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Delightful — and Dicey

Costco store, Lantana, Florida

When you write a novel based on a significant crime that happened in your area, it leads to encounters and conversations that make the experience of being an author gratifying at times and, at others, just a tad disquieting.

When I visit the Costco store in Lantana – two or three times a week – I always pass the book section and hand out my card to browsers, since the store doesn’t carry my book, Murder in Palm Beach: The Homicide That Never Died. A mass-market distributor is needed, and no medium or small publisher will sell to one unless the author is famous, because such distributors order in huge quantities, which may well bankrupt a small publisher if large-scale returns are made. So I just take advantage of my Costco membership to hawk my book at the store myself.

Most of the people are cordial, and interested in my story.

Today (Monday), I gave my card to a hefty gentleman who looked retirement age. He looked at it and said, “The Chillingworth case?”

Circuit Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife, Marjorie, were murdered in 1955 by two men hired by a Joseph Peel, a corrupt municipal judge. The two took the Chillingworths out in the ocean on a boat, tied weights to their ankles, and threw them overboard.

“No, that was the 1950s,” I replied. “This case was in 1976.” He knew immediately what I was referring to. He stared at the card, then gave me a hard look and said, “You don’t know who you’re talking to.”

Uh-oh, I thought. This guy is one of the unsavory characters in my book, and he ain’t happy.

“Who are you?” I asked, ready for the worst.

“I’m Joe Jones (not his real name). I was the first cop on the scene of that murder.”

We discussed the case, and he promised to read the book. “I want to see if you got the facts right,” he said with a wry smile.

A dicey moment

Some months ago, I was hawking the book at a market in the north end of Palm Beach County. A late-middle-aged man and woman walked by, glancing at my table. The woman strayed away from him, looking down, while the man came close to where I stood by the table.

“This book is about a real murder,” I said.

“I know all about that book,” he answered, and continued walking.

“No you don’t, sir,” I called after him. “In the thin guise of fiction, it contains information that …”

He whirled and stabbed a finger at me. “Don’t tell me I don’t know,” he said angrily. “My wife was the first witness to testify in the trial.”

I knew who he was referring to, and said no more. He turned from me, and I was only too happy to see him walk on.

#Costco #JudgeChillingworth #MurderinPalmBeach #PalmBeachCounty

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