Wayne Combs was just an infant when he first found out that his great-grandfather was a contract killer.
The discovery fascinated the young boy; enough so that he began to ask questions to his grandmother about her father.
Although Combs’ grandmother never enjoyed speaking of her father much, the curiosity never left Combs, a Lee’s Summit resident born in the small Appalachian town of Hazard, Ky.
It was there, in Hazard, where Combs’ great-grandfather, “Bad Tom” Smith, earned his reputation as a killer. According to the town’s local newspaper, Smith was a local gun for hire just before the turn of the 20th century. He was responsible for the deaths of several men, many of which occurred during Hazard’s bloody French Eversole War. The killings earned him the moniker of “Bad Tom.”
Combs’ book, “Singing from the Gallows: The Story of “Bad Tom” Smith,” is a historic fictional look at the life and times of his great-grandfather.
“About 85 percent of it is true,” Combs said in a recent interview with the Journal. “I tried to make it as historically accurate as I could, but, obviously since it’s a novel, I had to do some fiction with the dialogue and that sort of thing.”
The 202-page book was published by Compass Flower Press in October of last year. The story, set in Hazard, centers on Smith’s work as a contract killer for the French faction of the French-Eversol War. Although Smith was a notorious and murderous character in the late 1800s – as a result of his misdeeds he was hanged in the town of Jackson, Ky. – Smith was also a family man, the book’s promotional material reads.
Combs wanted to get that aspect of Smith’s life across in his fascinating tale.
“I spent over 10 years doing the research on it,” he said. “It took a while but it was a very interesting period of time. I kept learning more and more about him. He was certainly evil, but he wasn’t all evil, just as most people aren’t. There is always some good in people and I try to portray that in the book as well. I tried to cover the entire person as much as I could.”
Combs said he has no signings scheduled as of yet for the Lee’s Summit area, but he and his wife Carol will travel to Hazard in the coming weeks for a series of signings in and around the town. “Bad Tom” Smith is a popular character in those parts, Combs said, and he and his wife – both commissioned Kentucky Colonels – plan to enjoy the visit.
“It’s a small town just like a lot of other small towns,” Combs said of his birthplace. “It’s a poverty-type area and it’s unusual there. It’s between 5,000 and 6,000 people there. When I was growing up, Main Street in Hazard would be bustling. It’s not that way anymore. It’s grown, but Main Street is not as active as it used to be.”
The book is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and an autographed copy can be obtained from the author himself. It is also on the various e-book formats including Kindle and Nook.
Combs can be contacted at btomsmith1895@gmail.
com or 816-659-7163.