Hi all! This is Part Two of a continuing series of posts excerpted from the book Murder on Teal’s Pond.
To enter the giveaway, just email your entry to David Bushman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s where we left off.
David Bushman, a Variety editor when we first met in the ‘90’s, emailed me a few years ago. He’d caught wind of this story – I’d made a passing reference to it in an interview – and he and his writing partner Mark Givwns wanted to dig in and investigate. I offered my blessings and a few leads to follow, including my old childhood friend from up the mountain.
What they’ve produced here is a meticulous reconstruction of a sensational, forgotten crime, the investigation that followed, and its aftermath on the Capitol region – over a century later – all rendered as gripping and immediate as an episode of Law and Order: SVU. It is also a relentless search for answers, and justice, not only for Hazel Drew, but for all the women who continue to fall victim to this monstrous plague of violence. It is, we now know, a crime as old as time.
I think of her whenever I pass Teal Pond. The ripples this murder created in that still water have continued to radiate around the world for a hundred years. For all of our Hazels and Susans and Lauras, this book is a monument of remembrance to their lost and stolen lives.
“Why should I fear death?
If I am, then death is not.
If Death is, then I am not.”
Welcome to the town of Sand Lake, New York, population 8,459: a beatific, pastoral town nestled in the southwest corner of Rensselaer County, about thirteen miles east of Albany, the state capital. On the far stretches of town, deep within the woody terrain, lies the neighborhood of Taborton, named after Mount Tabor in Lower Galilee, Israel, where, according to the New Testament, Jesus had his transfiguration, radiating with light and conversing with the great prophets Moses and Elijah.
Taborton Road, the main route in and out, twists and turns for 8.5 miles from the bottom of Taborton Mountain, at the so-called Four Corners of Sand Lake, up past the Kipple (a variation of the German word “gipfel,” meaning “summit,” about 1,850 feet above sea level), past Big and Little Bowman ponds, and, finally, on to the eastern tip of the mountain, where you arrive at a crossroads: turn left and you’re bound for East Poestenkill or Berlin; turn right and your destination is Cherry Plain.
It’s a lonely stretch of woods with acres and acres of trees, vegetation, and wildlife — you can walk for miles without ever encountering another person.
A lonely stretch of haunted woods, some might say. Folklorist Harold W. Thompson wrote in Body, Boots & Britches: Folktales, Ballads and Speech from Country New York of a Taborton farmer who had encountered a series of curious incidents in his barn: the tail and mane of one of his horses had been inexplicably braided; and the animal was so fatigued that the farmer was convinced someone had taken it out driving all night. Late one night, he checked in on the horse and discovered a strange black cat perched upon its back. Determined to frighten the cat away, he stabbed the feline in the back with a three-tined pitchfork. The following morning, the farmer’s mother — rumored by many in the woods to be a witch — was so ill that she was unable to rise from bed, but then the horse’s braiding abruptly unraveled, and the animal regained its vigor. Three days later, a doctor, examining the farmer’s mother, discovered three deep wounds in her back.
This sometimes charming, sometimes eerie little town is where Hazel Drew perished, and where our journey began.
Technically, our journey began in 2013 at a retrospective tribute to the television series Twin Peaks at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Mark Frost, who cocreated the show with David Lynch, commented that his own inspiration for the series — although not Lynch’s — was an unsolved murder from the early 1900s in upstate New York, where he and his family would spend summers at the home of his maternal grandmother, Betty Callhoun. Betty would regale Mark and his brother, Scott (who also wrote for Twin Peaks, and is the author of the companion book The Autobiography of F. B. I. Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes), with stories, many of them embellished — if not outright fabricated — including one about the murder of a young woman in the woods around the turn of the twentieth century — never solved. According to Betty, the ghost of the victim still lingered in the woods, waiting for her slayer to be publicly exposed.
As Mark would later recall: “She would tell us all sorts of fantastic stories about life on the mountain, and one that really caught my ear was when she was a young girl she’d been told a story something along the lines of a guy who had gone down to a tavern, kind of gotten a toot on, and was walking his way back up the mountain late at night, and he heard what her thought were the moans of a ghost. He saw something white flashing in the moonlight and scuttled home in terror.”
Mark couldn’t be sure, but he believed the woman’s name was Hazel Grey.
We have both long been obsessed with Twin Peaks. One of us (Mark) hosts a podcast about it, titled Deer Meadow Radio (deermeadowradio.com); the other (David) has authored articles, essays, and books about it. We both also love a good mystery.
We were going to solve the murder of Hazel Grey!
Except there was no Hazel Grey. And “upstate New York” wasn’t much of a clue (or clew, as it was spelled back then).
There was, however, a Hazel Drew, slain in the woods of Taborton on the night of Tuesday, July 7, 1908. Her murderer was never identified or apprehended.
We were on our way.
More to come! 🙂
To enter the giveaway, just email David Bushman at email@example.com.
Go for it! 🙂