in TRUE CRIME.