One book unites Sioux County | News

Local-Sioux County residents added this year to an unsolved murder that took place in rural Iowa at the turn of the 20th century.

The book chosen for this year’s “One Book, One Sioux County” year-long reading program was “Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland” by Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf.

“We want to choose a book that has a broad appeal to a wide variety of people in our state,” said Jennifer Breams, library director at the University of Sioux Center’s Doddt. “We choose who we want to discuss.”

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“Midnight Assassin” tells the story of a murder on a farm near Indianola in 1900.

Margaret Hossack was accused of killing her husband, John Hossack, a prominent farmer, as he slept in their bed, with two straight blows to the head with an axe.

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Their children were also sleeping at home at the time of the murder.

Margaret Hossack, who neighbors said was abused by her husband, was eventually convicted of the crime, but the conviction was later overturned on appeal.

Nationwide event

The married co-authors of “Midnight Assassination” addressed Sioux County readers Nov. 3 at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon.

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Sioux County residents came out in droves to hear more from the authors about the historic whodunit and share their own theories about who committed the unsolved crime. The November author meet-and-greet was the culmination of the statewide reading program, drawing nearly 100 members of the public.







Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolfe

“Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland” co-authors Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf address those gathered for an evening presentation of their book earlier this month at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon.



“The book really got people talking because the case was unsolved, and people felt the need to solve it,” Brimes said. “If Patricia Bryan and Tom Wolfe had actually solved the case in their book, it would have made for a less compelling choice than the community reading — because there was only stuff to talk about and everyone became a pocket-pinch.”

In addition to writing books, Brian is a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A master of the fine art of fiction writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Wolfe has written numerous essays and a popular book on the history of baseball.

After extensive historical research into the Hossack case, neither Bryan nor Wolf were willing to say exactly who killed John Hossack, despite their theories.

“Part of the problem is that you can follow these ideas or these theories through your imagination and figure out how it got this way — but you never know,” Brian said during the NCC talk. “The victim is dead. Margaret Hossack says she didn’t. There was no one else. Therefore, going in these different directions is very interesting. “

Rather than solving the crime, the two historians-turned-writers do their best to recreate it.

“We knew it was very motivating when we were doing research, when we were trying to write a compelling narrative, to embellish here and there — to write scenes that we thought happened,” Wolfe told the Sioux County audience.

“I am trained as a creative writer so I like to write creatively. Patricia is trained as a lawyer and trained to follow facts.

They followed Brian’s instincts.

“Everything in the book is true,” Brian said, explaining that they collected archived newspaper clippings and oral histories. “Nothing found in the book.”

The book they produced is “a story about how stories are told in a community, how stories pass through families,” Brian said.

One book

“One Book One Sioux County” has been running since 2016 and books chosen over the years represent a variety of themes and genres.

“The mission of One Book, One Sioux County is to build community through the discussion of this one book,” Brimes said. “It’s all about connections — anything that can build bridges and foster conversation.”

Orange City resident Idelle Vogel attended the author event, and she chatted with the authors after their talk. This is her third year participating in the “One Book, One Sioux County” program, and she said it has pushed her to read books and genres she might not have otherwise considered.

“It’s easy to get stuck in your room,” she said. “It has broadened my horizons.”

“One Book, One Sioux County” is funded by the Sioux County Board of Supervisors in partnership with the state’s eight public libraries and three academic libraries. Each year, library directors from across the state collaborate to select a book that will bring community members from across the state together to connect to one story. They meet in small groups to participate in book club discussions at their local public libraries or participate in a variety of larger book-related events organized by the county reading program.







Jennifer Breams

Dodd University Library Director Jennifer Breams stands next to the One Book, One Sioux State banner at the John and Louise Hulst Library on the Sioux Center campus. The banner includes photos of past author visits.



“The programming we offer is designed not only to support a particular theme in the main book, but also to increase our partnerships with other institutions locally. That, too, has been a community-building strategy,” Breams said.

This year’s book-related events included:

  • A presentation on how communities respond to trauma by a representative of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • A class on growing herbs hosted by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
  • An information session on genealogical research offered in cooperation with the Sioux County Genealogical Society.
  • A staged reading of the play “Trifles” performed by students at the Dodt Theater on Friday and Saturday, November 18 and 19.

It’s acting

“Trifles” is inspired by the Hossack murder case, and the play — along with its author — is closely related to the story Brian and Wolf told in “Midnight Assassination.”







