The Silk Finisher: Bigotry, Murder, and Sacrifice in the Crossroads of America


What happens when toxicity invades a life at every turn?

A 1963 murder leads to a decade-long journey for a son to uncover truths about his family, an American town, and ultimately himself.

In the “Crossroads of America,” three active-duty US Army paratroopers commit a more heinous crime than the one they are trying to cover up. Their arrests and trial shock and divide residents of the town between those who see the soldiers as heroes and those who view them as cold-blooded killers.

Author Dan Melchior unearths the story of Rudolph Ziemer, known by some as the “Queer Undertaker.” Along the way, he uncovers forgotten often toxic stories involving the Cold War and the Jim Crow south, infidelity, addiction, bigotry, murders, and accidents all woven into the fabric of one woman’s life as a laboring silk finisher—the most skilled presser of clothes, the one who removes the deepest wrinkles from the most delicate weaves. The stories link the Civil Rights era to World War II to the march of the MAGA movement and parallel the divisions and challenges facing America today. Journey along with Melchior as he discovers how one man’s murder—someone he never knew—led him to a deeper understanding of his family, his beliefs, his country and his triumphant relationship with his mom, a silk finisher.