Before Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, There Was the Mystery of Hazel Drew

Before Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, There Was the Mystery of Hazel Drew
Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. (Screenshot: New Line Cinema)

Twin Peaks fans all know the tragic tale of Laura Palmer, the small-town beauty queen who died hiding some rather dark secrets. But did you know that Mark Frost, who co-created the series with David Lynch, actually took inspiration from a real-life historic unsolved murder?

A new book, Murder at Teal’s Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks, features an introduction by Frost and offers a deep-dive investigation into the 1908 murder of Hazel Drew, a beautiful young woman found floating in a pond in Sand Lake, New York. Though the press seized upon the bizarre case, and local investigators appeared to be doing their best to solve it, her killer was never apprehended. It’s a fascinating story only made more fascinating by its Twin Peaks connection, so Gizmodo hopped on a video chat with authors David Bushman (who also co-wrote Twin Peaks FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About a Place Both Wonderful and Strange) and Mark T. Givens (who hosts the Twin Peaks podcast Deer Meadow Radio), to learn more.

Cheryl Eddy, Gizmodo: The book is billed as being about “the mystery that inspired Twin Peaks,” which will surely be an entry point for fans of the show. Can you explain briefly the connections between Hazel Drew’s murder and the murder of Laura Palmer on the TV series, and how one came to inspire the other?

David Bushman: When Mark Frost, who co-created Twin Peaks, was contributing his portion of eruptive arc that [was] the death of Laura Palmer, he had in mind two experiences that he had been through personally that played a big part in the development of that story. One was the story of Hazel Drew. His grandmother used to live in a house by [Teal’s Pond] — she was quite a character and quite a storyteller, and in fact, we dedicated the book to her — and she would tell Mark and his brother, Scott, about this ghost in the woods right outside her house, of a young lady who had been murdered and the murderer had never been identified. The way Mark and Scott tell the story now is that it was intended as this sort of cautionary tale to get them to not stay out too late because they had to come home through the woods.

So Mark Frost knew only very general information about it; he even had the name wrong when he talked about it, he called her “Hazel Grey.” But he knew that it was in the woods and that it was by this pond and that she was a young woman. So that’s really the connection to Twin Peaks. He did tell David Lynch about it, but he said he doubts Lynch remembered him talking about it–and, you know, obviously, if you go back and look at Lynch’s oeuvre, you’ll see that he has his own obsessions with young blond women who are in trouble. But it turns out, as Mark [T. Givens] and I dug much deeper into it, that there were all sorts of other connections between [the case of Hazel Drew and Twin Peaks] that Mark Frost was not consciously aware of, but [from visiting his grandmother every summer] he got a good sense of what Sand Lake and Taborton hamlet were like and soaked up a lot of that. So a lot of the sense that you get of Twin Peaks as a small town with these sort of idiosyncratic characters, and what small town life is like in an old lumber town, were things that Frost contributed to the story from his time there.

Image: Thomas & Mercer Image: Thomas & Mercer

Gizmodo: As you write in the book, the question of “Who was Hazel Drew” is almost as perplexing as “Who killed her?” What were your main sources and methods when it came to researching this case?

Mark T. Givens: We started with the newspapers from the time. Contemporaneous newspaper coverage was very extensive; for about two and a half weeks it made headlines across the country. I think we ended up with 12 or 13 sort of different gospels covering this, and each one had different perspectives and biases and different facts and reporting. So that was great. That was trying to get a baseline — putting together this jigsaw puzzle from a hundred-plus years ago, and getting down what happened: How did the investigation go? The pitfalls, the twists and turns, and ultimately the failure as it went unsolved? And then there was kind of a phase two: I used Ancestry.com extensively, and outside of the newspaper coverage of the case [specifically], a lot of these people were sort of semi-famous locally at the time, politicians and things of that ilk. So we were able to find all kinds of little tidbits that informed the background characters.

And then we went to Troy and Sand Lake to do research and talk to people, probably almost a dozen trips between us. There were some great resources up there; we connected with local historians who told us what 1908 was like and filled in a lot of details that way. In particular, the Sand Lake historian Bob Moore would host these roundtables where he was kind of looking into this himself [along with] other people up there. Some people who actually were distant cousins of Hazel that we tracked down were also interested in the case and looking into it, so [we were also able to get] their perspective and sort of collaborate with them. It was five or six years we were at this, so we used everything we could. You know, there’s a lot of facts in the papers, but it didn’t give us all the colour, so talking to people who actually knew some of these people — like Minnie [Taylor, Hazel’s aunt] in particular, who lived a long life and had some good stories [about her and] anecdotes about her quirky personality.

Gizmodo: In the book, you present a theory as to who did it and why. What was the most compelling evidence that led you to that conclusion?

Givens: I think my mindset from the outset was, yeah, at the end of this, we’re going to come up with something they didn’t. They didn’t solve it. We’re going to make our best guess. Maybe the investigators at the time had their best guess, but we don’t know what that was. That being said, certainly the solution we came up with by the end was not something we started with and it wasn’t, you know, a “let’s pick a theory and then find the facts” kind of thing. When we were first investigating, we were just trying to understand what had happened. That laid the groundwork, and then you’re just kind of looking at it from all different angles. You feel like you know this case and then you can kind of go to the next level in terms of the solution.

We kind of actually came up with the factors that led us there early — I was very sceptical about it. It seemed a little outrageous to me, but [without giving anything away to readers], eventually you start to see this kind of evidence piling up and then it just kind of leads that way. I think we always wanted a solution, and I think [what we came up with is] beyond plausible. I’m always interested in feedback about our solution and if people can kind of pick holes in it, but I haven’t seen anyone do that yet, so I’m really happy with how we uncovered this.

Bushman: When people read a book like this, they’re kind of expecting a solution. I mean, I’ve even heard people [ask], why couldn’t they solve it definitively, without any doubt? And you know, it’s a 114-year-old murder with no surviving physical evidence, no DNA or anything of that nature. The evidence is gone. The people who were around are all dead. So. But I agree with Mark that we definitely went in thinking we were going to offer our best possible solution. You know, you think about books [about] Jack the Ripper or the Black Dahlia, all those books are proposing some solution. I think that’s what people are pretty much expecting in a book like this.

Gizmodo: What do you hope readers take away from Murder at Teal’s Pond?

Givens: If you are a Twin Peaks fan, this is sort of significant historically for you. But you don’t have to be a David Lynch fan. There’s no dancing little man or killers from other dimensions in our story, but it is a really good mystery with twists and turns, true crime, and history. I think it’s just a fascinating story, and I hope we did justice to it.

Bushman: I feel like the [1908] investigation itself was not first-rate, and I also feel like if Hazel had been a person of privilege and possibly a man — if she’d been a man of privilege, I think there’s no way that they would have stopped before solving this murder. And, you know, I think she was just kind of forgotten. And that’s kind of one of the reasons that we wrote the book, I think, was that we don’t feel that she should be forgotten.

Murder at Teal’s Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks is available now.