The life and family of a man who served his country in World War II only to have that life cut short by murder in 1949 is retold and remembered by his grandson, one-time Hillsboro resident Robert Hawkins.
“A Book of Matches” retells the story of the shocking murder of Oliver “Zeke” Stayner on the night of Monday, Nov. 28, 1949, in Peebles, Ohio.
He left behind a wife and two children, who, Hawkins remembered, went on “without their guiding light.”
The novel champions Hawkins’ grandmother, Edith, and their two daughters, Susan and Dottie Stayner, who found the strength to move forward.
“The book is about my grandfather who lived through the Great Depression and survived World War II only to be murdered in Peebles when my mother was 6 months old and her sister was 3,” he said. “The court case went to the Ohio Supreme Court twice, and the man convicted was the first person in Adams County to receive the death penalty by electric chair since it was a new technology.”
Set in the backdrop of pre- and post-war Adams County, Oliver Stayner’s story begins in The Great Depression, moves through his service in World War II and into the present day, where its characters live the “American Dream” that ends up being tragically cut short by his murder and the two Ohio State Supreme Court trials.
“He was murdered on his own property by some guys who were trying to steal money from him,” Hawkins said. “The reason it’s called ‘A Book of Matches’ is because my grandmother had taken a book of matches to look for him after he took the only flashlight when he went out to help these guys who later killed him.”
He said his grandmother struck the matches one by one as she searched for him across their property, eventually almost stepping on his body.
Hawkins’ narrative weaves world, national and regional history into the tapestry of the Stayners’ lives, and was published in conjunction with The Jesse Stuart Foundation in Ashland, Ky.
“I even worked in a lot of background knowledge of Adams County and the region so if people have never been there, they’ll be drawn into the story,” Hawkins said.
The West Union native is an author, Nashville recording artist and educator who now is a special education teacher in Music City USA.
No stranger to the area, Hawkins said he used to live on East South Street in Hillsboro when he was performing with the oldies show band The Van Dells, while at the same time teaching at Marshall Elementary and Whiteoak High School.
He said he would be doing a book signing on Saturday, March 21 at Blake’s Pharmacy in West Union before embarking on a book signing tour that will take him to Lexington and Morehead, Ky. before returning to southern Ohio and Cincinnati at Joseph-Beth Booksellers’ Hyde Park/Norwood location on April 18.
For more information on Hawkins’ new book, “A Book of Matches,” visit his website at RobHawkins.com or go to the Rob Hawkins Facebook Author page.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571