Bushnell on Books: Kennebec Journal and Central Maine Morning Sentinel 

February 10, 2023



When hitman Ian Connah retires from Boston’s Irish mob, he thinks he’s all set. Four divorces with alimony payments don’t faze him; after all he’s got a $3 million retirement nest egg in the bank. Then his financial advisor steals all the money and skips town, leaving Connah broke and back in the game. And he’s not happy.

“Ripped Off” is the perfect title for Stockholm, Maine, author Vaughn Hardacker’s newest novel, a fast-paced, complex tale of money, murder, and mayhem. Hardacker has penned six novels, and three were finalists for the MWPA Literary Award. He understands what makes people tick and is very skillful at convincingly describing bad guys doing bad things (especially to each other, which is refreshing).

Now that Connah is back in the business and needs money, he finds himself in a dilemma. Two former girlfriends run mob operations in Boston: Billie runs the Irish mob, and Bobbi runs the Italian mob, and they hate each other. Each wants to hire Connah to kill their unladylike rival, but he refuses to kill a woman (a hitman with morals?). Then a third gangster takes out a contract on both women, and Connah has to protect them from hired guns at a lakeside hideout in Maine.

Meanwhile, the financial advisor is on the run in South America, scared to death knowing Connah is coming for him. Connah is determined to catch up with the thief and recover his money, but first he and his sidekick, Stone, must plow through layers of South American crooks, corruption, and the deadly Amazon rainforest.

The reader will quickly see this could have easily been two separate novels, but Hardacker pulls it off nicely with loads of action, plot twists, a high body count, and a guy who just wants to retire.


Are Your Characters Realistic?

One of the things that will turn me off from a book is Tom Swift-style characters, you know, the hero who excels at everything they have ever done. For example, The Great Leslie Gallant character of the Warner Brothers 1965 movie THE GREAT RACE. The movie is one of my all-time favorites and a great satire. However, the characters are all shallow. Tony Curtis as Great Leslie is the protagonist, and Jack Lemmon is Professor Fate Leslie’s nemesis and antagonist. Are satirical illustrations of the heroes and villains of silent films. The problem is they are one-dimensional (albeit, I believe, intentionally so).

We writers must never forget that people are not one or even two-dimensional. They are multi-faceted.  They have hopes and fears, hates, likes, and failures.  Yet, we tend to focus on one or two dominant traits when considering their personalities.  We describe someone we know to another person as, “He’s the pushy one.”  Or “She’s so sweet but a bit ditsy.”  It’s what, in our minds, makes these people individuals to us. So, too, the characters we write must be multi-faceted.  When we write them as such, they blend into one another with no personality distinctions.  Their physical attributes differ, but you could probably swap around and notice little difference.  The most recent rejection letter says, “Your characters are cookie cutter.”  Of course, in your mind, you (as the writer) see all these “people” as distinct. Remember the way we describe people?  Define your characters the same way.  Give your hero two or three traits.  That’s all.  Give him two good and one bad (or two bad and one good, if your character is evil).  Lesser characters get fewer traits.

I’m currently working on a novel where my protagonist is moral (good) and long-suffering in patience (good), but when he’s had enough, he’s brutal (bad).  My antagonist, by necessity, is almost the opposite:  arrogant (bad) and insecure (bad), which makes him a bully.

Released January 25, 2023

I try to make all of my writing character-driven (we sort of have to, after all, virtually every plot today is derived from Shakespeare), so even though there’s a “bad guy” in my Bouchard and Houston novels, one of my readers’ favorite characters is an anti-hero. Jimmy O could easily be the antagonist.  However, as interesting as many of my readers have found him, he’s a supporting character (they get only two traits, in Jimmy O’s case, he can be a brutal and violent mobster while, on the other hand, he uses that trait to help people less fortunate as he). A member of one of my writing groups said he is a gangster with morals.

It’s important to remember that sometimes stories change as we write them.  A minor character (Jimmy O) could suddenly become important and move into a supporting character role.  If this happens, give that character one more trait.  But only one; you don’t want to interfere with the importance of the primary characters. Likewise, a supporting character may fall back to supporting status.  In that case, focus on just one of his chosen traits. The most important thing to remember is what is your character’s role in the story…does his or her presence move the story forward?  If you don’t know that, your characters will have too many traits, and once again, they’ll become cookie-cutter people with different roles.

How I Gave Birth For the Seventh Time.

A week from today, January 25, will be the birthday of my seventh novel. This one I’ve named  RIPPED OFF. The idea for the story came to me when I was having a cup of coffee and pondering what to write. Most books start off with a “What If?” question. The question was: “What if someone ripped off a reformed hitman and took his entire savings?” Now that I had the germ of the idea, things started to fall into place at a rapid pace. Deciding how Ian Connah (the protagonist) would act was easy. He’d go after the thief. However, he was now broke; his banker told him he’d need a co-signer to buy a pack of chewing gum. His only option was to get back in the game.

Returning to his old profession was my first challenge. He’s my protagonist–called the hero by Joseph Campbell in his classic book on storytelling and myths, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES–and how do you make a man who has killed people for a living likable? Lawrence Block wrote about a hitman named John Keller and was able to make Keller human. How could I do so with Ian Connah? I sent him from his retirement home in Maine back to Boston. He ends up protecting two women (now mob bosses) from three highly skilled hitters hired by a rival mobster. The two women and Connah have a history. In fact, they competed for his affection since junior high school. They despise one another. He sequesters them in an unused hunting and fishing lodge on a remote lake in the Maine woods. Then the fun begins.

