Tag Archives: Mystery

Excerpt from “Black Swan Hunting”

Photo by Eugene Chystiakov on Unsplash

Content Warning: this story alludes to spousal abuse and the assumed death/suicide of a distraught woman.

I’ve been working on a writing project idea for a murder mystery with lots of twists and turns. Just what everyone needs, right? I love murder mysteries that involve birds – I’ve been writing them since I was 8… though that one was terrible. It involved a frontier family being murdered and the daughter being brought back to life as a falcon who hunts down their murderer for revenge! He stole their family’s gold! Peck out your eyes because it’s a falcon with a gun! It got silly. I hope I’m better at writing murder mysteries now.

I fell in love with black swans while we were in New Zealand from December 2018 – January 2019. They behave differently than our North American sassy sociopaths that have a penchant for mauling small children along lakesides. Instead they are the more chill goth cousins that happen to be open about their homosexuality. That said, I would not put it past them to maul a child or two just for funsies on occasion.

How do black swans connect to this story? Well, that will be revealed in time. Let me know what you think of this brief preview in the comments.


The rain-soaked through Harriet’s trench coat as the mud swallowed her boots, belching with each step toward the fiery wreckage. Her umbrella braced against the torrential spring storm while the sergeant shouted over the pummeling drops. “Just spoke with the husband. Seems there’d been an argument and she’d taken off with the car a few hours ago. Someone in town says they saw her buying a bottle of vodka.” He paused and gazed at the flames spewing from the driver’s side window against the efforts of rescue workers. “A body is still inside, but it will be a few days before the official medical examiner’s report.”

Harriet’s heart sank. Another death on another stormy night. “How’s the husband?” She asked, shielding her eyes against a stinging attack of wind and infernal heat.

“Seems real broken up over it, but it sounds like a mate’s supporting him. Not much you can do here – you might as well go see him.” He ripped and folded a piece of paper, pressing it into her palm. “That’s the address.”

With a final glance at the war waging between emergency services as they continued to attack the blaze with billowing flame retardants, she slogged back to her car.

When Harriet arrived, the townhome glowed with two men visible through the front window. With her muddy boots in the back seat, she rummaged through her passenger seat finding only her gym bag for a pair of non-muddy sneakers to pull on over her damp wool socks. Taking a deep breath, she thanked God she was not tasked with delivering the bad news. Opening the car door, she scurried to the storm door, opening it and knocking as one of the silhouettes moved to greet her.

A familiar tall, slender man with grey temples answered. “Hello?”

“Sorry to disturb you so late, I’m Detective Dunn. Is John Morrisey available?” As she spoke, the recognition connected in her brain and her face reddened. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Rogers. No one informed me you were involved in this case.”

He opened the door with his face cast down, “The Morriseys are dear friends. Please come in, Detective.” Removing her wet sneakers in the foyer, she followed the man into the front room where a broken John Morrisey folded himself into the corner of the bay window. “John, there’s a detective here to see you.”

John lifted a head of dirty blond hair from his knees to reveal swollen grey-green eyes. “Is my wife really dead?”

Harriet swallowed. “I’m afraid the car appeared to have someone inside, yes.” Turning to look at the other man she motioned to a plush armchair and sat when he nodded. “It’s important that we ask questions as soon as possible to reduce lost information. Do you think you can help?”

John closed his eyes and nodded. “I can try.”

Harried pulled a notepad and pencil from her bag. “Mr. Rogers, were you also present?”

“Please, call me Dustin. I think it will help John feel easier.” Dustin sat next to John on the window seat, putting an arm around his shoulder. “I came over shortly after Libby and John fought.”

“What did you fight about?” Harriet jotted the date and time at the top of the page.

“I filed for divorce.” A tear escaped John’s eyes.

“And she did not agree?” Harriet pressed, a small point of graphite forming on the page where the pencil rested.

“Correct.” John nodded. “Our relationship had degraded since the birth of our daughter, Kedra.”

“How so?” Harriet scanned the two men as Dustin’s expression changed.

