Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Ultimate Whodunnit?


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  We have rock stars here today! These are the authors who have the incredible honor of being nominated for the Agatha for Best First Novel.  An absolute once-in-a-lifetime moment!

Massive congratulations to all of you. And a standing ovation.



Now: here’s a question for you, In each of your award-nominated books, you have created a murder mystery—and then solved it. But how about in real life?

What's your favorite unsolved real-life mystery?

Marla Cooper
  author of Terror in Taffeta (Minotaur Books)

One of my favorite mysteries involves greed, sex, false identities — and evil twins. There’s this guy, Jordan Gann, who meets a woman in a bar. He claims to be a pediatric oncologist who had just sold the rights to a drug patent, and he does the whole, “Drinks are on me!” thing. But then, oops, he doesn’t seem to have his credit card. So the woman and her friends cover the bill, Jordan promises he’ll pay them back, and he vanishes. Oh, but not before getting the woman pregnant. (Ooops!)   

Jordan continues to scam women all around the country, using a string of fake identities to avoid being caught. Until one day he goes into a bar, talks to the bartender about throwing a party there, and writes down his information … with a completely different name from the one he’d introduced himself with. The bartender, of course, is suspicious. He googles the man and finds a website warning people about Jordan, his cons, and his many aliases. (Giancarlo Dinatale! Simone Trezeguet! Dr. John Marino!) The bartender calls the police, and they swoop in and arrest Gann — who claims he’s innocent, and it was all the work of ... his twin brother Simon. Oh, yeah: the person who put up the website? You guessed it: the mother of Jordan’s child. Or possibly Simon’s. With twins, it’s hard to be sure.

Alexia Gordon
    author of Murder in G Major (Henery Press)
I’m an unsolved mystery fan. Almost all the podcasts on my Stitcher playlist deal with unsolved mysteries, both “Cold Case Files” and “Unsolved Mysteries” are saved in my Sling TV favorites, and “American Greed: The Fugitives” is on my Hulu watchlist. My favorite unsolved mystery--the one that intrigues me the most--is the case of the Edgecombe County serial killer.

Between 2003 and 2009, ten African-American women disappeared from the Rocky Mount, NC area known as the Neighborhood. Eight of their bodies were found, all in remote areas, several near Seven Bridges Road. Besides race, the women had things in common--they all struggled with drugs, prostitution, and poverty and they all came, literally, from the wrong side of the tracks--the Neighborhood sits on the Edgecombe County side of the railroad tracks running through Rocky Mount. 

Despite the similarities in the victims and the places where their bodies were dumped, Rocky Mount officials waited until 2009 to declare the murders and disappearances the work of a serial killer. Later that year a man was arrested for one of the murders. He was tried and convicted of that one murder in 2011. He was “credited” with “up to” seven of the other killings but was never charged with any of them. Many in Rocky Mount believe he was a scapegoat--a convenient place to lay the blame to make the story go away.

This case gets to me because of the relative lack of coverage it receives. Serial killers are usually big news. I Googled “Jack the Ripper” and got almost 9.5 million hits. “John Wayne Gacy” got more than half a million. “Edgecombe County serial killer” generated a mere 3,280. GQ did a piece on the case in 2010, an archived 2015 sub-Reddit generated a few posts, and a 2016 Rocky Mount newspaper article covered one family’s on-going search for their still-missing loved one. Wikipedia has an article that’s little more than a stub. But that’s about it. The deaths and disappearances of poor, broken, black women don’t seem to generate much notice.

Cynthia Kuhn
   author of The Semester of Our Discontent (Henery               Press)

Margaret Atwood’s postmodern mystery Alias Grace is based on the actual mid-19th century double murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Ontario, Canada. Two servants were accused—Grace Marks (who was jailed) and James Montgomery (who was hanged)—but truth of the matter may not be as tidy as it appears. The novel focuses primarily on conversations between Grace, who claims to have amnesia about what happened on the day of the murders, and Dr. Simon Jordan, who attempts to clarify events using newfangled theories of the mind. The “answer” suggested by this beautifully written novel is an intricate puzzle involving storytelling, spiritualism, and class/gender dynamics—and it’s an incredibly interesting journey.

