The Murder That Inspired a TV Cult Classic

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Last month, I wrote this blog post about the fascinating unsolved case of Hazel Drew and how it inspired The Case of the Dead Domestic, Book 6 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries.

It turns out my book wasn’t the only creative endeavor inspired by the Hazel Drew case. A more unexpected connection exists between a cult classic TV show that aired in 1990 and this unsolved crime that occurred back in 1908. 

Photo credit: Photo of co-creator David Lynch and actor Kyle MacLachlan at the premiere of Season 3 of Twin Peaks, 21 May 2017, Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, CA: Esprus4/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 3.0

I remember the huge success of Twin Peaks back in the early 1990s, though I never saw the series myself. But there was something fascinating about a beautiful blond teenager found floating in a lake in a small town and the psychologically complex story that unfolds for the detective sent to solve her murder. If some of these elements sound familiar, it’s because they are. The Hazel Drew case unfolded in much the same way — with the body of a lovely young woman found dead in a lake near a small town.

Mark Frost, the co-creator of the series, came onto the story of Hazel Drew in a much more organic way than I did. As a boy, he used to spend summers with his grandmother near the Taborton area where Hazel Drew’s murder took place. He heard of Drew not as a murder victim but as a ghost. His grandmother used to entertain him and his younger brother by telling them ghost stories about the ghost of Hazel Drew who still roamed Teal Pond,  using it as a cautionary tale for the boys not to go wandering in the isolated area at night.

The story seems to have gone the way that most childhood ghost stories do until the adult Frost was brainstorming ideas for a TV series with David Lynch in an L.A. coffee shop. They suddenly had a vision of a beautiful blond girl found floating face down in a lake. This brought to Frost’s mind the stories he had heard as a child about Hazel Drew and thus, the character of Laura Palmer was born. Frost’s further investigations into the Hazel Drew case led to the plot of the series that was such a hit thirty years ago.

My fascination with the Hazel Drew case came from factors other than Twin Peaks. First, it’s an unsolved crime (in spite of recent theories about who might have killed her) and thus, Hazel Drew’s death hasn’t yet been avenged, which suits my protagonist Adele Gossling perfectly, since her purpose in solving crimes is to make sure women, dead or alive, receive justice. Second, it’s a classic crime that occurred at the turn of the 20th century, which feeds my love for the era. And third, the murder victim was as complex as the murder itself (which I talk more about in my blog post on the case). 

Book 6 of the series has just been released, so you can get it here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Release Day Blitz for The Case of the Dead Domestic!

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Title: The Case of the Dead Domestic

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 6

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: August 26, 2023

Everybody in town agrees: Arabella Parnell thinks far too highly of herself. She worked her way up to lady’s maid for one of Arrojo’s finest families, personal friends of the mayor. She attends parties given by the lady of the house as if she were the guest of honor. She writes letters to the daughter of her wealthy former employer as if they were comrades. She flirts with some of the most prominent men in the county.

So the Arrojo police are hardly surprised when they find her dead among the shrubbery in a wealthy bachelor’s conservatory.

And yet, amateur sleuth and suffragist Adele Gossling can’t help but wonder: Who was Arabella Parnell really? Was she just a servant with arrogant manners and too much self-assurance? Or was she the victim of the pride and passions of powerful men, one of whom did her in? With a hair comb, a brooch, and a candlestick to go on, can Adele solve this case?

Early reviews:

“It’s so much more than I expected from a cozy mystery.”

“The characters are well-rounded, interesting, and unique.”

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price at the following online retailers.


Excerpt

Missy Grace, the editor of the Arrojo Courier, hurried into her shop, her cotton hair flying as usual around her face. She pushed back her bangs with the edge of her pencil. “Adele, what can you tell me about that body found in Virgil Riddle’s conservatory?”

Adele stared at her. “What the devil are you talking about?” 

“Don’t use such vulgar language, Adele,” Beatrice chided.

“It’s no worse than your ‘bum it,’ dear,” Missy barked. 

