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Wednesday, August 10,2011

From rocker to writer

Former Fix vocalist turns to true-crime chronicles

by Rich Tupica

Since Lansing native Steve Miller became a full-time crime
reporter and author he’s become accustomed to living out of hotels,
interviewing murderers and haggling state governments for court
documents. 


That hard work has paid off. On June 7, Berkley Books
published his second true crime book, “Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah
Pender,” which tells the story of a double murderer who escaped prison
in 2008 and evaded police for 136 eventful days. 


“Girl, Wanted” chronicles Pender’s manipulative ways: The
prosecutor in the case called her “the female Charles Manson.” Pender
managed to stay on the run for months, thanks to a cleverly designed
network of friends, disposable cell phones and the support of a wealthy
sex addict. 


“(Pender) could get people to do her bidding,” Miller
said. “She was pretty interesting and really bright. She was a
pre-physics major at Purdue. She went one year and then fell into the
life of crime. She went off the rails and turned into a crazy party
girl, which for most people would be no problem. 


“Random sex and copious drug intake are not crimes against
people. But Sarah hooked up with a former high school football star in
Indianapolis, and that alliance dovetailed into the shotgun slaying of
two fugitive meth heads from Nevada.” 


The book details how Pender conned everyone she came in
contact with in prison, including the guard who helped her escape. While
on the lam she hooked up with a rich entrepreneur from Indianapolis who
helped her to remain hidden and also to live a somewhat normal life.  


“Hell, she was going to casinos, eating at Bob Evans,
shopping at Walmart, even in the days after her picture was shown on
‘America’s Most Wanted,’” Miller said.  “‘Girl, Wanted’ details the whole thing and also talks about the agents trying to find her.”


The work put into that book is a far cry from Miller’s
first passion: punk rock. Miller, 53, was the vocalist for The Fix, an
influential hardcore punk band that formed in March 1980. Now considered
one of the pioneers of the powerful Midwest hardcore sound, the Lansing
band’s rare 1981 7-inch single on Touch & Go Records is now highly
collectible, and has sold for well over $3,000 on eBay.


After The Fix played its final show on December 31, 1981,
sharing a bill with punk legends Flipper and The Dead Kennedys at a San
Francisco warehouse, Miller said it took a while to find his place in
life and he “did as little as possible” for many years after the band’s
break up. 


It wasn’t until he was working as a shipping clerk in
Tampa Bay in the early ‘90s that he began dabbling in writing,
originally filing album reviews. By 1994 he’d found his passion and
landed his first legit job at the McKinney Courier in Collin County,
Texas. He then moved around to a few cities, learning the ropes of
investigative reporting. 


Now living in Haslett, Miller has spent the better part of
18 years working for publications like The Dallas Morning News, The
Washington Times, People magazine, and U.S. News and World Report.


In 2009 he co-authored his first true crime novel, “A
Slaying in the Suburbs: The Tara Grant Murder,” which told the story of a
Detroit-area man who murdered his wife and chopped her into 14 pieces. 


When Miller decided to make the leap into writing true
crime books, he found the process similar to his work at daily papers.
He describes it as writing “one long newspaper story.”


“You have 80,000 words to describe a crime,” he said.
“It’s always the same quest of getting documents. Some states have laws
that are great for transparency. Indiana (for ‘Girl, Wanted’) was
terrible. I had to request some things two or three times. 


“Michigan is even worse,” he added. “You have to file a
suit to get some things, and while you pay on your end, taxpayer dollars
pay for them to try and hide things from you. It’s a game, and it’s sad
to see states like Michigan skate on transparency. I imagine it’s due
to years of malaise on the part of the media.”


Aside from freelance writing, Miller has a batch of new
books in the works. One is “Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of
Five Decades of Rock ‘n Roll in America’s Loudest City,” set to be
completed next April. He’s also penning a book on Anthony Sowell, the
ex-Marine in Cleveland who was convicted in July of the murder of 11
women, which is due out next summer. Miller is also hoping for a spring
release of “Commando: The Johnny Ramone Autobiography.” 


For more information, visit Miller at www.avalanche50.com.


Steve Miller
Talk/signing for “Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender”
7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17
Schuler Books & Music
1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos
Free
(517) 349-8088
www.schulerbooks.com

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