Nadine Nettmann
           author of Decanting a Murder (Midnight Ink)
The mystery that immediately comes to mind is the death of Ned Doheny and his assistant, Hugh Plunket, at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Although it was deemed a murder-suicide, rumors and possible cover-ups continue to cloud what really happened that February night in 1929 and who actually killed who and then committed suicide.

 There are disagreements in the details including conflicting evidence, misstatements from the doctor who first arrived on the scene, and the fact that the family moved Ned’s body before calling police.

The story goes even deeper including Ned and Hugh’s involvement in the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal which was still going on at the time. The mystery has fascinated me for years and I’ve enjoyed touring the mansion on several occasions. However, and I’m relieved to share this, the floor is not stained with blood as it was rumored to be.

Renee Patrick (Rosemarie and Vince Keenan)
             author of Design for Dying (Forge)
When we told people we were writing a mystery featuring costume designer Edith Head, it surprised us how often they asked if she would investigate the infamous Black Dahlia case. We’re not sure why they thought we would rush into Hollywood’s most gruesome unsolved murder, especially when a far more intriguing mystery lies closer to Edith’s Paramount Pictures home: the 1922 shooting of director William Desmond Taylor. 

The case, recently covered in meticulous detail in Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann, features venal valets, smitten starlets and an irate stage mother. The perfect cold-case cast. On a recent research trip to Paramount’s costume archive, we were shown a tuxedo owned by Mr. Taylor himself. It bore no stray blonde hairs or overlooked bullet holes, though. Believe us, we looked.


HANK: Wow. SO many great real-life stories.  According to the jury, the Caylee Anthony case is still unsolved, and according to the criminal jury, so is the case of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Hmm.  So Reds and readers: what unsolved crime are you most fascinated with?

And on lucky commenter—to be named on Sunday!—will win a copy of the best-first Agatha winner’s book! 
But hey: congratulations to all!

And the nominees are: 


Marla Cooper is the author of Terror in Taffeta, an Agatha and Lefty nominee for Best First Mystery and book one in the Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mysteries. Her second book, Dying on the Vine, is set in the California wine country and comes out April 4. As a freelance writer, Marla has written all sorts of things, from advertising copy to travel guidebooks to the occasional haiku, and it was while ghostwriting a guide to destination weddings that she found inspiration for her series. Originally hailing from Texas, Marla lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and her polydactyl tuxedo cat. Learn more at www.marla-cooper.com.

Alexia Gordon has been a writer since childhood. She continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Medical career established, she returned to writing fiction. She completed SMU's Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published her first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, premiers July 2017. A member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas, she listens to classical music, drinks whiskey, and blogs at
www.missdemeanors.com. AlexiaGordon.net
Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series, which includes The Semester of Our Discontent and The Art of Vanishing. She is professor of English at MSU Denver and serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.

Nadine Nettmann, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is always on the lookout for great wines and the stories behind them. She has visited wine regions around the world, from France to Chile to South Africa, but chose Napa Valley as the setting for her debut novel, Decanting a Murder. The next book in the Sommelier Mystery Series, Uncorking a Lie, releases in May 2017. Chapters are paired with wine recommendations. NadineNettmann.com

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.

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57 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your Agatha nominations, Marla, Alexia, Cynthia, Nadine, and Rosemarie and Vince . . . .

    Interesting unsolved real-life mysteries; the Black Dahlia case . . . the murder of actress Elizabeth Short . . . gets my vote.

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  2. These are amazing cases - and some good storytelling about them, ladies and gent! Congrats on your nominations - I'm pulling for all of you. See you in a couple of days.

    I confess I don't follow unsolved mysteries at all - maybe I have too many fictional ones floating around in my brain!

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  3. Congratulations, all! So exciting to come out with a bang your first time. Enjoy every moment.

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  4. Congratulations to all the Agatha nominees!

