“Miss Patty what do you mean? How can I put Elsie’s ghost to rest?”
“Her murderers are still free and as long as they go unpunished for what happened to my Elsie she will never rest in peace.”
“Yesterday when I brought up the subject of my sister’s death you couldn’t even look me in the eye. Today you think I can find Elsie’s murderer. It’s been ten years. Why now and why do you think Elsie was murdered?”
“I can’t tell you the story because it’s just too painful for me but I have laid out the newspapers with the articles pertaining to her death. Read those and perhaps they will lead you to the answers you search for in Anna’s death as well.”
Ella watched Miss Patty make her way to the front desk then glanced down at the papers splayed out in front of her. Miss Patty had laid them out in order of publishing. The first article was the one announcing the death of Elsie that she had come across yesterday. The next one was dated three weeks later and was titled “Questions Arise in Death of Local Woman.”
“I wonder who asked those questions,” she absently said to herself as she read the article.
‘Questions have arisen in the death of Elsie Potter, who passed from this life three weeks earlier of reported complications of pneumonia. Rumors abound that a possible illegal operation was the true cause of death. Doctor Edward Henderson was brought forward for questioning‘.
“An illegal operation? I wonder what kind of operation they could be talking about?” she asked herself as she moved on to the next article, “Body to be Exhumed.“
“Oh my, poor Elsie. No wonder Miss Patty thought Elsie’s ghost isn’t at rest. They didn’t let her body stay at rest. The sheriff must have learned something important to petition the court to exhume her body.”
After questioning Doctor Henderson, certain doubts have been raised in the cause of death of Elsie Potter. The sheriff petitioned the courts for permission to exhume the body and to have it examined by another physician to confirm the cause of death. Doctor Henderson has been ordered to remain in town until after the findings.
Ella looked at the last article that was laid out, “Doctor Edward Henderson Arrested, Teacher Brought in for Questioning.“
The body of Elsie Potter was exhumed last Friday and was examined by Doctor Nicholas Woods. In his report, he confirmed that the young woman perished not from complications of pneumonia but from a surgery that had gone wrong. Doctor Henderson has been arrested on charges of committing an illegal surgery, falsifying a death record and murder. Local teacher Mathew Rogers has been brought in for questioning in the involvement of Miss Potter’s death.
“I knew it! The teacher was involved in something!” She looked for the next article but that was the last one Miss Patty had laid out for her. She went in search of her to see where the rest of the articles were.
“Miss Patty, I am so sorry to hear about what happened to Elsie.”
“It truly was a tragedy and I blame myself daily for letting it happen under my very nose.”
“What was the illegal surgery that she had?”
“Doctor Henderson was preforming an abortion and something went wrong. If she had only come to me we could have figured out something. We could have saved her and the baby.”
“Why did the articles stop after the one where Doctor Henderson was arrested?”
“That is where I need your help. That was the last article written because everything became hushed up. Doctor Henderson was cleared of any crime and that Rogers character left town. Everyone went unpunished for the crime of Elsie’s death.”
“Why do you think it was hushed up and how could he be cleared of everything when there was so much against him?”
“Secrets abound here in Mineral Creek. If you learn its secrets, you will find out why nothing happened. I have tried for years but no one will talk about that time and people began to ignore me when I was around. I learned quickly to quit asking questions.”
“Did you learn anything about these ‘secrets’? Anything that I can start with?”
“Only that it involved the doctor and that teacher that my Elsie was seeing. He was the one to pull her into this mess. It’s his fault she is dead.”
“I think Anna knew something was wrong, I have been reading her diary and she talks about how strange Elsie started acting after Mathew Rogers came around. I haven’t read very far into it yet but she said people noticed Elsie leaving town at dusk and how she planned on getting some answers from her.”
“Perhaps Anna was the one that questioned her death. I failed in that as well. I didn’t question how she wasn’t sick one day and gone the next. The signs were right there in front of me and I chose to ignore them.”
“It’s not your fault, Miss Patty. Elsie was a good girl who had never led you to believe she could get mixed up with these characters. You couldn’t have foreseen what was going to happen.”
“I believe all of our answers lie in Anna’s diary so my next step is to do some more reading.”
“Please keep me informed and if there is anything else you need from me don’t hesitate to ask. I will help anyway I can.”
