John D(onaldson) Voelker

Citation metadata

Date: 2003
Document Type: Biography
Length: 784 words

Document controls

Main content

About this Person
Born: June 29, 1903 in Ishpeming, Michigan, United States
Died: March 18, 1991 in Marquette, Michigan, United States
Nationality: American
Other Names: Voelker, John D.; Voelker, Robert Donaldson; Voelker, John Donaldson
Updated:Oct. 2, 2003


Family: Born June 29, 1903, in Ishpeming, MI; died of a heart attack, March 19, 1991, in Marquette, MI; son of George Oliver (a saloon keeper) and Annie (Traver) Voelker; married Grace Taylor, August 2, 1930; children: Elizabeth, Julie, Grace. Education: Attended Northern Michigan Normal School (now Northern Michigan University), 1922-24; University of Michigan, L.L.B., 1928. Hobbies and other interests: Trout fishing.


Admitted to Michigan bar, 1928; attorney in private practice; Marquette County, MI, prosecuting attorney, 1934-52; State of Michigan, supreme court justice, 1957-60; author, 1960-91.


L.L.D., Northern Michigan University, 1958.




  • Troubleshooter: The Story of a Northwoods Prosecutor, Viking, 1943.
  • Danny and the Boys: Being Some Legends of Hungry Hollow, World, 1951.
  • Small Town D.A., Dutton, 1954.
  • Anatomy of a Murder (novel), St. Martin's, 1957.
  • Trout Madness, St. Martin's, 1960.
  • Hornstein's Boy (novel), St. Martin's, 1962.
  • Anatomy of a Fisherman, McGraw, 1964.
  • Laughing Whitefish (novel), McGraw, 1965.
  • The Jealous Mistress, Little, Brown, 1968.
  • Trout Magic, Crown, 1974.
  • People versus Kirk (novel), St. Martin's, 1981.
  • Traver on Fishing: A Treasury of Robert Traver's Finest Stories and Essays about Fishing for Trout, Lyons Press (Guilford, CT), 2001.

Also author of short stories, articles, essays, and book reviews. Author of weekly column for Detroit News, 1967-69.


Anatomy of a Murder was adapted by Wendell Mayes for a Columbia Pictures film released in 1959; Trout Madness was filmed in 1964, with Voelker appearing in it.


The best-selling courtroom drama/mystery was based on a real-life murder case in Big Bay, Michigan, for which Voelker served as the defense attorney. In 1959, Columbia Pictures filmed the story on location at the Lumberjack Tavern, where the murder occurred. Directed by Otto Preminger and starring Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, and George C. Scott, Anatomy of a Murder is considered a Hollywood classic, and the book remained Voelker's most important, popular, and best-remembered work throughout his writing career. Upon the release of the novel, critic and author James Cain asserted in the New York Times Book Review, "It held me as few books have, I couldn't put it down," although he also maintained that the work was "jackleg in its organization" and "much, much too long" at 437 pages. Voelker "lavishes much care on the architecture of his trial, but stays away from its subtler human material," comments Joseph Hitrec in the Saturday Review, and he praises the author for keeping the trial reconstruction "mobile and interesting."

Subsequent efforts by Voelker centered on his much-loved pastime, trout fishing, including Trout Madness and Trout Magic. He also continued to write books dealing with court cases, including Laughing Whitefish, The Jealous Mistress, and People versus Kirk.

In 1989, Voelker told the Detroit Free Press, "Spinning yarns is a protection against the nuttiness, the bull----, the greed, the hate, all around us. I'm a fisherman who likes to observe and tell yarns and so I told stories about the things that I knew about." Voelker lived, wrote, and fished in Ishpeming, Michigan, until his death in 1991.


--Born June 29, 1903, in Ishpeming, MI; died of a heart attack, March 19, 1991, in Marquette, MI. Jurist and author. Voelker was the Marquette County, Michigan, prosecutor from 1935 to 1950, and a member of the Michigan Supreme Court from 1957 to 1960. Under the name Robert Traver he wrote eleven books, including Anatomy of a Murder in 1958, a murder mystery based on an actual case in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The film version in 1959 was directed by Otto Preminger and starred James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and George C. Scott. Voelker resigned from the Michigan Supreme Court in 1960 claiming, according to the Washington Post, that "other people can write my opinions, but none can write my novels." Among his other books are Trout Madness, Hornstein's Boy, Anatomy of a Fisherman, Laughing Whitefish, The Jealous Mistress, and Trout Magic. From 1967 to 1969, he wrote a weekly column for the Detroit News.


  • The Writers Directory, 1980-82, St. James Press, 1979.


  • Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1991.
  • Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1991.
  • New York Times, March 20, 1991.
  • Times (London), March 29, 1991.
  • Washington Post, March 20, 1991.


  • Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1991.
  • Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1991.
  • New York Times, March 20, 1991.
  • Time, April 1, 1991, p. 61.
  • Times (London), March 29, 1991.
  • Washington Post, March 20, 1991.*




Booklist, October 15, 1981, p. 289.

Book World, December 19, 1982, p. 12; May 26, 1968.

Chicago Tribune, October 24, 1989; March 19, 1991.

Detroit Free Press, September 18, 1989, pp. 1B-2B.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1974, p. 932; August 15, 1981, p. 1035.

Kliatt Paperback Book Guide, winter, 1984, p. 20.

Library Journal, September 1, 1974, p. 2086; November 1, 1981, p. 2155.

New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1958, p. 4, 29; January 18, 1959; November 1, 1981, p. 15; October 30, 1983, p. 14.

Progressive, January, 1975, p. 55.

Publishers Weekly, January 11, 1960; August 12, 1974, p. 55; August 21, 1981, p. 43; June 10, 1983, p. 58; March 7, 1986, p. 92.

Saturday Review, January 4, 1958, p. 14.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1983, p. 523.

West Coast Review of Books, February, 1982, p. 39.

Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1982, p. 372; April, 1983, p. 695.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000102096