by | Nov 7, 2023 | Lisa Black, On writing | 6 comments

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 perfect setting to a cozy mystery

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.

An herb garden figured into the cozy mystery

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.

The courtroom ended this cozy mystery

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:

The Diva Digs Up Dirt by Krista Davis

Back to the Garden by Laurie King

The Couple at Number 9 by Claire Douglas

The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman

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!

More About Fiction Vs. Reality:

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  1. Pamela

    I am certainly intrigued…

    • Jenny Milchman

      Yikes I see that as horror! Domestic suspense. Or yes, a cozy since the murder took place off the page. And any kitty or dog seems to be spared. What neighbirs!

  2. Karna Small Bodman

    I’ve never encountered such a wild mystery – however, I do love encountering your terrific mysteries, Lisa. Thanks for a great post.

  3. Alex Kava

    I bet that herb garden really grew and thrived. LOL! Truth is always so much stranger than fiction.

    • Lisa Black

      Not sure…my mother had a large compost pile at the back of our yard when I was a kid. All the women in my family are WAY more interested in gardening than I am–a gene that missed me completely. One day I found a dead mouse and, knowing that the Native Americans taught the settlers how to bury dead fish with their corn to increase the yield. Trying to be helpful, I gave it a dignified burial in the corner of the compost pile and proudly told my mother what I’d done. “Noooo! Animal fats aren’t good for the soil.” I had to go exhume the body.

      • Alex Kava

        Oh, that’s funny! Poor you having to exhume the body. That’s also interesting about animal fats not being good for the soil.