Gunn, Chatfield-native novelist who struggled to be accurate, dies at 95

CHATFIELD, Minn. “Thanks to her mother, Anne Gunn knows good places to hide a body in Tucson, Arizona.

Gunn’s mother, Elizabeth Gunn, a native of Chatfield, Minnesota, wrote and published mystery and crime novels.

Elizabeth Gunn, formerly Elizabeth McConnell, died in Helena, Montana, in August at the age of 95.

His long-delayed writing career began in his late 60s. She was 70 when she published her first novel. She was 90 when her last book hit the shelves.


The New York Times praised Gunn’s novels

as “precision procedures”.

Elizabeth Gunn


Realism and credibility were important elements of his writing. The mother and daughter took a few trips together looking around Tucson to find good places to hide murder victims.

Gunn also drew on her experiences and memories of living in Minnesota for one of her popular mystery novel series. The books follow cases investigated by Jake Hines, a fictional detective in a fictional town of Rutherford, Minnesota, who, according to his friend and fellow author Mike Hayes, was a small stand-in for Rochester.

Hayes remembers seeing Gunn read one of these novels in a bookstore and upsetting the expectations people might have had for the older woman reading his writings.

“She looked like the kind of little old lady who would come over and talk about her book and there would be no blood in it, there would only be recipes,” Hayes said.

Instead, Gunn read the internal dialogue of a low-level drug dealer who set out to kill a higher-level dealer.

“Here’s Liz up there reading this stuff with all the four-letter words and some extended versions in front of this group,” Hayes said. “If I remember correctly, there was a gasp at the first word.”

When she finished, there was a standing ovation, Hayes said.

Anne remembers that her mother always liked to write.

“She was always a writer,” Anne said. “She just never had the chance to be an author.”

Gunn met her husband, Phil Gunn, in Yellowstone after moving from Minnesota. Gunn focused on raising their two daughters with him and helping him manage the motels they owned in Omaha, Nebraska, and then Helena, Montana.

“They were to some extent living my dad’s life instead of his life,” Anne said.

Gunn still managed to earn a pilot’s license, ski and hike while running the motel and raising his daughters.

Six Pound Walleye.jpg
“Six Pound Walleye,” part of Elizabeth Gunn’s Jake Hines mystery series.

Contribution / Edition Walk & Co.

When the couple retired, Gunn wrote his first novel while the couple traveled by boat. The two then traveled to the United States by recreational vehicle and eventually decided to settle in Tucson for their final years.

However, Gunn’s later years were productive as she published 18 novels in print and self-published electronic editions. Phil has helped support her writing, including helping to safeguard electronic files for her books and retaining the rights to digital publications of her novels, Anne said.

Her connection to southeast Minnesota helped her add realism to the police procedural book series. Her nephew, John Sibley, a former Deputy Chief of Police for the Rochester Police Department, helped her write accurately about police investigative procedures.

Hayes said Gunn appreciated hearing from other police officers that his books accurately described investigative procedures.

“She knew then that she had done her homework and managed to tell the story accurately,” Hayes said.

However, it was more than technical precision that made his books popular and fun to read, Hayes added.

“The most compelling part of reading fiction for me is having the right characters — characters you can believe in and relate to,” he said.

Hayes, who along with Gunn was part of a group of writers who shared their work as they wrote it, said his characters now feel like old friends.

Gunn was 90 when his last book was published. However, she continued to participate in book events and support other aspiring writers.

Anne said her mother was often shy about her age and not as assertive as she might have been when negotiating with agents and publishers. She never seemed to regret starting her writing career later in life.

“I can’t say she never had any regrets,” Anne said. “In some ways, I think the opposite is true – she was always so grateful to be released.”