Dodt Theater Students

Senior Dodt University theater major Dakota Klein gets a round of applause from senior Tommy Shinn as senior Lyle Berwig and freshman Bennett Van Zurksum stand ready during a rehearsal warm-up for the staged reading of “Trifles.” “Trifles” was inspired by the Hossack murder case, and the play – along with its author – is connected to the book “Midnight Killer”.



During their November presentation, Wolff and Bryan discussed the approach of reconstructing the history of the Hossack assassination by mining available historical evidence. That testimony included the writings of turn-of-the-century journalist Susan Glaspell, who covered the trial for the Des Moines Daily News and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama — the second woman in history to do so.

One of Glaspell’s most notable works, “Trifles,” was later adapted into the widely anthologized short story “A Jury of Her Peers,” and although Glaspell’s work received little recognition during her lifetime, her contribution to the feminist movement of the 1970s was reclaimed.

Doddt senior Dakota Klein, drama major and director of the staged reading of “Trifles,” said the play illuminates important themes related to gender and the criminal justice system.

“Throughout the play there are strong themes of hostile and benevolent sex,” Klein said.

The Doddt University Drama Club organized the staged reading after Breams approached the department about hosting a production adapted from the statewide book program. The first reading took place on the evening of Friday, November 18, at Sioux Center, and another reading took place on the afternoon of Saturday, November 19, at the Iowa State Bank in Orange City.

“Trifles” is a fictionalized retelling of the Hossack case — for one thing, the play’s murder weapon is a hatchet, not an ax — but the plot closely parallels the unfolding of the Hossack investigation.

In the play, two men and three women, including a district attorney, enter a farm to investigate a murder.

“The women in the kitchen, they’re sure their wives won’t find anything — they won’t have a clue if they come upon it,” Bryan said, explaining the play’s plot. “They’re engrossed in kitchen trivia.”

Eventually, the women in the kitchen uncover evidence that the accused woman was a victim of her husband’s abuse, and the women exact their own justice.

“They recognize her loneliness, her isolation,” Brian said. “They recognize her husband’s cruelty to her—how he destroyed her vitality and her spirit.”







Dodt Rehearsal

Dodt Theater students rehearse for a staged reading of “Trifles,” a one-act play inspired by the Hossack murder case. The play – along with its author – is related to the book “Midnight Murderer”.



When the accused woman finally uncovers evidence that she killed her husband—an act of desperation and revenge—they cover it up, subverting the system and, in essence, becoming a jury of her peers to protect the woman accused of the crime.

Klein said the men are likely to decide the fate of the accused woman, not the trial she would get in a courtroom.

“There’s a line in the play where the district attorney says something like, ‘You know how juries are with women — we’ve got to find a story,'” Klein said.

While the women put all the pieces in the kitchen, the men went upstairs.

Community conversations

Along with drama students, Dodt students from other majors engaged in their classes’ statewide book selections.

Sophomore Anneka Pollema of Sioux Center, a social work major, was assigned the class book Introduction to Criminal Justice, and she attended the co-authors’ talk with many of her fellow students.

“I’ve always loved true crime, especially true crime books about murder,” Pollema said.

It was a “satisfying read” for Pollema in many ways, but she said the book’s themes connect with her own investment in creating a justice system that deals fairly with vulnerable women, especially victims of sex crimes.

She sees Margaret Hossack as a victim of her times.







Anneka Pollema

Dordt sophomore Anneka Pollema was named the “Midnight Assassin” in her criminal justice course. She participated in the author discussion at NCC along with many of her classmates.



“The abuse she did was ignored,” Pollema said. “Nobody really cared. ‘What is the story under here?

Next year’s choice

At the end of this year’s Meet the Author event, Rock Valley Public Library Director Nicole McCray unveiled next year’s “One Book, One Sioux County” selection, “Sugar Birds” by Cheryl Gray Bostram.

Set in the rural Pacific Northwest, “Sugar Birds” is a fictional story rich in scenery and told with a naturalist’s eye for detail in the natural world.

Breems compares it to the popular novel “Where the Crawdads Sing,” which was recently made into a movie.

“It’s in that genre, with well-developed characters and mystery, but also really beautiful details of location,” Brimes said.

Pollema won a copy of “Sugar Birds” in a book drawing at the NCC author event, and this is her first year participating in “One Book, One Sioux County,” and the self-described bookworm plans to join the statewide conversation. next year

“I’m excited to read the new book — I can honestly see myself participating in those things in the future, even when not required for a class,” she said.

Breams said the program will continue to explore new genres and new themes, appealing to new readers in the state.

“We always ask, ‘Who can be invited to the conversation? And what might that look like?'” she said.



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