|Homer Van Meter
The criminal case against John “Homer” Van Meter – charged with obstruction for allegedly fabricating a gun battle in the woods – is crawling along at the speed of a gutshot gangster.
“It’s really gotten long and drawn out, unfortunately,” Van Meter said Friday. “Apparently they’re booked up with cases in Lincoln County.”
In the meantime, he has almost recovered from wounds he said he received last April 19 when he alleges two men in a black SUV opened fire on him while he was logging in the town of Tomahawk.
“Getting shot five times takes it out of you,” he said.
Van Meter, with a gunshot wound to his torso, told authorities last April of a running gun battle in the woods during which his truck was struck 23 times by bullets.
Van Meter told investigators he was at first pinned down behind his truck by hostile fire but then retrieved his pistol from the truck and gave chase, possibly wounding one of his assailants before they escaped.
Bleeding from his own wound, he said, he barely made it to a logging road when a passerby rescued him.
“I almost died,” he said Friday. “The only thing that kept me going is that I was being tracked by a wolf.”
Van Meter at first told investigators he did not recognize his attackers, but a week later changed his account, saying he had been in a shootout with the same two men in 2004 in Sonoma County, Calif.
In a television interview he said he knew they were the same two men because one of them was missing an arm.
On May 31, police said, Van Meter told detectives the two men had been located and that they had been shot to death. Police said Van Meter refused, however, to provide names or locations.
Fiction vs. nonfiction
In June, in another television interview, Van Meter announced his intention to write an “absolutely truthful” account of the woodland gun battle.
The one-armed man might remind some readers of the 1960s television series, “The Fugitive,” in which the fictional Dr. Richard Kimball, played by David Jansen, was wrongfully convicted of killing his wife, a crime actually committed by a one-armed man.
That fictional tale rose from the real life murder trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard, also accused of murdering his wife.
In Van Meter’s case, fiction also blends with reality. Two months after the incident in the woods, The Lakeland Times published a story examining the similarities between Van Meter and a fictional character, also named Homer Van Meter, in Van Meter’s 1996 novel, “Day of the Little Guy.”
In the book, the fictional Van Meter is a reincarnated Celt warrior who has spent much of the past 800 years battling foes in the woods, primarily bears.
In 800 years, weapons change, and toward the end, the fictional Homer Van Meter was fond of a particular handgun.
“In moments of grave danger, real or imagined, my reflexive mind directed my right hand to draw a Colt .45 and fire,” mused the modern day Celt warrior in the novel.
By late June, investigators from Lincoln and Oneida counties were satisfied that Van Meter’s woodland gun battle was fictional, a finding which implies that Van Meter shot himself that day.
Officials announced that charges were pending.
In September, Van Meter was charged by Lincoln County district attorney Donald Dunphy with two counts of resisting or obstructing a police officer by filing false reports. Van Meter remains free on a $1,000 bond.
Defense attorney Marcus Berghahn later filed a motion to dismiss the charges. Berghahn argues the facts presented in the criminal complaint are insufficient to conclude Van Meter was lying.
The motion states police failed to present evidence that the accused caused his own injuries.
“The charges are ridiculous,” Van Meter said Friday.
Currently, a hearing on the motion is set for Feb. 27. A jury trial is scheduled for May 7.
By the way, if the name “Homer Van Meter” rings any bells it is because that is the real life name of a notorious 1930s gangster.
Homer V. Van Meter, born in rural Indiana in 1906, was a childhood friend of John Dillinger. After the two were released from prison in 1933 they formed a gang and went on an infamous, one-year crime spree, notable for its violent gun battles with police.
Among other crimes, Homer V. Van Meter was wanted for killing two East Chicago detectives and a South Bend, Ind., police officer.
Dillinger, betrayed by a woman, was shot to death by FBI agents as he left the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934.
Police located Homer Van Meter, Dillinger’s right hand man, a month later in St. Paul, Minn., and chased him into a blind alley.
Rather than surrender, Van Meter drew his .45-caliber handgun and “was met by a hail of machine gun fire,” according to one historical account. He was 27 when he died.
It turns out that John “Homer” Van Meter of Rhinelander, the 52-year-old logger charged with obstructing an officer, shares the infamous killer’s name for a reason.
“He (the gangster Homer V. Van Meter) was my father’s cousin,” the modern Van Meter said Friday. “I was nicknamed after the guy when I was a kid. I even look a little like the old dude.”
Ed Culhane can be reached at email@example.com.