top of page

An iconoclastic author investigates the grizzly death of a brilliant math professor in his isolated Nebraska town.

In the summer of 2006, following a series of massive wild fires that nearly destroyed the isolated town of Chadron, Nebraska, Dr. Steven Haataja (HAW- DEE-YAH) arrived for a teaching position at the local college. A somewhat aloof but brilliant mathematician, Dr. Haataja seemed to be assimilating well into a community brimming with eccentric residents. That winter, however, Dr. Haataja disappeared without a trace.

"Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere" explores the mystery of the math professor through the eyes of award winning author Poe Ballantine (Ed Hughes), who spent six years investigating the case while writing a memoir centered on the events (Hawthorne Books, September 2013). The film also examines the iconoclastic author’s life of wanderlust, his rocky marriage to a beautiful Mexican woman, his exceptional, yet purportedly autistic son, and the quaint High Plains town which plays host to the mystery. More than twenty current residents of Chadron personify the town and substantiate a narrative that touches on themes such as depression, suicide, the nature of reality, and the American Dream. The stark, beautiful, and unforgiving landscape provides a backdrop for the dramatic events.


the film
The Book


For well over 20 years, Poe Ballantine traveled America, taking odd jobs, living in small rooms, and trying to make a living as a writer. At age 46, he finally settled with his Mexican immigrant wife in Chadron, Nebraska, where they had a son who was red-flagged as autistic. Poe published four books about his experiences as a wanderer and his observations of America. But one day in 2006, his neighbor, Steven Haataja, a math professor from the local state college, disappeared. Ninety-five days later, the professor was found bound to a tree, burned to death in the hills behind the campus where he had taught.

Poe had never contemplated writing mystery or true crime, but since he knew all the players, the suspects, the sheriff, the police involved, he and his kindergarten son set out to find out what might have happened. Love & Terror onthe Howling Plains of Nowhere is not only a six-year examination of this case, but of Poe’s eccentric high plains town, its kooky residents, his rocky marriage to a beautiful Mexican woman, and his purportedly autistic son.

bottom of page