THE MYSTERY OF BEAUTIFUL NELL CROPSEY by Bland Simpson

THE MYSTERY OF BEAUTIFUL NELL CROPSEY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 On the evening of November 20, 1901, Gibson girl Nell Cropsey, oldest daughter of a transplanted Brooklyn family, stepped out into her family's front hall in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to join her suitor Jim Wilcox--and was never seen alive again. In a kaleidoscopic examination of this celebrated case, Simpson (Writing/University of North Carolina; The Heart of the Country, 1983) reviews and renews its enduring mystery. As soon as Cropsey's body was discovered in the Pasquotank River five weeks later, suspicion fell on Wilcox, who'd never joined the search for the missing girl, and he was convicted of murder (narrowly escaping a lynch mob) and served 16 years in prison before a pardon returned him to the town that had condemned him. But in his own voice--one of three that Simpson alternately uses to unfold the story--Jim stoutly maintains his innocence, though secretly admitting that he knows what really happened to Nell. Simpson's second narrator, Nell's sister Ollie, sees the family's whole history--from her father's unfortunate decision to take up farming in the South to the suicides of her brother and of her own caller on the fatal evening--refracted through the moment when she sent Nell out into the hall to join Jim. The third narrator, newspaper editor W.O. Saunders, after attempting for years to persuade Jim to talk to him, finally succeeds in 1934, two weeks before Jim's own suicide, but takes the secret of Jim's revelation to his grave. Simpson persuasively re-creates the decorously frenzied, boomtown atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Elizabeth City in the grip of a tabloid mystery complete with bloodhounds, anonymous tipsters, and a famous spiritualist. Don't be disappointed, though, if you never do find out who killed beautiful Nell Cropsey. (Five illustrations)

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8078-2120-9
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1993




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