I started writing with the above plot in mind… then the story took me where it wanted to go. Of all my novels, RIPPED OFF is my second favorite. WENDIGO is number one (it is still my best-selling book, and one editor has told me my best to date).

Now that number seven is about to be delivered, it’s time for number eight. Should I do another Ian Connah or finish one of the six I have partially written. I’ve learned that for me writing is an addiction. I finish one novel and immediately start worrying about the next–even though I don’t know what it will be. Maybe one about a nun who stalks criminals at night? Nah, they have always said to write what you know. I don’t know squat about being a nun… On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever killed anyone–at least not since the wild days of my youth.

What if?

Maine Veterans’ Homes

Vaughn C. Hardacker

Today, November 11, is Veterans’ Day. It was originally Armistice Day to commemorate the veterans of WWI. The treaty ending the war (even though hostilities had stopped months before) was signed at 11 A.M. (the eleventh hour) on the 11th day of the 11th month. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill making it a day to honor all veterans who served honorably on May 26, 1954. As a veteran, it is a day I hold dear and makes me pause and reflect on “What have I done for other veterans this past year?” This year I can reflect back with pride and a sense of accomplishment.

About The Maine Veterans’ Homes. The Maine Veterans Homes’ are regulated by the Maine Department of Veterans Affairs but are not run by it. The homes are run by a non-profit corporation, The Maine Veterans Homes’ The administration of Maine Veterans’ Homes is vested in the Board of Trustees of the Maine Veterans’ Homes. The Board of Trustees is formally appointed by the Governor and is comprised of honorably discharged Veterans and non-veteran community members who broadly represent the various Veteran organizations, interests, and geographic regions of the state. The initial charter specified that locations would be in Augusta, Bangor, Caribou, Machias, Scarborough, and South Paris. The board later changed this without the approval of the legislature.

In October 2021, the Board met behind closed doors and decided to close the Caribou and Machias locations in May 2022. They also agreed to keep this confidential until February 2022 because they feared an exodus of nurses and staff. Delaying the announcement also made the window for public input would be reduced. When they made the announcement public, the Board cited the following reasons for the closures (1) difficulties in finding qualified staff and (2) a declining population of veterans. When he learned of the closures, Senator Troy Jackson took action. He wrote a bill requiring the Maine Veterans’ Homes to go before the legislature (which was not required then) and contacted several area veterans groups.

Presentation of WWII Appreciation to Robert Michaud USMC

As Commandant of Detachment 1414 of the Marine Corps League, I was notified of this decision. It spurred me into action. Several years ago, my detachment identified as many living WWII veterans as possible. We visited each one and presented them with a certificate of appreciation and an American Flag. It was possibly one of the most emotional events I’ve ever been involved in. The reaction we received from these men and women was phenomenal, everything from surprise to hugging us–we even saw a lot of tears. Never before had I experienced a ninety-something-year-old veteran struggling out of a wheelchair to stand at attention to salute me. I even met a Navy veteran who drove one of the landing craft that took U. S. Marines ashore at the battle of Iwo Jima.

At the time, five of these veterans lived in the Caribou Maine Veterans’ Home. We learned of a public hearing with the Committee On Veterans and Legal Affairs and obtained access. More than twenty local veterans attended and were each given three minutes to speak. We got our eyes open wide about the management of the Maine Veterans’ Homes. The CEO of the non-profit (who we later learned was earning $243,000.00 per year) stated his case mentioning the items listed above. The next speaker was an employee of the Caribou home. Her comments were: “Of course, they can’t find qualified staff. They’ve had a hiring freeze on since October. As for there not being a large enough population of veterans, currently, 100% of our beds are occupied, and we have a waiting list.” She closed with a warning, “We haven’t started seeing an influx of Vietnam and Gulf wars veterans  The committee approved Senator Jackson’s bill and went before the entire legislature, which was unanimously approved. Governor Mills signed the bill into law, and the Maine Veterans’ Homes backed down. Another factor was the expansion of the Augusta location.

The Maine Veterans’ Homes had received approval for a $30,000,000 bond to construct a new home in Augusta. There was more surprise when we saw photos of the new location (where we were told our patients could be moved to. Why not tell our people to say a final goodbye to their loved ones because they’d never see them again?) The new home was over budget by a considerable amount, and The Maine Veterans’ Homes wanted it to be as fully occupied as possible to justify the cost overruns (this is my personal theory). The pictures showed fancy entrances to the rooms (all of which were private), coffee shops, and conference rooms that could be rented. “What do those things have to do with caring for our veterans?” was the most often asked question.

In closing, we saved the Caribou and Macias homes, and the board, which previously had no representation north of Bangor, now has an Aroostook County member. I wrote a letter to the governor recommending the expansion of the Board and the creation of an advisory committee that would meet periodically with the management of the Caribou home to discuss ways in which we, veterans’ organizations, can assist them. We also have made a commitment to ourselves that we will not be caught off guard again… we will continue to monitor the actions of The Maine Veterans’ Homes.

