Twin Peaks tourists are flocking to a small town in upstate New York in order to re-investigate the unsolved murder of the young woman whose death reportedly inspired the surreal TV series.Twin Peaks creators David Lynch and Mark Frost set the iconic 1990s show, which will make its long-awaited return on May 21, in Washington state.
The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer is central to the series, and was obsessively investigated by characters including FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle McLaughlin. Palmer’s death was loosely based on the killing of 20-year-old Hazel Drew (above and left) in Sand Lakes, New York, in July 1908.
Frost has said that he was inspired by Sand Lakes because he spent summer vacations there as a child. Like its fictional TV counterpart, Sand Lake is located in the mountains, and its natural resources reportedly inspired the logging industry and Great Northern Hotel depicted in the show.
“I’d heard stories about (Hazel) all through my growing up, because she’s supposedly haunted this area of the lake,” Frost said at a 2013 Twin Peaks reunion at the University of Southern California. “So that’s kind of where Laura came from.”
It was a sweltering evening on July 7, when Hazel Drew wandered a remote section of Taborton Road alone. Women didn’t often walk alone at night back then, and it may have especially risky for Drew, who, like Palmer, was described (in her autopsy) as a blonde with a “well-formed figure.”
At around 7.30 P.M., she encountered two men: Frank Smith, a teenage farmhand who allegedly had a thing for her; and Rudolph Gundrum, a 35-year-old charcoal peddler. The men were riding in Gundrum’s horse-drawn wagon, and said they exchanged greetings with Drew.
Like Laura Palmer, Hazel’s body was discovered floating face down in Teal’s Pond several days after her murder.
According to police, she had been beaten to death with a blunt object, and her features were so distorted that she could be identified only by her clothes and the gold fillings in her teeth.
Laura Palmer was a 17-year-old homecoming queen with dark secrets. Drew, who had worked as a domestic servant since the age of 14, was also rumored to have been involved in dalliances that were kept from friends and family.In Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper finds and reads Laura Palmer’s diary. In real life, Rensselaer County authorities discovered dozens of postcards and letters between Drew and her acquaintances.
In both the fictional and real cases, there were multiple suspects. Smith was a person of interest, until police reportedly verified his alibi.
Other suspects included Hazel’s uncle, William Taylor; a dentist who had proposed to Hazel; a train conductor she was rumored to be secretly seeing; and an Albany millionaire who ran a nearby resort where strange happenings including orgies were rumored to occur. (One Eyed Jacks, anyone?)
But there is one crucial difference between reality and fiction: While Palmer’s killer was ultimately revealed, Drew’s murder has never been solved. Sadly, despite technological advances in DNA and other evidence, Frost stated that in some ways, not much has changed.
The hunt for Drew’s killer, Frost said, was “hastily conducted” because she was not from a prominent family, and “there was very little sympathy for female victims of that sort in this time.”
Main photo: Hazel Drew [public domain]