The Connection Between the 1908 Hazel Drew Murder and the 1990’s Twin Peaks Character, Laura Palmer
During a Twin Peaks reunion at the College of Southern California, the television series’ co-creator, Mark Frost, mentioned Hazel. He said her murder had inspired the Twin Peaks character named Laura Palmer; the young woman whose body was found on a Washington lake shore in the television series.
Betty was a storyteller and recounted Hazel’s tale to her grandsons, Mark and Scott, as a ghost story. Betty told them of a young woman who was murdered and who now haunted the woods of Taborton Mountain of Sand Lake in upstate New York; the same woods that surrounded the camp where Mark and his brother spent summer vacations.
Thankfully, Grandma Calhoun’s knack for telling stories rubbed off on her grandsons. Both grew up to be well-respected writers.
During the reunion interview where Mark Frost first mentioned Hazel, he never mentioned her last name or where exactly the murder had happened. He only said that the location was about a thirty minute drive from Albany, New York.
Since the discovery that Hazel Drew was the inspiration for Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer character, fans now want to know more.
Upon hearing that the infamous Laura Palmer character was inspired by Hazel Drew’s murder, Twin Peaks podcaster, Mark Givens, began his search for more information. All he knew was that she was a young woman murdered sometime around 1910. He also knew that the murder happened in a town located approximately thirty minutes from Albany, New York.
The mystery continues.
The murder itself happened over one hundred years ago and is still being written about today. A writer named James Breig wrote about Hazel’s murder case in a June 20th, 2012 article for the Troy Record newspaper. Not yet aware of the Twin Peaks connection, in this article Breig mentioned finding “a snitch of the past in an unexpected location.”
He went on to write:
“ Like a postcard found in a pile of thousands of them in a Vermont antique center. The front of the card shows a colorized image of a lake shore, complete with canoes. Printed along the bottom is the identification of the site: “Boat Landing, Crystal Lake, Averill Park, N.Y.”
It’s the information on the back of the card however, that’s most interesting. The card, postmarked at 10 a.m. on July 15, 1908, was addressed to Miss Alice Snell in Nelliston, Montgomery County, New York. It was sent by H.D. Cameron who wrote the message sideways on the back. It began to say, “Papa & I are out here. The Drew murder happened only a little way from here last Sat.” Cameron then added, “This is a dandy place.” I imagine that Miss Snell may have raised an eyebrow to see a place where a murder just happened described as “a dandy place!”
After reading his Troy Record article online I immediately went in search of more Sand Lake post cards and found some that do reflect “a very dandy place” indeed. The way history is revived by a hand written note on a post card fascinates me. A piece of casual correspondence brings the murder back to Sand Lake in a unique and very personal way. As of this writing, I haven’t spoken with James Breig, but I hope to and would someday like to see that postcard with my own eyes.
I’ll be sharing those Sand Lake postcards here on the website along with interviews from my upcoming documentary. I’m planning to complete production by February, 2018.
Sand Lake hit the national news in 1908.
Who was Hazel Drew?
Where was she murdered?
When was she murdered?
Who did it?
Hazel was nineteen at the time of her murder.
She had her whole life and what seemed to be promising prospects ahead. Ron Hughes, who is writing a book on Hazel’s murder, was quoted in the March 23rd, 2017 Daily Mail article saying:
“Hazel was drop dead gorgeous, beautiful. It was said that even the pretty girls would stop to check her out.” “She was very classy, polite and fashionable. The autopsy report said she had a well-formed figure. A newspaper article quoted one of her friends saying she had a very large bust.”
In the autopsy report it was written “she was a full-figured woman.” The “large bust” and “full-figured” descriptions strike me as very strange things to say about a dead girl. It certainly objectifies her. That said, it does give us a glimpse into how society saw pretty young women. This seems especially true with powerful men both then and now.
Troy District Attorney, Jarvis P. O’Brien, led the murder investigation.
O’Brien wasn’t timid about sharing new theories and the revolving list of suspects. The updates seemed to change daily and the papers were eager to put them in print. The New York Times headlines below are a few examples.