BTW. It has been reported to me that the CEO of the Maine Veterans’ Homes has announced his intention to retire early in 2023.

Concert to Honor Veterans

Meo Bosse Detachment of the Marine Corps League presents a concert to Honor Veterans at the Caribou Performing Arts Center at 7:00 pm on November 5, 2022. Tickets are: (In advance) $10 for a single, $17 a couple, and (At the door) $12 per person. All proceeds will be held in escrow to assist Aroostook County Veterans who may need emergency assistance during the upcoming winter season.
For more information, please email:
Tickets are available at:
Anderson’s Store 327 Main St, Stockholm, ME
Pat’s Automotive 669 Main St, Caribou, ME
Northeast Propane 441 Main Street Caribou, ME
Brambleberry Market 25 Sweden Street, Caribou, ME
Sonny’s Gun Shop 552 South Main St., Caribou, ME
Aroostook Mall Office Presque Isle, ME
Bradley’s Citgo 46 North Street, Presque Isle, ME
Riverside Restaurant 399 Main Street, Presque Isle, ME
Bogan Books 130 West Main Street, Fort Kent, ME
Bouchard’s Country Store 772 Caribou Rd., Fort Kent, ME
Misty Meadows 1443 Main, U. S. Route 1, Lille, ME

Now The Real Work Begins

My seventh thriller novel, RIPPED OFF, is scheduled for release on January 25, 2023. I believe that once the book is completed, one of the biggest shocks new writers get is when they learn that writing a novel is only the beginning of the process. Most writers enjoy writing, it’s what we do… many of us do not enjoy selling I speak with many of my colleagues, and most of us have a tendency to isolate… we do it every time we sit down to put words on paper.  Unless you are Stephen King, Michael Connelly, or Robert Crais, you must do most of the promotion. I have often been told, “You’re one of the best writers nobody has heard of.”) How does this all come together? The steps (as I see them) are as follows:


  1. The idea. What is the basic plot? In RIPPED OFF, it was “What would happen if, after being divorced for the fourth time, a retired hitman learns that his financial manager and accountant have stolen his retirement funds?” The step includes researching specific areas needed for the plot to be credible.
  2.  I’m a pantser, so I begin writing, believing that the story will take me where it wants to go. Therefore, I do not outline. I have tried many times but have yet to complete an outline.
  3. Finish the first draft.
  4. Edit the first draft.
  5. Develop a query letter. Query agents and/or publishers.
  6. Once accepted, await the editor’s comments. Make corrections as needed (rewrite as needed).

    Coming January 2023

  7. When the publisher gives you a release date. (I find this to be the most challenging part of the process), develop a marketing plan (campaign). The campaign should include: (a) how many ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) will be required. (b) Develop a list of people to receive ARCs. Consider people who are published authors, book reviewers, etc. (DO NOT SEND COPIES TO RELATIVES… they will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.).
  8. Design documents for a mailing campaign. I write a cover letter, a press release, a possible poster that can be used for appearances at bookstores and libraries, an 8 X 10 author photo, an 8 X 10 cover photo of the book’s cover, and a USB drive with all of the aforementioned.
  9. Consider what promotional items you might hand out at personal appearances, conferences, etc.
  10. Mail the package to places and people who are in a position to assist you.

We aren’t finished yet. If you don’t have a webpage, get one. I recommend having it professionally designed. It is best if you pay a bit more to purchase a URL and a secure server. If you obtain a site via a provider, Yahoo, Verizon, etc., they will provide you with both. However, you will not own them, the provider will.

Of all this, the most critical thing is obtaining book reviews {step 7. (b) above.} from known authors and book reviewers. Some will charge you a fee for them. Your publisher may assist here, sending review copies to reviewers such as Publisher Weekly.  (Do not assume that paying for a review will guarantee a positive one. Reviewers know that their success depends on their credibility, which comes from giving accurate, unbiased reviews.) There are many online places to get reviews, Bookbub, and any professional organizations to which you belong (International Thriller Writers–ITW). Approach media outlets such as local radio and television stations, and offer to do an interview either via phone or in person. Don’t overlook word of mouth. I have gone so far as to give complimentary copies to people who are in a position to spread the word.

Finally, don’t overlook Amazon. If you don’t have an author page with them, get one. Amazon is another place to obtain reviews.

If anyone is interested in obtaining a free copy of my campaign package, contact me via my website https://www.vaughnchardacker .net.

Remeniscences of Summer

Vaughn C. Hardacker

Vaughn C. Hardacker here: I’m writing this on September 12, 2021, and here in the north country, we are starting to see some of the trees donning their autumnal finery. Autumn (Fall if you prefer) has always been my favorite season. I believe it’s because when the trees approach their peak color, and the sky is a stunning blue and cloudless, the entire landscape seems to be at its brightest. It’s always surprised me how such a bright and beautiful season is, in reality, the precursor to the cold, dark, dreary winter. I’ve always thought that fall is Mother Nature’s last opportunity to dress up before her long winter nap.

It also makes me pause and review the summer past. The past year has been anything but boring up in The County. It started in its usual way. The sun sets around 3:00 pm, and it is full dark by 3:30. In my pre-retirement days, I drove to work in the dark, worked in a windowless office, and then drove home in the dark. It made me feel like a  mushroom… kept in the dark and fed B. S.