    One unsolved mystery involving a child in Toronto still haunts many of us. It has been over 30 years since 8-year old Nicole Morin went missing from her apartment building. She went to meet a friend to go swimming and vanished. Video reenactments are still played and her father is still looking for closure in this case.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/nicole-morin-disappearance-still-a-mystery-30-years-later-1.3173242

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  5. Such great stories! And it's interesting, too,, that it shows someone you can get away with it… wonder how often the real "bad guy"is never caught…

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  6. Congratulations to all the Agatha nominees! I'm still interested in the Jon Bonet Ramsey case. Will we ever know what really happened?

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    1. Oh, you are so right, Judi! That seems like a solvable case, doesn't it?

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  7. Congratulations to each of you, on your nomination. May the best book win. And may I will the book lottery!

    I'm with Judy on the Jonbenet Ramsey case. There is something very sad in that family, haunting. I also am fascinated with the Madeleine McCann case in the UK. Another unsolved accident/manslaughter/murder. Although I am opposed to the death penalty in principle, whoever harm a child deserves to be drawn and quartered, just sayin'.

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    1. Oh, Madeline McCann! That is fascinating to… What's your theory?

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    2. Yes, that one was my second choice!

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    3. Hank, I'm going with accidental death due to neglect, leaving a child alone in a hotel room who most likely got into mummie's drugs, could be as simple as an aspirin overdose. When found but the parents, panic ensued, suspicious death in a foreign country and all that, and poof, the body gets tossed to the sharks and Bob's you're uncle. The sad thing is those parents have been dining out on some stroy so long that even they believe it.

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  8. Oooo! So many wonderful new authors to explore! Congratulations to you all!

    There were a couple of unsolved murders out in the rural county where I used to work as a reporter. I hung out with a lot of police officers, so I got to see both the public face of the cases and the private speculation my cop buddies kept off the record. The case that particularly haunted me was one where two teenagers were shot as they parked in a lovers lane, late at night. Public speculation was that they stumbled into a drug deal, and it all went south. I was friends with the investigating officer, however, and he suspected a much darker family tragedy involving the politics of race and class. His prime suspect died of cancer while my friend was still building his case, so nobody was ever charged or convicted. The girl's mother continued to demand justice for her daughter's death, even though there was no longer anyone to charge or punish. She chose to punish my friend, refusing to accept his answers, urging him to keep looking, and sending him reminders every year so he wouldn't let the case go cold. He has long since retired, but the case continues to dog him.

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    1. Wow. That's a great story for a novel Gigi, I have to say....

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  9. What a fabulous lineup of new books and authors! You must enjoy every moment of this time, even if your name is not announced at the banquet. It is truly an honor to be nominated, and if you're lucky you will still be friends yearS later with your fellow nominees. I can say that with confidence, as Julia beat me the year I was nominated. And her award was very well deserved! Have fun at the conference

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  10. Congrats to all of you. What a great lineup of books.

    Unsolved mysteries? Don't forget JonBenet Ramsey.

    Mary/Liz

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  11. Nominated for an Agatha? In my book, you're all winners, no matter who gets the final nod. Unless I'm mistaken, the finalists and winner are judged by a panel of your peers. Your peers. You've made it into the big time! Congratulations to you all!

    The mystery that haunts me is the death of my aunt Gaye. The US has entered World War II. Men are volunteering, being called up, young lovers are marrying. My aunt was a blonde beauty, strong-willed young woman whose new husband was off to the Navy in San Diego, while she was left behind in eastern Kentucky. Pregnant. The baby girl was born and died on a cold January day and Gaye set out to join her husband a few weeks later, over the strong objections of both her family and her husband. Less than a month later, she came home again in a closed, sealed coffin with a glass inset window. According to the police report and her husband, she put her head into a gas oven and killed herself. According to the neighbors, Gaye and her husband fought constantly. He wanted her to go back home. According to her family, a towel had been wrapped around her neck in her coffin. Too far away and with no money to spare, the family could not hire an investigator. The US Navy shipped their man out immediately. Forty years passed, the family convinced her husband strangled her, and my grandmother receives a letter from the husband, where he goes on and on about his 'golden-haired girl' and how he always loved her. He was dying of cancer at the time. The strange rambling letter might have been the ramblings of a sick man, but the family believes it was a confession of sorts. I believe he killed her unintentionally in the middle of one of their fights, staged the suicide on his own or with the help of the Naval MPs. But we'll never know the truth.