“There are police reports,” Dustin added. “Libby’s behavior had always been wild. But she started hurting both John and Kedra.” John nodded, his face red and breathing irregular.

“She’s just a baby! I had to protect her!” John sobbed. “When I told Libby we were moving out – that I was taking Kedra – she lost it. Fucking lost it. At first, she started hitting me until I said I was calling the police. Said I’d be sorry. Said I’d regret it.” John crumpled. “Then she drove off with our car and I called Dustin.” John wailed as an infant awoke somewhere in the house. “I never wanted her to die! She’s my wife! I loved her!”

Harriet watched John slide to the floor from the window seat, her hands gripping her notepad and pencil. “Do you know where she went after she left?”

John shook his head while Dustin’s shoulders slacked. “I called some of her friends, but no one had seen her.” Dustin stood up and walked from the room, returning moments later holding a crying child around a year old against his shoulder.

“About what time did she leave with the car?” Harriet frowned as John lifted his head and mumbled. “I’m so sorry, could you repeat that?”

“Five-thirty this evening.” John choked out through a sob.

Harriet wrote the time and stared at it. The accident report came in shortly after eleven leaving five and a half hours unaccounted for. She returned her gaze to John and softened her face, putting away her notebook and pencil. “John, I’m so sorry for you and your daughter’s loss.” Reaching into her wallet, she fished out two cards, passing one to each of the men. “If either of you thinks of anything or need anything, please do not hesitate to give me a call. I’m going to go ahead and get out of your hair for the night.”

Departing the house she called her partner from the car – he’d know what to do. “Hey – have you started the case file on the Morrisey death?”

“You know I have.” Her favorite partner’s melodic voice responded. “More details?”

“The wife left the house with the family car around five-thirty in the evening.” She read off her notes. “Be sure to pull up all domestics filed on Libby Morrisey. It sounds like she had a record from the past year. The husband filed for divorce. He told her this shortly before she left the house.”

“I’ll have it all pulled by the time you’re here, dog.” Her partner grinned through the phone. “Drive safe – bad weather out there.”

“I will.” Harriet fastened herself into the vehicle and looked back at the house where two silhouettes faded into the background of a backlit bay window with pulled curtains just before turning out the lights.


Thank you for taking the time to read this draft excerpt today! If you would like to follow this project or see updates, please like, comment, and/or share. This helps me know which stories and projects interest my readers the most.

Do You Know This Woman?

The Mystery Of Hattie Reams Vande Riet – Part 1

What we know

“Hattie” Reams Vande Riet sat still in an ornate wicker chair at New York Art Gallery at 305 E. Broad St. in Richmond VA approximately one hundred years ago. This posed cabinet card captured her green, light hazel, or dark blue eyes and brown hair rolled into an ornate nest Gibson Girl above her head. Her neck scarf collar and broach with necklace and pinky ring are all carefully selected indications of her class. She was stunning and when I found her at Luxor in 2010 and fell in love.

What I know so far is that Hattie is a nickname for Harriet, Henrietta, Henriette, Helen, or many other traditional female names. Based on the type of cabinet card, photography chemicals used (gelatin bromide over Baryta I think – cannot confirm without damaging the photograph), and the style of attire, the photograph is from the 1890s – 1910s. Hattie appears to be at least 16, placing her year of birth to be in the 1880s – 1900s if she is exceptionally young looking and in her 20s. Given her lack of pierced ears, her jewelry, and her ring placement, she is educated and affluent or hoping to appear as such. It is unclear whether the photograph is pre or during World War I given the hairstyle, though the Gibson Girl fell out of fashion after World War I and during the Influenza Epidemic placing the photograph as no later than the 1910s.

One possible option I tracked down is here. There is some conflicting information between the name on the card and the name listed here. The cursive on the back of the card lacks the spaces and capitalization. So far this is my best lead, but unfortunately, all of the relatives listed on this family tree are deceased.

Based on the year of marriage listed to John Van De Riet, could this have been her bridal/bachelorette portrait? The hairstyle and dress are accurate to Virginia in November of 1906.

