The Famous Dar Murder Mystery

BOOK: The Famous Dar Murder Mystery
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The author once had an aunt (she was a DAR) who lived alone. She dearly loved to read mysteries, but she did not like whodunits, in which murder was done in the course of the story. She much preferred that the mayhem be accomplished before the book began.
Now, that dear lady would have liked this story; for though there is murder in the middle of the book, the violence is played down.
The same lady loved genealogy as much as she loved detective fiction. Genealogy is the pursuit of hidden knowledge, and success at the end of the search is like the perfect outcome of a murder mystery.
Though his aunt has been dead for many years, the author has had her constantly in mind while writing the present yarn. It is his fervent hope that other ladies, especially DAR ladies, will enjoy this book.
The author has the highest regard for the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. If he is occasionally amused by the Daughters, it is the amusement he has felt at the gentle behavior of his nearest and dearest: his grandmother,
his aunt, his mother-in-law, and his wife—all loyal Daughters of the Revolution.
Long may the ladies of the DAR continue their good and patriotic work.
Bristol, Tennessee
10 July 1989
Isobel Parsons
By this time I suppose every man, woman, and child in the country knows about the famous DAR murder mystery. It has been in all the papers everywhere, and there can't be anybody who doesn't know already “who done it.” And I hope that everybody knows that it was the Old Orchard Fort Chapter, NSDAR, in Borderville, Virginia, that solved the mystery and got 1,540 inches of publicity while doing it. That is just over 128 feet, and it is more publicity than any other chapter in the whole national society has ever received in any one year.
So why would anyone want to go through the whole thing again? And certainly I am nobody to set herself up as a
of any kind, let alone mystery fiction—though of course this is not a made-up story, for it
happened. But Sarah Barnhouse made a motion at our September meeting that the whole affair ought to be written up.
Well, Elizabeth Wheeler had already pasted up all those
newspaper clippings in three big scrapbooks, and it did look as if that ought to be enough, but Sarah pointed out that about ninety percent of what was in the scrapbooks was just the
thing except that it came from different newspapers and the write-up in the
Atlanta Constitution
didn't really do justice to what our members had done.
Some of the members thought that Elizabeth had gone to so much work to paste up those scrapbooks that it would be a shame to go to any more bother. But Elizabeth herself said that even though the scrapbooks had all the main facts, it was very hard to get the connection from all those clippings. She had this great idea for each of the ladies to write up whatever it was she knew about, and then I was to put it together because I am the vice regent and don't have quite as much to do as the other officers. And so we all agreed that that was the thing to do—except Harriet Bushrow, who really solved the mystery. She said she had done enough and didn't want to write about it, but the members all insisted, and Harriet said she would.
I want to graciously thank all the daughters who have worked—I guess you would call it collaborated—on this project. All the ladies have written up their parts right away and just expressed themselves beautifully. So there hasn't been much for me to do except put the parts together and fill in a few gaps here and there.
Laverne Stalworthy typed it.
I do hope that people will like this story, and I'm happy to say that there is not any dirty language in it and no sex except the time that Harriet and Opal went to the nightclub to investigate the young men who do the striptease. But we
had to
about that because, after all, Harriet
(ha! ha!) something there that was important in the case, and it was right in line with the national defense program that Opal had
made the month before. It was real inspiration that led Harriet to that part of the investigation.
It's a great big book, as you can see. The Old Orchard Fort Chapter really has something to be proud of, and I hope it will give pleasure to many readers as well as wake us up and inform us about the dangers that threaten our nation today.
But first I want to point out the four ladies who carried the case through. To begin with, there is Helen Delaporte, our Regent. She is just a fine, fine regent, and nothing can stop her. Well, almost nothing—because she
stop when Mr. Delaporte just laid down the law and told her she absolutely could not go any further, and I know the reader will understand how that is.
Still, it was Helen right at the first who just pushed ahead in spite of all the discouragement she had. She is a wonderful example of how the DAR is an organization that
gets things done.
