Retired journalist and WVU graduate Charlie Ryan recently co-authored his sixth book, "Murder on Staunton Road," a true crime novel exploring the 1953 murder of former Charleston Daily Mail owner Juliet Staunton Clark.
The novel explores the background behind Clark’s murder, including her marriage to Alaska’s first governor, Walter Eli Clark, her ownership of the Daily Mail after her husband’s death in 1950 and the subsequent murder investigation headed by Charleston mayor John Copenhaver.
There were accusations at the time that Copenhaver mishandled the case in the interest of protecting several high-profile names ensnared in the brutal killing.
For Ryan, WVU was always in the cards. Being a native of Keyser, he followed the common practice of attending WVU Potomac State College for two years before transferring to the Morgantown campus to complete his journalism major.
“The first real interview I scored was with Teddy Kennedy, who was in town in ’60 for his brother, [President John F. Kennedy Jr.],” Ryan said, recalling his busy workload at WHAR, a radio station based in Morgantown that hired him as its news director at just 20 years old.
Ryan’s journalistic experience also saw him working at the Daily Athenaeum for two semesters under the mentorship of late journalism professor Paul Adkins.
“He was such a great teacher,” Ryan said, noting that Adkins was a “tough taskmaster” who used a red grease pen to grade students' stories on a board for all to see.
In 1962, Ryan and a fellow student snuck into a projection booth overlooking a secret meeting on the hiring of new WVU president Paul Miller and broke the story to the Associated Press and the Daily Athenaeum.
“Paul Adkins gave us great praise for that,” Ryan said.
After graduation, Ryan saw success working for journalistic outlets like WSAZ in Huntington, WCHS in Charleston and KTVI TV in St. Louis. Ryan ran and sold several businesses over the years before retiring to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, with his wife. There, he and co-author Mitch Evans decided to collaborate on an investigative piece on the grisly murder of the former Charleston Daily Mail owner.
“This was a book that was never written that should’ve been written,” Evans, a 1983 graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan, said.
Ryan became aware of the unsolved murder early on, recalling an interaction with then-sheriff Danny Jones in response to an inquiry about Clark.
“Danny Jones looked at me and said, ‘Don’t go there,’” Ryan said, which only piqued his interest.
Ryan and Evans collaborated over a two-and-a-half-year period to uncover details and conduct interviews for the book.
“We do try to take the reader into the life of Juliet Staunton Clark and her friends from early childhood,” Ryan said. “It reads like a novel from that standpoint, but it is a story told strictly in facts.”
Clark had been a respected member of a then-booming Charleston.
“They would say these days that it was a very ‘personal’ murder,” Evans said. “She became a very strong, successful woman in business and civic affairs.”
Though there is no official verdict on who killed Clark, the pair’s hard work has been able to shine new light on an old, sensitive and little-known subject, a feat for which Ryan is sure his old mentors Paul Adkins and Jack Fleming at WHAR would be proud of him.
The duo’s novel can be purchased at www.murderonstaunton.com.