Do any of those names look familiar to you? Are they your parents, great grandparents, or great great grandparents? Is Hattie your family member?

Why?

I collect cabinet cards, but Hattie is special. Whenever I obtain a cabinet card with more information than a face, I can’t help but try to find out who these pictures captured. Early photography was a synergistic art form between timing, chemistry, and the capturing of minutes as opposed to hours in time in a way that was lifelike and included human flaws, and thus souls in the opinions of some, unlike portrait painting where commissioned manipulations by the upper-classes were more common (a study of the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most famous on this topic).

Hattie is someone’s relative and because I have her name I want to reconnect her though this archiving. So this is where our story begins with the first cabinet card I hope to digitize and reconnect with her descendants.

At the time I purchased her photograph, I also found one of an unnamed blond-haired post-mortem (the 1860s – 1880s based on photography method) toddler boy forever alone in his Christening clothes and forgotten by the family that knew him so briefly. I find it important that he never be alone again. I will never digitize his photo for ethical reasons. (I have a love of Hidden Mother Photography and other early child portrait methods. They fill me with warm fuzzies. I will go into these in another post dedicated to early child portrait photography.)

The Cabinet Card Descendants Project

The first cabinet card that is part of this project is Hattie. She was the first cabinet card I purchased with this level of detailed information and therefore I will focus on her first.

Very few cabinet cards have enough information to connect them with their families once they’re separated. My mom’s family is lucky enough that every cabinet card we’ve ever had taken is still in our family’s possession (that we know of) – including the (sometimes broken) glass negatives. Photography became related to spirituality in the South, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as family members died farther and farther away from home without the constant love and contact they once had. Families dispersed across the United States, mailing cabinet cards through the United States Postal Service to loved ones back home with the superstition that each one of these cards contained a small piece of their soul – a gift to be cherished. This bit of superstition was one relayed to me through family legend and is not one I can put much stock in (hope you enjoy the pun there), but many did at the time the photos were created.

I do not fault families for giving these away. Superstitions die over time and are entirely relative to where you are from. The belief in a soul and the afterlife is questionable in the face of modern skepticism. That said, I am making an effort to digitize every cabinet card I get that has names associated with the faces. I will then provide research to attempt to reconnect to the original portrait studios to see if I can start adding names to the other cabinet cards. This way they can be digitized and added to other genealogy websites.

A Note On Cultural Differences

For readers in the UK, please note there are cultural and chemical differences in cabinet card photography between our continents. I have run into the issue previously with discussing old photographs where readers from the UK (and for some reason only the UK) try to impose assumptions on antique photographs from the US based on cultural history and expectations associated with the Edwardian and Victorian eras elsewhere in the world and argue this without doing their research and fact checking. Please do not do this. This is not how history works. At all. Seriously.

The United States experienced a massive social upheaval from the 1840s through the 1940s in a very different way than that of the UK and rest of the world. Every culture and even subgroup has its unique history that can be contributed and needs to be exposed as opposed to erased. This project is about exposing what is objective. I cannot work based on incorrect cultural assumptions here and I need to be able to make corrections so I can reconnect individuals. Some of the unique experiences in the United States had to do with the size of our country and how its population spread out with the rise of the railroad and westward expansion. The rise of the Spiritualism movement (very different from Spiritualism in the UK) also had a role to play in photography at the time, but likely had to less to do with this particular photograph.

How You Can Help

If you have information that can help track down Hattie’s living family members, either by knowing someone that shares a name or if you recognize her face as a relative of yours, please feel free to share any leads you may have. I will take my time to check out each one and provide updates on this website. If anyone wants, I may even start a YouTube series dedicated to this project and tracking down the descendants so they can meet their long lost great grandparents through photographs.

