The book ‘A Maine Murder’ by Leola “Lee” McBreairty Cochran is dedicated to Michael Craig Cochran (Oct 4, 1956 – Feb 18, 1981), Lee’s beloved son.
The book is a tremendous case encyclopedia detailing every step that Lee had to endure to receive a part of the truth and some justice for her son.
The book is written from the author’s point of view, how she experienced the case, the investigation, and the interactions with all the people involved. It is clearly written from a mother’s point of view as Lee’s protective nature shines through the pages.
I appreciate the details about Michael’s early life and the honesty about his drug addiction. It is very personal; it brings Michael to live on paper. And we need that.
Lee’s journey to discover the truth brings to the surface the mess that is our justice system. The insensitivity when dealing with victims’ family members, the disdain for the civilian, and the disrespect for anyone who dares to ask the authorities a question, must be exposed.
I wish that we had a system where victims’ rights advocates would always accompany family members to meetings with the authorities and to court as an impartial buffer and as a witness to professional and proper handling of cases.
Lee has been immersed in the case from day one and knows it by heart. However, the novice to the case, the reader, needs guidance. In every true crime case, we need to write with the novice reader in mind.
The 600-page book is meticulously researched, and it is exactly the many details that overwhelm the reader. Whenever there is such a vast amount of information, the author’s writing style should reflect that the author is aware of that. Therefore, to help the reader the author ideally would have added:
- A list of characters that the reader meets with full names, rankings, jurisdictions, etc. This way the reader can refer to that list. This is crucial in cases that cross jurisdictions and decades. This list should be incorporated in an index.
- A timeline of the case so the reader can follow along, maybe skip to dates of particular interest to them, etc. This should be cross-referenced with the chapters.
- Items and summaries should be in lists with bullet points.
- References to reports or meetings should be concise with more details added in footnotes or in an appendix.
- Meetings should appear in summary form without added personal analyses. The entire verbatim text should be placed in an appendix for further reading. The analysis then follows the summary in the main body text, not withing the meeting minutes.
- A cross-referenced index.
I spoke with Lee about this. She told me that it was very hard to get the book published and that nobody was really helping her. She had been trying since 2015. She was sent from here to there and even the editors who finally got involved gave her sleepless nights. Was it ever going to get published and what editing was needed?
On my comments about overwhelming a novice to the case, she said “I questioned that myself.” She actually asked the editor but “he didn’t see a problem with so many documents. I got overwhelmed at times. I thought about doing it in two books but he said that was not a good idea.” So, here you see the struggle between the author and the editor. What is wisdom, what sells, what are the drawbacks, and what is your personal preference?
Personally, I wish that Lee had gone with her gut-feeling and made this a two-part book. When I discussed this with my daughter, she had a better solution. The main book had to be clear and concise with the points that I mentioned and then, the expansion should be in the shape of an interactive website where locations, people, events, reports, etc. are clickable links. When the reader then selects an event, the entire text of a report or, photography or, the entire discussion with someone pops up. This way there is also room to add the real newspaper articles to the story. This way, the reader gets the information from the newspaper and journalists involved themselves instead of reading the typed versions from the author. With such a website, you could make an interactive timeline per agency involved, by year, by character, etc.
I suggested this idea to Lee who referred to the struggle that she had to get published. She will be 84 years old this month and building such a website might not be possible for her. So, dear readers, hint-hint. Who is home with the pandemic and needs a new project?
When a true crime book of this volume, over 600 pages, is written in a novel style it is easy to lose the attention of the reader. We cannot let that happen as Michael is too important. His story is too important. The cover-ups must be exposed.
A last point of critique: emotions. Right now, the main body text reflects the case with breaks in the narrative by Lee’s thoughts, questions, and reactions. Justifiably so, it is her book. This is about her murdered son. However, it makes reading difficult. By injecting her emotions, the reader is immediately confronted with the family’s pain. That can sometimes take away the reader’s ability to form their own reaction to the story as it develops as it is natural to adopt the family’s pain as your own.
And the book is filled with a lot of pain. Reading how Michael was found, gasoline poured over his body while he was still alive after having been shot, and set on fire, the book is heartbreaking. But despite all this, this biggest release for me came at the end. After reading through all the pain, the moment I broke down, and I cried a good bit, was from page 505 onwards.
Not all Mike’s body parts had been returned to the family. His jawbones were still at the Medical Examiner’s Office. Lee had to sign to receive them 21 years after his murder.
Lee had her other son Derry with her to permanently lay to rest Michael’s body. I quote Lee: “I stayed in the car and watched Derry go to the grave and lift the sod. When he dropped the sod, he remained in his squatted position, looking off in the distance. After a while, he came back to the car and said, “Mom, there is just a paper bag in there on top of the urn.”
As everyone would, Lee expected that Mike’s body parts would be in one urn, that the jawbones would be placed in the ashes, and even if you find out then that it doesn’t fit, humanity demands that you find a solution!
Urns come in different shapes and sizes and after all Lee and her family had been through, the least the State of Maine could have done was to properly hand over Michael’s remains. All his remains in one urn for burial. How much more disdain and inhumane treatment must this family endure?
Leola “Lee” McBreairty Cochran has written a encyclopedic research manual about the development of a covered-up true crime story, the investigation, the trials, and the aftermath. She exposes those who railroaded her and those who stood by her. ‘A Maine Murder’ is a mix of a true crime, survival guide, memoir, diary, trial transcript repository, and guidance for other victim families. She has done a tremendous job and I highly recommend you check our this book.
Last, if you are able to help Lee with further editing or, to build an interactive website for her, contact me. I will let Lee know that you are interested.
Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. My other book reviews are here.