Then in February, the nonprofit company that runs the Maine Veterans Homes announced its intention to close the homes in Caribou and Machias. The closure decision was made in October but kept secret until February. Why the delay of the announcement? I can only think of one reason, they were afraid that if they announced the pending closure (it was to happen in May), staff would immediately start searching for jobs elsewhere. In short, they were screwing their employees. This action lit a three-foot fire under the local veteran community. When Trot Jackson (Democrat from Allagash), President of the Maine State Senate, introduced legislation to stop the closures, county veterans (regardless of political affiliation) rallied around him and went to work. At the risk of sounding cynical, the Maine Veterans Homes should have known better than to attempt such a wrong move during an election year. To make this short, the legislation passed the Maine Legislation with 100% bipartisan support.

In June, I was asked if I would be willing to join a group of veterans for a whirlwind trip to

Wreath Ceremony June 17, 2022

Washington, D.C. We left Caribou at six o’clock on Thursday morning, June 16, and drove all day and night, stopping only for gas and food. We arrived in Washington around 1:30 am on Friday the 17th. We checked into our hotel, slept for a few hours, and performed a wreath ceremony at The Tomb of The Unknown at Arlington Cemetery. The temperature that day hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but as we watched the honor marching in dark blue uniforms in the blistering heat, we knew that we had no business complaining. I had an epiphany of sorts. We may never again have an unknown… the military now routinely takes DNA from all of its members and stores it in a database.

It made me think of my first friend in Vietnam. Joe Zutterman, from Marysville, Kansas, took me under his wing when I arrived in-country on January 29, 1968. Joe had some trouble early in his Marine career and

Visiting Joe Zutterman, Vietnam Wall, December 2016

had been demoted. He was due to return home on April 20, 1968. He was offered a promotion to Sergeant (E-5) if he would extend his tour for an additional six months. On April, the first day of his extension, the helicopter in which Joe was door gunner was blown up. When I visited the wall, Joe was listed as MIA (Assumed Dead) Body Not Recovered. I saw the wreckage; all the recovery crew found were bits and pieces. The crew and Joe Zutterman’s remains have never been recovered. With DNA technology, all that is required is a small piece of the body, and identity can be determined.

Now that I’m thinking of Joe and how his death made me realize that the movies have no idea what war is like. Wouldn’t it be great if, after a battle, the director could shout, “Cut…that’s a wrap…” and all the participants, dead and alive, got up and went home? I recently read somewhere that since the American Revolution, there have only been 23 years in which there has not been a war in which our armed forces were involved.

Maybe there no longer being an unknown soldier isn’t a bad thing after all. This winter, on those cold, dark nights, I’ll big this blog post up, think of Joe… and feel warm all over.

About Vaughn C. Hardacker

Vaughn C. Hardacker has published six novels and numerous short stories. He is a member of the New England Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, and the International Thriller writers. Three times he has been a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards Crime Fiction category, SNIPER, in 2015, THE FISHERMAN in 2016, and WENDIGO for the 2018 award. The second installment of his Ed Traynor series, MY BROTHER’S KEEPER was released in July 2019 and is available through all major booksellers. A signed copy can be ordered directly from Vaughn ( THE EXCHANGE his most recently published crime/thriller was released on September 4, 2020. His next thriller, RIPPED OFF, is scheduled to be released by Encircle Publications in January 2023. He is a veteran of the U. S. Marines and served in Vietnam. He holds degrees from Northern Maine Technical College, the University of Maine and Southern New Hampshire University. He lives in Stockholm, Maine.

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Guest Blogger: Shelley Reed Burbank

Shelley Burbank is a mystery and women’s fiction author based in Maine and San Diego, California. Her short fiction has been published in the confession market and literary magazines, and she worked as a journalist for a weekly newspaper for many years. Her most recent short fiction can be found in San Diego Woman Magazine.

Shelley’s debut women’s fiction/mystery novel Final Draft: An Olivia Lively Mystery will be traditionally published by Encircle Publications in March 2023 .

Book Review: WENDIGO by Vaughn Hardacker

During a major west-coast heatwave, temps in the 90s, and energy conservation necessitating the turning off of the air conditioner after 4 pm, I plunged into Vaughn Hardacker’s frozen Maine landscape to follow the hunt for a supernatural creature–the Wendigo, an Algonquin manitou (god), monstrous and ravenous for human flesh.

Hardacker’s prose sucked me in immediately with vivid descriptions, immediacy, and action. There is little navel-gazing here. Wendigo is an adventure story. The reader travels along snow-covered, north woods logging roads, hunkers down beneath frozen pine boughs with a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Crime Investigator named John Bear, and feels the burn of strong coffee percolated on a blazing woodstove while snow and sleet swirl outside the windows of sturdy–and not so sturdy–homes. It’s cold up there at the Crown of Maine!

Even though it’s not my usual reading fare, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale. Some of the descriptions wigged me out with the gore, but the bloody scenes definitely added to my desire to see the Wendigo destroyed. Hardacker puts the reader into the monster’s head, as well. No, I did not feel sorry for it, but understanding it added to the tension.

Family, friend, and community relations figured into the storylines and added the warmth of humanity to the basic “man-hunt” (monster-hunt?) plot. We meet dour general store proprietors, a clan of hunters/trappers suspicious of government interference, north woods law enforcement, and even a Bangor journalist nosing around for a story and finding a little romance with John Bear.

