The Murder That Inspired Twin Peaks

Hazel Drew’s death remains unsolved, unlike her on-screen counterpart.

Josie Klakström

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In the summer of 1908, the resort town of Sand Lake in Rensselaer County, New York was busy. The usual population of around 2,000 made way for holidaymakers and the July temperature was climbing. However, the visiting families would soon be joined by reporters and investigators, when the body of a woman turned up in Teal’s Pond.

Hazel Drew via Times Union courtesy of Bob Moore, Sand Lake Historian

Twenty-year-old Hazel Drew was born on a farm, in East Poestenkill. At fourteen, she left to work in the home of an affluent family, eventually becoming a governess. Described as fair, blue-eyed and beautiful, the young woman worked hard and was liked by everyone.

Hazel was last seen four days earlier by Frank Smith, a teenager who worked at a nearby farm and Rudolph Gundrum, a charcoal peddler in his mid-thirties. Around 7.30 pm, Frank had hailed Rudolph for a ride in his wagon and the two of them saw Hazel for the last time.

Frank had an unrequited love for the young woman, whose appearance and personality lured many young suitors, wanting to get to know her, and she was popular around the town.

When Hazel was found, she was floating face down in the river. She was bloated and her skull had been crushed by an unidentified object. Her lungs were empty of water, meaning she was dead before she hit the lake and she was unrecognisable due to being in the water for four days.

Hazel was eventually identified by her gold fillings and clothing, and as the investigation into her death began, the details of her life started to come to light.

Just days before her murder, Hazel had resigned from her position at the mayor’s home. Her reason remains unknown, but she was given the rest of her pay for the time she’d worked and she left the house. She told relatives that she’d planned to travel but her exact movements were never revealed.

Hazel was also living well outside of her means. She was travelling first-class into New York city and to Rhode Island, dining at expensive restaurants and staying in luxury hotels. Her new clothing was also far too expensive for a woman who worked as house staff and earned $3 a week.

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Josie Klakström

Josie is a freelance journo who writes about writing, true crime, culture and marketing. www.truecrimeedition.com