Dinner With the Cannibal Sisters
by Douglas Clegg
About the Book:
From Douglas Clegg, award-winning author of Neverland and Isis, comes a dark gem about a notorious family — and a feast like no other.
You're invited to dinner...
In October 1890 authorities discovered two teenaged girls at Bog Farm surrounded by a scene of unimaginable carnage. A legend grew of their cannibalistic night of terror, but young Lucy and Sally were never put to trial and no one has ever before gotten close enough to interview them.
Twenty years later, an inexperienced reporter travels to their New Hampshire farm, determined to shed light upon the events of that night.
Lizzie Borden, Dr. Crippen, the Windrow Sisters — murderers whose mystique has lasted more than a century. But of them all, the tale of the Windrow girls is unrivaled in its legend of depravity and innocence corrupted.
Douglas Clegg is the author of more than 25 books and 50 short stories, including Neverland, Isis, and the New York Times bestseller, The Priest of Blood. His fiction was first published in 1989 with his debut novel, Goat Dance and he later became an eBook pioneer in early 1999 when he launched his novel Naomi as the world's first eBook serial novel. He lives with his husband of 25 years, Raul Silva, near the coast of New England in a house called Villa Diodati.
Published in two states:
• Hardcover Limited Edition of 1,000 signed copies bound in full-cloth and Smyth sewn ($35)
• Deluxe Hardcover Lettered Edition of 52 signed and hand-lettered copies bound in leather, Smyth sewn with a satin ribbon page marker, raised hubs on the spine, custom gilded page edges dipped by hand, and featuring full color illustrated endpapers ($175)
In the fall of 1910, several months after Halley's Comet blazed a corner of the sky, I took the train north to meet the famed Windrow sisters. I was not quite twenty, ambitious, with a newborn belief in my brilliant future.
I changed trains three times after New Haven. I ran between tracks, soaked with sweat and held hostage by a cheap wool suit. My route diverted, with more crossings to catch and new trains to chase after.
I didn't think I'd make it to Bog House by nightfall.
At Hartford, my compartment emptied.
As the train jolted to life, a middle-aged gentleman took the seat across. He jotted notes in a furious manner within a small brown leather notebook. A slight nod of greeting, then back to his writing. He wore a farmer's straw hat, which did a poor job of hiding his clean-shaven scalp. A blue kerchief substituted for a tie at his collar.
I looked out the window to the passing countryside. The brick and gray city gave way to flat open land between scattered woods, interrupted by bungalows and blighted Victorians.
"Warm," he said. "For October."
"Quite a storm last night."
I glanced over. He kept his eyes downcast as he scribbled notes. He'd dropped his hat onto his lap. I couldn't help but notice the smooth contours of his head.
"Hear about the Upson crossing?"
"Don't tell me the bridge is out," I said.
"All right, I won't."
"Another transfer," I groaned, mentioning the village near my ultimate destination.
"Heading to the harvest festival?" He tapped his pencil at the edge of his teeth, watching me. "No wait. Don't tell me. The tie, ragged collar, uncut hair, hat too large for head, packysack. You work for the papers."
"Bulls-eye." I felt ordained by his guess.
"I've seen the uniform before."
Unable to contain myself, I bragged about my assignment.
His eyes widened slightly.
"I know the area," he said. "I go up there. At times."
He named the excellent dairy—close to the village—famous for its ice cream. The river nearby. The fall foliage. A few family names.
And then, the Windrow place.
His left eye twitched. Out the window, down to his notebook, then back to me. "Hard to believe they'd invite a reporter up."
"I heard from Holbein himself." I told him. "The Moravian."
The gentleman squinted.
"The servant," he said. "He's Dutch."
"Dutch. Moravian. Prussian. Who knows?"
He made a low grunting noise. "An invitation from Holbein."
"From the sisters, too."
"The notorious Lucy and Sally."
"Ever see them?" I asked.
He cocked his head to the side, an inquisitive bird sizing me up. "Years ago. In Boston."
"Their tour?" I asked. "What was it like?"
Silence seeped into the space between us, interrupted by the grind and gruff of train. I thought about those girls, the lecture circuit, and the desperate uncle who showed up to claim guardianship—and line his pocket with his nieces' notoriety.
"Well, even so," I said, perking up. "I'm there to spend a few days. Interview them. The twentieth anniversary and all."
"This time of year, a lot of reporters show up at that house, hoping to get a peek." He paused. "None of them get invitations, though. You're special."
We didn't talk for a minute or more.
He made a noise at the back of his throat. "You'll make up a story, no doubt."
"No, I won't."
"They all do," he said. "Leave them alone. Those poor girls."
But of course, the Windrows weren't girls—not then.
New Englanders in particular protected such families, enclosing them within a secret garden of silence, away from the eyes of the world.
Lizzie Borden—who frequented the theater—ran a lively salon in Fall River. She contributed to animal charities. Those who lived in her hilltop neighborhood argued against the murdered parents themselves and the incestuous nature of wealthy families.
The aptly named Butcher Boy of Beacon Hill, at fifty, walked the streets of Boston after his imprisonment and even made a run for political office.
Edwin Mortimer of Crannock Bay continued to drop his lobster pots out among Maine's islands, despite the strong possibility that he had tossed his wife and children from the edge of a cliff just six years earlier.
And then the Windrows, "the girls"—in their thirties at the time of my journey—protected by an interfering stranger on a train.
Twenty years earlier, the Windrow story set the nation on fire with tales of wealth and madness, horror and pity. A popular rhyme about the girls appeared in print soon after the discoveries. A frenetic dance called "The Cannibal Rag" became popular in the Dance Halls. Illustrated chapbooks and pulps detailed the exploits at The Bog House of Horrors.
The newspapers—every year on the anniversary—mentioned the place and its events.
But no one got close enough to speak to the Windrow sisters.
Samples of the Interior Artwork