‘I don’t have a plan. Each step seems to follow the one before.’
This book is presented as a true crime history: the shocking murder of an eight-year-old girl in 1932 which led to the last mob lynching in Prohibition Era Kansas. While this murder is part of the book, it is more widely a history of Kansas from the late nineteenth century told through the lives of several different families, starting in 1881.
I was interested to read that the impetus for writing this book, which took Ms Hill sixteen years around her other life commitments, was the restoration of the 1907 Shirley Opera House in Atwood, Kansas. Ms Hill and her husband bought the Shirley Opera House in 2003, and research into its history led Ms Hill to a reference to the Owl Café, a business within the building in the 1930s. The Owl Café was the last place eight-year-old Dorothy Parker was seen alive.
In April 1932, Dorothy Parker was abducted while walking home from school. Her body was later found hidden in a haystack. A local farmer, Richard Read, confessed to Dorothy’s rape and murder. A mob removed him from his jail cell and hanged him.
Those are the bare bones around which Ms Hill constructs a narrative, starting in 1881 two years after Pleasant Richardson Read (Richard) was born.
I struggled with parts of this narrative: I am ambivalent about having Richard Read narrate (in first person) part of the story. On one hand, we cannot know what he was thinking, on the other hand it served to describe some of the challenges of homesteading in Kansas during this period. For me, this book works better as an account of life of several families in Kansas between 1881 and 1932 than it does as an account of Dorothy Parker’s murder.