When the murder mystery series Twin Peaks made its debut in 1990 it was instantly a cult favorite. Focusing on the mysterious murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and the quirky detective tasked with investigating the case (Kyle MacLachlan), we quickly learn that nothing is as it seems in the quiet logging town of Twin Peaks.
While the show is set in Washington state, the inspiration for the series was based on a real unsolved murder that took place on the other side of the country, in Sand Lake, New York, where show creator Mark Frost had spent his summers as a child. It was there that his grandmother told him tales of a ghostly woman who haunted the woods and details of the tragic unsolved murder that continued to puzzle locals decades later.
The body of the real-life Laura Palmer washed up on the shores of Teal’s Pond on July 7, 1908. She had a corset string wrapped around her neck and had appeared to have died as a result of blunt force trauma to her head. Investigators immediately determined that the death of the young woman, identified as Hazel Drew, to have been a homicide.
Like Twin Peaks, this story is not complete without its revolving cast of oddball suspects. For five days Sand Lake detectives rounded up multiple people, but ultimately none of them could be charged with Drew’s murder.
Among these suspects were Drew’s suicidal uncle, an unknown dentist who had fallen for Drew in spite of being married at the time, a local hypnotist, and the “half-witted” son of a local widow who was rumored to have tortured animals, as well as many others. None of them seemed to have any motive to kill the young woman and before long the case went cold.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the case occurred several days prior to Drew’s death. Drew had been working as a governess for Professor E.R. Cary in the city of Troy. For reasons that are unknown to this day, Drew left this position abruptly without explanation. Her luggage was later found checked into the train station.
Some speculated that Drew’s death may not have been a murder at all, but rather a carefully plotted suicide. In addition to unexpectedly quitting her job, Drew’s hat and gloves had been carefully placed near the bank of the pond. But like every theory surrounding this case, the suicide theory isn’t without its holes.
The final theory on Drew’s death was that it may have been the result of an unfortunate accident. Nearly two weeks after Drew’s body was found, The Herald Democrat reported that the most likely explanation was that a negligent motorist had hit Drew by mistake as she was out walking near the area of Teal’s Pond. The driver, realizing that the impact had killed Drew, placed her body into the trunk and made the short trek to Teal’s Pond, where her body had later washed ashore.
With forensics essentially unheard of, it is doubtful that any evidence that may remain will ever solve this small-town murder, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from diving into a good mystery. With the upcoming Twin Peaks reboot set to premier in 2017, Sand Lake is gearing up for the onslaught of curiosity-seekers to once again descend upon the town in hopes to find out what really happened to Hazel Drew, the real life Laura Palmer.