Secrets Buried Beneath the Family Tree
It started with an innocent hobby night of genealogy, but what prizewinning author David Haward Bain discovered that night and over the next feverish days of detective work would change the course of his life, revealing a century-old family secret of his beloved grandmother Rose Donahue Haward. It would quickly take him back to her home ground of Kansas City, Missouri and through many archives, and into the very heart of memory itself.
Hidden deep in a hard-won census record was this astounding fact: she had kept a lifelong secret about an unacknowledged first marriage that, as he learned with increasing amazement in a search of official documents and old newspaper clippings, had ended in a loud burst of gunfire on a dark Kansas City street just a day before Christmas Eve, 1908. Rose was arrested for first-degree murder of her husband. She sat before judge and jury in a much-publicized, newspaper-field-day trial – the “Girl Widow Case,” as headlines screamed through the early months of 1909.
Miraculously, given the time, as he found, Rose was exonerated in the dramatic trial – for being a victim of domestic abuse in fear of her life, found not guilty by a jury of men (women could not serve on juries and would not even be able to vote for eleven more years).
Then she was free to retreat to a quiet life of rebuilding and denial, meeting and marrying his grandfather, bearing their children including Bain’s mother, making possible the author’s very existence and those of his three siblings and all their nine children. His discovery of this secret rocked everyone’s foundation, whether of his siblings or cousins or Rose’s great-grandchildren: how narrow, how miraculous was Rose’s escape. And how equally miraculous was the fate of her family and all the descendents. Moreover, how fortunate was his initial discovery of genealogical pay dirt, just weeks before the 50th anniversary of Rose’s death, and a couple of months before the 100th anniversary of the shooting.
The Girl Widow Unveiled is a triumphant story of absorbing detective work. It also features a vivid recreation of events leading up to that Christmastime shooting and its equally dramatic aftermath, based on trial records and jury logs, newspaper accounts, government documents, and ephemera, even down to period trolley and fire insurance maps, all of which contribute to reanimating forgotten times, vanished places -- casting an eerie but truer light on the present.