Follow the Breadcrumbs
The first breadcrumb that led me to my book, The Murder of Marion Miley, was a copy of a microfiche newspaper article given to me by my late father-in-law in the 1980s. Prior to that, I had never heard of the 27-year-old national golf star who had lived at the Lexington Country Club with her mother and died in 1941 when someone broke in and fired a bullet into her brain. Her mother was also killed. The crime had taken place when my father-in-law was a teenager and had stayed with him ever since.
The story of the pretty, young, murdered golfer stuck with me, too. It started me on a journey. Like breadcrumbs on a trail, these were my steps:
- Interviews with a couple of older Lexingtonians who remembered Marion
- Multiple visits to the Lexington library and the newspaper archives to understand the details of the crime
- A trip to Cincinnati, where Marion’s father, golf pro Fred Miley, had lived and worked before and after the crime
- Wrote a short article about Marion’s life and tragic death for a women’s sports magazine
- On an unrelated writing assignment in Florida, interviewed the sister of Fred Miley’s second wife, who had recently passed away; came face to face with some real treasures – a few of Marion’s golf trophies, family documents and photographs.
- HIT THE MOTHER LODE – Located Marion’s scrapbooks and personal items that had been stored away and forgotten in the basement of a Lexington duplex originally owned by Frances Laval, Marion’s best friend
- Secured copies of all court files, including Bob Anderson’s appeal
- As the Internet exploded with more and resources online, so did my research material. I started mapping out Marion’s career from her first win at the age of 17 until her death 10 years later.
- Next, I identified everyone associated with the story – Marion’s extended family, her friends and fellow golfers; the community leaders at the time; Lexington Country Club members; the men who committed the crime and their families; law enforcement who arrested the assailants; detectives who investigated the case; defense attorneys, prosecutors; judges; jailers; the Eddyville warden and the priests, nuns and ministers who counseled two of the three men convicted of the crime. Of the 141 mentioned by name in the book – whether it’s once or multiple times – 140 were real people. The only exception is the character of Billie.
- My book project began in earnest in January 2013, with me rising everyday at 4:30 so I could write two hours before getting ready for my “real” job. I maintained this insane schedule for three and a half years.
- After searching for years, I finally located the son of Tom Penney, one of the men convicted and executed for the deaths of Marion and her mother. Because of the stigma associated with the crime, the son’s name had been changed. He graciously agreed to an interview – as long as I didn’t reveal his name. The insights he provided were fascinating.
- I’m asked to be in a documentary about Marion. It aired in 2016.
- My agent agreed to represent me and found a publisher for my book.
Elsie Miley – A German immigrant who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., Elsie was Marion’s mother as well as the country club’s office manager. As the only child, Marion was the center of her mother’s world. Elsie proved it the night of the robbery when despite being shot three times, she crawled 200 yards over gravel and dirt to get Marion help.
Bob Anderson – Cunning and self-assured, Anderson considered himself the smartest person in the room. Even though he was an ex-con, he still had the financial resources to hire high-priced defense attorneys. Anderson also used every manipulative trick he had on Penney, regardless of consequences.
Raymond “Skeeter” Baxter – The crime’s inside man, Skeeter worked for the country club first as a caddy and later as a greenskeeper. Mrs. Miley trusted him. She liked him. He betrayed that friendship by hatching a robbery plan that went terribly wrong.
Those Left Behind
Fred Miley – “All that I am in golf, I owe to my father,” Marion once said about Fred. He was her first teacher, her toughest critic and her biggest fan. He wasn’t able to make it to the highest echelon of golf, but he believed his daughter could. While he had kept his family safe from the Great Depression’s economic hardships, Fred couldn’t protect them from the most serious threat of all – desperate men who would do anything, including murder, for money.
Frances “Fritz” Laval – One of Marion’s closest friends, Fritz was perhaps the real hero in the doomed golfer’s story. A treasure-trove of items belonging to Marion – her golf clubs, a watch and the scrapbooks that Marion assembled nine months before she died – were discovered in the basement of a Lexington home once owned by Fritz. She had kept them safe almost 50 years, even after her own death.