Helen is a northern girl and came to Borderville about twenty years ago when Henry (Mr. Delaporte) joined Meagin, Meagin, and Johnston. Mr. Delaporte has done very well; and since old Mr. Meagin has been dead for many years, and Mr. Arthur Meagin, Jr., retired and went to Florida a number of years ago and Stubby Johnston is so crippled with arthuritus, Mr. Delaporte is the main part of the firm.
Helen doesn't seem like a Northerner at all. She is pretty and has lovely clothes, and she can do so many things that her time is always in demand. She has been regent of our chapter twice, and she was state registrar (we're a Virginia chapter, here in Borderville, being on the state line; and though Helen actually lives in Tennessee, she is the regent of a Virginia chapter). It's just amazing all the things she can do—a fine musician (she's organist and has the choir at the Episcopal church and plays at weddings
the time), and
graduated from Vassar College)! And such a wonderful homemaker! Well—we're just fortunate to have her.
The other three ladies are Elizabeth Wheeler, Margaret Chalmers, and Harriet Bushrow. Together with Helen, they are the ones who found the body, found out who it was, did all that detecting, and finally it was Ms. Bushrow that solved the mystery. She is eighty-six years old! Well, that just shows what a DAR can do.
And now our story unfolds.
Helen Delaporte
e were looking for a dead man—one who had been buried over a century ago; and we found a dead man—one who had not been buried at all.
One of the activities of the DAR involves marking the graves of soldiers of the American Revolution. The national organization has rigid standards for this activity, and a local chapter may find that it takes a year or more to complete the required process. First we authenticate the soldier whose grave is to be marked. We find his record, which is usually not very difficult to do; but this calls for research and correspondence that can take several months. Then we must locate the grave as accurately as possible. Down here in southwestern Virginia and east Tennessee, many of the old soldiers were buried without gravestones or in graves that were marked with limestone or sandstone that has crumbled beyond recognition. “National” takes a reasonable attitude toward our problems. But we are all very anxious to be accurate, and
identifying unmarked or untended graves can be very difficult.
When the soldier has been researched and the grave located, a bronze marker is ordered and paid for by the chapter, and a ceremony is held at the grave when the marker is put in place.
The grave we were looking for was that of Adoniram Philipson. Philipson enlisted in 1778 at the age of seventeen and managed to be so severely wounded in his first battle that he was a cripple for life. It was a long life; and since Philipson died in 1851, and thus appeared in the 1850 census as a resident of Ambrose County, Virginia, we had assumed that we would find his grave without much search. He ought to have been with the rest of his family in the cemetery at Ambrose Courthouse.
But he was not. The chapter began work on poor old Adoniram in 1976 as a Bicentennial project. By the time Philipson died, there were few Revolutionary War veterans remaining; and Adoniram enjoyed considerable fame in our corner of the world. Thus there was an abundance of records. But we were absolutely balked when we tried to locate the grave.
We never quite gave the project up, but it was knocking around as unfinished business for almost ten years—until, in fact, I received a letter from George FitzSimmons Francis of Roanoke. Mr. Francis is very knowledgeable about southwest Virginia history; and in his researches he had found correspondence in which there was the sentence: “We laid Uncle Ad beside Cousin Emily Dunbar.” The writer was Elizabeth Philipson Davis.
This information gave us a strong lead to follow because the Dunbars were a numerous family along the Holston where it flows into the state of Tennessee.
After some intense research, our Elizabeth Wheeler turned
up evidence that Emily Dunbar was a daughter of Adoniram Philipson's youngest sister. And when Elizabeth reported this to our November meeting last year, Margaret Chalmers, who grew up in the valley, announced that the Dunbars, although they had died out or moved away long before her time, were buried in great numbers in the Brown Spring Cemetery. And wonder of wonders, the Brown Spring Cemetery is just barely above the Tennessee line. Otherwise a Virginia chapter would be unable to mark the grave.
We learned all of that in the November meeting and were so encouraged that I thought we ought to complete this business right away.
With the Christmas music, however, and gifts, and cards—not to mention family—and with perfectly horrible weather in January, I felt that Adoniram's grave could go unmarked at least until we had a few sunny days.
