Stepdaddy Dearest: Putting the Crime in Crime Family


At 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, Rod Harrison was not a person you’d ever want to fuck with. People literally crossed the street when they saw his hulking figure walking up the sidewalk. He stepped into my life when I was 7, looming larger than life. My mom often recounted the first time she saw him back in high school, delivering a lightning-fast round kick to the temple of a classmate who dared challenge him.

He was a highly gifted martial artist and an accomplished street thug, mostly defending his turf from rival drug dealers. He took on all comers, from a pack of Hells Angels to swarms of angry cops trying to cuff him. Being a father to two young children was the last thing you’d imagine Rod doing, and yet, there he was, sitting on the kitchen floor with my little sis and me, showing us how to color inside the lines.

He had a movie-star smile, a quick wit and a contagious laugh that drew people to him effortlessly. He was frighteningly charismatic, with a brilliant, sharp mind, a dangerous combination for a criminal. Rod organized a small crew of outlaws and began home-invasion robberies of drug dealers. He and his crew didn’t hesitate to resort to violence, pistol-whipping their victims to shake the drugs and money loose. Soon, they graduated to hitting banks, jewelry stores and pharmacies, with my mom often driving the getaway car. Later, she’d collect newspaper clippings of their exploits for our family scrapbook.

…. continued


There’s a Great Deal of Murdering Going On…

This letter was sent to my 3rd great-grandfather Samuel Foster and his wife Mary from their cousin Dorothy Rowley in 1837.


[note: I didn’t fix any misspellings]

Sept. the 27

Dear Samuel and family.

Through the mercy of a kind God we are all alive. Mother has been very sick but is now better. She begins to set up a little. She has been threatened with two or three different fevers~ nerves and lung fevers but I think with the most prudent care she will live to get well. Brother William is feeble. I hope you and your family are well. I think something has been the matter with our connection to the East. Now I will ask you what you think my feelings were when we arrived at Monroe and found to our great disappointment that you were not coming. I will tell you~

I’ve concluded to go to Kalamazoo and examine the land office and see if there was any government land to enter when we arived we found the land was all taken. That was your prediction. Edwards the land agent told Mother that her lot and Brother W was worth five hundred dollars a piece but the area seems to have the scarcity of money. I think money is plentier in Mishigan than it is in York state. Then we concluded to go to Indianna and try to get government land. We went into the north part of the state but we found no goverment land. Land is verry high in Mishigan. New villages building all a bout. I think we have found two places where there are good locations for stores. One is eleven miles from White Pigeon in st. Josephs County on the St. Josephs river portage river, rock river all come to gether. The other is new Palmyra only thirty miles from Toledo. The prospect there is verry great only it is snowy there now. There is a rail road directly from Toledo to this place and then it is to continue to lake mishigan. Here is the junction of the rail. One goes to Jacksonburgh on to Kalamazoo. I think this will be a great place. I think that if I decide to settle in new Palmyra next spring I will certainly establish grocery stores. –

I would not venture my life on the lake in the spring now. Maybe in the fall there ~ there is a great deal of murdering a going on for money on the lake and on the shore at Cleveland and all about. I saw a train of cars eight in number a going to new Palmyra with great speed. Mother says she thinks this will be a safe place soon. There is an excellent flouring mill here at new Palmyra on the river basin. I have given up the idea of your leaving Massachusetts perhaps you had better buy there. I have given up the idea of going into a verry new country to live. I think the Three Rivers will be as great a place in short time as Rochester was a few years ago. I think the water privileges are verry great. I think next spring if I live I shall buy at new Palmyra and build there next summer as soon as I get all that I think I shall buy – – – quite sickly this season all around but I have had my health remain remarkably well. I have been through five trials this season but the Lord has provided for me.

We are in Ohio now. As soon as Mother gets able I shall leave for York state. Brother William says he is a going to the south to winter — how far I cannot tell. I dont expect to stay in York state any time. I calculate to return as soon as possible but on the account of being disapointed I shall not move things from York state this season. I shall calculate to move the things on the lake next summer. They try to take every advantage on the lake they possibly can. I have done advising you to come to the western country. You must do as you think best but I calculate to settle in new Palmyra.

I wish you peace and prosperity through life and at last may you and yours be so happy as to receive a crown of glory in Heaven. If Mother and I live I calculate to go to Bethlohem with her two years from next summer. As soon as you get this letter please do write and direct your letter to Dorothy Rowley Rochester York state. NB

You must do in your business as you think best. Our best wishes attend you all, Samuel and Mary Foster.

~ D. Rowley

Update: I was contacted by a Rowley family member and she confirmed that Thomas and Dorothy Rowley did in fact get into the grocery business and had great success.

My ancestry research: