What Is 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 that Hazel’s story came to him by way of his grandmother, Betty Calhoun.
“I’d heard stories about (Hazel) all through my growingMark Frost
up,because she’s supposedly haunted this area of the lake. So that’s kind of where Laura Palmer came from”
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 now haunted the woods of Sand Lake’s Taborton Mountain in upstate New York. T
For those unfamiliar with the series, the Twin Peaks central character, Laura Palmer, was a beautiful, popular, young woman whose murder revealed that she was living a double life. Her mysterious death and secret life drove the show’s narrative for a season and a half.
Since discovering that Hazel Drew was the inspiration for Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, fans have been wanting to know more.
Upon hearing that Laura Plamer was inspired by the murder of Hazel Drew, Twin Peaks podcaster, Mark Givens, began searching for more information. He didn’t have much to go on. All he knew was that Hazel was murdered sometime around 1910. He also knew that the murder happened in a town located approximately thirty minutes from Albany, New York.
“I started Googling and looking at maps of the area before finally finding her full name. That was the Rosetta Stone moment.”Mark Givens
After days of searching and numerous dead ends, Mark Givens ultimately uncovered the 1908 story of Hazel Drew’s murder; the true-life inspiration for Laura Palmer‘s character. Since Mark is a podcaster, he naturally shared his discovery with others, and it has taken on a life of its own.
Here’s the podcast where Mark talks about his discovery. It’s pretty cool. He get deeper into Hazel at 48 minutes in.
The Mystery Continues
The murder itself happened over one hundred years ago and is still being talked about today. A writer named James Breig discussed Hazel’s murder case in a June 20th, 2012 article for the Troy Record newspaper. Not yet aware of the Twin Peaks connection, 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.”James Breig, Troy Record
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 included:
“Papa & I are out here. The Drew murder happened only a little way from here last Sat.” “This is a dandy place.”H.D. Cameron
After reading this Troy Record article online, I immediately went in search of more Sand Lake postcards and found some that do reflect “a very dandy place” indeed. This handwritten note fascinates me. Her casual correspondence makes the murder more real in a unique and 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 August 2018.Who Killed Hazel Drew? – The Unfolding Documentary
If you’d like to be notified when photos, interviews, and other discoveries are added or would like to know more about the documentary, please click here and sign up for updates.
- Sand Lake hit the national news in 1908.
- Who was Hazel Drew?
- Where was she murdered?
- When was she murdered?
- Who did it?
These were the questions puzzling the police when her body was pulled from Teal’s Pond on Taborton Mountain in Sand Lake on July 13, 1908. It was a mystery with plenty of unanswered questions. People were hungry to know more.
Hazel Was Twenty At The Time Of Her Murder.
She had her whole life, and what seemed to be promising prospects, ahead. Ron Hughes, who wrote the book “Who Killed Haze Drew”, 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.”Ron Hughes
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. Did Hazel’s beauty cause her demise?
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.
July 14th, 1908 “ 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”
July 15th, 1908 “SLAIN NEAR UNCLE’S HOME – Hazel Drew said she was on her way there”
July 16th, 1908 “ 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”
July 16th, 1908 “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 following investigation 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 hand
- 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
- Henry Kramroth a wealthy Albany businessman, 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
Anyone 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 lining up their collection of Twin Peaks suspects. One by one the suspects appeared – 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 made it into the Twin Peaks series?
At the time, Sand Lake was a place for summer recreation. With the town’s abundance of lakes, mountains, woodlands, and hotels, Sand Lake became so popular that a trolley connecting Sand Lake to Troy, New York was built. 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, 2017 Washington Post article, Mark Givens 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.”David Bushman & Mark Givens
“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.”David Bushman & Mark Givens
“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.”David Bushman & Mark Givens
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 farmhouse, less than a mile from Hazel’s uncle’s farm and the pond where her body was discovered floating face down.
Hazel Drew’s murder and the Twin Peaks connection intrigued me.
In my recent searches for information, I came across articles claiming that the Taylor children and the Holser children used to play together. Since the Taylor children were Hazel’s cousins, she likely took part; not yet the beautiful governess turning heads on the streets in Troy, but an innocent farm girl possibly playing hide and seek with one of
Over one hundred years later I now find myself biking on Taborton Mountain wondering what this place was like in 1908. I wonder:
- hat 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?
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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.
Help me travel back in time! Who knows what we’ll discover?