1) What made you decide to go into investigative work in the first place?
I fell in love with mysteries as a child reading the Nancy Drew series. Questions, clues and possible answers have intrigued me throughout my life. I realized very early that my life would revolve around words---writing them and analyzing them for answers. I remember my first story being published in Ruralite Magazine when I was in Siletz Grade School. My late friend Bev and I spent much of our teen years planning to be investigators, but our lives took separate paths.
I found writing newspaper and magazine articles partially satisfied my curiosity as I could ask “why?” then research and write an article. In 1984, when a childhood friend, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, was on trial for the murder of a known grave robber, he asked me to help in his defense and with seeking legislative approval of an enhanced law against robbing of Native gravesites. All of Oregon’s federally-recognized tribes participated in making sure the law was passed. My friend was acquitted. I was eventually hired by the William A. Barton law firm in Newport, where I was fortunate to work with, and learn from, the firm’s nationally-acclaimed investigator, Harold Nash, whom I had helped during the murder trial. The next years included a brief adventure with my company, Castle Investigations, working across Oregon for civil plaintiff and criminal defense attorneys. Then, on to Chicago where I fell in love with the work involved in proving wrongful convictions as the Executive Managing Director and Innocence Project Coordinator for the Paul J. Ciolino and Associates investigation firm.
2) How did you get interested in the Siletz Indians as a choice for your first novel, A Time To Wail?
I grew up on the former lands of the Siletz Indian Reservation in coastal Oregon with friends and relatives who were tribal members. Though we were an Indian community and the community school was just down the street from the only remaining lands of the tribe, we were never taught about the original people or that our friends and relatives were the descendants of the first people sent to what was called “the reservation.”
By the time I was in high school, my curiosity had taken over and I became determined to research the mysterious history of the Siletz Reservation and why the government had now told my friends and relatives they were no longer “Indians”. Why had the reservation recently been terminated? Assuming it would just mean finding a library where all the answers would be, I set out to write a book about a little boy who was brought to the reservation and what he did after he grew up. Simple, right? A few years later, while interviewing a neighbor for information on a man whose last handmade canoe had been found, I learned of another early tribal leader named “John Adams.” He would become the object of my research for the next forty years.
Somewhere along my life’s path, I realized that I had a different story to write. My novel would be about the history and culture of the people of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, a story of termination and restoration, grave robbing and murder, and the legal problems of a people who our nation has been determined to exterminate. In my 75th year, with the encouragement of my family who had heard of “the book” for all of their lives, I decided I had lived my life of research, participation and investigation long enough to create a believable story. A Time to Wail was published in 2018. A sequel, second in the Ellie Carlisle mystery series, should be available in mid-2022.
3) Are there other ways, besides grave robbing, that has led to this pandemic of artifacts being lost or stolen?
CC: Your book deals with the grave robbing of Native American artifacts, a theme that is dear to your heart as evidenced by your activism. Years back, when I was working on an earlier novel, on the urging of Scottish film director, Steven Lewis Simpson, who directed the movie, Neither Wolf Nor Dog, I visited a Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. When I was in Pine Ridge, I met with Chief Oliver Red Cloud and his daughter, Nancy. The Ogala Sioux had a similar problem. Many of their artifacts are being sold on the open market without the tribe’s permission.
GEC: Why would someone want to remove the bones or belongings of a deceased person from a gravesite? Because it has monetary, religious or other worth to the robber. That worth equates to financial gain in almost all instances. Not all artifacts being sold originated in a grave, of course, some are taken from unsuspecting elders, some are passed down through non-Native families as their family heirlooms, but most collectors don’t care about the provenance. Museums and wealthy collectors continue to openly acquire. Many institutions continue to build, or retain, their collections despite federal laws enacted to require items be inventoried and returned to the rightful owners. Though I don’t speak for the Siletz or any other tribe, I believe the story in A Time to Wail explains much of the problem that has occurred across this country since before it was the United States. Tribes in every state have to deal with these issues.
4) How did you become involved in the Innocence Project and are you seeing any structural change in the criminal justice system on the horizon?
CC: According to a mutual friend, you are also involved in the Innocence Project, which uses DNA to exonerate those who are wrongly convicted. The organization also works to reform the criminal justice system in an attempt to prevent any future injustice.
GEC: When I moved to Chicago to work, Paul Ciolino was involved in a high profile wrongful conviction re-investigation case dubbed “The Ford Heights Four”. Upon successful exoneration of the four young men, and in response to ever increasing requests for the firm’s assistance to help others who claimed wrongful conviction, the Paul J. Ciolino and Associates Innocence Project was instituted.
Though we participated in the same conferences and seminars as Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, founders of the Innocence Project at Cardozo School of Law in NYC, we did not work directly on their cases. We did not specialize in DNA as they did, so our cases were more varied and the re-investigation was often more demanding. I support and have great respect for the work they do both for those whose cases involve DNA evidence and for the expansion of their work for the exonerated, as well as in justice reform.
No, I do not see any major reform in our system of justice in the near future. I am encouraged that more people are now aware of the problem, but the same problems still exist: elected prosecutors willing to sacrifice a defendant’s rights to exculpatory evidence; police officers willing to make arrests to clear a case without actual proof; biased judges; unprepared attorneys; untrained investigators; eyewitness misidentification, etc. Wrongful convictions continue to occur, innocent people are convicted, some executed.
5) For writers who have questions about the work of a private investigator, or who need legal expertise for their storyline can you offer any suggestions?
I’m always open to helping writers with questions about investigation, especially if a person is interested in the real world and not caught up in TV stereotypes. I do limit how much time I spend on requests as I have my own writing and editing projects to complete. Legal questions are best answered by an attorney.
A Time to Wail, An Indian Country Novel is available on my website, Amazon, Powells, and Oregon bookstores like Nye Beach Book House in Newport, OR. Also in the Logsden Country Store in Logsden, OR, Deen-Ne Cafe and Gifts in Siletz, OR, and newly offered at the North Lincoln County Historical Museum in Lincoln City, OR.