Southfield author to share how he unraveled great-grandfather’s unsavory past

By: Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published May 8, 2019

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TROY — Whenever Southfield Mayor Kenson J. Siver asked his family questions about his great-grandfather,  Edwin Turner Osbaldeston, they went unanswered or the subject was changed.

“As a child I heard stories about ETO, but nothing really bad or no mention of the crimes he committed,” Siver said via email. “For example, I was told he had been a doctor.  It seemed odd to me that he did not continue to practice medicine.  I was told the reason was that he moved around a good deal and had trouble sticking to one thing. We had no idea that he was a criminal, much less led a life of crime for seven decades.”

Siver will share his journey, which led him to write, with his sister Noel Siver, “An Uncommon Criminal: The Extraordinary Life of Edwin Turner Osbaldeston,” at 7 p.m. May 15 at the Troy Public Library.

The book is available for purchase online. There are limited copies available for checkout at the library.

Anna Barlow, the Troy Public Library’s adult services librarian, said she received a note from another library where Siver had spoken that the attendees really enjoyed him.

“It’s a unique topic,” she said. “We thought people would be intrigued to hear the story.”

Siver said the biography came about because ETO’s oldest daughter, Ethel, was the family historian. She saved a number of his possessions, including ETO’s journal.

“I first read the journal about 50 years ago and found it to be a bit unbelievable,” Siver said. “My sister Noel and I have since concluded that ETO rewrote the journal to place himself in the most positive light for his children and future generations of the family.

“There was nothing in the journal about time incarcerated or his misdeeds,” Siver said.

He said they used church records, city directories, various archives, court and prison records, ship passenger lists, ancestry websites and newspapers in their research.

“First and foremost, ETO was a con artist with a very large ego,” Siver said. “He managed to escape the British underclass and travel about the world. He was a very big self-promoter. Always charming, local papers regularly wrote articles about him. If not, he wrote letters to the editor or took out advertisements promoting his services.”

Siver said that at first he was even a little amused about some of the crimes, such as horse and buggy theft.

“However, as more and more of his crimes came to light, I was appalled. You name the crime, and ETO committed it,” Siver said, listing the offenses: extortion, prison escape, fleeing police officers, intimidation, assault, child abuse, fraud, adultery, attempted murder and murder.

“While not charged with arson, he had five house fires in his life,” Siver said.

“For some time, my sister had asked me to help her write ETO’s biography,” he added. “At first, I declined, as I didn’t want to memorialize his life. However, as more and more events came to light, I thought the story should be told.

“Further, through his charm, guile and resourcefulness, he got away with most of his misdeeds. Besides our research, I expanded the story to place ETO in his world setting,” Siver said. “For example, he practiced health care in a time prior to modern medicine. There were many quacks ‘practicing medicine’ and a public eager for cures or extended life.”

The Troy Public Library is located at 510 W. Big Beaver Road. Visit troypl.org or call (248) 524-3584 to register.

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