Entangled Roots

21 January 2015

Entangled Roots: The Mystery of Peterborough’s Headless Corpse
by Bev Lundahl
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Keith Foster
$17.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-31-7

In the early hours of a cold wintery morning in 1894, Hessie Gray was abruptly awakened to find smoke billowing in her Peterborough, ON bedroom. She opened the door to the kitchen. Seeing it was in flames, she broke a window and got her young children out. But her boarder, David Scollie, was still inside.

With these few simple facts, Bev Lundahl’s Entangled Roots: The Mystery of Peterborough’s Headless Corpse sets the stage for her quest to determine what happened.

An inquiry ruled that the fire was an accident and that Scollie had burned to death in his bed. But almost immediately, questions arose. Scollie’s head appeared to be missing. Had it simply burned away, or had he been decapitated? Rumours spread.

Suspicions turned to Hessie. A preliminary hearing was convened. The strongest indictment against Hessie came from her sister, Mary McGregor, who happened to be none other than Lundahl’s great-grandmother. Mary testified that Hessie had threatened Scollie.

Suspicion also turned to William McGregor, Lundahl’s great-grandfather.

Adding to the mystery is the presence of several Aboriginal men who tried to extract Scollie’s body from the fire. Why didn’t the inquiry ask them to testify? In seeking answers, Lundahl visits the Hiawatha First Nation to see what their descendants may have heard about the case.

Lundahl’s passion for genealogy shows through in her book. In trying to unravel the mystery, she reveals her research techniques as she chronicles her journey – and her frustrations – in her search for her family history. As her exploration continues, each piece of the puzzle only adds a deeper dimension to the mystery, and she literally finds more questions than answers.

Lundhal supplements her text with 30 black and white photos, endnotes, bibliography, and family trees of the book’s main characters. At the beginning of each chapter, she quotes an excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s books about Alice in Wonderland. Each quote perfectly matches the contents of that chapter.

By using extensive extracts from court transcripts and newspapers of the time, Lundahl recreates the actual flavour of the courtroom sessions. Entangled Roots: The Mystery of Peterborough’s Headless Corpse has enough twists and turns to become a screenplay, or at least an episode of the television series, Murdoch Mysteries. After all, Detective Murdoch’s character is based on John Wilson Murray, the detective involved in this case.


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