David Fleisher and David Freedman derive some humor from being a pair of Jewish writers chronicling the twists and turns of a case involving a polygamist clan with roots in Mormonism.
But the two outsiders have the inside track on the story of the Singer family a tale expanding in scope and potential monetary value as the trial of four clan members unfolds in a federal courtroom.For the two Davids, the controversial life and death of polygamist John Singer begged for a book. Now, the troubles of Singer's kin, arrested for alleged crimes committed in the slain patriarch's name, demand an update.
Singer's widow, Vickie, son-in-law Addam Swapp, Vickie's son John Timothy Singer, and Swapp's brother, Jonathan, are charged in the Jan. 16 bombing of the Kamas Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and subsequent standoff with police at the Singer farm in Marion, Summit County.
The clan believed the bombing was ordered by God as a sign of the second coming of Jesus Christ and the impending collapse of society, according to court testimony. It also was to have triggered the resurrection of John Singer.
Fleisher and Freedman are daily fixtures at the trial, gathering material and, in Fleisher's case, covering the proceedings for his former employers at KPCW radio in Park City.
The result, which the authors hope to have completed in September, will be a revision of "Death of an American: The Killing of John Singer," which has sold 10,000 copies since its publication in 1983.
Fleisher and Freedman expect greater commercial success with the updated version for several reasons. Besides making international headlines, the clan's 13-day standoff sparked interest in Hollywood.
Wagner-Ball Productions, a Los Angeles film company, bought the option to "Death of an American" and rights to any revised works by Freedman and Fleisher two months ago.
Marilyn Ball, an executive of the company she owns with actress-daughter Lindsay Wagner, is negotiating with Singer family members for film rights to their stories.
"One doesn't ever know, but we're hoping for a television miniseries," said Ball, who was given a copy of "Death of an American" five years ago but was too busy to pursue the project.
The siege at the Singer's Marion homestead made her take a second look.
Ball agrees with the book's authors that the characters and issues are extraordinary.
"The most universal thing about this book is you have people standing up for what they believe whatever it is they believe and not compromising. I think everybody can identify with that," said Fleisher, 39.
As a reporter with the Park Record in 1973, Fleisher was the first to write about the fiercely independent Singers, who had stopped sending their children to public schools because the system failed to live up to their principles.
Years of court battles and confrontations with school officials and police followed.
On January 18, 1979, John Singer was gunned down outside his home by law officers attempting to serve assault and contempt warrants and a court order demanding he turn over the children of his second wife to her ex-husband.
Two days before the ninth anniversary of Singer's death, a blast ripped through the Kamas Stake Center and federal agents surrounded the Singer farm a mile away. The siege ended Jan. 28 in a gun battle that killed Corrections Lt. Fred House and wounded Addam Swapp.
"This whole thing of blowing up the church was the culmination of what happened in 1973 when they took the children out of school," Fleisher said.
That issue and the constitutional questions of religious freedom and parental rights are central to the story. They also are the bailiwick of Freedman, 38, former editor of a Chicago legal journal.
"I thought the issues were extraordinary," said Freedman, who had never met his co-author before the two contacted each other in 1980 and determined Freedman's legal expertise and Fleisher's knowledge of the family were complementary traits for a single book.
The two consider the 250-page "Death of an American" a historic, accurate account, although they acknowledge some "underlying sympathy to the Singers" in the original work.
That undercurrent may not be as evident in the revised version, which the authors currently envision as four new chapters and a preface added to the edited previous work with an undetermined new title.
"One of the questions that arises is where does devoutness end and fanaticism begin," Fleisher said. "We're researching that now.
"One of the things we both want to do is make sure that it's understood by readers, that we present both sides as fairly and accurately as we can," he added.
The family has cooperated with the project from the beginning, Fleisher said, largely because of his familiar presence among them and because Vickie believes "I knew her husband so well I would be a witness to all these things."
The irony of two Jewish authors writing about a family of polygamists excommunicated by the LDS Church has been a source of amusement to both authors and subjects.
"Vickie thought it was significant that we both happened to be Jewish and both happened to be Davids," Fleisher said.
"It's interesting having two Jews write about fundamentalist Mormons. But at times I felt I knew more about Mormon doctrine than Judaism."