If you enjoy Paul Doiron’s fiction, outdoorsy stories, hunting and hiking and other adventure stories, and supernatural tales best told around a blazing campfire, give this one a read.

5/5 for solid prose, great pacing, steadily-increased tension, vivid setting, and a satisfying ending.

Hardacker is a 2018 Maine Literary Awards Finalist. He blogs with Maine Crime Writers and his next book is due out in January 2023 by Encircle Publications.


On June 4th of this year, I received a phone call from a friend of my younger brother, Dana, informing me that Dana had died at 1:30 a.m. that morning. Four years younger than I am, Dana had been battling kidney disease for the past year and had been undergoing dialysis treatments.

I was the second of my father’s three sons and the first of my mother’s. My father was a merchant seaman and had been married to Agnes Wallace Hardacker.  While my father was away, she gave birth to a child. She named him, Norman, after my father’s father. It was the beginning of a very dysfunctional life. Norman’s mother suffered from tuberculosis and her disease had advanced to the point where after Norman was taken from the delivery room, she would never again be allowed to hold her son.

Norman was then sent to live with our grandmother. In 1945, my father’s ship docked in Cardiff, Wales, UK and he met a young woman named Lorraine Virgin. Two weeks later they married. A decision would later be made to allow my grandparents to adopt Norman. The rationale was that he would serve as a replacement for my namesake, Vaughn, who was killed in the fighting for the hedgerows in France in August 1944. It was a decision that would have long-term repercussions.

My father took his new bride to the United States and left her with his family. He then went back to sea. I was born in Caribou, Maine on July 20, 1947. My

Vaughn C. Hardacker

mother took me to Wales when I was one year old and stayed there for a year. She then returned to the United States. My father, still in the merchant marine, was shipping out of New York and she settled in nearby Jersey City, New Jersey. She was a young woman alone in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the U. S. and found a circle of friends with whom she spent much of her time. The problem was not so much who she spent time with as much as where they spent it. A the corner of the block was Bea and Steve’s Bar. I have no idea how much time she and her toddler son spent there, but I have no memory of the apartment in which we lived. However, to this day seventy-three years later, I can still draw a floor plan of Bea and Steve’s.

Dana Michael Hardacker

The year 1951 was traumatic for me. I had thus far lived my life as an only child. In Jersey City on June 21, 1951, Dana Michael Hardacker came into the world. I was struggling to adjust to the new arrival when my father returned from sea. Before leaving on that voyage, he had promised my mother that it would be his last. I later learned that when he announced he was shipping out again in a few days, a great argument took place. He had a collection of paperweights that he’d collected from numerous places he’d visited and she knocked him out with one. He had made his last voyage.

I now had two strangers in my life. One I was told was my brother and the other was my father (heretofore I had no idea who he was. I was once told that when my mother and I would walk down the street, I’d ask men we’d pass if they were my father, At this age, I had no knowledge of Norman.

When I was seven, in 1954, we left New Jersey and returned to Maine. It was my first experience with how dysfunctional my family was. I was introduced to my Uncle Norman. I still wonder how Norman felt when he learned that his father was now his brother, his uncles were also brothers, his grandparents were his parents, and his brothers were his nephews. To say the least, my relationship with Norman was very strained and would remain so for the rest of Norman’s life (Norman died a few days before Christmas 2006–three months after I lost my wife of thirty-six years).

The four years difference between Dana and me didn’t seem to be a big deal. When I was in high school he was still in grammar school and we started to drift apart. My high school years were spent in a state of constant warfare with my mother, who was a full-blown alcoholic by this time. I was seventeen when I graduated high school and within days left home. The situation there was so bad that I left Caribou in the passenger seat of a truck headed for Boston to pick up a load of beer–now ain’t that a coincidence? I had one small suitcase with two shirts, two days’ worth of underwear and socks, and the grand sum of $5.00. I hung around the Boston area from June to September working as a laborer for a construction crew. In September the owner offered me the opportunity to stay on and he would teach me the masonry trade. Instead, I left and went to New London, Connecticut.

I ended up in a boarding house where Norman, now out of the navy, was living and working at Electric Boat.  I don’t know which of us was more relieved when in November I decided I wanted no part of submarines and departed from New Jersey.

Over the years, I separated myself from my brothers. I very seldom spoke or visited Norman in Connecticut and Dana who became a career soldier was in Oklahoma (he also suffered from the effects of our mother’s alcoholism and PTSD. This may explain why he was married five times to four different women.) Over the years Dana and I would speak over the phone two or three times a year, I visited him and wife #3 in Oklahoma and quickly realized that he and I had little in common and again, don’t know who was happier when the visit ended.

The week before he died, I spoke with Dana on the phone and when I learned that he was not doing well, I said, “Dana, we need to talk to each other every week. He passed away one week later to the day.

Today, six weeks after his death, I can’t help but wonder if the thought of having to talk to me weekly helped him along. I think about our lives. As stated I don’t know much about Norman’s life, only that the only time his father/brother paid attention to him was when my grandmother called saying that Norman was acting up. Then the old man would play Dad and correct him, usually with a physical reminder. I’ve come to realize that my father’s decision to marry my mother had devastating consequences for Norman. I have no doubt that she influenced my father (who had little if any contact with his oldest son) because she was not about to raise another woman’s kid.

