Saturday, April 19, 2014

When Murder’s On Your Mind

by Patricia Smith Wood                                                                                                                                  

Solving murder does not normally occupy the thoughts of teen-age girls. But when I became enthralled with Margaret Sutton's Judy Bolton mystery series at age 14, I decided that's what I wanted to do. I didn't know if I wanted to do it as a real-life detective, or as a mystery writers.

About that same time I first heard about the unsolved murder of Cricket Coogler in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1949. She was an eighteen-year old waitress, in that small town where illegal gambling was rampant. Politicians at the state level as well as local players were involved, and soon, so was Cricket. It would be many years before it occurred to me to use this unfortunate girl’s death to write my own mystery novel.

When you are introduced to a concept at least three times, it usually means you should take notice. That’s what happened with the case of Cricket Coogler. My father, an FBI agent assigned to the Albuquerque office, was the first person to share the story with me. He was interested in the mystery of her murder, and told me the bare facts of the case. Over the years, it came up often in conversations.

The second person to ply me with tales of the case, and supply information about the players involved, was a friend I met in the 70s. He was a newspaper reporter for the local Las Cruces paper shortly after the murder. As a writer and an actor, he believed the case was worthy of developing into a book or a play.

The third person was a dear friend who grew up in Las Cruces, and knew Cricket Coogler. She supplied a sense of who the girl was and how she ended up dying at such a tender age. By now, it was beginning to penetrate my brain that I should use this true event to create a fictional version and solve the mystery.

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to interview each of these people and record them.  Later I transferred the tapes to CDs and they remain in my research files. All three people have since passed away, but their words live on.

The final piece of the puzzle came when I discovered The Silence of Cricket Coogler, a documentary about the murder. It contained an interview with mystery writer and former New Mexico newspaper reporter Tony Hillerman. I drove to Santa Fe to see the film and bought a copy of it afterward.  The Hillerman interview revealed more details and confirmation of the individuals that many people suspected had been involved in the murder.

At last I had enough to begin writing, and I spent the next few years creating the characters and the framework to tell the story. I thought I was finished in 2008, but it wasn’t long before I realized that editing would be my next challenge. It took 21 edits before it was really ready to shop around. Then in September 2012, the magic happened. I had submitted The Easter Egg Murder to publisher Aakenbaaken & Kent, and they emailed to say if the manuscript was still available, they wanted to offer me a contract.

If it was still available? Of COURSE it was still available. I almost broke a finger in my haste typing back: “YES!”

Another edit came from the publisher, but the story was at last in print on February 14, 2013. The book was named a Finalist in the 2013 NM/AZ Book Awards in two categories. I think my three dear sources would be very proud.

The Easter Egg Murder features Harrie McKinsey and her best friend and business partner Ginger Vaughn. They discover that some secrets are best left buried when retired Senator Philip Lawrence hires their editing firm to assist him with a book about the famous unsolved 1950 murder of a cocktail waitress that led to the end of illegal gambling clubs in New Mexico half a century earlier. When the Albuquerque newspaper announces that Senator Lawrence is writing the book, one person with a connection to the case is murdered and another narrowly escapes death. Despite the best efforts of Ginger’s husband and an FBI agent Harrie finds infuriatingly attractive, the energetic pair cannot resist trying to discover who is so anxious to destroy the book, the Senator, and his big secret. But will their proficiency and ill-conceived bravado be up to the challenge when they land in a dark house, with a cold, calculating killer who has nothing else to lose?

I’m offering a free copy of the book to someone who comments on this post. My web site is at:, and my blog is at: .


My father, first as a police officer, and later as a career FBI agent, sparked my own interest in law, solving crime, and mystery.
After retiring from a varied and successful business career (including eighteen months working at the FBI, being a security officer at a savings & loan, and owning my own computer business) I attended writing seminars, conferences, and in 2009 graduated from the FBI Citizens’ Academy. Aakenbaaken &; Kent published my first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, on February 14, 2013. Murder for Breakfast, the second in the series, is underway. 


Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Patricia. It's great to have you join us here for the coming week.

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Thanks, Jean. I appreciate the opportunity. I hope we get lots of comments.