- Return to Guntown: Classic Trials of the Outlaws and Rogues of Faulkner Country (2015)
- The Search for Good Wine: From the Founding Fathers to the Modern Table (2014)
- From Midnight to Guntown: True Crime Stories from a Federal Prosecutor in Mississippi (2013)
- Thomas Jefferson On Wine (2009)
John R. Hailman was born in Indiana, but he has lived in Mississippi for several decades. He works at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and is the Overby Fellow in Journalism and Adjunct Professor of Law.
Hailman obtained a bachelor’s degree from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. He earned a Masters Degree from Tulane University and a J.D. from the University of Mississippi. He was also a Graduate Fellow in Trial Practice at Georgetown University Law School. He also attended the Sorbonne in Paris for two years, the Universite´ Laval in Quebec, and the National School for Magistrates in Paris.
John Hailman is a journalist, prosecutor, professor, teacher, translator, and non-fiction writer. He was a prosecutor for the U. S. Attorney’s office in Oxford for thirty-three years., serving as Legal Counsel to Senator John Stennis. He was a civil rights lawyer in North Mississippi and California and also served as a a law clerk to Chief Judge William C. Keady during the integration of the public schools in North Mississippi in the 70’s. He began working as a columnist at the Washington Post and went on to become the wine, food, and travel columnist for Gannet News Service. For fifteen years, his column appeared weekly in over one hundred daily papers.
He has now taught law at the University of Mississippi for over twenty years. He also taught at the FBI Academy and the Justice Department’s school for prosecutors. He taught law for the Department of Justice in more than a dozen countries. He speaks fluent French and has served as an interpreter both for France and the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.
He and his wife Regan have two daughters, Allison and Lydia. Allison is a medical doctor in Tupelo, Mississippi, and Lydia is an account coordinator with Siegenthatler Public Relations, located in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hailman has written four non-fiction books: Thomas Jefferson on Wine (2009), From Midnight to Guntown: True Crime Stories from a Federal Prosecutor in Mississippi (2013), Return to Guntown: Classic Trials of the Outlaws and Rogues of Faulkner Country (2015), and The Search for Good Wine: From the Founding Fathers to the Modern Table (2014). Hailman’s biography Thomas Jefferson On Wine has been critically acclaimed. His From Midnight to Guntown is described by the publisher (the University of Mississippi Press) as “a former prosecutor’s hilarious tales of the ne’er-do-wells and knuckleheads he helped bring to justice.” Mississippian William Ferris says,
“From Midnight to Guntown is a beautifully written portrait of the complex and criminal underworlds of rural Mississippi. With humor and pathos, retired prosecutor John Hailman captures in a subtle way the individual lives of bank robbers, drug dealers, and racist killers, a cast of characters reminiscent of the best Faulkner novels. By the end of the book, the criminals, police, and judges have become so familiar to the reader, they are like an extended, if highly dysfunctional, family. Hailman knows this world intimately, and his book brings people vividly to life, touching the heart of the reader.”
Hailman’s latest work, Return to Guntown: Classic Trials of the Outlaws and Rogues of Faulkner Country is also receiving great reviews. (See Ace Atkins’s review below.)
Review of Hailman’s Return to Guntown by Mississippi writer Ace Atkins (Used by permission)
Anyone who has ever spent time as a cop, lawyer or newspaper reporter knows that criminals aren’t always the slick, calculated crooks we meet in books or movies. They’re often lowlifes who have more ambition than brains.
It doesn’t take CSI to put them in prison; they often undo themselves or simply implode. As a former crime reporter turned crime novelist, that’s why I’ve always been drawn to the works of Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins. They wrote crime with authenticity and a heavy dose of humor.
That’s also the reason I enjoyed Oxford-based John Hailman’s last book, From Midnight to Guntown, so much that I now keep it handy in my reference library. I freely admit I’ve pilfered some ideas for my own Tibbehah County books from his war stories.
Indiana-native Hailman spent three decades as a federal prosecutor in north Mississippi. (He also leads a second life as top expert on wine. His Thomas Jefferson on Wine gained a national buzz appearing in the New York Times and on National Public Radio.) And, full disclosure, I consider Hailman a good friend. But it’s a friendship born of him relating some of these same stories. And maybe a glass of wine or two.
What Hailman does in this book, which elevates it far above the scores of lawyers with true-crime books, is that he can really write, mining the best tales with wit and great details. The second volume of his Mississippi-based stories, Return to Guntown — Classic Trials of the Outlaws and Rogues of Faulkner County (University Press of Mississippi) — may be even better than his first.
It’s filled with poisonous moonshiners, elderly gun dealers, inept drug dealers and the last holdouts of the old Dixie Mafia. In other words, my kind of people.
One of my favorite sections has Hailman agonizing over which drug dealer he prosecuted was his favorite. He writes about “Stepper” Dotson of Greenville: “A small, wiry man with a prominent nose, an ironic smile, and a keen, direct way of staring at people.”
Dotson loved the high life, driving a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow down to the best restaurants in New Orleans and up to the Kentucky Derby all while on federal parole. Witnesses at his trial included dealers “Lips” Leonard and “Mercy” Watts.
Some of my other favorite sections included Pistol Packin’ Sisters of Yalobusha County, The Snakeman: Satanist Pimp Seeks Fair Trail in Mississippi and I’m a Surgeon for the CIA. The last section included in the chapter called Fancy Frauds contains some choice tales on Mississippi con men.
One of my favorite parts of the book isn’t about a criminal or a trial, it’s about showing off New Orleans to a lawyer new to the South. On break from some official business, Hailman takes a young prosecutor for a fine meal at Mr. B’s and then onto a second meal at Commander’s Palace. Hailman’s details of the dinners and the long walk through the French Quarter and Garden District, is exactly what makes this book and his previous volume so enjoyable. Hailman knows a good story and knows how to tell it.
Many writers can recount facts about court cases and details of hoodlums they’ve put away, but only the really good ones can bring it all to life. I just hope Hailman has enough material left over for volume three.
- University Press of Mississippi page for From Midnight to Guntown
- Hailman talks about From Midnight to Guntown with Steve Yates on vimeo
- Goodreads describes Thomas Jefferson on Wine
- The Search for Good Wine is a highly entertaining and informative book on all aspects of wine and its consumption says Nnetgalley.com
- Hailman releases his second book by Alyssa Schnugg