By Theresa Poalucci

Sometimes life throws something at you that you will never forget. And sometimes that life experience becomes a story that needs to be told.


As a rookie ATF agent, Mark Rusin was assigned to a case that he could never forget. And some 30 years later he has shared that story in a novel entitled “Justice for Dallas.”


The protagonist in the book is ATF Agent Marko Novak, who is assigned to investigate a brutal family murder scene in northern California. What really pushes the young agent to catch the bad guys is the way they killed the youngest member of the family, a 5-year old little girl named Dallas. The ensuing tale engages the reader with an accurate account of the bad guys, and how the good guys catch them.


“The book has received great reviews online,” said its author, Rusin. He readily admits that the agent in the book is a close approximation of himself.


Rusin, who is now retired and living in Catalina’s Eagle Crest, started as a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officer and went on to a career as an ATF Special Agent. Rusin was born and raised on the south side of Chicago and studied Law Enforcement Administration at Western Illinois University. After four years in Vegas on the police force, Rusin moved to the Bay area to work for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


At 31 years of age, ATF assigned him to a case just outside of San Francisco. It was a quadruple homicide of a former motorcycle gang member and his family. The 5-year-old daughter, Dallas, had  her throat slit. Rusin’s fiction does not stray far from the truth of his experience working ballistics, and gathering clues at the crime scene that had complicated because the home had been burnt to the ground.


“The main character is me. I am the investigator,” said Rusin. “I changed names and changed a couple of locations, but the murders did occur, so this book is truly inspired by actual events.”


I was curious as to how ATF could find evidence in a crime scene that was torched?


“It is amazing what we can do even after a fire,” he said. “Ballistics played a real and integral part in this case. I was compelled to write about it because it was truly incredible.”


Rusin also praised the ATF arson detection canine’s. They hit on an accelerant at the scene which bolstered the arson theory.  “We then cut out remnants of the floor to send to the lab for further testing,” he said. “It was kerosene as the assailants wanted the place to burn quickly.”


It took seven years to write the book. To help with editing and rewrites Rusin engaged the assistance of Priscilla Barton, a writer based in the Southwest, who has also worked as a film curator, book editor, and agitprop artist.

Turning life into art

“It took a while to write my first book, now I am working on a second,” explained Rusin. “I also am working on pitching “Justic for Dallas” to have it be made into a movie. It’s a one-in-a-million chance but I think the story is perfect for a film.”


Rusin has an agent, but explained that unless you really know someone in Hollywood, your chances are pretty slim.
Who would he want to play his alter ego Agent Marko Novak.


“Ben Affleck or Rob Lowe comes to mind,” he said with a laugh.


Rusin feels that there is another book to be written with his lead character, but that is somewhere down the road. Right now he is writing a series of short stories to be published in one volume about some of the more unusual and fantastic calls he made as a first responder in Las Vegas.


“My beat was The Strip. The Strip is 24 hours, so there’s always something going on,” he said. “You get to handle some crazy, wild, and even funny, things.”


In 1980, when the MGM Grand Hotel fire occurred, Rusin was assigned to pull dead bodies from the hotel. That fire inspired his first published work when the Las Vegas Review Journal printed his remembrances of the incident. The story was titled “IN DEPTH: MGM GRAND HOTEL FIRE: 25 YEARS LATER: Officer recalls eerie scene at burned hotel.” You can read the article on WIKIPEDIA.


“I always liked to write,” he said. “As a kid I wrote poetry. As a cop I would take the crime reports we had to dictate and then elaborate on them. It served as therapy to help process some of the tragic events I encountered as a law enforcement officer.”


As a writer Rusin has struggled with days when the words would not come, and times when the words came faster than he could type.


In a way the writing is much like his former job. “Everyday is a challenge,” he said. “You just keep working at putting the evidence, or the story together.”


“I am a meat and potatoes writer,” described Rusin. “I tell how it happened and how I felt about it.”


After an illustrious career with ATF, Rusin finished his career in Tucson as the western regional coordinator for the ATF’s ballistic imaging program. A fitting career ending, as it mirrors the ending of “Justice for Dallas.” You see it is ballistic imaging that finally nails the bad guys in life and in fiction.


“Justice for Dallas” is available online through Amazon in both soft cover and as a Kindle download.

Local Author Mark Rusin turns
experience into compelling novel