From the three-second mark on the tape cassette:
“For the record, my name is Brook Tyler, and I’m a detective sergeant with the New Hampshire State Police Major Crimes Unit. Today’s date is Monday, March 27, and the time is 9:05 a.m. With me in this meeting room at the State Police offices on Hazen Drive in Concord is Detective Laura Gadsen and Miriam Wilson, resident of Montcalm, New Hampshire.”
[[Pause as papers are shuffled and the microphone is moved.]]
Q. Miss Wilson, are you prepared to answer my questions?
A. Please, call me Miriam.
Q. All right, Miriam. You’ve been read your Miranda rights, you’ve reviewed them on a handout, and you’ve check-marked and signed each paragraph, and the bottom of the page. So you are fully aware of your rights under the law, correct?
Q. And you know that at any point, you can halt this questioning, and ask for a lawyer?
Q. Excuse me?
A. Detective Sergeant Tyler, let’s not fool around or play games. This is an interrogation, that’s all, and yet I’m still prepared to answer your questions. So let’s not play around, shall we?
Q. Miss — I mean, Miriam, how long have you resided in Montcalm?
A. More than 20 years.
Q. And prior to that?
A. Alexandria, Virginia. I worked for a number of years as a transitional office employee for the government, and I was offered an early retirement, and I took it. However, I was born in Montcalm before I started my career. I really looked forward to coming back home and took the opportunity when I could.
Q. And you ran a business in Montcalm?
A. Correction, I still do run a business … even with the, ah, unfortunate circumstances I find myself in.
Q. And what kind of business is it?
A. You know exactly what kind of business it is.
Q. Please, Miriam, could you just answer the question?
A. No need to get snippy, Detective Sergeant … Anyway, my business is Miriam’s Web. It’s a knitting supply shop. The only one within an hour’s drive in that part of the state.
Q. And in addition to owning this store, you were also president of the Lake Montcalm Chamber of Commerce.
A. You are correct.
Q. And what is the function of the Lake Montcalm Chamber of Commerce?
A. For real?
Q. Miriam, please.
A. Oh, for heaven’s sake, three minutes on the internet and you can see everything we do on our website … but to answer your question, we help promote the businesses around Lake Montcalm and in the village, advertise in various tourist publications, and fund a scholarship for both a male and female student from Montcalm Regional High School.
Q. And how long have you been president of the Chamber of Commerce?
A. Four years.
Q. I see … now, if I can change the subject for a moment … are you aware of a gentleman named Cornelius Pope?
[[Pause as voices are raised and there’s crosstalk]]
Q. Miriam …
A. I’m telling the truth. I don’t know of a gentleman named Cornelius Pope. However, I did know of a true jerk named Cornelius Pope. I can tell you that.
Q. Go on, Miriam. Please tell us how you came to know Mister Pope.
A. Do you want the long story or the short story?
Q. The true story.
A. I’ll tell you the short story, otherwise we’ll be here a week. Pope was a retired professor from UNH. One of those granola-munching types, you know? Ready to protest at the drop of a hat, or announce a boycott of chicken or veal or something silly like that. He opened up a bookstore and café down by the town docks. He called it the Half Moon Café, but we all called it the Communist Café. I mean, we all knew that a bunch of his customers would sneak out back and smoke —
Q. That’s enough, thank you. And wasn’t there a time when Mister Pope became active in the Chamber of Commerce?
A. He did.
Q. And is it fair to say that the two of you had a … contentious relationship?
A. A what?
Q. A contentious relationship. That you didn’t get along.
A. Oh, we certainly didn’t get along, but it wasn’t my fault. I wanted to be friends, but Pope … he had another agenda. He wanted to … make a difference, bless his heart. But I wouldn’t say we were that contentious.
Q. Miriam, we’ve reviewed two years’ worth of minutes from the Chamber of Commerce. There were a lot of arguments, name calling, and so forth.
A. Really? Well, if it’s in the minutes, it must be true.
Q. And there were a number of letters he wrote to the Montcalm Gazette, criticizing your leadership of the Chamber of Commerce.
