‘The Black Donnellys’ ‘The True Story of Fact, Fiction and Plagiarism’
January 9, 2018
I would like to comment on Nate Hendley’s non-fiction, true crime/biography titled ‘The Black Donnellys’, but in order to do so effectively, I must first introduce ‘The Black Donnellys’ by Thomas P. Kelley.
‘The Black Donnellys’ by Thomas P. Kelley was the first book ever published about the Donnelly massacre and the most famous. It has been reprinted more than 30 times to date since it’s release in 1954. Mr. Kelley was a very successful pulp fiction writer and his sensationalized account of the Donnelly tragedy became the most popular, and is still the most popular account ever written on the subject of the Donnelly story.
Kelley’s story is not historically accurate, but from the creative writers viewpoint, all stories and characters are “TRUE” whether they are based on authentic, contemporary or historical events and people or not. Therein lies the beauty of imaginative invention. Kelley was well known to have taken creative license with details and plot elements where the truth about certain aspects or events were not known. Blending elements of fiction, invention and imagination with real events was something Kelley was very skilled at.
An example of Kelley’s work, is the scene where James Donnelly and three of his sons get their fortunes read by Grandma Bell, with the prediction of their violent deaths. In the books, ‘The Black Donnellys’ ‘The True Story of Canada’s Most Barbaric Feud’ by Thomas P. Kelley and ‘The Black Donnellys’ ‘The Outrageous Tale of Canada’s Deadliest Feud’ by Nate Hendley, both describe this encounter with Grandma Bell, however the encounter first appeared in Kelley’s book in 1954. This account according to both authors happened in November, 1879 and is described very much in the same way in about two and one half pages, right down to the tossing of the coin/coins onto Grandma Bell’s table for payment of the reading. According to historical records, Grandma Bell died in 1878. This scene invented by Kelley never happened at all, but Kelley’s writing of it puts him at his pulp fiction best. I’m somewhat puzzled though by Mr. Hendley’s use of this event in his book. Mr. Hendley is a non-fiction, true crime author and wrote for Altitude Publishing that specialized in short punchy Canadian non-fiction, primarily of a historical nature. The front and back of his book conveys that the genre is true crime/biography, but his bibliography is only made up of secondary sources, no primary sources. It seems almost evident, but I certainly hope that Hendley didn’t rely on Kelley’s tag line ‘The True Story of Canada’s Most Barbaric Feud’ as an indicator that his book is a factual resource. Intentionally or not,using inaccuracies by not researching all of the elements believed to be factual from Kelley’s book affects the truthfulness of Hendley’s biography. Mr. Hendley did not do his due diligence, and all of what he considers from Kelley’s book to be factual is not backed up with proof. Mr. Hendley cannot pitch this book as a true crime/biography. Research is key and all sources must be verified.
There are many elements of fiction, invention and imagination that appear in Mr. Hendley’s book that have been taken from Kelley’s book, including the title, which Kelley coined in 1954 and is continuously borrowed because of it’s notoriety.
I also find that Mr. Hendley’s true crime/biography has us guessing what is fact and what is fiction because there is no delineation between his sometimes colourful and melodramatic writing and the material he is presenting as a result of his research, which I believe to be non existent!
The appropriated fictional elements from Mr. Kelley’s book are sometimes presented in Hendley’s book as folklore, but he also uses Kelley’s fiction, invention and imagination to enhance his story, which in my opinion is a flawed representation of the true crime/biography genre.
I have also discovered that Mr. Hendley’s epilogue describes an event from Orlo Miller’s ‘The Donnellys Must Die’. This is a fictional event which is also copied and used by Mr. Hendley.
'The Black Donnellys' is the name coined and used by Mr. Kelley to describe the Donnelly clan. Over many years, The Black Donnellys story has been the subject of fact, fiction and plagiarism. I attribute the research and facts collected by Ray Fazakas to the Fact element in my title. The Fiction element definitely goes to pulp fiction writer Thomas P. Kelley, and the plagiarism element is a case that was fought and won by Ray Fazakas against Peter Edwards.