The Gospel According to Disney

Met Her on the Mountain

A Forty-Year Quest to Solve the Appalachian Cold-Case Murder of Nancy Morgan
Mark I. Pinsky

Madison County in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is a place of ear-popping drives and breathtaking views. It is also where federal antipoverty worker Nancy Dean Morgan was found naked, hogtied, and strangled in the backseat of her car in June 1970. An inept investigation involving local, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies failed to find a clear explanation of the motive or events of her murder. The case was left unsolved. Years later, after most of the material evidence had been lost or mishandled, one of Nancy’s fellow VISTA workers—the last person known to have seen her alive—became the prime suspect, based on the testimony of one of the town’s most notorious resident criminals. Did he kill Nancy, or was he another victim of the corrupt local political machine and its adherence to “mountain justice”? Met Her on the Mountain: A Forty-Year Quest to Solve the Appalachian Cold-Case Murder of Nancy Morgan is a tangled tale of rural noir. Author Mark Pinsky was profoundly struck by Nancy’s story as a college student in North Carolina in 1970. Here, Pinsky presents the evolution of his investigation and also delves into the brutal history of Madison County, the site of a Civil War massacre that earned it the sobriquet “Bloody Madison.” Met Her on the Mountain is a stirring mix of true crime, North Carolina political history, and one man’s devotion to finding the truth.

Print Articles

Religion Beat Veteran Mark Pinsky Wins Independent Publisher Awards Gold Medal for True Crime Book
05/07/2014 – Mark Pinsky, a religion beat veteran known for his reporting for the Los Angeles Times and Orlando Sentinel, has been awarded a Gold Medal in the True Crime category of the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards for his book Met Her on the Mountain: A Forty-Year Quest to Solve the Appalachian Cold-Case Murder of Nancy Morgan. (read more)
Publishers Weekly—Murder Will Out: PW talks with Mark I. Pinsky
09/20/2013 – Journalist Pinsky travels deep into the mountains of western North Carolina to investigate a 40-year-old murder mystery in Met Her on the Mountain: A Forty-Year Quest to Solve the Appalachian Cold- Case Murder of Nancy Morgan. (read more)
*Publishers Weekly – Pick of the Week
06/24/2013 – This compulsively page-turning true crime narrative has it all: smart prose, a now-obscure unsolved murder that was notorious at the time, and an investigative journalist trying to pick up the trail. In 1970, the nude and hog-tied body of Nancy Morgan was found in a car in a Madison County, N.C., forest after she’d gone missing. (read more)
USA Today
01/08/2014 – The 50th anniversary Wednesday of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty reminds us how intractable that effort can be, despite the hope and determined idealism when the legislation was signed..(read more)
Atlanta Journal Constitution Online
12/05/2013 – In 1970, a student reporter at Duke University clipped a news story from the paper about Nancy Dean Morgan, a 24-year-old anti-poverty volunteer murdered in Madison County, in western North Carolina. Thus began Mark Pinsky’s “dark quest” to find her killer (or killers), a dogged hunt spanning five decades that drew him deep into the crazy-quilt world of “Mad County.” (read more)
Read the Spirit
Mark Pinsky isn’t laughing. And, this is a writer who is famous for his humor. He ranks as one of the nation’s most creative journalists in covering religion—and is the author of two fun books for the whole family: The Gospel According to Disney and The Gospel according to The Simpsons. (read more)
Huffington Post
11/21/2013 – When I switched from the crime beat to covering religion — during the height of the televangelism scandals in the 1980s – I joked to my newspaper colleagues that the only difference was that I would be encountering “a better class of felon,” or at least less violent ones. But newsroom snark notwithstanding, it was a big shift.(read more)
The Reading Life Blog
11/01/2013 – Veteran journalist Mark Pinsky writes an intriguing story of unsolved murder in “Met Her on the Mountain” (John F. Blair; $24.95). The book recounts a 40-year quest to find out who killed a young antipoverty worker in Madison County. In 1970, a VISTA worker named Nancy Dean Morgan was found dead deep in the Appalachian mountains. (read more)
Peggy Payne’s Boldness Blog
Most writers have a little unease when approaching the blank screen for the first time each day.  That’s very often the case even when the job is no more than making up a story and/or assembling sentences. For Mark Pinsky, working on his new book involved much scarier situations.  And yet he persisted in his risky research for 40 years. (read more)
The Huffington Post—Book Tour Stop: Scene of the Crime
10/30/2013 – Book tours are rarely the stuff of high drama, but when one stop includes the scene of an infamous crime you claim to have solved, the tension and the room temperature tend to rise. (read more)
Thalia Press Co-Op Blog—The Power of Persistence
10/29/2013 – The subtitle says it all: “A Forty-Year Quest to Solve the Appalachian Cold-Case Murder of Nancy Morgan.” When Mark Pinsky first heard of the death of a young VISTA volunteer in the mountains of western North Carolina, he was just out of college, aiming at a journalism career with a decided political bent. She seemed like a lot of people he knew who had ideas about how to make a better world, and when time passed and her murder remained unsolved, it bothered him. (read more)
My Phantom Valentine: Across the Years With Another Woman – by Mark Pinsky
For more than 40 years, a decade longer than I’ve been married to my wife, another woman has had a hold on me, and shaped my life: A young community organizer named Nancy Dean Morgan, murdered in the mountains of North Carolina. (read more)
Appalachian Suite – by Mark Pinsky
Sunnybank Inn and Retreat Center, overlooking the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains, is a house of song in a land of music. A state historical marker in front of the rustic, two-story Victorian explains that the inn, built in 1875, was once the home of musician Jane Gentry, who was host to and guided a British folklorist named Cecil Sharp. In 1916, Sharp climbed the nearby hills and hollows on horse, mule and foot as he collected the ballads that had crossed the Atlantic from the British Isles and evolved in the mountain isolation. ( read more)

