Murder under the Big Top: a Documentary Fiction

Winner of the prestigious Silver Independent Publisher Book Awards, 2014, Best Mystery/Thriller Ebook. Formerly entitled Death of a Clown.

My mother on a horse in the circus
Jerrul Dean outside the Big Top with her horse

The months leading up to America’s entrance into World War II were fraught with horror in Europe and parts of Asia. A quick history refresher: The two dates most often mentioned as “the beginning of World War II” are July 7, 1937, when the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” led to a prolonged war between Japan and China, and September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, which led Britain and France to declare war on Hitler’s Nazi state in retaliation.

Although enemies in WW I, both Germany and Japan adopted aggressive militaristic attitudes toward their respective regions in the 1930s. This led to a meeting of the minds and, eventually, a political and military alliance that included Italy, the “Axis Powers.” During the Second World War, however, the Axis Powers were limited by the great distances between them. For the most part, Japan and Germany fought separate wars, and eventually surrendered separately.

Jerrul Dean performing
The circus was a welcome distraction from the war

Americans watched the beginnings of the war from the sidelines, struggling still to break free of the Great Depression that held us in its grip.  The common ground we had as a people was our strong sense of right and wrong. The inhumanity occurring daily in Europe and elsewhere sat heavily upon us. The final event was Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor, triggering the United States’ inevitable entrance into the war. Led by FDR’s speech about the “day that will live in infamy” December 7th, 1941, America was in it and in it good.

During all of this, an afternoon’s or evening’s escapism came in many forms. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies were at an all-time high in popularity among adults. But it was the circus which enthralled children of all ages, 8 to 80. It was the Golden Age of Ringling Brothers’ Circus.  Never had it been as big or as glorious. It was literally a traveling city. The annual visit from the Big Top was often the highlight of the year for rural American towns, often smaller than the circus itself. The circuses of today are pale comparisons to the majesty and splendor of the Big Top circa 1940.

Mom's_pics 016 (2)
Jerull Deane outside the Big Top with her horse

My mother, the real Jerull Deane, was one of the glittering orbs circling the circus at that time. While the storyline is a complete fabrication—an invention of my murderous imagination—the day-to-day doings of the Big Top are accurate in every detail. After reading her letters and diaries, plus my own research into the subject, the reader has the opportunity to experience the mid-twentieth century Big Top, as only someone there at that time could.

Welcome to the world of sawdust, glitter, and murder.

Read Chapter One or get Murder under the Big Top on Amazon.

Murder under the Big Top – Characters and Synopsis


Jerull (Jeri) Deane – A twenty-two-year-old ambitious and talented young woman who calls the circus her home. Is on her way to making something of herself within that world when murder threatens to take it all away.

Tin Foot – Jeri’s web sitter for the past two years, he is the one man who has won her trust and friendship.

Catalena Baboescu – A teenager and part of a family of knife throwing artists. She is devastated by the death of the clown.

Margie Markel – A tall showgirl, she is one of Jeri’s two best friends in the circus. Margie likes men and colorful jive talk.

Doris Conway – The 2nd tall showgirl who has befriended Jeri. From the south, Doris likes to talk and she is dating the younger co-owner of the circus, Tony Phillips.

Doc Williams – Circus doctor who cares, sometimes too much, about his patients.

Tony Phillips – Co-owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus who manages the day-to-day running of the circus. Jeri’s friend through Doris.

Vince – The General Manager, who comes up wanting in ability, as far as Jeri is concerned.

Jerrul dean in dancing costume with tutu
Jerrul Dean was a phenomenal dancer.

John Ringling North – Along with his brother, Henry Ringling North, he owns the majority of the circus. Both were heirs to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus Empire.

Harold – Senior lion handler. Loves and trusts the big cats more than people.

Miss Lillian – A motherly black woman who cleans the Virgin Car but mainly takes care of the 50 young women entrusted to her. Her only son is serving in WWII in Italy.

Rosie – One or two rungs above Jeri on the ladder to success. Sees Jeri as a threat.

Sheriff Draeger – A small-town sheriff who takes advantage of a big-time opportunity.

Coke and Aspirin – One of the roustabouts who is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Circus clown circa 1940
Circus clown circa 1940

Constantin Baboescu – Celebrated knife thrower and, along with his two daughters, is a recent immigrant from Romania.

Wally – One of the youngsters who travels with the circus doing odd jobs. Like Jeri, the circus is the only real home he’s ever known.

Whitey Parks – Ten years older than Jeri, he is the head elephant trainer (bull man) and in love with Jeri.

Ioana Baboescu – Youngest daughter of Constantin and sister to Catalena.

Roustabouts – Men who do a myriad of physical jobs within the circus, a handyman.

First of Mays – First-time chorus women, called so for the start date of the circus season.

Duane Washington – Son of Lillian, we know him through his letters to his mother.

Old Kirby – Beloved elderly lion of the circus, suspected of killing the clown.

Eddie the Clown – Dead.

Read Chapter One or get Murder under the Big Top on Amazon.

Read Chapter One or get Murder under the Big Top on Amazon.