Beatrice’s nose went up. “I stopped using ‘bum it’ last year.”

“My congratulations.” Missy turned her back to her. “I’m talking about the sheriff and your brother rushing out of the police station an hour ago, looking very official.”

“They told you there was a body in Virgil Riddle’s conservatory?” Adele asked.

“Certainly not,” Missy said. “You know how hush-hush they are when they’re being official.”

“Then how do you know about it?”

“I caught Assistant Deputy Curd having his morning bun at the bakery and wheedled it out of him.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Adele said dryly. 

“Naturally, the boy was too dense to tell me anything of value,” Missy continued. “He could only say Mr. Riddle had found a girl’s body lying among the shrubbery in his conservatory, and she was most certainly dead.”

“Golly!” Beatrice sighed. “Another murder.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily take Assistant Deputy Curd’s word for it,” Adele said. “He’s not the brightest of men.”

“That’s why I’m coming to you,” said her friend. “You remember our bargain, Adele?” She looked meaningfully at her. 

“I tell you what I know if you tell me what you know.” Adele nodded. “Only I honestly know nothing, Missy. This is the first I’m hearing of it.”

“Well then,” her friend took her arm, “it’s our duty as star reporter and lady detective to find out, isn’t it?”

“I’m not a lady detective, you know,” Adele remarked, but she took off the apron she always wore when dealing with some of the dirtier aspects of her work. 

“You’re leaving me to mind the shop?” Beatrice’s green eyes, which had become more almond-shaped as the years passed, widened. “Golly!”

“I see you’ve replaced your ‘bum it’ with another inelegant colloquialism,” Missy remarked. 

“A woman may speak as she needs to be heard,” Beatrice said with meaning. 

“You know how to handle the cash register, as I showed you?” Adele asked.

“No one will come in anyway,” said the young woman. “It’s too early.”

“Nevertheless, we must always be ready to serve anyone.” Adele put on her gloves. “We’ll fetch Nin first.”

“Has she appointed herself lady detective too?” Missy eyed her.

“You might consider her the unofficial medium for the police,” Adele said as they emerged from her shop. “She’s helped them a great deal in the past, Missy.”

“I don’t object if she doesn’t,” she said.


About the Author

Writing has been Tam May’s voice since the age of fourteen. She writes stories set in the past that feature sassy and sensitive women characters. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and features suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with the town’s more conventional ideas about women’s place. She has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the social and psychological expectations of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in the Midwest because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy plant-based dishes.


Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tammayauthor/

Instragram: https://www.instagram.com/tammayauthor/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tam-May/e/B01N7BQZ9Y/ 

BookBub Author Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tam-may

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16111197.Tam_May

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The Lady in the Pond: The Case of Hazel Drew

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I love books and films that are “inspired by true events”. I actually like these better than biopics or fiction that tries to portray the life of a real-life person based on historical evidence. Stories inspired by true events are about creating another story that readers know isn’t supposed to be true but had its inspiration in truth. For me, fiction that tells the story of a real person’s life is almost speculation no matter how much it is based on real documents, and is like putting words into a dead person’s mouth.

This is why I chose to write Book 6 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries inspired by true events from a real live unsolved mystery. I love watching YouTube videos about historical crimes so I was really taken by the story of Hazel Drew for several reasons. The murder happened in 1908, just around the time frame of the Adele Gossling Mysteries, when modern life was starting to hit America in the face and the Progressive Era brought about many changes in the nation, not all of them positive. Unsolved cases always intrigue me and this one, as of now, is unsolved, even though there are several theories about who could have killed Hazel Drew. And after more research, I discovered the murder of Hazel Drew inspired another creative work that went on to become a cult classic in the 1990s: The hit series Twin Peaks.

Hazel Drew was, in many ways, one of the era’s modern women. She was a working girl who wasn’t confined by the shackles of the separate spheres. She liked to go out and have fun when and she loved elegant things. There is evidence she wanted to move beyond her position as a domestic servant (something that Victorian era ideology, with its rigid social boundaries, wouldn’t have allowed), though what that would have been, no one knew. And, like many New Women of the day, she was an enigma.

