Knocking ‘em Dead in Nashville: True Tales from Book Tour
by Jon Jefferson
A couple years ago, as I was preparing to head out on book tour with Dr. Bill Bass – the forensic anthropologist I consult with in writing the Body Farm novels – I got an unusual heads-up from a bookstore in Nashville: A guy I’d written about in a prior, non-fiction book was planning to show up at our Nashville book signing. The guy’s name was Sam John Passarrella, and the book chapter I’d written about him – “Fat Sam and Cadillac Joe” – recounted the abduction and killing of a fast-talking, Cadillac-driving con man who’d sold Sam a stash of stolen silver bullion. Trouble was, the silver bars weren’t actually silver—they were zinc—and when Sam found out he’d been hoodwinked, he wasn’t happy. The con man, Monty Hudson (I never did find out why he was nicknamed Joe), and his pregnant wife, Liz, were kidnapped at gunpoint, in broad daylight, from the parking lot of a Nashville Holiday Inn. The abduction was witnessed by several bystanders, and even photographed by one. Liz Hudson was released a few days later, but Monty remained missing. Finally, after more than a year, one of Sam’s former cronies led a convoy of FBI and TBI agents down a rutted logging road about 75 miles south of Nashville. In a shallow grave in an overgrown clearing, Dr. Bass and a graduate student found human bones, teeth, rotted clothing, and a bullet. The teeth matched X-rays provided by Monty Hudson’s dentist.
Thanks to the testimony of Dr. Bass and the crony-turned-informant, Fat Sam spent thirty years in prison. He got out not long before Bass and I headed out on book tour. Needless to say, I was more than a little nervous when I heard that he’d called the Nashville bookstore to verify when we’d be there. I wasn’t the only one made nervous by the news. Luckily, Dr. Bass has legions of friends in law enforcement, and two of them offered to watch our backs at the book signing – an offer I was more than happy to accept.
But Sam got there early – before our volunteer security guards did – and he was accompanied by a formidable-looking friend. They steered Dr. Bass and me into the bookstore’s café, which was virtually empty, and wedged us into a booth. My eyes kept flitting toward the café’s entrance, hoping for some sign of our pistol-packing friends, but to no avail.
A year or so before, Liz Hudson – who’d been kidnapped by Sam and his men thirty years earlier – had shown up at another Nashville book signing, and had told me I’d written a good account of the kidnapping and murder. Now, sitting across the table from the man who’d spent three decades in prison for the crime I’d written about, I suspected he wasn’t there to give me and the prosecution’s forensic expert a pat on the back.
Suddenly Sam reached beneath the table. As his hand came up, I thought, “Oh hell, this is how it ends.” Thwack! Sam plopped a manila envelope on the table and slid it across. As if through a thick fog, I heard Sam say he’d begun writing a book – a memoir – and he wondered if I’d be willing to take a look at his first chapter.
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Jon Jefferson, the writer behind the bestselling series of Body Farm novels. The seventh in the series – The Inquisitor’s Key– will be published May 8. Read an excerpt on Facebook at Jefferson Bass Books!