Murder at Teal’s Pond

David Bushman is the co-author with Mark Givens of Murder at Teal’s Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks (Thomas & Mercer). His previous books include Twin Peaks FAQ, Buffy the Vampire Slayer FAQ, and Conversations with Mark Frost. He was a longtime television curator at The Paley Center for Media as well as program director at TV Land. He is co-president/publisher/managing editor with Scott Ryan at Fayetteville Mafia Press (www.fayettevillemafiapress.com), specializing in books on pop culture, true crime, and sports. His greatest professional achievement was interviewing Alan Moore about the TV show The Prisoner.

Franck Boulègue: Who was Hazel Drew?

David Bushman: Ha! Exactly! This question is a lot easier to answer factually rather than existentially. Hazel Drew was an upstate-New York woman who was murdered on July 7, 1908. The murder was never solved. No one was ever charged with the crime, and no likely suspect ever identified. Mark Givens and I were drawn to Hazel because of the role she played in inspiring Mark Frost’s contributions to the Laura Palmer arc of the original Twin Peaks. Mark had mentioned the significance of the case for him on several occasions, including at the University of Southern California tribute to the series in 2013 (although at that event he said he believed her name was Hazel Grey, which initially complicated our task, though just briefly). Mark Frost said that his maternal grandmother would tell him and his brother, Scott (also a writer for Twin Peaks, plus the author of The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes), about the unsolved murder of a young woman in the woods of Taborton, New York, where she lived and where Mark and his family would vacation in the summers.

Calhoun house as it now looks (Betty Lawson Calhoun was Mark Frost’s grandmother)

There are indeed similarities between the stories: Hazel was, like Laura, young, though slightly older — twenty at the time of her death. Her body was found not on the banks of a lake but floating in a pond. By all indications, Hazel too lived a secret life, though certainly nothing like Laura’s lurid existence. But there were many things about Hazel that emerged during the course of the investigation that her closest friends and relatives either didn’t know or refused to acknowledge knowing, especially with respect to her romantic life. By the end of her life, Hazel was living in Troy, a bustling city at the turn of the twentieth century, and had worked as a domestic servant for three of the city’s powerful families. But she died in Taborton, a neighborhood in the small town of Sand Lake, which itself bears many similarities to the titular town of the TV series, including twin mountain peaks, a host of eccentric characters, the woods (where Hazel’s body was found), and a history as a lumber mill town.

FB: Do you know if Mark Frost has done research of his own concerning the case, or did he rely on the memory of his grandmother’s story when he co-created Twin Peaks with David Lynch?

DB: He definitely did some research into it, with lots of assistance from his friend John Walsh, a lifelong resident of Taborton (whom we met and spent some time with, but who unfortunately passed away during the time we were researching and writing the book).

FB: To what extent was David Lynch aware of the Hazel Drew case when he started work on Twin Peaks? Did Mark Frost share his interest in the case with Lynch or did it remain an unnamed source of inspiration?
DB: Lynch’s inspiration for Twin Peaks had nothing to do with Hazel. Mark might have mentioned it to him, but it was never the source of Lynch’s inspiration in any way. We all know about Lynch’s obsession with troubled young blonde women, based on his oeuvre, and that is likely where you will find Lynch’s inspiration (though I never interviewed him, so I can’t say that with any certainty).
FB: When did the idea to write a book about Hazel Drew take shape and how did you and Mark Givens proceed to investigate a case over 100 years old?