And here maybe lies the most fascinating thing about this case. Hazel Drew seemed to present herself as one thing but digging into her life after being murdered, police found evidence of an entirely different person. For example, interviews with family members and friends reveal Hazel didn’t have a beau and didn’t seem much interested in men. But police found in a suitcase she left at the train station on the day of her death dozens of letters from different men (most of them unidentified) who professed undying love and devotion to Hazel. These letters painted a picture not of the modest, church-going young woman people in Sand Lake where she lived had known, but a vivacious, bubbly person who loved expensive trinkets and restaurants and sojourns to New York City, none of which were exactly within a domestic servant’s budget. Many in her more conservative and backward hometown thought her “too big for her britches” – owning jewelry and clothes her maid’s salary could ill afford and working for some of the most prominent families in the city, including its treasurer and a prominent businessman.

Photo Image: Postcard of Sand Lake, NY, where Hazel Drew lived and worked and was killed, 1910, eBay store: Amg37/Wikimedia Commons/PD US 

Why, then, was she found face-down in Teal’s Pond one summer night in 1908, dead from a blow to the back of the head, and her face so mangled from being in the water that only her dental records could identify her? Who might have had it in for this harmless maid (another disposable working girl, which I talk about here? And why, after months of searching for the killer, did the local police simply give up where the case remains unsolved today?

These are questions I’ll be tackling in my newsletters next month, so if you’re interested in finding out more about Hazel Drew and her connection to The Case of the Dead Domestic, be sure to subscribe here (and get yourself a free novella while you’re at it!)

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Why My Waxwood Series is Also a Mystery

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One of the beautiful things about being an author is touching the lives of readers with your stories. I cherish readers who respond to my emails with enthusiasm for the next book (one lovely reader already emailed me asking if I still need Advanced Review Copy reviewers for Book 6 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries when the book won’t be out until August and I haven’t even put out a call for ARC readers!) I also love it when readers discover elements in my stories that never occurred to me when I was writing them.

This is exactly what happened with the Waxwood Series. When I wrote the books, I was thinking of a series arc involving historical coming-of-age, specifically one woman’s journey into the past and her maturing into adulthood in one of the most turbulent and chaotic times in American history. 

But one reviewer surprised me by calling the Waxwood Series “a mystery saga of the Gilded Age.” At the time I wrote the series, I wasn’t writing mystery fiction or even contemplating publishing a mystery series. I had written Book 1 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries as more of an experiment during National Novel Writing Month back in 2013 but put it aside to concentrate on historical fiction. So the idea that the Waxwood Series was also a mystery saga came as a complete surprise to me.

But now some years have passed since the last book of that series was published. I can now look back and see the gold nugget my reader discovered is absolutely true.

Now, it’s not a mystery in the traditional sense. It has no detective, no amateur sleuth, no whodunit, and no red herrings. The mystery is largely personal and psychological. In Book 1, Vivian is confronted by a woman who knew her grandmother, Penelope Alderdice, in her youth and the woman she knew was not the woman Vivian grew up with. As a debutante coming into adulthood, Vivian considers it vital to know the truth about her family’s past. So her search takes her through several “clues” (such as Penelope’s summer in Waxwood, the name Grace, and letters Penelope wrote home about that summer) which tell her more about who Penelope was and what she sacrificed to become a shipping tycoon’s wife and Nob Hill socialite in the mid-19th century. The clues also point toward some astonishing truths about Vivian’s family that she never knew. Like a detective, she confronts her mother about these truths (the evidence) and gets some answers — but not all of them.

Book 3 continues Vivian’s sleuthing when a man who was acquainted with Penelope through stories from his aunt drops clues about Penelope that lead Vivian to realize there are still some skeletons in the closet she needs to air out. In spite of her promise to her mother to focus on winning the heart of a wealthy Canadian who can bring them back into the good graces of Nob Hill society, Vivian can’t resist pursuing these clues to unravel the mystery behind her family’s past. Her search takes her to a deserted artist’s colony in the hills and the bowels of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood to find out about her roots. The results are life-changing for her. 