Ella said her goodbyes to Miss Patty and headed home. She was excited to get home and read what else Anna had discovered. This mystery was getting bigger and bigger and she was even more convinced that it involved more than just these few people. She also needed to tell Johnny everything she had learned but thought it to presumptuous to just show up at his office. She would have to wait until later to tell him about the articles.
* * *
Johnny found Ella returning home from the library. “I’m glad I caught up with you. I learned some interesting information about Elsie and that teacher.”
“That’s wonderful! I have some pretty startling news as well. Come on in and we can compare our notes. Would you care for something to drink?”
“Yes please. I think we have a lot to talk about and a lot of planning to do as well.”
Ella served him some tea and leftover cake and then sat down across from him. “Ok, you go first. What did you learn from the superintendent?”
“Not very much. He was happy to help me until he learned who I was asking about then he became very quiet. He stumbled over his words and wouldn’t look me in the eye. He pretty much told me what I already knew. He told me he only taught at the school for a very short time before he decided to move on. When I questioned him about why he suddenly decided to move he just told me he stayed out of the private lives of his teachers. I got most of my information from my secretary, Mrs. Vanderpool.”
“Oh, I remember her. The Vanderpools moved in a few years before we left. Wasn’t she Elsie’s neighbor?”
“That’s what she said. She also remembered that there was a rumor that she didn’t die from pneumonia but of some kind of secret surgery gone wrong.”
“Yes, but it’s not a rumor, it’s true. I read articles where her death was in question and the sheriff decided to question the doctor. After talking to him, he petitioned the court to exhume her body.”
“There must have been something that really stood out for them to petition that. To exhume a body is nearly unheard of. Did the court approve it?”
“Yes, and they brought in a different physician to examine her.”
“What did they decide?”
“Elsie didn’t die of pneumonia but of a bad surgery. It didn’t say what kind of surgery it was but Miss Patty admitted it was an abortion that went wrong. Doctor Henderson was arrested for doing an illegal operation and falsifying a death certificate. The articles also stated they brought Mathew Rogers in for questioning.”
“What happened to them?”
“The articles stopped after that. Doctor Henderson was cleared of all charges and Mr. Rogers left town.”
“That seems very strange.”
“Miss Patty says that Mineral Creek has a secret and that Elsie stumbled into it when she started seeing that Rogers guy. She said when she started asking questions after Doctor Henderson was cleared of charges people started giving her the cold shoulder and she eventually gave up.”
“So your theory of a town conspiracy is starting to sound like it has a ring of truth to it. The question is, how do we learn what this secret is? It’s clear that people know something was going on but they were too afraid and still are for that matter, to do anything about it.”
“I think Anna was the one that started asking the questions that got the investigation into Elsie’s death started. It’s my hope that she wrote it all in her diary. I plan on reading more of it tonight.”
“You will have to let me know what you discover. Unfortunately, I will be in court all day tomorrow but I will stop by tomorrow evening to see if you have uncovered anything important.”
“Thank you for helping me, Johnny. It means a lot to know that I’m not in this alone. It’s nice having a friend to lean on.”
“You can lean on me anytime you need to Ella. I’ll always be here for you.”
The silence stretched as they stared at one another. Johnny cleared his throat, “Um, well… I need to get going. I have a lot of prep work to do before tomorrow.”
“Good night, Johnny, and thank you again,” Ella closed the door softly behind him and leaned her forehead against it. It was nice to have him help her. She didn’t realize how alone she had felt until he had come into her life, but thinking about her friendship with Johnny would have to wait. She wanted to read more of Anna’s diary but she had other things to tackle first. She needed to get the rest of the house cleaned because she was tired of sleeping in the sitting room. Her back ached for an actual bed.
As she cleaned, she thought back to that time ten years ago. She had only been nine and thought that her older sister and Elsie were silly to be acting out over boys so she really didn’t pay them any attention. She did remember her sister sneaking out of the house not long before she died. She thought she was just out playing but perhaps she was trying to find out what Elsie was up to. There was still so many questions and each answer just brought more questions.
By the time the sun set Ella had given the entire house a thorough cleaning and was sitting in her old room eating a snack of cheese and bread. Not very filling but she was too tired to cook anything and besides, it was time to read more of Anna’s diary.