Behind the Book: Siege of the Capital

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Behind the Book: Siege of the Capital

My ultimate choice of a setting where Jake Katz could continue to “come of age,” and I could continue to delve deeper into DC’s seemingly bottomless pit of morbidly fascinating crimes led me to consider choosing Hamaas Khaalis’ takeover of three buildings in DC in March 1977. At the time his siege occurred, I was a lawyer in the US Justice Department whose main concern about the incident, like many other Washingtonians, was how he’d screwed up traffic so much. It didn’t take me too long to discover that the incident had more tangles and connections to people and events past, present, and future than I could have ever imagined. When friends would ask me how the story was coming, I’d tell them there were more snakes coming out of it than Medusa’s head.

The biggest snake, I soon learned, was the murder of seven people – including infant members of his family – at Khaalis’ home on 16th St. NW in January 1973.

7700 16th St., NW,Washington, DC

7700 16th St., NW,Washington, DC

Other appearances in the incident were put in by future DC “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the foreign ministers of three Arab countries, Liz Taylor, and Jimmy Carter, then President of the United States, to name just a few.

To try to get a mental grip around everything that happened in the course of only 39 hours – the time the first hostages were taken until the time they were released – I made ample use of the National Archives Federal Records Center in College Park, Maryland; visited courts and libraries holding other records and newspaper articles; and interviewed many of the key players in the incident, including then-United States Attorney for DC Earl Silbert, the Assistant USAs who tried both cases involving Khaalis, and several other reporters and officials of the time.

At the end of the 18 months it took me to research and write the book, I proudly sent it to my agent – you remember, the woman who encouraged me to write it after reading the first chapter – who got back to me in less than two weeks to tell me that maybe she wasn’t the right agent for the book, that it maybe needed someone who could read it from a “masculine perspective.” Once I got over the shock and disappointment, and started contemplating that everything I had written in both books would never be read; that I had, in essence, been growing mushrooms in the dark that would never see the light of day, I had a moment of clarity. There was one thing left for me to do. Stay tuned for my next blog which invites you into the world of….self-publishing.

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