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Who Killed Vina Coats?

mystery-clipart-1046558-Mystery

Research—can’t live with it, can’t write a book without it. Actually, I love doing research. It’s where all the tidbits of past lives are brought into the present.

While scanning articles about Penryn via the website cdnc.ucr.edu (Californa Digital Newspaper Collection), the column entitled “The Mysterious Disappearance” come up in the list of write-ups concerning Penryn.

I love a good mystery, and this mystery occurred in Penryn, in 1873. I made a note of the particulars, ignored the rabbit trail, and continued on with the task at hand.

Six months or so later, I picked up my notebook to view the dates, places, and people of my research. And there it was, the unsolved case of the disappearance and murder of thirteen-year-old Vina Coates.

After pulling up all the data available on the newspaper website, my Sam Spade intuitiveness kicked in. I analyzed the known facts of the case. I speculated. I mused. I pondered. And finally came to my deduction of who killed this young teenager.

How about you? Can you find the same conclusion? Let me give you the facts of the case. Then, put on your Sherlock cap, examine the clues, and send me your verdict along with the reason why the person or persons murdered Vina.

March 8, 1873, Saturday,—Vina Coats disappears

March 18, 1873—Sacramento Daily Union

The Mysterious Disappearance—Up to last evening nothing had been heard from Miss Coats, the girl who mysteriously disappeared between Penryn and Newcastle last Saturday. It is suspected that her brother knows what has become of her, and an effort will be made to compel him to own up. Two wood-choppers working in the vicinity from where she disappeared are also suspected, and will probably be arrested.

March 20, 1873—Sacramento Daily Union

Out in Force—We learn that between 200 and 300 people were out yesterday between Newcastle and Penryn, in search of Miss Coats, the girl who so mysteriously disappeared about two weeks ago.

March 21, 1873—Sacramento Daily Union

Still Missing—he grand search for Miss Coats, which took place near Penrvn Wednesday, was totally unsuccessful. It is now thought that she came or was brought to Sacramento.

March 24, 1873—Sacramento Daily Union

Body in the River— About 11 o’clock on Saturday morning three boys saw floating down the Sacramento River, past the foot of II Street, the body of a woman, which passed so close to the shore that they could see that it had red hair, cut short, a calico dress and white underclothing. They did not tell any men of what they had seen for more than an hour afterward, and, although there was some slight search made then, nothing has been seen of the body since. It will probably, however, be caught before it reaches Freeport. Possibly it is that of Miss Coats, the young woman who disappeared about two weeks ago from near Newcastle.

March 29, 1873—Sacramento Daily Union

The body of Miss Coats, 13 years old, who disappeared from her father’s ranch in Placer County four weeks ago, was found yesterday in a shaft, where it had apparently been thrown and covered with an old sack and a quantity of brush.

March 31, 1873—Sacramento Daily Union

The Coats Mystery—At Gold Hill, Placer County, Justice Clow of Newcastle held an inquest Saturday upon the remains of Miss Vina Coats, whose mysterious disappearance, together with the finding of her body last Friday, have heretofore been referred to. A number of witnesses were examined, but there was not sufficient evidence obtained to warrant making any arrests. The jury returned as their verdict that deceased came to her death at the hands of some person or persons unknown. A dispatch gives the following details: There were no marks of violence on the body. When found her hands were tied together in front. Her wearing apparel was much torn and disordered, and a sack was drawn tightly over her head and tied down at the waist. The general opinion is that the girl was suffocated. The theory that she had been outraged and then murdered is not credited, as a physician of Auburn made an examination of the body and found no evidence whatever to substantiate that view. A resident of Gold Hill thought he recognized the sack as the former property of the girl’s father. Many incline to the opinion that the father committed the crime, and that after its commission the excitement caused his death, he having been subject to heart disease for some years.

The Rabbit Trail

Coates, Claibourne Monroe, 1868 25-Apr Placer Herald–Claibourne Monroe Coates, age 39 yrs., near Virginia, Placer Co., p. 2:5–Death

Coats, C.M., 1873 15-Mar–C.M Coats, age 43 yrs., Newcastle, native of TN., p. 3:4–Death

In this Land of the Living

My writing silence has been broken by an unexpected find—a subtle (and somewhat eerie) reminder to continue telling the unique stories of long ago residents of Penryn, California.

My middle daughter recently purchased a “fixer-upper” in the nearby town of Newcastle. She was given the keys on a Friday morning. By Friday night she and my youngest daughter had removed the kitchen cabinet doors along with the hardware.

I worked alone in the bedrooms, washing down the walls, preparing them for painting.

“Mom! Come here!”

“What’s up?” I was on a roll and didn’t want to stop in the middle of my project.

“We want to show you something!”

As I walked into the kitchen area, the girls held up a wooden key holder they had removed from the utility closet.

“Can you tell what’s written on the back? I looks like Spanish.”

I turned the key holder over. “Oh, wow!” is all I could say at the moment. I looked up at my daughters, a little shaken, a little surprised. I traced the faded hand-printed lettering with my fingertips. “I know exactly what this says.”

I hesitated a bit before launching into my “translation,” trying to find the right words to explain my wonder over a simple homemade tchotchke.

