Goodreads is sponsoring Mystery Thriller Week from May 1-7, 2017.
To celebrate, I’ve joined “Ask the Author” and I’m busy answering questions. Please come by and visit my page. I’d love you to send me questions. One of the questions Goodreads sent to me is this:
What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?
I’ve answered it on Goodreads, but I also offer it here, so I can add photographs.
Murder on the Michigan Frontier
My life reads like a mystery; unfortunately, sharing the intriguing bits could get me sued by living breathing characters. It’s too close to now.
But there is another mystery in my life; one I’m most intrigued by, and which is on my list to write. It concerns one of my grandfathers: a man named Thomas.
He is the man I imagine. The one I stalk; or who perhaps stalks me. I wonder…does Thomas want me to unravel his tale? Seek evidence in centuries old documents? Does he demand justice for his murder? For that was always what the family called it: a murder.
As all good murder mysteries do, this one begins with a body: Thomas VanSickler was murdered at age thirty-seven while at a dance on the western Michigan frontier.
He and his wife Lezze moved south from Canada three years before. They’d been involved in the Red River Rebellion in 1869; the year Louis Riel was chosen as leader of the Resistance. Lezze was Tuscarora (Iroquois) and one of her brothers had already fled; a wanted man.
In 1870, Thomas is listed as a labourer, but by 1872 he is farming. He has $500 in real estate, and $275 in personal cash.
In a letter to his brother dated September 8, 1872 (likely the last letter he ever wrote) he says he has planted cabbages, corn, and potatoes, and has seven acres of buckwheat, almost ripe. He bought a three-year-old heifer who gives “a very good mess of milk” and paid $17 for a horse. Things are looking up for Thomas in Freemont, Michigan.
You might sea the boys. i got four now. We had one cume day before yesday, friday morning half past nine o’clock. He was nine pounds and a half. He is smart and missus is smart too. Well i can’t rite much this time for it is late…
Underneath his signature he writes that they named the baby Obadiah (after his father and brother.)
Within days, Thomas is dead.
I wonder now… just how smart is the missus?
Thomas is a jealous man with a bad temper. And a man, no doubt, who likes his whiskey. That night, while the two of them are out at some social event, a neighbour named Simon Mark flirts with Lezze. When Thomas notices, a fist fight erupts, and in the end, he is dead: a battered body on a sawdust floor.
Nothing too unusual there. Men drink, fights break out, bottles crack, knives flash, and heads break…
Lezze marries his killer within eighteen months. And when she dies in childbirth (three years and three pregnancies later) Simon Mark walks that fourth son to the nearest railway station, sticks a label on his chest, and puts him on a train bound for Canada. Obadiah is just seven years old.
It is Obadiah who told the story of his father’s murder to his grand-daughters, who told it to me.
For seven years, Obadiah lived with the man who murdered his father. How would that affect a boy? And, what happened to the other four children? At the time of his murder, Alice was thirteen, James ten, John six, and William three. Did Lezze send them back to their grandmother in Canada because she couldn’t cope? Or was it Simon Mark’s idea?
And why did they always say that Thomas was murdered: a term that implies pre-meditation and motive.
Was Lezze involved with Simon Mark? Knowing of Thomas’s temper, why would she risk any association with another man in public?
Was Thomas drunk enough to rage, but too drunk to fight? Or was it all a tragic misunderstanding? An accident? Self-defence?
Was Simon Mark in love with Lezze, or did he just do the right thing by taking in the grieving widow and a brood of boys that would surely revenge their father’s death.
Did Lezze want to marry her husband’s killer? Was she forced? Or did the two of them conspire to rid the world of Thomas and gain Lezze her freedom?
What do you think? Does the Tale of Thomas have the makings of a historical mystery? Would you like to know what happened that September night out on the Michigan frontier?