On November 17, 1973, five teenagers went to Gitchie Manitou State Park, which is located on the South Dakota/Iowa border. Ranging in ages 13-18, they were looking forward to a night of conversation, music, and fun. Three men with guns soon appeared, posing as police officers. But they weren’t the police. They were brothers, and in fact, one was on work release from prison. Without motive, the Fryer brothers killed four of the five teenagers. Sandra Cheskey, just 13 years old, was the lone survivor of the mass murder that shook the heartland.
Sandra never spoke about the murders or that horrific night. Rumors, untruths, and skepticism followed, but she shut them out, convincing herself she’d moved on. It wasn’t until years later, after reading Phil Hamman’s memoir, Under the Influence, that she wondered if she should share her story to help other rape victims and trauma survivors. Sandra knew Phil and trusted him since he was good friends with one of the victims. In 2016, Gitchie Girl, a nickname Sandra was given after the crime, was published, and deep recovery began as she told her story on paper and in person. The authors, Phil and Sandy Hamman, focused on Sandra’s Cheskey’s account, which made it a very different true crime novel. Today the authors have agreed to talk about the second book, Gitchie Girl Uncovered, which releases today. Please welcome Phil and Sandy Hamman!
What made you decide to pursue a second book about the Gitchie Manitou murders? Did you plan on writing a sequel from the beginning?
We had no plans for a second book at the beginning. Our original purpose was to tell Sandra Cheskey’s story. We vastly underestimated how many people would be drawn to Sandra’s story and thought it would appeal to local folks who remembered or heard about the crimes. As we started going to book events, we kept getting many of the same questions that weren’t answered in the first book. We hadn’t planned on writing a sequel, but the interest in the story led to the second book.
What’s the difference between Gitchie Girl and Gitchie Girl Uncovered? Should readers read book one before reading book two?
Gitchie Girl tells about the mass murders but focuses on Sandra Cheskey’s life. Gitchie Girl Uncovered gives readers a closer look at the killers and their backgrounds. It also reveals some strange twists and bizarre discoveries made by the investigative team. We wrote the second book so that it can be read independently of the first book. We recap the murders in the second book and then go down a different path.
Gitchie Girl Uncovered will include more information about the Fryer brothers and the investigation. Did that information make the book harder to write than book one?
Yes. It was harder because the information came from several people we interviewed as well as a variety of legal documents, investigative reports, and court transcripts. There are thousands of pages of documents, and we had to read through a lot to get to the most interesting information. In the first book, we primarily relied on Sandra’s life story and interviews with her.
How did you research Gitchie Girl Uncovered? Did any information surprise you?
In addition to all of the documents we mentioned, we were surprised when we went to the Dickinson County Courthouse to research the trials. This is where the second murder trial was held, and all of the physical evidence was moved to the evidence locker at the courthouse. It was mind boggling to walk through row after row of evidence from so many different trials. When we got to the Gitchie Manitou shelf, there was quite a bit of physical evidence which we outline in the second book. It was an emotional experience for Phil when he found his best friend’s eyeglasses in an evidence bag. The glasses were found on the ground where the executions took place.
We also spent a full day as well as many phone conversations with five Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents who worked the case. Their stories brought the book to life. There were many other people associated with the crimes who shared their stories including the person who delivered Sandra (she was born in the backseat of a car), one of the ambulance drivers, a counselor, and parole officer.
Sandra Cheskey, the lone survivor of the Gitchie Manitou murders, was a major focus in book one. Will her story continue in book two?
We talk about Sandra throughout the second book as well and tell more about her life struggles. She experiences anxiety to this day that she traces back to the traumatic events.
You write true crime novels. What draws you to the genre, and what are you working on now?
It seems that we fell into writing true crime since Phil knew the lone survivor, Sandra, and the boys who were murdered. Once we found some success in this genre, we stayed in the groove. True crime is becoming more popular, and the stories are of interest to us as well.
Both of you are teachers. Does writing influence your teaching or teaching influence your writing? How?
I think this applies to Phil more than me since he works with high school students every day to help improve their writing. He shares how to continually improve and polish a writing piece, for example, by using stronger descriptive words. He shares his drafts with the students and demonstrates how he rewrites a piece multiple times. Then they are able to read the first draft of a chapter compared to the final as well as the writing skills involved in doing so.
Do you have any book signings or presentations planned for the area? Where might readers find upcoming events?
We have many events planned starting in late January. The first will be at Barnes & Noble in Sioux Falls on January 26, 2019 at 10:00 AM. I have included a link to our Facebook author’s page which is where we will post the other events. http://bit.ly/29MtujI
Thank you Phil and Sandy Hamman for the interview. See you at Barnes and Noble!
Would you like to read my previous interview with the authors? Click here.