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A triumphant, uplifting true justice story led by jury trial expert, Richard A. Sprague—the indomitable, nationally renowned prosecutor who engaged in the most intense manhunt investigation in police history.
Coal Country Killing: A Culture, A Union, And The Murders That Changed It All, revolves around the cold-blooded 1969 assassination of United Mineworkers of America “reform candidate” Jock Yablonski, and murder of his wife and daughter in their Pennsylvania farmhouse. But driving the story are the extraordinary efforts of a tenacious special prosecutor and his “army” of investigators to bring the gunmen, the union boss who ordered the murders, and his henchmen who saw them carried out, to justice.
Initially, three bumbling small-time criminals, dubbed “The Hillbilly Hitmen,” were arrested and charged. But they were the tip of the iceberg as the murders were directed by then-UMWA President “Tough Tony” Boyle as revenge for Yablonski running against him in the bitterly contested 1968 union election and to prevent his corruption from being exposed.
Up against the tight-lipped culture of Appalachia coal country, legendary Philadelphia homicide prosecutor Richard A. Sprague, and his investigators, spent nearly nine years doggedly working their way up the ladder of those responsible to the final showdown with Boyle.
Written by New York Times bestselling authors—former New York County Assistant District Attorney Robert K. Tanenbaum, a lifelong friend of Sprague’s, and Steve Jackson—Coal Country Killing is a tour de force for those who love justice.
About the Author
Robert K. Tanenbaum is a New York Times bestselling author who has written thirty-two books, including Echoes of My Soul, about a case cited by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren in the famous Miranda decision. Tanenbaum is one of the most successful prosecuting attorneys, having never lost a felony trial. He was Assistant District Attorney in New York County, where he ran the Homicide Bureau, served as Chief of the Criminal Courts, and was in charge of the DA’s legal staff training program. He also served as Deputy Chief counsel for the Congressional Committee investigation into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Tanenbaum attended the University of California at Berkeley on a basketball scholarship, where he earned a B.A. He received his law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.
“[Steve Jackson] writes with both muscle and heart” —New York Times bestselling author Gregg Olsen
New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist Steve Jackson has written fourteen non-fiction books in true crime, history and biography genres; he has also written fourteen crime fiction thrillers for the Times bestselling "Butch Karp Series" in collaboration with former New York assistant district attorney Robert K. Tanenbaum.
As of January 2023, he is working on the non-fiction sequel to his bestselling book, No Stone Unturned, tentatively titled Grave Secrets. His first non-fiction book, Monster, a true crime, was published in October 1998 and within two weeks became a New York Times bestseller. Several of his other non-fiction and thriller books have also made bestseller lists. In 2003, his World War II dramatic narrative, Lucky Lady, received The Colorado Book Award, best biography/history, from the Colorado Center for the Book; Lucky Lady was also the runner-up that year for the Admiral Samuel Morrison Naval History Award.
Steve is also the co-owner of indie publisher WildBlue Press (wildbluepress.com) he began in 2014 with partner Michael Cordova. He graduated in 1979 from Colorado State University with a BA in Journalism. A newspaper journalist for twenty-five years, he worked in locales as varied as Montana, Hawaii, Guam, Micronesia, Indonesia, Indiana, Washington D.C., Florida, Oregon and Colorado. During his career with newspapers, he received numerous national and regional awards for feature writing and investigative reporting.
“One of the year’s best True Crime books. Jackson and Tanenbaum deliver a masterful work of nonfiction. A true tale of Americana, collusion, and murder told with true grit.”
— Nic Edwards, bestselling author of The Delphi Murders and co-creator of True Crime Garage podcast
“The definitive true crime expose of the brutal murder of an entire family ordered by corrupt and despotic Tony Boyle, President of the United Mine Workers of America. Impeccable research and compelling narrative style make this an instant true crime classic.”
— Burl Barer, New York Times Bestselling author of Murder in the Family
“Coal Country Killing is an impressive achievement. The narrative is compelling. The research, formidable. The writing, impressive. This book is highly recommended.”
— Ron Chepesiuk, host of Crime Beat radio show and bestselling author of Bad Henry
“A little gem of a book. Tanenbaum…has a remarkable talent for discovering the story of a case beneath the facts and letting that story tell itself. Simple and dramatic in presentation and thorough in its attention to detail, Coal Country Killing once again demonstrates Tanenbaum's ability to make a riveting story out of the sprawling mess of a criminal case. In this book, he has chosen to tell the story of Richard Sprague's triumph. In doing so, he gives us reason to both understand and admire the role of prosecutors everywhere.”
— Josiah Thompson, author of Six Seconds in Dallas and The Lonely Labyrinth
“I think what’s lacking in true crime today is the depth and social context of the story, not to mention the focus on the victim. It’s human nature to want to get right into the salaciousness of a story. Steve Jackson has been around the game a long time. He knows the landscape well. Teaming up with fellow New York Times bestselling author Robert K. Tanenbaum for this thoroughly researched, immersive and detailed look at Appalachia culture, both authors display a unique talent and insider’s take on the important aspects of what justice truly is—while, at the same time, keeping us turning pages. Their empathy, journalistic fortitude and humanity shine here … telling the story of vicious multiple murder in an authentic, sensitive, and truly terrifying way, making justice for the victims a focal point of the book. … Absorbing, gripping, original true crime at its absolute finest.”
— M. William Phelps, New York Times bestselling author and host of the #1 Apple podcast PAPER GHOSTS
“With research and trial transcripts, the authors masterfully narrate this true account that reads like a novel that cannot be put down. A must for all libraries.”
— Library Journal
“The definitive behind-the-scenes account of a watershed moment when the dark side of politics and labor was revealed in all its grim colors. Robert Tanenbaum and Steve Jackson capture the bleakness of Appalachia and the state of American unrest as they retell a compulsively readable crime story.”
— Ron Franscell, New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Night
“Coal Country Killing is a fascinating read for trial lovers and true crime fans alike. This gripping story transports us into 1960s Pennsylvania and the heinous slayings of United Mine Workers’ labor reform candidate Joseph “Jock” Yablonski along with his wife and daughter. The sleeping family’s horrific fate added yet another layer of menace and fear to the treacherous world of Appalachian coal mining, already replete with sickness (black lung disease), danger (fatal mine collapses) and high-level corruption (embezzlement, election fraud, abuses of power.) Richard A. Sprague was hell bent on bringing all participants in the slaying conspiracies to justice. Coal Country Killing takes us inside this unforgettable seven-year case to see just how he did it. And for history-loving readers, it’s one heck of a ride.”
— Sue Russell, award-winning journalist and author of Lethal Intent and The Illustrated Courtroom
"Coal Country Killing by Robert K. Tanenbaum is a thriller from start to finish that is impossible to put down. And yet, it is completely true! What distinguishes Tanenbaum from most best-selling thriller authors is his in-depth character depictions of all the principal players that makes you feel you understand each of them intimately. This work will clearly rank among the top non-fiction books of this or any recent decade."
— Jeffrey H. Miller, Distinguished Research Professor, UCLA
"This is an illuminating nonfiction thriller with the inherent suspense of a novel."