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DEER CREEK DRIVE by Beverly Lowry


A Reckoning of Memory and Murder in the Mississippi Delta

by Beverly Lowry

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-525-65723-1
Publisher: Knopf

The details of a 1948 murder in small-town Mississippi anchor a personal account of class, race, and justice.

The author of numerous novels and works of nonfiction, Lowry has created a signature genre that combines deeply researched true crime with memoir—e.g., Crossed Over (1992); Who Killed These Girls? (2016). Her latest focuses on the murder of Idella Thompson in Leland, Mississippi, just a few miles from the author’s hometown of Greenville. Thompson was hacked to death in her home in the middle of the afternoon, suffering more than 150 blows from a pair of pruning shears. Her daughter Ruth Dickins, who reported the death and was found at the scene in blood-soaked clothing, claimed to have interrupted "a Negro" in the act of murder. Despite a two-week manhunt, this hasty fabrication could not be supported, and Mrs. Dickins was tried, convicted, and sent to a prison farm. Police never uncovered the true motive, though both women were known to be "high-tempered and difficult." Lowry was 10 at the time of the crime and followed the trial and its aftermath along with everyone else in the Delta. Though few doubted Dickins was guilty, the governor received petitions for her release every year. Others saw class bias in the call for clemency and thought she should stay right where she was. "Before suspending Mrs. Dickins's sentence," one woman suggested, "the governor [should] get the pictures of Mrs. Thompson's body and see for himself the mercy and consideration she gave her mother." Lowry chronicles the checkered fortunes of her own, less prominent family alongside those of the Thompson/Dickins clan, and though these stories have no real reason to be conjoined, the author uses both to illustrate the effects of the changing mores and social structure of the period. At one point, she was selected by her school to appear in a TV segment in which White students—“dumb as fence posts”—made the case against desegregation.

Lowry’s dry wit, honed sentences, and careful way of connecting the dots make her case: This is quite a story.