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    1. Flora - your story is heartbreaking -- poor Gaye!

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    2. Oh, so very sad. And so touching..poor Gaye.

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    3. Oh Flora! This is haunting. So sorry about your aunt!

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  12. Congratulations to all of the nominees -- all well-deserved! Have a wonderful time at Malice!

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  13. Congratulations to all the nominees. I wish you could all win.

    The unsolved mystery I'm most fascinated by, besides Jack the Ripper because who isn't, is the Taman Shud case in Australia. Authorities have never been able to identify the victim nor how he died, only the suspicion that it was probably poison but which could not be determined.

    They found a suitcase in a train station locker weeks later and it in clothing marked with Kean, Keane, and T Keane but they could never find anyone with that name who was missing.

    A scrap of torn paper bearing the words "taman shud" was found in the pocket of the pants he was found in. "Taman shud" is a Persian phrase meaning, "it is done" or "it is finished."

    Months later a copy of Rubaiyat was found tossed into a car parked near the beach where they body had been found. The owner of the car said it wasn't his. They found the end of the book contained the page the scrap had been torn from and on the end paper of the book had a series of lines with letters and numbers that appeared to be some kind of code.

    It's maddening. :)

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    1. Wow, Aimee, that's completely fascinating! Irresistible. Instant movie.

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    2. For a sci-fi take on solving Jack The Ripper mystery, you should check out the Season 2 Babylon 5 Episode (#21) "Comes The Inquisitor". The first time I saw it, I was blown away. The actor playing the character of "Sebastian", Wayne Alexander, was note perfect in the role.

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  14. Congratulations to Marla, Alexia, Cynthia, Nadine and Renee, on your Agatha nominations! In my book, you all are winners! I loved all of your books! I bet people attending Malice Domestic this year will be signing up to sit at your tables for the banquet and your tables will be full! I remember the Book Dealers room had a section of books for sale by Agatha nominees, except for the Best Children's Best Mystery nominees, which was a separate category.

    Regarding unsolved mysteries, I can think of many! I had just started college when a deaf 7 year old (in Northern California) was kidnapped. She was not wearing her hearing aids when she was kidnapped. Her father, a police officer, had died 3 months Before she was born. Her mother allowed her to play outside for a few minutes since neighbors were coming over. There are conflicting reports, whether or not they resolved the kidnapping. A report said that she was murdered and they found her body, though I do not know if DNA testing was done to confirm it was the same kid. IF she is still alive, she will be about 35 or 36 years old.

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    1. This was around the same time as the Deaf President Now movement at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. And there was (and still) a big controversy about whether or not deaf children are better off with Deaf parents or parents who can hear. When I first heard of the kidnapping, I wondered if a deaf couple kidnapped the deaf kid since her family could hear. A few years later, there was also a case about a baby born to Deaf parents and a Judge removed the baby because the baby could hear. The Judge thought the baby would be better off with parents who could hear.

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    2. Oh, those are amazing theories.. there's always more to a story, right?

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  15. Thank you so much for hosting us today! It's interesting to read the unsolved mysteries in the comments.

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    1. Yes! hard to decide whether fact or fiction is more complicated and surprising. And congratulations! See you soon!

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  16. I don't think I'd heard of several of these. Then again, I don't tend to follow real life crime. I find it too depressing. I'll take my murders completely fictional with a nice wrap up at the end, please.

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  17. What an impressive collection of "newbies"!
    Best wishes to all.
    libbydodd at comcast dot net

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  18. Hi, Everyone,

    This is GREAT! These are my people! Two of these books I got sneak peeks at - Marla's and Nadine's - they are wonderful (see cover blurbs!) LOL! I just did a panel with Alexia at Left Coast Crime in Honolulu and read her book on the plane home - it's terrific! I was fortunate enough to meet the fabulous Vince and Rosemarie (aka Renee Patrick) this past weekend at a joint signing at the Poisoned Pen. They are a delightful couple and I love the premise of their book - historical Hollywood and Edith Head! - so much that I bought it! After I read it, I'll be sharing it in a giveaway and now I have a new author to add to my library with Cynthia Kuhn. I love the description of a puzzle-solving mystery set in the literary world. What an incredible crop of authors - this makes me happy in so many ways. Mostly, as a reader but also as a lover of the mystery genre because it's reassuring to know there is so much talent out there on the rise! Good luck to you all!