The first such day came on February 22—Washington's
birthday, and a Tuesday. The sun was just rising clear over the knobs—it had not done so for three weeks—as Henry was getting off to the office. It seemed to me that all things were auspicious.
I called Margaret Chalmers, indispensable because she would have to pilot me to the cemetery. Yes, she could go—she would be glad to get out of the house.
Then because Elizabeth Wheeler was not only on the committee, but also because she enjoys cemeteries more than any other person I have ever known, I called her; and she could go.
I have to confess that I hesitated before I called Harriet Bushrow. If I had not called her, we might never have solved the mystery. But that is neither there nor there, because I called her although I had a qualm about taking her to such a place as the Brown Spring Cemetery. She is eighty-six and had a serious bout with flu in January. She is not as steady on
her feet as she used to be. She is not actually large—that is to say not remarkably so—but because of the terrain we might encounter and the flu she had just had, I was afraid there might be difficulty.
Then I told myself that undoubtedly Harriet had been shut up in the house for several weeks and it would really be good for her to get out. There is, of course, a certain friction between Harriet and Elizabeth; and I suppose I had better explain why.
In order to join the DAR, one must be able to prove her legitimate descent from someone who fought on the American side in the Revolution or someone who furnished material aid to the colonists. After descent has been proved, she “goes in” on such-and-such as ancestor. The daughter then wears on her blue and white DAR ribbon a gold bar with the ancestor's name and rank engraved on it. If the daughter has other revolutionary ancestors, she may send proof to National and wear additional ancestor bars. Some daughters take great pride in the number of bars decorating their ribbons.
Elizabeth Wheeler has thirty-two bars!
That is, in fact, one gold bar for every male ancestor of military age in her entire lineage at the time of the Revolution. And she has three other ancestors she could claim in cases where both father and son aided the colonists.
I don't know that Elizabeth is unique in this matter, but it is a rare daughter that glitters as she does when she drapes her ribbons over her modest little chest. On the other hand, there is not a single commissioned officer in the whole collection. As Elizabeth herself will say, they were very ordinary people. But she will add that they all did their duty and—what is more important for her purposes—left a record of it.
Harriet, on the other hand! Well, Harriet has only three bars, and it rankles, because Harriet Gardner Bushrow is decidedly aristocratic with glamorous ancestors that far outshine
Elizabeth's. One was Major General Archibald Hadley, and another was Lieutentant General Nathan Andrews. But Harriet can secure ancestral bars for neither of these. General Andrews, being somewhat older than Hadley, had a beautiful daughter. After the war Hadley was so captivated by Miss Andrews that he eloped with her, leaving behind a legal Mrs. Hadley and several small and very legitimate Hadleys. The Hadley-Andrews alliance prospered without benefit of law, and the descendants married into the best families. Since Harriet's mother was twice a Hadley (that is, there was a marriage of cousins a few generations ago), the two generals appear twice in her ancestry and thus eliminate four possible bars.
Physically too, Harriet and Elizabeth are as different as can be. Elizabeth is somewhat under five feet tall and weighs in the neighborhood of ninety in her galoshes. At seventy-five, she is a lively, bright-eyed retired domestic science teacher, who always wears a little dark suit and a white shirt waist with ruffled collar and cuffs.
Harriet, on the other hand, seems to have inherited the military bearing of her famous and illegitimate ancestors. Even now she can draw herself up and be the handsomest figure in the room.
Although Harriet's house is neither large nor old—and I might add that it is very plain—she has furnished it with moveables of museum quality—not at all the usual personal collection, for she had nothing made after 1830 or originating at a distance greater than one hundred miles of the Virginia-Tennessee border.
Harriet wears pronounced colors—a good strong rose, forest green, or russet—and hats with wide brims, always sloping at a raffish angle so that she looks like a duchess by Leley or even Van Dyck. And there is always her cut crystal necklace of which she is so fond.
Enough about Harriet. Now let me say something about Margaret Chalmers.