DB: For me, the idea of doing a book on Hazel Drew began stirring in 2015, as I was researching and writing Twin Peaks FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About a Place Both Wonderful and Strange for Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. I can’t resist unsolved puzzles. Mark Givens hosts and produces a Twin Peaks themed podcast titled Dear Meadow Radio, and separately developed his own interest in the case. I listened to the episode in which he explored the Hazel Drew murder in a very surface manner (given what we know now) and reached out to him to inquire if he would be interested in collaborating on a book, which he was.
Once we connected, we started investigating. This was an incredible amount of fun and really one of the most absorbing experiences of my life. One of our first contacts was a man by the name of Bob Moore, who is the Sand Lake town historian and couldn’t have been more helpful. He gave us access to so much information. He guided us on tours of the area. He introduced us to descendants of some of the people involved in the case. He arranged roundtables at which we got to speak to, and hear from, people who lived in the area and were invested in the case for reasons of their own. We also picked the brains of other historians in the area, like Kathy Sheehand (Rensselaer County), Don Rittner (author of numerous books on the history of the New York State Capitol Region), and Jack Casey (author of The Trail of Bat Shea).
One person in particular who was so incredibly helpful was Mark Marshall, a retired public- school employee who lives in East Poestenkill, not far from where Hazel was born and is buried. The foundation of the church the Drew family attended is on Mark’s property. For these reasons and others, Mark was profoundly invested in the Hazel Drew case, and fed us so much information and so many theories.

Every conversation was a rabbit hole leading us deeper and deeper into the mystery of not only who killed Hazel Drew, but also who was Hazel Drew, and why her murder important, other than as inspiration for Twin Peaks. And we believe it is, because I think it tells us a lot about who we are as people, even today.

We also spent days and days and days and days — I can’t even begin to count them — scouring contemporaneous publications: newspapers, books, city directories, census reports, and so forth. Sometimes from our computers at home but many times at libraries in Troy (where Hazel lived at the time of her death), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (where her last employer worked), Sand Lake, and Albany.

FB: Can you tell us more about the circumstances of her death?

DB: Hazel’s body was found floating in a manmade pond in the woods of Taborton on Saturday, July 11, 1908. Her last sighting was at approximately 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8. Nobody reported her missing. Cause of death was determined to be a blow to the head from an unknown instrument. There was no definitive ruling over whether she had been “outraged,” as the papers called it at the time, which was a euphemism for sexual assault, because the body was so badly decomposed.

Hazel had been working as a domestic servant for a family in Troy — a professor at RPI, his wife, and their young daughter. On Monday, July 7, she suddenly and mysteriously walked out on her job. She went from there to the house where her aunt was employed, also as a domestic servant. According to the aunt (an unreliable narrator), she was on her way across the river to visit friends. In all probability she never went there (or got there, depending on whether you believe she was really heading there, which I don’t). She was spotted at the Union Station in Troy on both Monday and Tuesday, and then again near the pond in the Taborton woods on Tuesday night. Where she spent Monday night and why she was in the woods on Tuesday are both among the unresolved questions even to this day.

FB: You mentioned the fact that she had a secret life – could you elaborate?

DB: So much mystery surrounds Hazel Drew. Why did she suddenly walk out on her job on the morning of Monday, July 7? Why did she tell her aunt — if in fact she did — that she was planning to visit friends across the river if, as authorities believe, she never went there? Why was she spotted twice at Union Station on July 7, once on her way to boarding a train that, authorities believe, was bound for Albany? Why did she return to Troy so quickly? Where did she spend Monday night? How did she get to Teal’s Pond on the night of Tuesday, July 8 — the night of her murder? What was she doing there? Where did she plan to go next, and how? Why did no one — even her family and closest friends — seem to know so little of her relationship with the men in her life, sketchy details of which emerged once letters and postcards were discovered among the belongings she left behind? Was her aunt telling the truth when she said Hazel once told her she was in love with a railroad man, or was the aunt merely deflecting suspicion from elsewhere? Why did her aunt refuse at first to cooperate with authorities by identifying any of Hazel’s friends or the two men she and Hazel were seen riding with? Who was the mystery man she refused to identify who was eager to marry her, even though she had no interest in him? What was the meaning of the postcard in her possession from an artist named Harry, who apologized for being “rough” with her? Why was she so eager to have a new dress made for her visit to Lake George on the July 4 weekend before her death, yet, again according to her aunt, was so easily talked out of going there? What was the mysterious illness that motivated her to seek refuge at the remote house of her uncle for three weeks in the winter before her death? Was she, as certain newspapers suggested, pregnant? If so, what happened to the baby? Who was the father? These are but a few of the many, many secrets Hazel took with her to her grave.

Jarvis O’Brien headed the investigation into
Hazel’s death

FB: Were you and Mark Givens able to “crack” any of these cases?