Of the three, I was the wildest and most rebellious. My reputation in Caribou, a small town, was so bad that I had been gone from there for more than five years when I met the woman who would have to deal with me for thirty-six years. The first thing she said when we were introduced was, “I’ve heard about you.” I once met an old girlfriend at her father’s funeral and she saw me in my Marine uniform and asked: Of all branches, the Marines are the last I thought you would join. My reply was, “I guess something inside of me knew that if I was going to get straightened out I needed to get my butt kicked.” She smiled and said, “My father said that about you when we were seeing each other in our junior year.”

I mentioned earlier about my stormy relationship with my mother, it never got better. At her funeral, a childhood friend said, “I’m surprised to see you here.” My reply: “I wanted to make sure they weren’t lying to me.” I hope those of you who have known me for a while may get a better idea of why at times I can be cold, aloof, and unapproachable. It’s nothing you’ve done it’s just my battered self-esteem hiding behind the wall I’ve built around my feelings.

So, to answer the question posed in the title of this blog all I can say is this, I know more about dysfunction than anything else. And, ain’t we always told, “Write what you know“?

Republic of Madawaska

Vaughn Hardacker here: If only all wars could be like the Aroostook War, a boundary dispute fought mostly with fists rather than cannon. The conflict featured a battle broken up by a bear, an arrest over a homemade flag and soldiers who shivered in ridiculous uniforms. It was also known as the Pork and Beans War, either because of lumbermen’s diet or the British regulars’ rations.

The Aroostook War, which took place from 1838-39, involved timber-hungry Mainers and timber-hungry New Brunswickers. They squared off until Daniel Webster settled the whole thing. Though the conflict was more farce than war, the mythical Republic of Madawaska that started it is taken seriously by its inhabitants today.

Map of The Aroostook War


Robert Pike in Tall Trees, Tough Men characterized the Aroostook War as starting when ‘Maine carted a couple of brass cannon up north to shoot at Canadians stealing Maine timber.’

The trouble started when the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution, but left ambiguous the border between Maine, then a district, and the Canadian province of New Brunswick.

The Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, still left the boundary unsettled. Conflict seemed inevitable as the British needed the tall pines along the St. John River for the navy’s masts. But the Americans had a voracious appetite for lumber as well.

People called the disputed land Madawaska, settled by French (Acadian) people. The French had little love for the British, who crowded them out of their land in Nova Scotia. They called themselves Les Brayons, and farmed peacefully. The lumbermen caused all the trouble, fighting among themselves for the best stands of trees.



In 1817, a settler named John Baker arrived in Madawaska with his family from Kennebec. Maine. He earned a reputation as ‘the Washington of the Republic of Madawaska.’Baker pursued his rights to the land as an American, and obtained a land grant north of the St. John River after Maine became a state in 1820. He built up a successful millworks, which still stands, in territory claimed by the British. The U.S. government recognized the British claim, but that didn’t stop Baker. On July 4, 1827, he hoisted a homemade flag his wife Sophronia had sewn with six stars above an American eagle. Baker declared the Republic of Madawaska an American republic. He then threw a party with Les Brayons and a French fiddler in what is now Baker-Brook, New Brunswick.

The Madawaska Flag

The Madawaska Flag flown during the Aroostook War.

The next month, John Baker declared American Aroostook Independence Day on Aug. 10, 1827. New Brunswick demanded Baker take down the flag. When he refused, they arrested him and hauled him off to a Fredericton jail. No sooner did he leave her sight than his wife hoisted another homemade flag.

A New Brunswick court tried Baker for conspiracy and sedition, convicted him, fined him, and sent him home. The U.S. government protested vigorously. Washington sent U.S. regulars to Houlton, and they began to build an invasion road and fort.


Negotiators appointed under the Treaty of Ghent had requested a survey of Madawaska. But according to local legend, the Americans got the British surveyors so drunk they surveyed the wrong river. In the end, the two sides couldn’t agree, so they appointed the King of the Netherlands umpire. His decision satisfied neither side.

Madawaska then organized a government under John Baker’s leadership and elected Pierre Lizotte, a Brayon, to represent them. Lizotte wisely rejected the honor because New Brunswick officials arrested, tried, and convicted people who voted.

The Maine Legislature subsequently retaliated by recognizing the Town of Madawaska. The ‘town’ measured three times the size of Rhode Island.

Tempers continued to flare. Fists flew, officials got arrested and tensions finally boiled over in 1838 with the Battle of Caribou… ‘Battle’ may be too strong a word. The only combat fatality at the Battle of Caribou — and in the whole of the Aroostook War — was a bear. On December 29, American woodcutters spotted New Brunswick lumbermen cutting down trees on an American’s estate. The American woodcutters rushed to stand guard, and a shouting match ensued. The lumbermen drew arms and prepared to fire, but a black bear attacked three New Brunswickers. The New Brunswickers shot and killed the bear, but the Americans thought they were being fired at. They fired at the fleeing New Brunswickers – and missed.


The next month, Maine Gov. John Fairfield sent a posse to arrest the New Brunswick timbermen. The British arrested the posse’s leader. New Brunswick officials arrested Maine’s land agent and held him in New Brunswick. Then the Americans incarcerated New Brunswick’s land agent in Bangor for a while. British troops began to gather on the Saint John River.

