John Voelker

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Served from 1956 through 1960

Oral History

John D. Voelker was born on June 19, 1903, in Ishpeming, Michigan. His parents were of Bavarian descent and settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Voelker’s father owned and operated a prominent saloon in Ishpeming until the Volstead Act, or Prohibition, put an end to his business.

Voelker attended Northern Michigan Normal in Marquette, Michigan. He later graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1928. He and his wife Grace moved to Chicago, where he practiced law with the firm of Mayer, Meyer, Austrian and Platt. Tired of city life, Voelker returned to Ishpeming and established his own practice. His public service began when he won the seat of Marquette County Prosecutor. Voelker served for several terms, and was eventually voted out of that office. After an unsuccessful run for Congress, then-Governor G. Mennen Williams appointed Voelker to take the seat vacated by retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Emerson R. Boyles in 1957. Voelker was then elected to another term on the Court, but he retired in 1959 to pursue his passion for writing.

Before his appointment to the Supreme Court, Voelker tried the case on which he based his most famous novel, Anatomy of a Murder. Under the pseudonym of Robert Traver (Robert was Voelker’s older brother who died while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I; Traver was his mother’s maiden name), Voelker wrote many books dealing with two of his passions: law and fly-fishing. Some of his other works include Trout Madness, Small Town D.A., and Laughing Whitefish.

Anatomy of a Murder was made into a motion picture in the late 1950s. Voelker worked with director and producer Otto Preminger while the picture was in production. The movie starred Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, and Ben Gazzara. It received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

John D. Voelker died on March 19, 1991. (Baker, Jr., Frederick M. Secretary, The John D. Voelker Foundation, Lansing, Michigan, 1998.)

Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
October 12, 1999

Portrait Artist:
Rod Cross

Oil on canvas

Owned by:
State of Michigan

Current location:
Hall of Justice – 6th Floor: Rotunda

Portrait photo by:
Dave Trumpie