A VOICE FROM THE GRAVE…A True Story about a Ghost’s Testimony in a Murder Trial
by Jayne Ormeord


A 100 acre farm in Portsmouth, RI

Thomas Cornell, a farmer aged 46, had a lot of hungry mouths to feed. He was the father of four sons from his first marriage, two children (with a third on the way) from his second marriage to Sarah, plus his widowed mother Rebecca, age 73. All nine people lived under one very tiny roof. And, while Thomas did all the work, Rebecca owned the farm and thus controlled things.

There were rumors that not all was well on the Cornell farm. Reports of elder abuse ran rampant through the small community. Local legend has it that Rebecca had confided she felt sure she’d be “done away with” by year’s end.

February 8, 1673, Thomas arrived at the dinner table at 7 p.m. after visiting his mother in her room for an hour and a half, and announced she would not be joining the family for the meal. After dinner, Sarah sent one of the elder sons up to the room to take Rebecca a glass of warm milk. He opened the door and found flames on the floor around the fireplace. He ran to get help. After the flames were out, a charred corpse was discovered in the corner. It was identified (based on the slippers worn) to be that of Rebecca Cornell.

The town elders conducted a 17th century CSI investigation and declared the following: “Rebecca Cornell was brought to her untimely death by an Unhappy Accident of fire as Shee (sic) satt (sic) in her Rome (sic).”

WAS IT AN ACCIDENT? It made sense that a flaming ember had escaped from her pipe, causing her woolen clothes to catch fire and burn her around her head, shoulders and chest.

BUT…(and this is where the ghost story comes in): Two nights after her burial, Rebecca’s brother John Briggs had a visitor while he slept. His bed sheets were ripped off and a ghostly apparition appeared. According to local historian Larry Stanford (in his book Sordid Stories from the City by the Sea) John Briggs cried out to the spirit, “In the name of God, what art thou?” The dimly lit spirit replied, “I am your sister Cornell,” then repeated twice, “See how I was burned by fire!” John shared his experience with the village elders and Rebecca’s body was exhumed for additional investigation. This time the medical examiners found a puncture wound (the size of a spinning wheel spindle) and bruising near her heart. It was determined that Rebecca had indeed been murdered.

Thomas Cornell was the last to see his mother alive, and the person who benefited most from her death. Plus, there were all those rumors of elder abuse and threats Rebecca had received. So it was no big surprise when on May 16, 1673, on the steps of Newport, Rhode Island’s historic White Horse Tavern, the verdict was handed down proclaiming Thomas Cornell guilty of murdering his mother and sentencing him to death one week hence.

This is the only case in U.S. History where a ghost’s testimony led to a murder conviction.

While Thomas Cornell was found guilty of patricide, his five-generations later granddaughter Lizzie Borden was found NOT guilty of patricide in the whacking death of her parents in Fall River, Massachusetts.

The girl born after the trial and hanging of her father was named Innocent Cornell.

Upcoming Meetings–New Times and Locations

Our next three meetings are a departure from our previous Monday schedule and Greenbrier location.

SATURDAY, October 19, 10 a.m.-Noon, Indian River Library, 2320 Old Greenbrier Parkway, Chesapeake

In the spirit of the season, today we’ll take an in-depth look at villains!  In particular, we’ll examine ways to create a really “good” antagonist.  Writing about evil is seldom easy!

TUESDAY, November 12, 6-8 p.m., Hampton Public Library, Meeting Room B, 4207 Victoria Blvd., Hampton, VA 23669

SUNDAY, December 8, 2-4 p.m., Holiday Jingle Mingle, East Beach Bayfront Club, 4550 East Beach Dr, Norfolk

FIRST ANNUAL JINGLE MINGLE! A Holiday Party for Writers.

Details will be shared closer to the event.

Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival 2019

Several of our members will be attending and presenting panels at the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival on Saturday, August 10, 2019, 1-6 p.m. If you’d like to join us, full details are here:

From the festival’s website:
“Whether you are an avid or casual reader, aspiring writer or published author, you will find something entertaining and intriguing at the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival. Set in a venue worthy of a story itself, the festival is held at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts in historic downtown Suffolk, Virginia.

“This one-day festival showcases 40 best-selling mystery, suspense, horror, paranormal, romance, and women’s fiction authors. Highlights include book signings, fan meet & greets and moderated panel discussions. Additionally, attendees will enjoy multiple workshops and a VIP Meet & Greet.”

Our next meeting, September 9, 2019: “The Many Hats of a Writer” by Jayne Ormerod

The Many Hats of a Writer
Presented by Jayne Ormerod
Does your writer’s toolbox include a hat for every occasion? We don’t mean a fashionable chapeau to wear when you attend the National Book Awards ceremony. No, the “hats” this workshop will discuss represent the various “bonnets” and “fedoras” a small business owner (and every writer is one) will need to have hanging on a nearby peg. Many of these hats should be donned in the early stages of a writing career. (Fear not! It’s never too late!) Others, like the aforementioned one for the awards ceremony, can be added later on in the writing journey. This workshop will include a lighthearted lecture, hands-on exercises and a short Q&A.

About the presenter:
Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne is the author of the Blonds at the Beach Mysteries, The Blond Leading the Blond, and Blond Luck. She has contributed seven short mysteries to various anthologies. Her most recent release is Goin’ Coastal, a collection of two novellas and two short stories that have two things in common; a coastal setting and a gruesome murder.

Website: http://www.JayneOrmerod.com

Blog: http://www.JayneOrmerod.blogspot.com

March 11, 2019

Our March meeting will take place Monday, March 11, 2019, at 6 p.m. at the Greenbrier Library (1214 Volvo Parkway, Chesapeake, VA 23320).  Topics for the evening include:

Writing sprints with prompts
Grammar pet peeves
Sentence rearranging to reflect Murder & Mayhem

We hope to see you there!