Of course, there's really not much to say about Margaret. Her husband sold life insurance and apparently bought his own policies, because he died about twenty years ago and left Margaret in comfortable condition. She has no children, but she makes up for that deficiency with nieces, nephews, old aunts and uncles, and endless cousins. I am very fond of Margaret. If possible, I like to have her share a room with me at State Conference.
By the time I had collected everybody in the Pontiac and got on the Valley Pike, it was two-thirty. Since we were going into Margaret's special part of the county, she had her local history well in hand and was eager to entertain us with it.
“Helen,” she began in her soft voice, “did you know that Dr. Edmond Spooner camped at Brown Spring in seventeen fifty-eight?”
Seventeen fifty-eight marks the first authenticated exploration of our area.
I: “Did he?”
Elizabeth: “He did.” This came with great authority, for that is the sort of thing that Elizabeth knows.
Margaret: “Grandfather Weathered's big log house burned, but the chimneys are still standing. You can see them over there on the left.”
Elizabeth: “My ancestor, George Bennington, was a mason; he made half the chimneys in Chinahook County, Father used to say.”
I: “How interesting!”
Thus my conversation alternated with the two, each of the ladies contributing scraps of information known only to themselves and leaving Harriet as completely out of it as if she
had stayed at home. Harriet, you see, grew up in South Carolina and has no family ties to our local area.
Harriet's silence was icy. When I glimpsed her in the rearview mirror, that big hat was drooping over her face so that all I could see was the firm set of her jaw and her cut crystal beads flashing as she breathed.
We got behind a school bus just coming out from the Valley Pike Elementary School. As the bus stopped at every farm house, Margaret would recognize at least one child in each group that left the vehicle. This led to an individual detail of family history each time we came to a halt; and since Valley Pike is excessively crooked and also narrow, I had no chance to pass.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, found a way to enlarge the genealogical information related in every story contributed by Margaret. From time to time Harriet made an effort to start a different conversation.
Harriet: “Helen, do you like the Plymouth?”
I: “This is a Pontiac, Harriet.”
Harriet: “Oh!”
After another five minutes of Margaret's local history enlarged by Elizabeth's footnotes, Harriet would try again.
Harriet: “Helen, do you find your heating bills high this year?”
We followed Valley Pike to Hipple's Store, then turned on Farm Road 17 until we reached the Hersey place, a grand old log house with clapboard siding and additions in all directions. The oaks are even older than the house and spread above it with great gnarled branches. At Margaret's direction I turned off onto a dirt road, which served well until we passed the Billy Pennybacker place, where the ruts became downright unpleasant and I began to worry about my shock absorbers. I drove on, dead slowly, for about ten minutes—back into the knobs. Margaret pointed out where the Brown
Spring Church had stood before it was torn down, and we could see Brown Branch meandering off through the fields. At last we came to a rusty fence and a huge arch made of pipe with a somewhat battered sign hanging from its apex to tell us that we had arrived at the Brown Spring Cemetery. It was rather a pretty cemetery, cut out of the woods and lying between two knobs to the right and to the left. It was somewhat larger than I had expected it would be. Immediately in front of us there was a grassy slope crowned with monuments and stones—leaning this way and that, but always expectantly facing east. Perhaps thirty yards beyond the gate there was a slight rise, and apparently the cemetery sloped around on the other side and continued a short distance up the hollow.
The cemetery association had done an efficient job on the weeds and brambles, and I was relieved to see that I need not have feared that my ladies could not negotiate the terrain.
I am always impressed by the quiet of a country cemetery, and apparently so were my passengers; for as the Pontiac's engine died, our conversation died also.
We disembarked and entered almost timidly—perhaps with the feeling that we were intruding. Quietly we made our way through the gate, the only sound beside our footsteps resulting from Harriet's opening her purse to get a cough drop.
Suddenly Elizabeth broke our reverie with a polite shriek—“Hunsuckers!”
It sounded as though we were being warned of something—possibly a bird that would swoop down and attack us.
“And there's another one!”
Elizabeth is in her personal element in a cemetery, and we could tell that she was prepared to be delighted by this one.
BOOK: The Famous Dar Murder Mystery
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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