Carolina Mountain Life
Winter Issue 2013/2014 – In 1970, Nancy Morgan was raped and murdered in Madison County, NC. Morgan, who was 24, was a member of a federal anti-poverty team working in the rugged and sparsely populated mountain country. (read more)

Broadcasts

Publishers Weekly Radio Show – with Rose Fox and Mark Rotella
08/30/2013 – We talk with Mark I. Pinsky about his forthcoming book, Met Her on the Mountain: A Forty-Year Quest to Solve the Appalachian Cold-Case Murder of Nancy Morgan; PW reviews editor Annie Coreno chats with us about LibraryReads, a new website that lists the top ten new books recommended by librarians across the country. (listen to podcast)
Unfinished Business
After years covering crime, investigative journalist Mark Pinsky had had enough of murder. He made the transition to religion reporting and became a well-respected columnist and author by writing about spirituality in contemporary society and popular culture. (read more and listen)

Interviews

Read the Spirit
Mark Pinsky isn’t laughing. And, this is a writer who is famous for his humor. He ranks as one of the nation’s most creative journalists in covering religion—and is the author of two fun books for the whole family: The Gospel According to Disney and The Gospel according to The Simpsons. (read the article and interview below)
Publishers Weekly—Murder Will Out: PW talks with Mark I. Pinsky
09/20/2013 – Journalist Pinsky travels deep into the mountains of western North Carolina to investigate a 40-year-old murder mystery in Met Her on the Mountain: A Forty-Year Quest to Solve the Appalachian Cold- Case Murder of Nancy Morgan. (read more)

Appalachian Book Reviews

Otto Wood, the Bandit: The Freighthopping Thief, Bootlegger, and Convicted Murderer behind the Appalachian Ballads
Toward the end of the 1962 western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a character playing a newspaper man says, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Read More

Even As We Breathe: A Novel
For a growing number of COVID quarantiners, beset with cabin fever, the western North Carolina city of Asheville has become a relatively safe, getaway refuge, worth the cheap flight—or the longer drive for the more cautious. Read More

The Nowhere Child: A Novel
The cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Melbourne, Australia, are a world away from the rustic hamlets and hollers of American’s Southern Appalachian Mountains. And yet Christian White deftly connects the two in his debut novel, The Nowhere Child. Read More
Scribe: A Novel
Reading Scribe, Alyson Hagy’s slim, dystopian novel, it’s difficult not to hear echoes of Cormac McCarthy’s eerie, early Appalachian writing. Although Hagy has clearly created a work of imagination, she writes with the infused, dark, Scotch-Irish sensibility of someone raised in southwestern Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, as she was, steeped in her farm family’s lore. Read More

Media

Author, Hot Springs, N.C., circa. 1990s
Author, Hot Springs, N.C., circa. 1990s
Retired Madison County Sheriff E. Y. Ponder (Asheville Citizen-Times)
Map of Madison County
Morgan family: Nancy, center; brother George, far left; brother John, far right. (Courtesy George Morgan)
Author, Hot Springs, N.C., circa. 1990s
Nancy Morgan (Courtesy George Morgan)
Nancy Morgan (Courtesy George Morgan)
Mark Pinsky, the “Readable Radical,” circa. 1970s (Photo by Nina King)
Richard Johnson (North Carolina Dept. of Corrections)
Author, Hot Springs, N.C., circa. 1990s
Zeno Ponder (Photo by Mark I. Pinsky)
Madison County Courthouse (Photo by Sarah M. Brown)
Retired Sheriff E. Y. Ponder (Asheville Citizen-Times)