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Tell us about your giveaways! Maybe some reds and readers don't know about them..

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  19. And nominees! Feel free to tell us about your books!

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  20. Congratulations to you all! It really is an honor to be nominated, and I promise you will never forget your evening, no matter who goes to the podium. And all of your books sound terrific!

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  21. Congrats Marla, Alexia, Cynthia, Nadine, Vince, and Rosemarie! It's a cliché, but you are all winners just having been nominated. What an honor!

    I'm fascinated by the Natalee Holloway case, although it seems clear who the perpetrator was. The idea of a young woman disappearing on a school trip is truly disturbing.

    Did anyone see this weekend's "48 Hours" about the Golden State Killer? It was fascinating. The alleged perpetrator (they don't have a suspect) would now be in his sixties. What if he dies before he's caught?

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    1. Ingrid, I did see that program about the Golden State Killer. I'm so hoping he can be brought to justice.

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  22. In answer to Hank's question, the Wednesday Giveaway is on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/JennMcKinlayAuthor/ and I usually have books, swag, and other assorted ridiculousness from me and any other authors I cross paths with that have books I want to share or they want me to share or whatever. It's all very random except the part that it is every Wednesday, which made it much more manageable for me. So come over and enter on Wednesday - because FREE books and stuff!

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  23. Oh listen to this! I just saw a news story where they charged a guy with killing his wife after they found her FitBit had registered steps AFTER the time he said she'd been killed by an intruder!
    How interesting is THAT?

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    1. That would have been a great start for a story on CSI:Cyber! Did anybody else watch that show? It wasn't the best but it made good use of the ever-increasing technology out there.

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  24. I suppose Jack The Ripper and the Jon Benet Ramsey cases would be the unsolved mysteries I would choose if pressed to pick. When the Ramsey case first broke, the woman I worked with asked a question about how the body could've been jammed against the door etc. I ended up thinking about it and came up with what seemed like a plausible way for it to happen. Which kind of scared her that I could come up with the idea.

    It also led me to follow real life murder cases as little as possible. It's depressing as hell and I don't want to inhabit the mindset of a killer unless I'm creating that mystery novel I've long wished I could write.

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    1. Jay! Tell us...it's so fascinating to theorize..

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  25. Thanks for having us on Jungle Reds today! These are all fascinating stories. There seems to be no shortage of unsolved mysteries. Vince and I came upon one the other day involving the suspicious death of a costume designer in 1947. Estranged husband, intimations of blackmail, etc. I won't say more about it now -- we may need to use it in a book!

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  26. Thank you so much for hosting us! And thanks for all who stopped by an commented--what a lot of very interesting stories!

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    1. That should say "who stopped by AND commented"! :)

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  27. Congratulations to all of you on your Agatha nomination! That's going to be a close finish for all.

    I think I'd have to choose the JonBenet murder as the one I'd most like the answer to. That precious little girl killed where she should have been the safest. I don't believe her parents had anything to do with it, which compounds the tragedy of them losing their daughter and living under a cloud of suspicion. I wish there had been an answer for Patsy Rasmey before she died. I really don't think the son/brother did it either. Of course, that would mean that she was knocked out with something and then carried down to the basement. I know that family members are more often than not the guilty party, but I just can't wrap my mind around it in this case.

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    1. Agreed. There's got to be an answer there.

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    2. Oh, that's me, Hank. xoxo
      And: THE WINNER of the Agatha winner is JUDI!
      Email me hryan at whdh dot com after the award ceremony is over!

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  28. And: THE WINNER of the Agatha winner is JUDI!
    Email me hryan at whdh dot com after the award ceremony is over!

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