Thursday, December 8, 2022

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Book Review

True crime fans will love ‘Quiet Dell’


BookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

By Jayne Anne Phillips


Pub. date: Oct. 15


CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (Dec)

464 pp.

Award-winning fiction writer Jayne Anne Phillips grew up in West Virginia haunted by her mother’s stories of the gruesome 1931 murders of at least two women and three children in nearby Quiet Dell. In her novel, “Quiet Dell,” Phillips recounts the events through the eyes of fictional characters of her own creation.

Widowed and financially desperate, Asta Eicher and her three children left their suburban Chicago home with Cornelius O. Pierson (one of a number of aliases used by Herman Drenth) who Asta met through a lonely hearts club. The family’s banker became suspicious and alerted the police when he learned Asta’s young daughter had tried to cash a questionable check before leaving.

Love letters found in Asta’s abandoned home directed authorities to Pierson, then known as Harry Powers, living in Clarksburg, W.V. A torture chamber was discovered in Powers’ garage in Quiet Dell and the bodies of the Eicher family and another woman was found buried outside. “The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell” had corresponded with hundreds of lonely women and was suspected in the disappearances of countless more although no other bodies were found.

Fictional character Emily Thornhill, intrepid reporter for the Chicago Tribune, pursues the story tirelessly, travelling first to West Virginia and then to Iowa which, alas, was the original home of the real-life Herman Drenth. Phillips weaves the fictional story into her well-researched account of the crime, capturing the circus-like atmosphere of the investigation and the trial, held in an opera house because the courthouse couldn’t handle the crowds. Original photographs of the Eicher family, the crime scene and more offer that little extra that’s sure to appeal to true crime readers. CV               

Sally Wisdom was a librarian for 35 years before retiring from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011. True Crime has long been her guilty reading pleasure.

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