Sometimes, the most fascinating artifacts are lost and forgotten about in the sands of time until someone stumbles upon them and rediscovers them. Yesterday, we here at the Archives experienced this for ourselves.
Recently we have been cleaning off random, unlabelled boxes of stuff from the top of our shelves, many of which have been sitting there unopened for very long periods of time. We all gathered to open the last box together to celebrate the massive achievement of finishing this project. Cleaning has been interesting–you never know what you might find in these boxes! Our most interesting finds, up to that point, had been some lovely pictures of campus.
The box was soon revealed to be full of items related to John Voelker and Anatomy of a Murder. As many people in the area know, John Voelker was a local lawyer who went on to become Marquette County prosecutor and later a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court. He is better known for writing books under the name Robert Traver. His best known work is, of course, Anatomy of a Murder–a fictionalized account of the actual murder in Big Bay for which Voelker was the defense attorney. Anatomy of a Murder was later made into movie that was filmed in Marquette.
We soon realized that these items were already in our collections but had been separated at some point for display and had never been put back. Notable items included John Voelker’s certificate after being elected Marquette County Prosecutor and a book about the making of the Anatomy of a Murder movie. The best discoveries, however, were yet to come.
One item in the box was a Bachelor of Laws certificate for Paul Biegler, the attorney in the movie played by Jimmy Stewart. That’s right, we have props from a famous movie. That by itself may have merited a blog post.
But wait, there’s something ever more amazing–in an unassuming envelope, we found bullets. At first, we wondered whether they were also props from the movie. Upon further inspection, however, we found that they had actually been shot. From the date on the envelope and the court transcripts, we were able to ascertain that they were the actual bullets fired in the actual murder which were later pulled from the body and used as evidence at the trial. This slightly macabre piece of local history will no longer be forgotten back in the stacks!
Interested in more information about Voelker and the case which inspired Anatomy of a Murder? The Archives has all of John Voelker’s papers, including personal correspondence and family photographs, genealogical material, records from his legal career, and his literary papers. Check out the finding aid website and our Anatomy of a Murder 50th Anniversary page!
Prepared by Annika Peterson