A. That was his right, of course, to publicize what a moron he was.
Q. Miriam, if I may skip ahead —
A. Oh, please do. After all, you’re in charge here.
Q. Thank you. Miriam, I’d like to talk now about the Ice Out Festival.
A. Go right ahead.
Q. Could you explain what the Ice Out Festival is about?
A. Certainly. After all, it was my idea … and I ran it successfully for a number of years before Professor Pope showed up with all his new ideas. You see, by the time spring comes, a lot of us around here are ready for more daylight, warm weather. We have a serious case of cabin fever. So I thought a little festival marking when the ice officially breaks up on Lake Montcalm — that’s called “ice out” — would be a fun way to mark the end of winter. It was quite the success.
Q. Mister Pope didn’t think so.
A. Pope was from away. I didn’t care for his opinion.
Q. But his opinion was that the Chamber and the town could do more. More publicity, advertising, contests, food carts … make it a real festival.
A. A real circus, you mean.
Q. But from the minutes and from reviewing the local newspapers, it seems Mister Pope won the day. Plans were put into place to expand the festival. And you were opposed.
A. I was. It didn’t fit the town, didn’t fit our history. Like I said … it was a circus.
Q. And you resented that?
A. Wouldn’t you?
Q. Miriam, please answer the question.
A. Of course I resented it. I resented it very much. He was from away, he was very bossy, and he didn’t want to fit in. He wanted to run things.
Q. All right. Miriam, could you explain how ice out was noted?
Q. How people knew when the ice had officially broken up for the spring.
A. Oh, I see. You should have been clearer in your questions. Well, what we’ve done for years past, is that we go into the center of Lake Montcalm and secure a buoy that’s eventually frozen in place when the lake starts to freeze. Then, one of those … highway flares is attached to the buoy, and is also attached to the ice. When the ice starts breaking up around the buoy, the flare is lit off, and then you have ice out.
Q. But isn’t that something hard to predict? I mean, you could schedule the festival and ice out wouldn’t occur at the same time.
A. That’s what I said! But Pope said, so what. What difference would it make? And I said it would make a hell of a difference, that the good people coming to the lake, if they didn’t see the flare going off, they would think they got cheated. And Pope said, well, they had a chance to get drunk and have fun, so there you go.
Q. And you also resented that?
A. I certainly did.
A. Still here.
Q. Miriam, isn’t it true that Cornelius Pope went missing last fall?
A. I suppose he did.
Q. And did that concern you?
A. Not at all.
Q. And he remained missing all this past winter, correct?
Q. In fact, he remained missing right until your town’s Ice Out Festival last week, correct? Where by chance, the flare lit off the Sunday morning of the festival?
A. Funny how that happened. I guess Pope might have been right all along.
Q. And something else happened later that day, am I right?
A. Of course you’re right. Or why else would I be here?
Q. Miriam, when a reporter from the Montcalm Gazette motored through the broken ice to get a close-up photo of the buoy and discharged flare, something else was there, wasn’t it?
A. That’s what the papers said.
Q. Yes. What were there were the remains of Cornelius Pope. Apparently, he had been dead all that winter, fastened to the buoy.
Q. Miriam, do you have any idea of how Mister Pope’s body ended up attached to the buoy?
A. I do.
Q. You do?
A. Of course. I put him there.
Q. Miriam …
A. Still here.
Q. How in the name … how did he end up there?
A. I motored him out at night … a very clear night, nice full moon, I could see everything though it was damn cold, you knew ice would start forming in a few days … and I got to the buoy, I fastened him to the buoy’s chain with another chain, and with three cement blocks, I tossed him overboard. And I motored back. And then we got a cold front move in and the ice started forming …