DB: Solving a 113-year-old cold case isn’t easy, but Mark and I believe we have come up with a very plausible explanation as to who killed Hazel Drew, which also addresses several of the other mysteries in her life.

FB: Can you tell us something about your book about the case and its TV adaptation?

DB: The book is titled Murder at Teal’s Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks. Foreword is by Mark Frost. The book is being published by Thomas & Mercer. I know a documentary is being planned by Metabook Entertainment.

Our presentation is largely chronological, though we sometimes veer from our timeline to address certain characters and themes. For example, we devote a chapter to William M. Clemens, a bombastic newspaper columnist who claimed to be the world’s foremost expert on crime, but, in his zeal to crack the case and enhance his own reputation, wound up getting many things wrong, in a most sensationalistic way. This allows us to not only look at this one idiosyncratic character, but also to examine the history of the press up to that point in time, particularly the role it played in local politics. There are other themes that we delve into through the lens of the crime, like the toxicity of local and state politics and the way they had insinuated themselves into almost every aspect of life in Troy, including the criminal justice system.

In the same vein, we are able to explore the religious and socioeconomic prejudices of the time, driven largely by the fractiousness between old-guard Protestant Republicans and Irish Catholic immigrants who attached themselves to the Democratic Party, often resulting in contentious elections, shootings, and sometimes death.

Still, I don’t want to leave anyone with the wrong impression: this is first and foremost a mystery story dripping suspense as we follow the investigation into Hazel’s death, from the discovery of the body through the inquest and final ruling. We follow the clues as they emerge, leading us down one rabbit hole after another — letters from secret admirers, a mysterious illness, sightings (both confirmed and unconfirmed) of Hazel over the last two days of her life (sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of men), the appearance of two mystery men near the crime scene on the night of her death, etc. We present an almost minute-by-minute account of the events on Taborton mountain on the night of her death.

FB: Were there any memorable “characters” surrounding Hazel Drew, people reminiscent of the eccentric cast in Twin Peaks?

DB: Yes, many. I already mentioned Clemens. Hazel’s crotchety aunt Minnie Taylor barked at newspapermen and refused to assist investigators; everyone agrees she went to her grave with secrets relevant to the murder of Hazel Drew. William Taylor, Hazel’s uncle, was another strange character, whose extremely peculiar actions following word of his niece’s possible death made him an early suspect; his behavior became only more suspicious as the investigation lingered on. Frank Smith, a teenage farmhand, was said by all of his neighbors to be “dull- witted”; he was known to have a crush on Hazel and was spotted sprinting breathlessly to the local drugstore at ten o’clock on the night of the murder, pounding on the door, then dashing off when he discovered it was closed. Rudy Gundrum, a Taborton charcoal burner who used to sit his grandchildren on his lap and let them pull the trigger of his shotgun, is the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the story; just by stopping to give Frank Smith a ride on the night of the murder he found himself embroiled in one of the most famous murders in Sand Lake lore. I could go one forever.

FB: When we think about some of the themes in season 3 linked to Homeric poetry, such as the return voyage in The Odyssey – the fact that Hazel used to live in Troy is striking. Do you think this might have influenced Mark Frost when he co-wrote the script?

DB: That is a tough question to answer because I’m not Mark Frost and I didn’t pose that exact question to him while working on Conversations with Mark Frost. I know that he knows The Odyssey, obviously, and that it was on his mind at least some of the time he was working on The Return. But I have no reason to believe Hazel’s life in Troy had any bearing on season three whatsoever. Moreover, Mark Frost’s attachment to Troy far transcends Hazel Drew. His grandfather lived and worked there, as a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one of the foremost engineering schools in the US. I might also mention here that Lawson does make a surprise appearance in our book, since, as it turns out, he does have a connection to Hazel, which Mark himself did not know until we informed him.

FB: To conclude this interview à la first season of Twin Peaks: do you know who killed Hazel Drew?

DB: We believe we do.

Hazel Drew’s tombstone

(this interview was first published in the Twin Peaks special issue of the French film magazine La Septième Obsession; if you read French — and even if you don’t — it’s still possible to buy this beautiful issue at the following link)

Hors-série N°6 - Twin Peaks
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