By Tamara Pettit
…three suspicious deaths from 1963
I first saw the file of the three “suspicious deaths” in 1965 which contained the “letter from a dead man” but periodically it would become my obsession. What had I missed? What had Dad failed to see? I would pull it out every few years to see if I could discover the clues that had eluded me. I would pour over it looking for something I missed.
I’m sure you’re wondering why a father would share the details of these cases with his 18-year-old daughter? The daughter had tagged along with him since she was 12 years old on his coroner cases. But, this case was the most intriguing and I think he was also seeking a way to keep the bond between us strong. He and Mom had separated and would soon be divorced and pouring over the file in his office got us through some difficult times.
Somehow the file remained in his possession although his appointment as County Coroner would end after 12 years when he was replaced by Dr. George Naymick. He brought the file to me in 1988 shortly before his death. He said maybe I could figure it. Again, I poured through his notes and the timeline trying to discover what we both may have missed.
The only commonality that the three deaths seemed to have is that they coincided with the dates on the message written in Latin. Year’s later I would try to track down the license numbers which was written across from each date. All three dates, deaths and license plate numbers meant enough to Lawrence Wise that he wanted to convey important information prior to his death.
What stood out to me like a sore thumb was that Helen Williamson, a 63-year-old, well-to-do housewife living in an upscale neighborhood in Steubenville, would choose to go to the backwater near Cowl’s Farm late at night. The note written on the calendar, said simply “going to Cowl’s Farm.” It’s apparent to me that her husband, Stewart, knew who she was meeting and why? Was she going to pick up something? Or, was she going to deliver something? And, she had two tickets to Florida at 11 a.m. the very next day.
Could she have been picking something up to deliver to Florida? Was she killed after that? Was Lawrence Wise the person who drowned her and left her with one foot still on a rock. Or, did she slip and fall into the water. I looked at a lot of possibilities, but one conclusion I never reached was that the death was “accidental” as the Coroner’s inquest ruled.
It was this death that he put all his time and efforts into investigating. He took the statement of the landlady who called him about the “letter.” Dolores Pietranton, who at that time was known to be the best stenographer in the county, took down the interview and transcribed it.
I wasn’t surprised by the questions Dad asked. I was surprised at the ones he failed to ask.
Lawrence Wise was 43 and he worked in the mill. He boarded (slept and ate his meals) at his landlady’s home on Patterson St. in Weirton. How a millworker came to have $10,000.00 in a Citizen’s Bank safety deposit box arises suspicion.