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.
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!)