America readied for the Aroostook War, led, as usual, by the press. “Maine and her soil, or BLOOD!” screamed one editorial. “Let the sword be drawn and the scabbard thrown away!” Congress authorized 50,000 troops and a $10 million budget and forts were built along the frontier, sometimes within sight of each other.

Newspapers sent war correspondents to the front, and Maine militiamen took target practice at effigies of Queen Victoria. A farmer who wandered onto the firing range became one of the few casualties of the war. Another soldier succumbed to the measles.

No one actually died in battle during the Aroostook War. The soldiers who marched through the snow suffered from the cold because of their light uniforms. That deficit was made up of thick red shirts and pea-green coats. Today there is a single headstone on Route 2A in Hainesville, Maine on which is the name of the only human to die in the war. He died from exposure (or pneumonia depending on which tale you believe) while marching to the border.

One local legend has it that a New Brunswick lumber camp cook and his large girlfriend wandered over to the American fort one day, only to find it deserted. The Americans fled because the girlfriend wore a red dress and they thought the Redcoats were coming.


The diplomacy of U.S. Gen. Winfield Scott and New Brunswick Lt. Gov. John Harvey averted bloodshed. The two men had become friends when Scott was imprisoned under Harvey during the War of 1812.


Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton settled the Aroostook War with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which also resolved other border issues between the United States and Canada.

In the end, Maine got the fertile Aroostook River Valley, the heavily forested upper St. John, the right to navigate freely on the lower St. John and duty-free status for Aroostook timber in British and U.S. ports.

The treaty placed John Baker’s sawmill in British Canada, where he stayed. His remains are buried at Fort Fairfield, where a monument incorrectly declares him a Maine hero.

The memory of the Aroostook War and the myth of the Madawaska Republic live on. The flag that Sophronia Baker created flies at the city hall in Edmundston. Madawaskans fly the banner at  Madawaska festivals. And the mayor of Edmundston assumes the honorary title of ‘President of the Republic of Madawaska.’

Elderly Banking

Vaughn C. Hardacker

 For most of my life, I worked with computers, networking, and technology. Many of the innovations I’ve seen have made it easier to perform many of our daily functions. There is one technology that I wish had never been developed–I speak of the automated attendant from hell. The only purpose this technology serves is to make it as difficult as possible for you to interface with a living, in the flesh, human being. Of all the tasks people have to perform, dealing with their bank is probably the worst.

Shown below, is an actual letter that was sent to a bank by an 82-year-old woman. The bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it published in the New York Times

Dear Sir:

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire pension, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years. You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank. My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally answer your telephone calls and letters, — when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become. From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person.

My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate. Be aware that it is an OFFENSE under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope.

Please find attached an Application Contract which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets, and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, at MY convenience, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows: IMMEDIATELY AFTER DIALING, PRESS THE STAR (*) BUTTON FOR ENGLISH

#1. To make an appointment to see me.

#2. To query a missing payment.

#3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.

#4. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.

#5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.

#6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.

#7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated to you at a later date to that Authorized Contract mentioned earlier.

#8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 7 again

#9. To make a general complaint or inquiry. The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.

#10. This is a second reminder to press * for English. While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement. May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous New Year?

Your Humble Client

And remember: Don’t make old people mad. We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off. . .

Your Humble Client

Robert Pickton: The Pig Farmer Serial Killer from Canada Who Confessed To 49 Murders  

Vaughn C. Hardacker

Dozens of women met a gruesome end on Pickton’s isolated property.

In 2007, Robert William “Willy” Pickton was convicted of murdering six women and sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole for 25 years—the longest sentence that he could possibly receive at the time. He was charged with the deaths of many more—and, while in prison, admitted to an undercover officer that he had killed 49 women, and that he wanted to bring that number up to “an even 50.”

The details of Robert Pickton’s crimes—which included the discovery of human remains in trash cans, feeding bodies to his pigs, and possibly even selling human flesh mixed with pork for public consumption—shocked the country and the world, and were uncovered by one of the largest serial killer investigations in Canadian history.

Who Is Robert Pickton?

Before he became known as one of Canada’s most prolific serial killers, Robert Pickton was described as a “pretty quiet guy” who, along with his brother, owned a pig farm in British

Robert Pickton

Columbia. A worker on the farm later called it a “creepy-looking place,” and in 1998, the brothers were sued by the local government over zoning ordinance violations for neglecting the property and turning one of their slaughterhouses into an event venue.

In 1996, the two brothers had registered a nonprofit organization called the “Piggy Palace Good Times Society”—a disturbing name, in hindsight. Its stated aims were to “organize, coordinate, manage, and operate special events, functions, dances, shows, and exhibitions on behalf of service organizations, sports organizations, and other worthy groups.”

In practice, the farm played host to a variety of raves and wild parties which were held in a converted slaughterhouse. Among those known to frequent the parties held at the Picktons’ farm were sex workers from Vancouver and members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club. In 1998, the Picktons were served with an injunction banning any future events on the premises, and their nonprofit status was revoked the following year.

Robert Pickton’s First Encounter with Law Enforcement

Five years before he was arrested and charged with murder, Robert Pickton was faced with another charge—the 1997 attempted murder of sex worker Wendy Lynn Eistetter, who informed police that Pickton had solicited her services and brought her to the farm. There, he handcuffed her left hand and stabbed her in the abdomen.