“ POLICE THINK GIRL WAS SLAIN IN AUTO – Body Found in Teal’s Lake Near Troy Was That of Hazel Drew – Believed That Body Was carried in Mysterious Automobile Seen in Vicinity on Night of Fourth”
“SLAIN NEAR UNCLE’S HOME – Hazel Drew said she was on her way there”
“ HAZEL DREW’S BAG FOUND AT STATION – Was in Suit Case but Neither Contained Any Clue to Troy Murder – District Attorney Not Satisfied with Contradictory Statements made by Frank Smith who saw her on the Road”
“DREW CASE BAFFLES TROY AUTHORITIES – Unable to Find Where Girl Passed Night Before She Was Murdered – Police Investigating Trips Which Girl Made to New York, Boston and Providence “
Hazel Drew’s murder and the investigation to follow also received national attention from Colorado’s Herald Democrat and The Chicago Tribune. They all turned their focus to the small resort town of Sand Lake and its hamlets of Averill Park, Taborton and Poestenkill.
If you’d like to know more about Sand Lake visit “The Sand Lake Connection”
The suspects included:
- a dentist who had proposed to Drew despite being married
- a dim-witted farm boy
- a drunken charcoal peddler
- a professor who employed her
- a florid-faced stranger spotted near the pond
- a man with a ‘dark complexion’ seen with a girl who looked like Drew on the trolley
- Hazel’s troubled and suicidal uncle – William Taylor
- wealthy Albany businessman Henry Kramroth, who ran a Taborton Mountain resort where some say orgies took place
- a ‘half-witted’ admirer
- the son of a Sand Lake widow who was believed to torture farm animals
Any one of these suspects could be a character straight out of Twin Peaks.
As a filmmaker, I see this parade of characters and can’t help but see parallels to the way Sheriff Truman and Special Agent Cooper lined-up their own collection of Twin Peaks suspects. One by one they were introduced – Laura’s boyfriend Bobby Briggs, her secret boyfriend and biker, James Hurley, drug dealer Leo Johnson and brothel owner Benjamin Horne.
How much of the Hazel Drew murder and Sand Lake actually made it into the Twin Peaks series?
At the time, Sand Lake was best known for its summer recreation. With the town’s abundance of lakes, mountains, woodlands and hotels, Sand Lake became so popular that trolley tracks were built connecting Sand Lake to Troy, New York. In 1908, Troy was the hub of the industrial revolution and one of the most wealthy cities in the nation. Sand Lake was its playground.
In a May 11th Washington Post article Mark Given’s and David Bushman wrote:
“Sand Lake is, in many regards, a northeastern doppelgänger to its fictional Pacific Northwest counterpart.”
“Located down the slopes of Taborton Mountain, about 10 miles east of Albany, it has a population of 10,135 — closer to the 5,000 originally envisioned by Lynch and Frost for Twin Peaks … And like Twin Peaks, Sand Lake’s history is tied to the abundant natural resources of the region.”
“The town’s omnipresent cloak of trees smothers the landscape, ceding barely enough space for the roads, buildings and people to go about their business. Though not the Douglas firs that Dale Cooper famously obsessed over, the variety of elm, oak, and maple trees of Upstate New York certainly evokes those iconic shots of wind-tussled branches that dominated Twin Peaks. The surrounding mountains and the generally gray and drizzly climate give both the fictional town and its real-life counterpart a pervading atmosphere of dangerous intrigue.”
“As Frost’s brother, Scott Frost, also a writer on the original series, recalls about the region, “This is the kind of place that lets a kid have a terrific sense of imagination.”
Hazel Drew’s murder and the Twin Peaks connection intrigued me.
I grew up on Crooked Lake – not far from where Mark Frost and his brother Scott spent summers on Taborton Mountain. I now live in my great-great-grandfather’s 1800’s farm house, less than a mile from Hazel’s uncle’s farm and the pond where her body was found.
In my recent searches for information I came across articles claiming that the Taylor children and the Holser children actually used to play together. Since the Taylor children were Hazel’s cousins, she was likely part of those times; not yet the beautiful governess turning heads on the streets in Troy, but a farm girl possibly playing hide and seek with my great-grandfather Holser.
Over one hundred years later I now find myself biking on Taborton Mountain wondering what this place was like in 1908. How powerful were those who visited and what would have happened to Hazel had she not been murdered? Would she have stayed in Sand Lake and raised a family? Would I know her grandchildren? What other stories do the woodlands on Taborton Mountain have to tell?
Please stay in touch. If you’re from The Sand Lake area and have photos or stories of the times please leave a comment or contact me here.