“It’s not Spanish. It’s Sicilian. It’s a last name. This family immigrated from Sicily to America in the late 1890s and eventually settled in the Penryn-Newcastle area.”

They eyed me with skepticism. “Okay, Mom. How do you know that?”

I smiled a bit before answering. “Because the main character in my second book married into this family.”

Psalm 27:13

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.

In This Silence

Sometimes, there are no words. Despite the fact that in order to perfect the craft, I must write everyday.

Sometimes, there are no words. Even though there are stories waiting to be told.

Sometimes, there are no words. Because the written word cannot quite capture the  depth of a heartache.

And so, in this silence, I will wait.

Rest in God’s peace, Mark and Brenda.

Sandwiched Between the Terrible “2s”

“Let me help you.” “You cannot do it by yourself.” “Are you listening to me?” “What did I just tell you?” “No, you cannot go to the store by yourself.” “Yes, you have to take this medicine.” “No, you cannot eat that right now.”

Sound familiar? If you answered ‘yes’ then you have young children or have reared young children at some point in your life, rejoicing when this stage passed.

But beware. These same old commands lurk around the age corner, waiting patiently for the next round of the terrible 2s—as in the 82s, 92s, and 102s.

“No, mom, you cannot drive to the store.” “Mom, let me help you get dressed.” “Mom, you have to take this medicine.” “Mom, the doctor says you must be on this diet.” “Mom, put in your hearing aid before talking on the phone.” “Mom, take your cane with you.”

Of course, these one-sided conversations are met with protests (“Why?” or “You can’t make me.”); pouts (the silent treatment); frowns (exaggerated facial expressions); and dismissals (“Go home.” “Leave me alone.” “I don’t need your help.”)

For me, what makes these interactions harder to bear is the fact that my 87-year-old mother is still very much coherent. As is her 96 year-old husband. As is her 92 year-old sister who lives next door. There are no signs of dementia or alzheimer’s. Just old age wearing down their physical abilities and memories. But the years have not worn down their stubbornness to be self-reliant.

And who can blame them for this stubbornness? My mom and aunt were born in Oklahoma during the great depression, became itinerant farm workers in their preteen years, traveled the country picking the food crops—living like nomads. They learned how to make-do with what they had on hand.

Yet, during those tough years my mom and aunt also managed to get a basic education—first grade at one farm camp, second grade at another, third at another, etc. The encouragement of a few insightful teachers spurred the just-passing-through students to continue their education at the next camp, and the next, and the next, until they managed to obtain an eighth-grade diploma. A great feat considering their sporadic school attendance.

But this stubbornness that once served my mom and aunt during the early difficulties in life now only hinders their reasoning skills as to what they can or cannot do in their elderly years. And here I am, daughter and niece, sandwiched in-between the phases—early childhood and elderly life—having to guide, instruct, and reprimand all over again.

Ultimately, these terrible 2s will also pass. And I will miss them terribly.

(Photo:  Mom is in the middle of the group.)

Historical fiction. . .the best of both worlds!

Facts intertwined with fiction. What could be better?

The actual events told in this type of genre lead us to a place of recognition, a type of déjà vu, of places and people in history. Add in a touch of fiction, of, what if this happened, and a magical, mystical, yet very believable story emerges.

Some examples:

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, about a female detective set in post World War I England, dealing with the aftermath of war’s lingering memories while forging ahead in the hope and belief that war will never again come to England.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, a classic tale set during the French Revolution, of an unknown man, adept at disguise, who smuggles French aristocrats across the English Channel, away from an appointment with madam guillotine.

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford—stories of the everyday lives of Chinese American residents of Seattle’s suburbs during the 1930s and 40s, as they struggle against the prejudices of the times.

Historical fiction. Real places, real events, and, sometimes, real characters. What more could one want? Try it. You just might like it.

Ch ch ch ch Changes. . .

. . .inevitable, unavoidable, uncontrollable.

Big changes, little changes, unforeseen changes. Unwelcome changes? Most definitely.

Change is hard, even expected change. Think about marriage. The engaged couple know that once the wedding is over their lives will not be the same. They have chosen this change in their lives but that doesn’t make the transition any easier. How much more so if the change is foisted upon an unwilling recipient?

Take a look at the book you are currently reading. Can you pinpoint the events that influence the characters and force them to make unthinkable decisions?

What about your own book that you are writing? What upheavals await the protagonist?

How does he/she adapt to the circumstance? What is his/her attitude? Does he/she benefit from the change?

This is the stuff of LIFE!!!

When I began writing Adeline, my intent was just to tell her narrative of how, in 1853, a slave girl came to be in the slave-free state of California. Pretty straightforward yet not so much. Servitude, dependency, seduction, betrayal, death—all awaited her in the small town of Penryn. Would she fight against the change or accept a fatalistic view of life?

After 62 years of life, I have learned that I could not have avoided the changes that came into my life and I will not be able to prevent those that are forthcoming. I can only shape and mold them into useful tools that improve my life’s journey and give perspective to my writing.

So, while I may kick and scream and cry and pout, I will  embrace (eventually), and put to good use, life’s invariable changes. How about you?