They found her lying at the bottom of her cellar stairs, the left side of her head bashed in and her mouth stuffed with ashes. An old black flat-iron lay near by.
I’d awakened and overheard all this lying in my bed in the dawn of a cold autumn morning as my Dad told my mother in a hushed voice so as not to wake me. The image of it stayed with me all these years – a lonely farm house back a tree-lined lane, a dark cellar, a corpse on the cold, bloody floor, ashes in its mouth.
That’s all I could remember. I couldn’t remember how old I was, or who the victim was, or if the murderer was ever caught…just the cellar, the flat-iron, and the ashes in the mouth.
The thing that fascinated me was the ashes in the mouth. Why?
I never knew, but finding out has become more than a matter of mere curiosity because I plan to use a fictionalized version of the murder in a novel I’m working on.
Finding Someone Who Might Remember
Getting the details of the story, though, after all these years, seemed almost impossible. I figured it had to have been something in the late forties or early fifties. My Dad was a reporter on the Frankfort, Ky. State Journal during that time and he covered the story. His telling my Mom about it after he’d finished writing the story and come home is what I’d heard lying half awake that morning. But I didn’t have enough information to make a search through any existing data files worthwhile and there was no one still ambulatory that I could ask.
Then I was lucky enough to run across Russ Hatter, curator of the Capitol City Museum, himself an expert on strange and bizarre crimes (his Halloween Tour of famous Frankfort murder sites is a highlight of the year). Russ hadn’t heard of the flat-iron-and-ashes murder, either. But it captured his imagination. Russ is a man of many and varied talents, insatiable curiosity, tenacious determination, and wide-ranging contacts. He found answers.
I now know the name of the victim , the date of the murder, and the particulars of the crime, including the clippings of the coverage of the trial that resulted. One of the special delights of reading those stories is that my father wrote them.
Questions Still Unanswered
The only things missing are the name of the murderer (the crime was never solved)…and the answer to the question of why her mouth was stuffed with ashes.
Russ has an idea or two. So do I. But not the real answer. So it looks like I’m going to have to make it up…unless you’ve got the answer. If you do, Russ and I will be at the Kentucky Book Fair week after next and very eager to listen.