By the time they discovered the young woman floating in Teal's pond on July 11th 1908, decomposition had already set in with a vengeance. Dressed in her finest clothes, her blonde hair was a tangled mess of knots and pond debris, partially hiding a face whose beauty had been taken over by four days of rotting in the water. There was a piece of ribbon wrapped around her neck, her skull had been crushed by a heavy blow to the back of her head nearby on the shore her delicate white gloves were neatly folded and resting beside her fancy straw hat which was accessorized with a pin monogrammed with the letter H.
Rendered unrecognizable by advanced decay the woman had to be identified by her clothes and dental fillings. She was 20 years old Hazel Drew, a governess with a stellar reputation in the community. Her death shocked the small mill town of Sand Lake New York, and over 100 years later, her case would be the inspiration for the story of Laura Palmer, a character from the TV show Twin Peaks. While Laura's killer was caught, but who murdered Hazel Drew would remain a mystery for more than 100 years.
It's easy to see why the creators of the hit show Twin Peaks found the legend of Hazel Drew so captivating. After her death, the police worked their way through a revolving list of suspects, but the forensic advancements available severely limited the investigation at the time. While they couldn't pin down the murder's identity, they learned a lot about Hazel. Although each new piece of the puzzle seemed to only bring more questions.
Before her death at the age of 20, Hazel was thought of as a wholesome girl. She'd been working for a number of powerful, well-connected families in Troy, New York since she was 14. Her close proximity to them gave her a taste of the privileged lifestyle she wouldn't be able to experience otherwise. Despite her modest salary as a maid, she dressed in expensive clothes and took frequent trips to Boston, New York City and Providence, Rhode Island. How could she afford all of this on such a tight budget? According to a close friend, she was just really good with money, her exact words were " I never saw her in the company of a man all the time I was in Troy and she told me on more than one occasion she had no sweetheart, Hazel could make a dollar go farther than any other woman I've see."
But is that the entire story? Well, the evidence investigators gathered together told a much different story. About a month before she was killed, Hazel was planning to spend the 4th of July weekend at Lake George, a resort that was tucked deep in the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York. On July 3rd 1908, the night before she was supposed to leave, she stopped by her seamstress and begged her to make a new shirtwaist from the fabric she was holding in her hands. She had little time because it was already almost 11pm and she wanted to look her best at the beginning of her brief vacation. Much to her delight, her seamstress agreed to make it despite the late hour and soon she was on her way back home with the perfect piece to complete her look. Sadly, she was still wearing it when her corpse was pulled from the pond eight days later.
However, Hazel never left as planned. The next morning, she spent the holiday with her aunt, Minnie Taylor, instead, and a few days later on July 6th she quit her job without warning, packed her things and left the residence of her employer, Professor Kerry and nobody really knows why she left. According to everyone she knew, she seemed happy as the governess of the Kerry children, and she never expressed a desire to leave and find another job.
We don't have a full picture of what was going on during Hazel Drew's last hours of life, but we have some pretty clear snapshots. There are pictures of her at a train station several times, either waiting for someone or traveling around. According to her friends and family she gave conflicting reasons for her plans, she told her aunt that she was planning to meet with some friends, and even though Hazel ran into a friend at the train station on July 6th, it absolutely wasn't planned. She told that friend she was going but didn't explain any further. She checked a suitcase into the storage locker at the station and took a train headed for Albany. The reason behind this remains a mystery.
However, a series of letters uncovered after her murder, written by a man with the initials C-E-S, seemed to shed some light on her movements in those final hours. Here is a line from one of the letters from the mystery man. "Your merry smile and twinkling eyes torture me. Your face haunts me. Why can't I be content again? You have stolen my liberty. Please don't forget to write when you reach Albany, again I will meet you at the tavern. I must see you soon or I'll die of starvation."
So the question becomes, was she planning to meet up with him before her death? It certainly seems plausible! She had six letters from C-E-S in her possession each was written from a city Hazel had recently visited, so if she was regularly making trips to rendezvous with this man in the course of his own travels , whether they actually made contact on the day she was found is unclear. When the police searched the suitcase she'd left behind, they found it packed with all the essentials for a getaway, clothes nightgowns, her toothbrush and comb and there was an extra little tidbit hidden at the bottom of her suitcase and it was a clipping from the local newspaper that read "Edward Lavoy has departed for Chattanooga Tennessee where he will remain all winter."
Unfortunately, though, the police could not make any connections between Edward and Hazel, and the identity of the person she may or may not have met remains a mystery, and their role in her tragic fate stays as murky as ever. We don't know where she spent that night or how she made it back from Albany, but she was seen back in Sand Lake the next evening.
On July 7th 1908, it was an unbearably hot day, and she was dressed to the nines in her layered skirts, elegant boots and fine white gloves, she didn't seem to mind the heat all that much according to one couple that spotted her picking raspberries along the side of the road very near Teals Pond; they noticed her beauty right away and it was odd that she was in this very secluded place; it gave them cause for concern because it would get dark soon and there were few places as dangerous for a pretty girl, then a patch of dark isolated woods on either side of a deserted road, and those fancy Victorian heels weren't exactly made for running, but like most any other couple in a similar situation they followed the age-old social contract of minding their own business. They continued on their way and left her to her raspberry bushes without a single care in the world.
