Author of the historical novel “A Leg in Oklahoma City,” Greg Hoetker will be doing a reading and signing of his book at The Community Library in Ketchum on Thursday, Jan. 16, from 6-7:30 p.m. The debut novel by the Boise author and English teacher at Timberline High School explores the 1995 Oklahoma City truck bombing and the unanswered questions and conspiracy theories surrounding it.
The bombing on April 19, 1995, at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed at least 168 people, injured more than 680 others and destroyed roughly one-third of the building while also destroying or damaging hundreds of others in the blast range. Until the 9/11 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history. One of the perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh, was stopped by police within 90 minutes of the explosion; forensic evidence soon linked him and co-conspirator Terry Nichols to the crime. Both were arrested and charged and later convicted. McVeigh was a veteran of the Gulf War and personally detonated the bomb, parking a rental truck full of explosives in front of the building. Nichols helped in preparing the bomb.
While the investigation of the bombing ultimately resulted in the conviction of McVeigh and Nichols, it was one surrounded by conspiracy questions, and required the use of 900 federal, state and local law enforcement people. The largest criminal case in America’s history and the largest crime task force since the investigation into JFK’s assassination, the bombing has also given rise to numerous conspiracy theories, including that there were additional co-conspirators, that more explosives were planted in the building and that President Bill Clinton knew about the bombing.
One aspect of the investigation that caught Hoetker’s attention and is the subject of his novel is evidence piece P-71, a leg discovered after the bombing whose owner was never found. The author was particularly interested that in the 25 years since the bombing, nothing has emerged regarding the human specimen.
“After years of reading and research, I decided to use the P-71 … story to explore within the realm of fiction my own personal experience with tragedy, loss and grief, and the experience of having loved ones “wiped” with no prior warning from our lives,” Hoetker said.
Hoetker began the novel as a short story in the late 1990s, the beginning of a book that would take 20 years to come to fruition. Though the novel is fiction, it is based on a true event and to give it and those affected by it the proper respect, Hoetker undertook lots of research.
“The novel took lots of reading, research and respect for the event itself, wanting to treat it slowly and thoughtfully, which is why the first sentence is what it is--‘No one can say this story is not true.’ I wanted to pen a novel that could be true, a type of undeniable fiction,” Hoetker said.
For the historical aspect of the novel, Hoetker ensured that actual times, days, dates, weather and sometimes actual language were all accurate. To explore the love story and fictional elements of the novel, the author read numerous books and accounts.
“One of the most helpful, eye-opening books I read during my research was Jody Lynee Madeira’s “Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure,” which gave me some things to unpack regarding ones in my life who had been ‘wiped,’” Hoetker said.
McVeigh’s execution details further inspired and influenced the writing of the book.
And, like many writers, the author mixed bits of his life story with the facts and fictions of the novel.
The book is a nonprofit endeavor, with all profits donated to charities and educational institutions, including the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, the Global Gardens refugee farmer program in Boise, the Wyakin Foundation in Boise, the Boise Bicycle Project, Idaho Rivers United and the BRENDA Arts Program in Portland, Ore.
Response to the novel has been positive, so positive that Hoetker recently procured a film/screenplay option from actress, screenwriter and director Kelly Walker, which the author describes as “especially humbling for an independent-press novel with only 1,000 copies in print.”
Books will be available at the event for sale and signing courtesy of Chapter One Bookstore. Copies of the novel are available at Chapter One in Ketchum, Iconoclast Books in Hailey and other bookstores in Boise, Caldwell, Garden City, Oklahoma City and Dallas-Fort-Worth.