Letter from a Dead Man

By Tamara Pettit

    A 1963 “suspicious death”

         It wasn’t actually a letter that Dad retrieved from the dead man’s landlady.    The message had been written in Latin on a Christmas card.  The beauty of our digital version is that I can share with you what is in the file Dad shared with me.   Two Latin translations of Lawrence Wise’s final words to a priest the night before surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh are pretty similar and pretty much amount to a confession of a wrong doing.  In fact, the “I am a new man” has been translated to mean I have been saved or something more onerous “I am a made man.”  

        Lawrence spoke of “a man skilled in the profession of law” and said “the word is hidden in a secret place.”   I will share with you what I referring to my Dad’s notes still have questions about:

       Why did it take two years for the Christmas card to surface?  It was delivered to his landlady at her home on Patterson Road in Weirton only six weeks after Lawrence’s death.  She recalled that a man stopped in what looked like a gas company truck, came to her door and handed it to her.  No explanation of who he was.   The investigation discovered, however, that Lawrence’s Dad lived in New Martinsville and worked for the gas company.  My guess is the card was with his belongings when his parents claimed them.

         The dates and the license plate numbers, however, were the first clues Dad would look at when he retrieved the Christmas card in 1965.   The first was the date on the Christmas Card, August 26, 1963.  But HelenHelen Hammond Williamson death is listed on the Coroner’s Inquest and on his notes as occurring   August 27, 1963.   Her body was discovered early the next morning in the backwaters north of New Cumberland just south of Cowl’s Farm by Russell Fulmer at 5 p.m.  The Coroner’s Jury returned the following report:

     “Helen Hammond Williamson met her death on the 27th day of August, 1963 at approximately 3:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. in the backwaters of Tomlinson Run, in Clay District, one and one half mile north of New Cumberland, in said County and State, as a result of accidental drowning.”

      Looks like no-one thought the body and the circumstances was very suspicious.

           But, a closer look at the contents of her purse tells me a different story: pair of sunglasses, change purse with $3.16 in cash; pkg of life save mints, pkg. of Kent cigarettes, powder  compact, tube of lipstick, box of Bayer aspirin, pkg. of matches, pencil, red button, emery board, stick of chewing gum, comb, Catholic Medallion, ladies’ handkerchief, keys to the 1960 Buick Invicta and 2 airline tickets on United Airlines, Pittsburgh to Miami. 

    The tickets were for the 11:40 a.m. – the day she was discovered.

     Helen was wearing a red coat and the heel of her foot was on the ground.  But, she was wearing one slipper (not shoe, but bedroom slipper)  The other slipper, according to Dad’s notes, was found by Johanna Meisner at the north end of the Backwater between Route 66 and the old road.

     Helen’s husband was Stewart Williamson, an executive with Weirton Steel, and she resided at 640 Ross Park Blvd, in Steubenville.  According to her husband, she left him a note that said “going to Cowl’s Farm” prior to leaving.   Two things have always stuck out like a sore thumb to me.   You have a coat on with bedroom slippers?   You’re going all the way to Cowl’s Farm late at night when you live in Steubenville?  The question that was never answered was:  Who was she meeting at Cowl’s Farm?  Who was she traveling to Miami with the next day?  Most importantly, why was the death ruled an accident and why was the investigation re-opened two years later when Dad received the phone call?

    And, why did he immediately look at that death when it occurred on August 26, 1963 and the Christmas Card red August 27, 1963.