About 15 minutes later, another pair of travelers came across Hazel at a curve in the road that some locals referred to as Piss Hollow. One of these travelers, a 17-year-old farmhand named Frank Smith, he recognized her immediately, and they exchanged greetings. He had a pretty heavy crush on her and some people suggested that his crush was more akin to an unhealthy obsession. Naturally, this made the authorities look at him a little closer. Described as slow by those that knew him, he gave a handful of conflicting stories and alibis and for years he was pretty high on the list of suspects, but given the lack of concrete evidence available, that doesn't really mean much.The police were under an incredible amount of pressure to solve the case, both from reporters and the locals, and their list of suspects ran nearly a dozen names long at times. When they hit a wall with one suspect, they moved on to the next one. Without the benefits of what modern DNA analysis has to offer, there wasn't much they could do without a confession. Later that night, many people passing through reportedly heard a girl screaming in the area but thought little of it, until a couple of days later.
Another likely suspect, it seemed, was Hazel's own uncle, who was recently widowed. His name was William Taylor, he lived less than a mile from Teal's pond and he had helped pull her bloated corpse from the water. Once she was found, he was described as suicidal and melancholy. A good number of people who have studied the case believed that William was the true killer thanks to the odd behavior of his sister Minnie when questioned about the death of her niece. Minnie refused to cooperate, and even advised Hazel's friends to do the same. According to her reasoning, it would be unfair to to drag the names of more innocent people into the mess, but there's also a good chance she was covering something up.
Some of the tabloids of the time suggested that Hazel and her Aunt Minnie were often seen traveling together in the company of men, leading to rumors that they were engaging in prostitution, add in the fact she lived well above her means. So it was possible that she had a little side hustle going on, and if she did, then she was exceptionally good at hiding it. Especially from her own family, who told the newspapers that she had no known sweethearts and very little to do with men, however there was a trunk full of letters found after her death that says otherwise.
As it turns out Hazel had many admirers, and speculation continued to fly as the trunk contents were poured over and scrutinized. There were dozens of letters and postcards mostly only signed with initials, one letter in particular written by a man named Harry included an apology for bruising her wrist. Naturally, this new evidence only served to throw more rumors into the wind, where they spread around like dandelion seeds.
Everyone wanted to know what happened to Hazel Drew and who she really was and as the police continued to dig, they unearthed a revolving cast of wealthy men embroiled in various stages of scandals. Ranging from a prominent member of the republican party that was rumored to host wild sex orgies not far from Teal's Pond, all the way to a married dentist that had recently proposed to Hazel despite already having a wife.
There were four local businessmen in particular that appeared to have ties with the young woman, but the extent of her involvement could never be proven. Some believe she had relations with all four men individually, while others believed it was a "group" affair. One of the men, a local owner of a funeral home, was responsible for Hazel's autopsy, prompting whispers of some kind of coverup attempt.
Another man, the town veterinarian, was rumored to dabble in the dark arts. Some believed the men got rid of Hazel after discovering that she had fallen pregnant, while others theorized she had been murdered out of jealousy.
With so many entanglements and supposed affairs, it's nearly impossible to pin down a motive, much less a murderer. The police were left with so many leads than they knew what to do with and every single one of them came up short. After a few months of investigation and constant head scratching, all they had were more questions and very few answers, which leads me to another slightly less sinister theory. What if her death was actually an accident? Is it possible that while walking along the road a driver might have hit her with a car and then panicked after realizing what happened?
Well, whatever really happened to Hazel Drew, there's no denying the allure of her unfortunate story. Her many, many secrets became something of a local legend, while the person responsible for her death remains in the unknowable void created by a full century of folklore and allegations.
Much like her fictional counterpart, the young Laura Palmer, Hazel seemed to relish in the attention of powerful men. Much like Laura, she very well may have lost her life as a result. Even after all these years, people are still drawn to the drop dead gorgeous girl from a long forgotten era, eager to study a mystery that the police had no hope of solving back then.
But today two amateur sleuths think they cracked this case. David Bushman and Mark Gibbons wrote a book called Murder at Teal's Pond that explains how they reached their conclusions and who do they think did it? Well, their choice is two local men named William Cushing and Fred Schatzel. Here is some of the evidence they laid out in their book as reported in the New York Post.
Fred Schatzel was an embalmer at a funeral home in Troy and on July 6th they say he reserved a horse and carriage for a friend of his William Cushing, and where was the carriage meant to be going that night? The Sand Lake the area, where Hazel was found 20 minutes outside of Troy, and as it turned out, the men had quite a lot in common. They were both well-known movers and shakers in the local Republican party, but more importantly, they both knew Hazel, and on the night of July 7th a Sand Lake couple noticed a fancy city carriage in the area around Teal's Pond. William and Fred were quickly cleared. However, the authors now say that they were only cleared because the Republican party controlled what went on in the town and the investigation was really a coverup. But if they really did it and why, has yet to be proven, which means her death is still officially a cold case.
So was it the creepy emotionally troubled uncle, the teenage boy with the slightly worrisome crush, a high-profile politician with an affinity for sex orgies in the woods, a secret lover from the train station or a senseless accident? Even now, the answer depends on who you ask, and with so many plausible scenarios and so little evidence, speculation feels like a poor substitute for closure even after 100 years.
So how did this cold case become the foundation of the hit series Twin Peaks? The co creator Mark Frost grew up spending his summers in Taborton New York near the pond where Hazel was found and his grandmother used to tell him scary stories about the ghost of Hazel Drew haunting the forests forever and the legend stuck with him until the day he and David Lynch were brainstorming a new series concept and the rest is TV history.