By Lisa Black
Truth is often stranger than fiction, but sometimes fiction is truth—whether it means to be or not.
Any cozy mystery worth its salt has a small town, a bickering couple, eccentric characters, and a great climate. A murder in 2013 checked all these boxes and more, but to the misfortune of one unwanted husband, they didn’t come from the pages of a dog-eared paperback.
A note here: I am going to change the names of the people and places involved. The couple have a (grown) child who still lives in the area, and I don’t want them to Google up what’s essentially a lighthearted retelling of one of their parents doing away with the other. But I can assure you the case is very real—I know, because a coworker of mine worked the crime scene.
The small town: Let’s call it Sweet Hill, South Carolina, a tidy burg of thirty-five thousand people, neither rich nor poor, with plenty of community events, great fishing, and excellent weather. The police department consists of nine officers and a secretary. And on a quiet suburban street, a man goes missing.
Aaron Matthew’s health had been failing; he had congestive heart failure. His wife Amy had her hands full taking care of him, her own dementia-plagued mother, and sometimes their young grandson. When friendly neighbors—and the couple’s grown child, who lived across the street—asked why they hadn’t seen Aaron in a while, Amy said he had gone to Oklahoma for a funeral. Eventually their relatives in Oklahoma also called to check in with Aaron. She told them her husband had a throat ailment and couldn’t talk. And, like many suburbanites, she held a garage sale. Many of the items for sale were Aaron’s.
Meanwhile, she took care of the house, including the grounds. In the back yard she had planted an herb garden.
Finally their child demanded to know where their father had gone. Only then did Amy admit he had slipped in the shower and died; in her grief, she didn’t want to part with him…so she buried him in the back yard. No one had noticed a freshly dug grave because it didn’t look like a freshly dug grave…it looked like an herb garden.
However, when the horrified offspring insisted Amy tell the police and the body was exposed, it turned out Aaron had a bullet in his head. Then the story changed from slipping in the shower to Aaron committing suicide in the shower. Except…the bullet entered behind his left ear and from a distance, impossible for someone to do without help.
Amy was convicted and later died in prison of a heart attack, less than a year later.
As cold as it sounds, if that story isn’t made for a cozy—or not so cozy—mystery, what is? It would be in both good and numerous company:
And, of course: Sleeping Murder by the master, Agatha Christie
Readers, have you witnessed a tried and true mystery story cliché come to life? Tell us about it!
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