The Pickton Pig Farm

Eistetter managed to escape, disarming Pickton and stabbing him with his own weapon. At the hospital where both were treated, hospital staff used a key found in Pickton’s pocket to unlock the handcuff on Eistetter’s wrist. The attempted murder charge was eventually dropped, reportedly because prosecutors believed that Eistetter’s ongoing drug use made her an unreliable witness.

Pickton’s clothes and rubber boots were seized by police during the initial arrest and kept in a storage locker for more than seven years. They weren’t tested for evidence until 2004, when they were swabbed for DNA and found to be a match for two missing women.

The Arrest of Robert Pickton

From 1983 to 2002, more than 60 women disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an impoverished community. It was an ongoing crisis that seemed to have no end in sight, although Pickton had been on the police’s radar for quite a while. In February of 2002, police finally searched the Pickton farm in an unrelated search for illegal weapons.

Both Robert Pickton and his brother were arrested, and the police obtained enough evidence for a second warrant in relation to the ongoing investigation into Vancouver’s missing women. While the two brothers were ultimately released, Robert Pickton was kept under surveillance and arrested again not long after, charged with two counts of first degree murder.

During their initial search, police had found personal items belonging to some of the missing women. Once Pickton was behind bars, the charges began to stack up. First three more charges were added. Then four. Then more and more, until Pickton had accrued a total of 27 first degree murder charges.

Robert Pickton’s Grisly Crimes

The details of Robert Pickton’s heinous crimes were under a publication ban for nearly a decade, and so it wasn’t until after the ban was lifted in 2010 that the extent of Pickton’s depredations became public knowledge. When they did, a grim and terrifying picture came into focus.

Pickton was linked to murders stretching back as far as 1991—long before his arrest for the attempted murder of Wendy Lynn Eistetter, and continuing for many years after the altercation. Police had found a variety of human remains on the farm, many of which were difficult to identify because they had been left to rot or fed to the hogs.

Among the grisly effects described in Pickton’s eventual trial were human skulls that had been cut in half with hands and feet stuffed inside, night vision goggles, human remains stored inside garbage bags, “Spanish fly” aphrodisiac, and a loaded revolver with a dildo attached to the barrel, which Pickton later claimed was used as a makeshift silencer. Investigators also found more than 80 unidentified DNA profiles on the property.

Robert Pickton’s Trial and Aftermath

Robert Pickton was ultimately tried and found guilty of six counts of second degree murder. The other 21 charges were stayed for a later date, but never tried, as Pickton had already received the maximum possible sentence.

The trial brought to public attention a number of missed opportunities for the police to investigate Pickton sooner and put an end to his killing spree. Besides his arrest for the attack on Wendy Lynn Eistetter, there had been several other attempts to bring Pickton’s activities to the attention of the authorities. According to Vancouver police detective constable Lorimer Shenher, the police had received a call to an anonymous tip line in 1998, indicating that Pickton should be investigated in relation to missing women in the area. In 1999, authorities received another tip, stating that Pickton had a freezer filled with human remains on his property.

Pickton was interviewed following the 1999 tip, and police obtained his consent to search the farm, but the search was never conducted. In 2004, before Pickton’s trial had even begun, the government issued a warning that Pickton may have ground up human flesh and mixed it with pork that he sold to the public.

During a press conference in 2010, Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard issued an apology to the families of the victims. “I wish that all the mistakes that were made, we could undo,” he said. “And I wish that more lives would have been saved. So, on my behalf and behalf of the Vancouver Police Department and all the men and women who worked on this investigation, I would say to the families how sorry we all are for your losses and because we did not catch this monster sooner.”

The Fisherman

The case intrigued me. I always wondered why cadaver-sniffing dogs found nothing when they were utilized. At a Sisters In Crime meeting on Cape Cod, the guest speaker was a former K-9 officer from NYC, currently the police chief of Wellfleet, Massachusetts. I asked him about it, withholding the fact that it was a pig farm. His first question was just that: “What type of farm was it?” I filled in the blank. I was shocked when he told us: “Cadaver-sniffing dogs are trained to detect a body that has not been embalmed. They cannot be used in two places: Jewish cemeteries and pig farms. The Jewish do not embalm their dead–the dog believes everyone buried in the cemetery is a murder victim.” He went on to say “There is something in pig excrement that smells like a body to the dog.”

I wanted my antagonist to be living on the coast of Maine and didn’t think that a pig farm in Kennebunkport would work. Pickton disposed of his victims by feeding their remains to his pigs; my guy, Willard Fischer, ground his up for use as chum. Once I had the premise everything else was academic. It sure makes one believe the old adage: “The truth is stranger than fiction.”

Note: In 2016, a book called Pickton: In His Own Words went up for sale on Amazon. While the 144-page book’s author was listed as Michael Chilldres, it was actually a hand-written manuscript that Pickton had smuggled out of prison. Chilldres had simply typed it up and added his byline. Pickton maintained his innocence in the book, which was eventually pulled down by both the publisher and Amazon after a public outcry. “It’s his kind of shenanigans,” the father of one of the victims told CTV News in the wake of the furor over the book’s publication. “The guy never goes away.”