Walter Van Cleave – A Character in Memoriam

Lt. Col. Walter Van Cleave (1927 - 1969)

Lt. Col. Walter Van Cleave (1927 - 1969)

Late in the winter of 2017, just as Ann and I were deep into the developmental edit of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, I was approached by a representative of the National League of Families of PPOW/MIA. One of their local groups was going to be holding a fundraiser, and she asked if I would be willing to contribute a book to raffle off along with an opportunity to name a character in our next book. Anyone at the fundraiser could win the raffle, but they were hopeful that a family member of a missing-in-action or killed-in-action soldier would win. Ann and I were quite happy to be involved, so I sent them a copy of LONE WOLF for the raffle and then we waited to hear about the winner.

We finished developmental and copy edits of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, and then dove into planning what would become STORM RISING. Considering that we were honouring a fallen soldier, we wanted this particular character to be good guy and a straight shooter, so we created an FBI agent to fill that roll. As we didn’t yet have a name, he appeared in the outline as Agent Raffle. He even appeared in an early back cover copy from Kensington as Agent Raffle!

Finally, in late June, I was introduced to the winner of the raffle. And that’s when we met U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Walter Shelby Van Cleave, a Phantom F-4 fighter pilot. Born in August of 1927, Lt. Col. Van Cleave was forty-one when he was shot down on April 22, 1969 over Laos. His body was never recovered. His son Chris won the raffle and was kind enough to provide us with some personal details to integrate into our fictitious Walter Van Cleave.

Thus was born Special Agent in Charge Walter Van Cleave, an agent out of the Norfolk, Virginia field office who specializes in human trafficking and in finding justice for trafficking victims. When Meg Jennings, Hawk, and DCFEMS Lieutenant Todd Webb stumble across victims of human trafficking, Meg joins forces with SAC Van Cleave, or “Van”, as the local expert in his field. SAC Walter Van Cleave not only has Lt. Col Van Cleave’s physical traits, he even smokes the same kind of pipe tobacco. Still a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, his personal military history has been updated to fit the current setting of the series.

Meg swiveled to see what Craig was looking at. Twenty feet down the hallway a tall, lean man with dark hair cut almost military short stood at the nurses’ station, his identification flip case open and extended as he talked to a nurse. “That must be SAC Van Cleave.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

Meg turned her back to the nurses’ station. “Know anything about him?”

“Not personally. When I heard who we were going to be handing this off to, I looked him up. Ex–air force, flew Tomcats in Operation Desert Storm. Been with the Bureau for nearly twenty years. Going by his record he seems like a good man with a lot of experience. Also sounds like a straight shooter with no BS tolerated.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Better still, he hasn’t burned out. My six months working human trafficking as a junior agent was enough to show me that wasn’t my niche. It looks like he’s been doing this in the Norfolk office for close to a decade.”

“Can’t beat that kind of experience,” Meg said. “Does he work in conjunction with local law enforcement?”

“That’s what I’ve been told, so he’ll have some useful contacts. Here he comes.”

Meg turned around to face the man coming down the hallway in the standard FBI uniform of white dress shirt paired with a dark suit and tie. Craig stepped up to stand beside her, holding out his hand. “SAC Van Cleave. I’m SAC Craig Beaumont from the Forensic Canine Unit out of D.C.”

“Beaumont, nice to meet you.” The special agent in charge shook hands with him, then turned to Meg. “Walter Van Cleave.”

Meg shook hands. “Meg Jennings. Canine handler for the Human Scent Evidence Team.”

Van Cleave’s head tilted slightly as he considered her. “You’re the one who tracked the girls.”

“Yes.” Standing so close to Van Cleave, a faint scent caught at Meg, tugging at a long-buried memory. Not cigarette smoke, nothing so acidic, something mellower, almost carrying a trace of cherries. Then it hit her—pipe smoke, and from a similar blend of tobacco as the one her Irish grandfather used. She blinked at him in surprise. In this day and age, a man who smoked a pipe. He was a throwback to the classic 1950s G-man. Walter Van Cleave was a rarity in more ways than one apparently.

SAC Walter Van Cleave turned out to be a great character and it was a pleasure to be able to include him. Thank you, Chris, for giving us the opportunity. We hope we produced a character you would feel proud to bear your father’s name.

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STORM RISING releases in a week! There’s still time to pre-order at these fine retailers so you can meet SAC Walter Van Cleave:,,, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, and IndieBound.

The heart-pounding thriller of a series continues as FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and her search-and-rescue K-9 companion confront the fury of nature—and the more dangerous nature of man . . .
In the wake of a devastating hurricane, Special Agent Meg Jennings and her Labrador, Hawk—invaluable members of the FBI’s Human Scent Evidence Team—have been deployed to Virginia Beach. They have their work cut out for them. Amid graveyards of debris, and the buried cries for help, the search and rescue operation begins. The most alarming discovery is yet to come—a teenage girl hiding in the Great Dismal Swamp. Shaken by the storm, she has reason to be scared. But this young survivor is terrified of so much more.

Her name is Emma—a disheveled runaway lost to the sordid underbelly of a Virginia sex-trafficking ring. Its leader has disappeared in the chaos—along with other victims. With so much evidence, and so many witnesses, seemingly washed away, Meg joins forces with Special Agent Walter Van Cleave to ensure no further harm comes to their vulnerable charge. They soon discover that this is no small-time localized syndicate. Its branches are rooted in some of the most influential powers in Virginia. Now as Meg’s investigation digs deeper, she’s making some very dangerous enemies. And one by one, they’re coming out of the storm to stop her.