You can send tips to lopotterwrites at gmail dot com. You can also help by liking, sharing, and talking about Hattie! Let’s help find Hattie together.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this today. I look forward to helping Hattie find her family and moving on to the next cabinet card in my collection with information and will continue to post information on cabinet cards and the history of portrait photography and how it relates to superstition and spirituality in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

October 2019: “Then Came Darkness” by D.H. Schleicher

Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):

It’s the Great Depression. The world is on edge as global tensions are building, and economic collapses rip apart every continent. To have any money you have a lot. Religious fanatics have latched on to the sense of impending doom, with the rise of vagrant workers as the Dust Bowl tears apart the United States Bread Basket. D. H. Schleicher pulls us into his setting where an evil force is about to burn its way through an entire family as it seeks revenge.

Joshua Bloomfield is a one-armed man of mystery. He hasn’t had a home since he escaped from his dark origin. He wants to get back his money, and he wants to kill the family that stole everything from him.

The Kydd family wants to survive. As Evelyn’s health is deteriorating, she deep down hopes her husband doesn’t come home after a family tragedy breaks her heart. Her two other children, Tyrus and Sally, and the dog, Sue, are all she has left. Can they protect her from the consequences of her own actions?

In “Then Came Darkness,” D. H. Schleicher brings early twentieth-century mysticism, the Great Depression, and a thrilling story of a family trying to escape the clutches of evil. After all, evil can look just like a friend.

Later Addition: This is one of the briefest summaries I’ve written. This is to reduce spoilers as the book builds details upon themselves. Highly recommend this read.

My Overall Response:

D. H. Schleicher blew me away with this emotional story told from multiple perspectives. I laughed. I cried. I had to take breaks because some scenes tore me to pieces. It’s dark, gritty, and I love it. Highly recommend!

First, let’s talk about Joshua Bloomfield as a character. All he wanted was to kill his father, then steal all of his money as an act of grandiose revenge. Why doesn’t anyone understand him? He also has a peculiar way of showing people he loves them. Or hates them. Not really sure. He’s a messed up dude, okay? Yet, I say that while defending him in that weird antihero way.

Next, there’s Evelyn Kydd. Evelyn is a character that is often in her own head through reliving memories, having seizures, and with those seizures sometimes visions. This gift is enough that her get-rich-quick-scheme husband wishes he could have taken her on the road. But she loves her children more than anything, especially her oldest child. She’s full of self-blame for things that she has done. The majority of the blame is a result of a society always telling her how unimportant she is. As a reader, I am saddened and frustrated by the way Evelyn believes she deserves what is happening to her. She’s an exceptionally well written female character.

This book has some death scenes. Schleicher uses these to his advantage as he first tells you that a character experiences heartbreak for the first time, then proceeds to make you, the reader, feel that heartbreak. The catharsis of emotional writing in this book was incredible. For reference, other books that have done this to me include “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, “Bright as Heaven” by Susan Meissner, “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. It’s not easy to make me feel things!

I loved the structure of the novel as it continually brings flashbacks to fill in the gaps the reader may have little by little. Nothing is revealed immediately, though the reader may figure some things out. Such as the exact location of a particular setting, based solely on the description of walking up a set of brick steps from the James River up to the street in Shokhoe Bottom, Richmond, Virginia. As someone that has walked those steps, the description was accurately written.

LGBTQA Friendly?

This book does not directly address issues of the LGBTQA community or have characters identifying as such. This does not impact my recommendation to read this book.

Grammar:

This book is well within the standard of 1 error per 10,000 words. The only derailing issue was the use of “pealing” (a loud noise) instead of “peeling” (lifting in a layer from another surface). This may not be noticed by other readers, though.

Twilight Zone Moment:

Every book has at least one. These are the moments that don’t quite add up and throw a reader rolling down into the uncanny valley for a moment in an otherwise brilliant scene.

Where did Myra go? Why did we not meet Myra again? We spend an entire chapter of the book meeting a character named Myra, who is going back to New York City because a young man in love with her has died. Yet, she doesn’t visit the family or her own father?

You can purchase “Then Came Darkness” by D. H. Schleicher on Amazon

To read more about D. H. Schleicher, read more of their work, or contact them, you can visit their website The Schleicher Spin or visit their Twitter @schleicherspin