John D. Voelker

John D. Voelker (June 19, 1903March 19, 1991), better known by his pen name Robert Traver, was an attorney, judge, and writer. He is best known as the author of the novel, Anatomy of a Murder published in 1958. The best-selling novel was turned into an Academy Award nominated film -- directed by Otto Preminger and starring Jimmy Stewart -- that was released July 1, 1959. Duke Ellington wrote the music for the movie. It is critically acclaimed as one of the best trial movies of all time.

Anatomy of a Murder is based on a real homicide and subsequent trial that occurred in Big Bay, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the early morning of July 31, 1952. Coleman A. Peterson, a Lieutenant in the Army, was charged with murdering Maurice Chenoweth. The alleged motive was revenge for the rape of Peterson's wife by Chenoweth. Voelker successfully defended Peterson who was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Voelker was born in Ishpeming, Michigan and spent most of his life there. He graduated from the University of Michigan law school in 1928 and practiced law for a time in Chicago, Illinois before tiring of city life and returning to Ishpeming to enter private practice. Later, he was elected to the office of Marquette County prosecutor. In 1957, he was appointed the 74th justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, and was subsequently reelected to that position. After the success of his novel, Anatomy of a Murder, Voelker retired from the court in 1959 in order to write full-time and to fish at his beloved Frenchman's Pond.

Under the pen name Robert Traver, Voelker published a number of novels and short stories with legal themes, all with the small-town Upper Peninsula Michigan setting he was most familiar with. He chose to write under a different pen name in order to assure others that his agenda as a writer and a prosecutor were completely separate. He also published three books on fishing which are regarded as classics of the genre. The Escanaba River was the setting for many of his fishing stories.



  • Danny and the Boys, 1951 (novel)
  • Small Town D.A., 1954 (short stories and essays)
  • Anatomy of a Murder, 1958 (novel)
  • Trout Madness, 1960 (short stories)
  • Hornstein's Boy, 1962 (novel)
  • Anatomy of a Fisherman, 1964 (non-fiction)
  • Laughing Whitefish, 1965 (novel)
  • The Jealous Mistress, 1967 (essays)
  • Trout Magic, 1974 (short stories)
  • People Versus Kirk, 1981 (novel)

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