If you’ve read Tainted Legacy, you know that, during my previous stay in Missouri, I found the grave of my great-grandmother, Bertha Gifford. Well, at least, I found the approximate location of her grave; there was no headstone to mark her grave. Believe what you will about BG, I felt strongly—and I am sincere in the choice of that word, “strongly,” and cannot emphasize it enough—that, if for no other reason than historical purposes, Bertha’s grave should be marked. In fact, I made up my mind while there that if the book were ever published, I would use whatever advance I received to purchase a stone.
Last August I learned that Tainted Legacy would be published by Publish America. My advance? One dollar. Whatever. I emailed Marc Houseman in Missouri, the historian who has been a tremendous help in editing the final draft of the book and tracking down sources for me, to say nothing of his support for the book. I asked for his help in getting a headstone ordered, and that’s all it took: Some weeks later I received a bill in the mail with the promise that the stone would be ready sometime in the spring. And it was.
Our last stop on the Bertha Gifford Mystery Tour was the cemetery in Morse Mill where BG is buried. If you’ve read the previous blog, you are aware that certain strange events occurred as we drew ever nearer. But hours earlier when the tour began, Marc made a statement that started the wheels in my mind turning and made it nearly impossible for me to focus on the event at hand. He said something he’d never shared with me before: ‘Bertha’s family,’ he told our tour crew, ‘said when she died that her grave would go unmarked for fifty years.’ Fifty years. Later, I asked Marc the source, but he explained that this was part of the oral history passed down about Bertha, and he had no way of crediting a single individual with having said it.
Fifty years. When did she die? August 2o, 1951. It took me over an hour yesterday, searching back through my journals, to find the piece of a puzzle left unsolved in my brain since the tour. Finally, I found it: The day I decided to write the book about Bertha Gifford. Actually, it was an evening; Joyce Spizer, True Crime author, had come to speak to my writers group, and as she set up, I told her about Bertha. She was so intrigued, she urged me to write the book. The next day I called my mother to make sure she was comfortable with me doing so. “Yes,” she said, “you need to write it before I die.” That was in February, 2002—fifty years and six months after Bertha’s death. Joyce, by the way, was speaking to my group that night because she had a new book to promote—Cross Country Killer. It’s about a serial killer. The book had been released on September 21, 2001—exactly fifty years and one month after Bertha Gifford’s death.
One more note: On the first day of this last trip to Missouri, Marc took me to the Brush Creek Cemetery, where Ed Brinley is buried. (His death led to BG’s trial.) The last of Ed’s children, LaVerne, passed away just a few months ago. Her grave was there, the dirt still not covered over by grass. Close by, Marc and I noticed that a deceased son of Ed Brinley had a wife still living, Ilean Brinley. (Her birth date was engraved on a shared headstone with her husband, but there was no death date.) Marc made a mental note to try and contact her, to see if there were family stories about Bertha we hadn’t heard yet. Some days after I returned from Missouri, Marc emailed me with the news that Ilean had died on June 18th—the very day we had stood looking at her future headstone.
You may draw your own conclusions. I’m just the journalist reporting the facts as I discover them.