Book 2 focuses on Jake, Vivian’s brother, whose journey is more about his coming-of-age as a man in the Gilded Age. Book 4 presents an even greater mystery for Vivian — the man responsible for her family’s fall from grace comes back into her life unable to speak or communicate. In spite of her loathing for him, she gets involved with unraveling the clues behind his silence and faces the last of her family demons. 

Not all mysteries are about finding an external killer. There are crimes of the past that sometimes need to be put to rest before people can move on with their lives, just as finding justice for the murder victim and his or her family allows those involved to move on.

I would love for you to start reading the Waxwood Series right now and you can do that for free with Book 1, The Specter. Vivian’s story continues in Book 3, which is now on sale so you can find out about that here

*The Waxwood Series is a stand-alone series. That means you do not have to have read all the books in order to enjoy or understand each book.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Historical Coming-of-Age: Is That Even A Thing?

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I’ve always loved coming-of-age stories (and especially adult coming-of-age, which is a topic for another blog post). There is just something about a young woman or young man standing at the edge of the precipice and trying to figure it all out that appeals to me. After all, even those of us in our thirties, forties, and older are trying to figure out this thing called life, right? The difference is, we take from our past experiences while an 18, 19, or even 20-year-old is just starting their journey of discovery.

So it’s perhaps not a big surprise that recently I dug deeper into my Waxwood Series and made a startling discovery — the series I’ve been toting as a family saga since the first book was published in 2019 isn’t a family saga at all!

Why? Because the story arc of this series (which basically means the transformation the main character, Vivian Alderdice, experiences throughout the entire series) is about her journey to maturity. She begins at the age of eighteen in Book 1 to know exactly what she is about and what’s expected of her. Then a startling revelation sends her searching back into her family’s past which unearths some disturbing truths about who she is (or rather, who she thought she was). As the series progresses, she teeters between wanting to follow the expectations set for a Gilded Age heiress (because it’s a no-brainer and because she doesn’t want to disappoint her family) and her own feelings of discomfort that something just isn’t right. Another search for family truth (in Book 3) sends her in a totally different direction and becomes a book about letting go of a lot of things. Book 4 is the ultimate post-maturation moment where she realizes it’s not just about her but about those with whom she interacts — even those she thought she hated. 

Interstingly, Voltaire’s book was banned in its day for being blasphemous, politically hostile, and immoral. 

Photo Credit: Title page of  Candide by Voltaire, London: Nonsuch Press, 1939: UMD Special Collections and University Archives/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

The coming-of-age novel is really not a new thing, though we’ve been hearing a lot more about it since the 21st century (probably because social media and the internet have provided a platform for young adults to share their experiences of what it’s like trying to navigate an increasingly complex and disturbing world). It actually began with the folk tales of children seeking their fortunes away from home. In its more well-known format of the young adult trying to figure it all out, English majors know well the term Bildungsroman. I remember in my undergraduate work having a course just on this set of novels where we studied Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones (1749), Candide by Voltaire (1759), and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne (1759). These novels are more about the antics and questionable ethics of the main characters before they find their way. 

Luckily, coming-of-age stories don’t have to be about the young adult getting into all kinds of trouble in order to navigate his or her place in the world. The 19th century was complex enough on its own. Vivian is not only trying to find out who she is as a person apart from the Alderdice fortune, she’s also trying to deal with a world that was rapidly changing. The Waxwood Series takes place during the Gilded Age, a time that was confusing enough for adults, let alone young people.

If you’re interested in checking out my historical coming-of-age series, you can start by picking up a copy of Book 1, The Specter, here. The book is free on all bookstore sites. Also, Book 3 of the series, Pathfinding Women, is discounted for a limited time, so grab it here

*Although this is a series, the books can be read on their own. You do not have to have read Book 2 or even Book 1 to enjoy Book 3.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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