Bob Cowser, Jr.

Murder victim Cary Ann Medlin, 1979.

Aerial view of the crime scene, Bean Switch Road, Greenfield, TN.

The old gate on Bean Switch Road where the body was found.

Robert Glen Coe's Mug Shot.

Coe's Ford Gran Torino.

Coe at trial, 1981.

Cary's mother, Charlotte Stout.

GREEN FIELDS: Crime, Punishment, and a Boyhood Between


A "true crime memoir" dealing with the 1979 abduction and murder of the author's first grade classmate, and the execution twenty years later of the man convicted of the murder.

a straightforward account at times eerily reminiscent of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, essayist Bob Cowser Jr. writes about the brutal 1979 murder of 8-year-old Cary Ann Medlin, the author's classmate in rural western Tennessee, and the trial and execution of Robert Glen Coe for the crime two decades later. Cowser's unflinching and thoughtful memoir elevates the story beyond simple true crime to a social commentary worthy of James Agee-- NASHVILLE SCENE

Cowser, a thoughtful essayist and author of three previous works of creative nonfiction, explores the myriad implications of the question. What is he doing here? Why did he survive to have a career and a child of his own? Why does Cary Ann Medlin’s tragic case fascinate him to the point of spending years researching and writing about it?... Cowser combines police and court transcripts with his own interviews of the surviving investigators, lawyers, and Coe’s family members. The finely crafted portrait of the killer that emerges is at once abhorrent and disturbingly compelling. Cowser delivers the seemingly inexorable unfolding of events surrounding Coe’s savage crime and eventual arrest in a straightforward, descriptive style reminiscent of Truman Capote in In Cold Blood... what motivates Cowser is his personal connection to the murder, a connection that gives him permission not only to mine the lives and families of killer and victim, but to ask questions that are more deeply personal than are required by the narrative form of the typical whodunit. Green Fields is, in the end, one man’s meditation on how random violence shapes our lives, and how we should respond to it... In his final reflections on the case and the time he spent pursuing it, Cowser mentions a file he maintained called “coincidences”—odd, but meaningless connections he found between Medlin, Coe, and himself or his family. And yet these connections, like the book itself, highlight the message of Coswer’s meditations: we are all connected to the violence of our society, in ways we prefer to ignore, but in ways that may shape us nonetheless-- Michael Ray Taylor, CHAPTER 16

an unusual and excellent memoir-- Gerry McGovern, Plattsburgh Press-Republican

Part memoir, part dispassionate retelling of an ugly, senseless act, Cowser’s book provides a well-woven account of the totality of a small town crime: the strangeness of the late seventies; the drugs and hopelessness that perhaps fueled the incident; the family pathology that Coe himself lived through as a child; the slow and tortured process of the judicial system; the chilling monotony of death row. A sense of sadness and waste predominates, from Coe’s forced watching of his father’s sexual depravity to Cary Ann’s mother’s ultimate insistence on retribution. Ignorance and poverty haunt the whole story... Cowser’s insertion of himself into the narrative offers connection, a photo-album-like view of a childhood next door-- Mark T. Mustian, FOURTH GENRE

[The author] decries the sentimental story of angelic victim and demonic killer, seeing instead a case of poverty and mental illness that turn a stark morality play into something more complex and sad. Cowser's poetic prose enhances this meditation on a community, a crime, and how each affected the other. Recommended for fans of true crime, Southern memoirs, and social justice-- LIBRARY JOURNAL

Cowser ably juggles the history of Coe's life and legal battle with his own peripheral connections to the case, raising a powerful examination about the lasting impact of violence and capital punishment in the Deep South-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

It’s a testament to Cowser’s bulldogging that despite his abhorrence of the death penalty—he calls himself an accomplice in Coe’s demise, a onetime citizen of the state that executed him—he lets Stout’s rage and remembrance resonate. In flint-sharp reportorial detail, he drags us through the long slog of appeals and to Coe’s death by injection—sedatives and drugs to induce cardiac arrest... This book is buoyed by its fair trade between author and his many-tentacled subject. Cowser’s tapping the horrors of both “crimes” is fearsome, penitent, and grave-- Thomas Larson, CONTRARY magazine

Amid the flood of make-believe violence churned out by the American media, here is a keenly-felt documentary about the causes and costs of real violence. Bob Cowser does not blink, nor does he allow us to blink, as he investigates what led to the murder of a grade school classmate and what that murder unleashed. Part true crime story, part coming-of-age memoir, part meditation on the culture of poverty and the ethics of capital punishment, Green Fields is entirely compelling. -- Scott Russell Sanders, author of A PRIVATE HISTORY OF AWE

Buy My Books!

Essay Anthology
Collection of 18 Familiar Essays by New York Writers
True Crime/Memoir
A Professor Joins America's Oldest Semi-Pro Football Team
Personal Essays
A Collection of Coming-of-Age Essays, (October 2006 from U. of South Carolina Press)
Personal Essays (Anthology)