Chronicling California crime
Journalist David Kulczyk goes from music buff to crime buff to history buff
Not many punk rockers end up writing a historical book on crime. In fact, some just wind up becoming part of criminal history. David Kulczyk has managed to do the former without the latter.
Kulczyk has released California Justice: Shootouts, Lynching and Assassinations in the Golden State—a collection of vigilante acts in our state from the past 150 year‘s.
“This is a piece of history that has been often overlooked,” Kulczyk said in a recent phone interview from Sacramento, his adopted home. “People didn’t want the news to go around that they lynched people.”
Indeed, lynchings, especially of Native Americans, were rampant throughout California in the late 1800s.
“People were really crazy and really drunk back then,” Kulczyk said. “When you put the two together, you get violence.”
Kulczyk, who says he’s “pretty much a college drop-out [who] wrote a history book,” came at the subject as a journalist. He has contributed 58 stories to the Sacramento News & Review, mostly on crime and local history. (He also wrote four arts pieces for the CN&R in 2002-03.) The work left Kulczyk intrigued about eerie bits of criminal history.
“In 2003 I started getting weird crime facts about Sacramento crime,” he said, “and the book kind of built from there.”
Kulczyk credits his fascination with crime and tragedy to his childhood. He was born in Bay City, Mich., 50 years ago ("three months before Madonna,” he jokes).
“I grew up in a pretty violent area,” he said. “I was definitely around death one way or the other.”
Kulczyk loved punk rock and tried to make a living as a musician. He did odd jobs to pay the rent, including sous chef, fish butcher and barista. However, five years as a bike messenger led him into the realm of writing.
“A couple other messengers and I started seeing who could write the best short story,” Kulczyk said. “And I got published and won an award for the first one I wrote.”
He went on to write for a local messenger magazine, then bounced around as a contributor and editor for magazines such as Vital Source, The Clarion and Maximum Ink Magazine.” Death was a theme from the beginning, as Kulczyk would often end his column, Kulczyk’s Korner, with obituaries of rock stars and regular musicians.
Kulczyk was 32 units short of a degree from the University of Wisconsin when he moved to Sacramento with his wife in 2002 to be closer to his in-laws. Along with freelance writing and attending college, he worked three years as a process server. In his free time, he’d go to libraries and dig into old historical texts, researching California Justice.
“Basically I read a bunch of boring books so that other people didn’t have to,” he said.
The challenge in finding factual reporting and historical resources made getting the story straight a hard task.
“Only one time out of four would I get enough information to write a whole section on [a particular incident],” he said. “You could read two Sunday papers from the same town and they would both get it wrong.”
The story behind Chapter 29—"The Last Lynching in California"—wasn’t something he came across in his exhaustive examination of California history. He found out about it from an eyewitness who shared the information.
Kulczyk’s research has made him a history buff, and he often points out locations of crimes even while driving around with the family. “Now there are stores and dentist offices [at sites] where some of these atrocities took place,” he said.
Along with making appearances to talk about the book, such as a book signing Saturday (May 17) at Lyon Books in Chico, Kulczyk continues to write for newspapers and magazines.
What does he hope readers take from his first book?
“I want people to see that things have gotten better,” he said. “At least there are no more lynchings.”