Q. Didn’t he put up a fight?
A. Excuse me?
Q. Didn’t he put up a fight when you tossed him into the water?
A. Dear me, no.
Q. Was he unconscious?
A. Oh, no, he was dead. Quite dead, in fact.
Q. Did you murder him, Miriam?
A. No, I did not.
Q. Then how …
A. Oh, didn’t I make it clear? Pope committed suicide.
Q. Say again?
A. Pope killed himself.
Q. He … did?
A. Yes, he did. Right in my kitchen.
Q. How … I mean … when … I …
A. Shall I tell you the whole story?
Q. Please do.
A. Well, he came to me out of the blue that night, wanting to make apologies. He said things had gotten out of hand and wanted to make amends. He… he could be charming, I do admit that. So I reheated a nice tuna casserole and we talked and both had a glass of wine, and then… he got weepy. He said that he and his wife were getting a divorce, he had cheated on her plenty of times with the co-eds, and that the bookstore and café was failing. That he was a failure at everything he did.. and then… well, I couldn’t believe it. He had this little tube and emptied it into his wineglass, swallowed it, and then he just slid to the floor. Dead.
Q. And you didn’t call the fire department? Or EMTs?
A. Why? He was dead.
Q. And the police? You didn’t call the police?
A. A dead man in my kitchen? For real? I didn’t want the scandal.
Q. And you thought it would be best to motor out in the middle of the night, fasten his body to the buoy chain, and not tell anyone?
A. That’s right.
Q. But you knew his remains would be found eventually, come spring and Ice Out.
A. Right again, Detective Sergeant.
Q. But… why?
A. Isn’t it obvious?
Q. Not really.
A. Oh. You see, Pope, this whole extended festival was his idea. He wanted to make it splashy. Wanted it widely known. And I thought… well, finding his body on the ice-out buoy would certainly do that. I did it in a way of honoring him and his idea.
Q. Now, wait a minute, wait a minute here…
A. I’m sorry. Who are you?
Q. You know exactly who I am.
A. I’m very sorry, but the older I get, the worse I get with names…
Q. I’m State Police Detective Laura Gadsen, Miss Wilson.
A. Nice to meet you, Detective Gadsen. And you may call me Miriam.
Q. Miss Wilson —
Q. Please don’t interrupt, Miss Wilson. I was the detective in charge of executing the search warrant at your home and your place of business. And what we found was very interesting.
Q. What we found there were hundreds of books, true crime books, mystery fiction. Some with interesting titles, like how to get away with murder.
A. Sorry, I’ve never been one to read those romance novels. I find them dull.
Q. And another thing. Your past work history… you’ve spent time with the FBI, the Secret Service, the Treasury Department… I’m sure you were exposed to many, many interesting examples of crime investigations and forensics. Years worth.
A. Well, I did meet some very interesting people.
Q. I’m sure.
Q. All right, Miss Wilson. You’ve told us this… tale of a remorseful Cornelius Pope committing suicide in your kitchen, and of you taking his body out to the lake, to chain it to a buoy and let it rot over the winter… all for announcing his death during the Ice Out Festival. For publicity. To honor his memory. That’s one hell of a story.
A. You know, I do have to agree with you there.
Q. Yes, one hell of a story. But let’s look at a simpler story, shall we? A story where for some reason, Cornelius Pope comes to your house. The two of you are alone. A perfect situation for you. Based on your reading, research and work experience, I’m sure you’re aware of a number of poisons that are hard to trace in a victim’s body. Combined that with the fact his remains were immersed in water for several months, it would be nearly impossible to come up with a certain cause of death. It would seem to be the perfect crime, don’t you think?
A. Not really, Detective Gadsen.
Q. Miss Wilson, here’s the deal. There’s no way Cornelius Pope came to your house, intent on committing suicide. You got him there on some sort of pretext, poisoned him, and then transported his body out to the ice buoy. You could have dumped in the woods or dumped him in the lake but, no, you wanted a final humiliation, a final revenge. That’s what you did. That’s what really happened. There was no suicide. There was a murder. And you committed it.
Q. Miss Wilson, you committed murder, didn’t you?
A. Prove it.
End of recording.
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Oh, that’s good! Nice to see mysteries returning to SEP.