Coal Country Killing: A Culture, A Union, and the Murders That Changed It All

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A triumphant, uplifting true justice story led by jury trial expert, Richard A. Sprague—the indomitable, nationally renowned prosecutor who engaged in the most intense manhunt investigation in police history.

Coal Country KillingA Culture, A Union, And The Murders That Changed It All, revolves around the cold-blooded 1969 assassination of United Mineworkers of America “reform candidate” Jock Yablonski, and murder of his wife and daughter in their Pennsylvania farmhouse. But driving the story are the extraordinary efforts of a tenacious special prosecutor and his “army” of investigators to bring the gunmen, the union boss who ordered the murders, and his henchmen who saw them carried out, to justice.

Initially, three bumbling small-time criminals, dubbed “The Hillbilly Hitmen,” were arrested and charged. But they were the tip of the iceberg as the murders were directed by then-UMWA President “Tough Tony” Boyle as revenge for Yablonski running against him in the bitterly contested 1968 union election and to prevent his corruption from being exposed.

Up against the tight-lipped culture of Appalachia coal country, legendary Philadelphia homicide prosecutor Richard A. Sprague, and his investigators, spent nearly nine years doggedly working their way up the ladder of those responsible to the final showdown with Boyle.

Written by New York Times bestselling authors—former New York County Assistant District Attorney Robert K. Tanenbaum, a lifelong friend of Sprague’s, and Steve Jackson—Coal Country Killing is a tour de force for those who love justice.

“With research and trial transcripts, the authors masterfully narrate this true account that reads like a novel that cannot be put down. A must for all libraries.”

—Library Journal

“The definitive behind-the-scenes account of a watershed moment when the dark side of politics and labor was revealed in all its grim colors. Robert Tanenbaum and Steve Jackson capture the bleakness of Appalachia and the state of American unrest as they retell a compulsively readable crime story.”

Ron Franscell, New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Night

Coal Country Killing is a fascinating read for trial lovers and true crime fans alike. This gripping story transports us into 1960s Pennsylvania and the heinous slayings of United Mine Workers’ labor reform candidate Joseph “Jock” Yablonski along with his wife and daughter. The sleeping family’s horrific fate added yet another layer of menace and fear to the treacherous world of Appalachian coal mining, already replete with sickness (black lung disease), danger (fatal mine collapses) and high-level corruption (embezzlement, election fraud, abuses of power.) Richard A. Sprague was hell bent on bringing all participants in the slaying conspiracies to justice. Coal Country Killing takes us inside this unforgettable seven-year case to see just how he did it. And for history-loving readers, it’s one heck of a ride.”

—Sue Russell, award-winning journalist and author of Lethal Intent and The Illustrated Courtroom

Coal Country Killing by Robert K. Tanenbaum is a thriller from start to finish that is impossible to put down.  And yet, it is completely true! What distinguishes Tanenbaum from most best-selling thriller authors is his in-depth character depictions of all the principal players that makes you feel you understand each of them intimately. This work will clearly rank among the top non-fiction books of this or any recent decade.

—Jeffrey H. Miller, Distinguished Research Professor, UCLA

“This is an illuminating nonfiction thriller with the inherent suspense of a novel.”