Three powerful men converge on the banks of the Red Cedar River in the early 1900s in southern Minnesota—George Albert Hormel, founder of what will become the multi-billion dollar food conglomerate Hormel Foods; Alpha LaRue Eberhart, the author’s paternal grandfather and Hormel’s Executive Vice President and Corporate Secretary; and Ransome Josiah Thomson, Hormel’s comptroller. Over ten years, Thomson will embezzle $1.2 million from the company’s coffers, nearly bringing the company to its knees.
The Butcher, The Embezzler, and The Fall Guy opens in 1922 as George Hormel calls Eberhart into his office and demands his resignation. Hailed as the true leader of the company he’d helped Hormel build—is Eberhart complicit in the embezzlement?
In scale both intimate and grand, Cherington deftly weaves the histories of Hormel, Eberhart, and Thomson within the sweeping landscape of our country’s early industries, along with keen observations about business leaders gleaned from her thirty-five-year career advising top company executives. The Butcher, The Embezzler, and The Fall Guy equally chronicles Cherington’s journey from blind faith in family lore to a nuanced consideration of the three men’s great strengths and flaws—and a multilayered, thoughtful exploration of the ways we all must contend with the mythology of powerful men, our reverence for heroes, and the legacy of a complicated past.
Far worse than losing his job and the great wealth he’d rightfully accumulated is that his beloved young wife, Lena, and Gretchen’s grandmother, is dying of cancer. But the story doesn’t end there.
What readers are saying
“Cherington dismantles myth after myth in this visceral and emotional story, one complicated by family legacies large and small that are twined by love and loss. At the book’s center, a small town that orbits around buttoned-up businessmen and an industry that feeds the nation’s bellies with slaughtered hogs.”
—Kerri Arsenault, author of Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains, a New York Times Editors’ Choice and Chicago Tribune Top Book for 2020
“What happens when we unravel family myths? In her newest memoir, The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy, Gretchen Cherington finds no easy answers as she unfolds a true crime tale concerning a grandfather she never knew. As we're drawn into this intricate story of high life and deceit in the early 20th century, both author and reader wonder if Cherington’s grandfather was complicit in an embezzlement scheme that rocked a name-brand company. With characteristic honesty, and relevant to readers everywhere, Cherington's powerful prose prompts us to look at our own family stories in new ways.”
—Ashley E. Sweeney, author of Hardland
“The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy is a compelling book of family history, an urgent look inside the machinations of wealth and power, and a wonderfully well-written journey into a fully realized past. Cherington, the daughter of a poet and the granddaughter of an astute businessman, wields the many elements of her inheritance with grace.”
—Beth Kephart, National Book Award finalist and author of three-dozen books, including Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays and We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class
“Gretchen Cherington is a bold, brave, and honest writer. Her heartfelt search for family truths is always grounded in thorough research and deep reflection. With both the clear-eyed perspective of a consultant to CEOs and the compassion of a granddaughter able to forgive human faults and frailties, Cherington skillfully honors her grandfather’s legacy, while uncovering complicated truths. A powerful and beautifully structured read.”
—Debra Thomas, Sarton Award-winning author of Luz: A Novel
“The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy comes to life with its deeply personal exploration of the darkest chapter in the 130-year history of Geo. A. Hormel & Company. This marvelous and meticulously researched book by Gretchen Cherington is packed with arresting detail and personal insights. In her search for answers, Cherington weaves a robust account.”
—Ben Welter, author of Minnesota Mayhem: A History of Calamitous Events, Horrific Accidents, Dastardly Crime & Dreadful Behavior in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes
“Cherington’s The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy combines what I love best about John Carreyou’s Bad Blood and Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City—the fascinating interplay of history, business, personality, and crime. Not just what happened. But, why it happened, and why we ought to care.”
—Shelley Blanton-Stroud, author of the Jane Benjamin Series
“In this fascinating historical memoir, Gretchen Cherington sets out on a determined quest to discover why her grandfather, who played a pivotal role in the early success of the Hormel meat company, was ultimately forced out of the company. To understand this pivotal event that forever changed her family’s fortunes, Gretchen returns to her midwestern roots to uncover the truth about the meatpacking industry and the powerful men who shaped it. Engrossing me from first page to last, this is a compelling mystery of corporate greed, family legacy, and a granddaughter’s search for answers.”
—Laura Davis, best-selling author of The Courage to Heal and The Burning Light of Two Stars