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Eclectics: Harry MacLean


It’s Christmas Eve, 2022, at my parents’ house, and Mom has invited author Harry MacLean and his wife, Julya, for dinner. MacLean has just finished writing a non-fiction novel, “Starkweather,” about the murder spree (America’s first modern day mass murder) that took place in Lincoln, Neb., in 1958. MacLean adds depth to his stories about the 19-year-old killer Charlie Starkweather by painting a detailed picture of Lincoln in the 1950s. He should know better than most, as he is a native of the town and his brother had been in shop class with the killer.  By the time dinner was over, I was hooked.

Photo: Harry MacLean

MacLean had been an attorney in Washington, D.C., general counsel for the Peace Corps, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Denver Law School, a juvenile court magistrate and special counsel to Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, but he always wanted to be a writer.  He decided to give it a try in 1982, after reading about a vigilante killing in a small town in northwest Missouri. “I thought, that’s it! I grew up in small town, northcentral Nebraska in the Sandhills, across the river from this little town,” he says. “It’s going to be easier for me to drive across Nebraska and show up in that small town and fail, than not to have the guts at all. It became intolerable to not have the courage to write about it,” he adds. MacLean ended up living in that town and became a part of the community for two years. From those two years came his “New York Times” bestseller and Edgar Award Winner “In Broad Daylight”.


MacLean’s latest book, “Starkweather,” is the story of the teenage killer, who murdered 11 persons before his killing spree was over.  Starkweather freely admitted the murders.  The question was whether his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, 14, who accompanied him, was an accomplice. She denied participating in the killings. MacLean’s heavily detailed account concludes that Fugate, too, was a victim. 


“Starkweather” could easily have been written as a legal case, but MacLean followed author Truman Capote’s writing style of using a novelist’s technique to tell the story. “You just don’t go A through Z,” says MacLean. “You can spend a lot of time on place, something you would never do in a newspaper article.  It’s a different sort of creativity thrust when you see how it’s going to work.”


MacLean will be signing “Starkweather” at the Colfax Tattered Cover, Sunday, January 7, at 4 p.m.



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