Film director and author Beth Brickell will return to her native Arkansas in June with a fourth and, she says, final book about the 1957 disappearance of Maud Crawford.
Sixty-five years after the prominent lawyer vanished from her stately home in Camden, her mystery is solved, Brickell said.
"We know everything now," Brickell said Wednesday, "all of the answers to the questions, and they're in my new book."
"Solving the Maud Crawford Puzzle" (Luminous Films, $25) is rooted in research and interviews Brickell did in the 1980s, partly at the behest of a former English teacher who was appalled that police never arrested Crawford's killer.
"The original police investigation found zero — zero — information, and they declared the case at a dead end after two weeks, and then they abandoned the case," Brickell said. "So, because it has been such a mystery, and people didn't have any answers, this has been like a black cloud hanging over the town."
In an era when it was unusual for women to practice law in Arkansas, Maud Robinson Crawford (1891-1957) was a high school valedictorian with one year of college who became a stenographer for the Gaughan, McClellan and Laney law firm in 1916, working with the future U.S. Sen. John L. McClellan.
In 1927, she passed the bar, becoming a lawyer who handled oil drilling abstracts and land titles. She was the first woman elected to the Camden city council, a founder of Arkansas Girls State and active in many civic clubs and organizations.
The CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry that Brickell wrote about Crawford explains that, at the time she disappeared, McClellan was chairman of a Senate committee investigating links between the Mafia and organized labor. Police soon eliminated a theory that she was kidnapped to intimidate the senator, but her disappearance made headlines around the world.
In 1985-86, Brickell collected evidence that Crawford was murdered. Her findings implicated a former Arkansas State Police commissioner, Henry Myar "Mike" Berg, who had died in 1975. The Arkansas Gazette published her report as a 19-part, front-page series in 1986; the series was republished in book form as "The Disappearance of Maud Crawford" in 2013.
But questions remained, Brickell said.
"I had such a clutter of information I didn't see the facts for all of the speculations and, I guess, words and the repetitions in all of those interviews," Brickell said. "And then this past year, I've realized that if we just focus on the facts in those interviews, and the logic and the circumstantial evidence in those interviews, we know the answers to all of the questions.
"And I've put those answers in the new book, which is going to be my last book, because there's nothing more to do but to excavate Maud Crawford's remains."
The new book answers "what happened to her, where they put her, how she was murdered, who actually killed her, why the Camden police didn't come up with any information, why the FBI didn't enter the case," she said.
The seven appearances she plans in Arkansas in June are all free and open to the public. She will give a 20-minute presentation, speaking beside a projection of photographs, and answer questions.
◼️ 6 p.m. June 2 in Pine Bluff at Pine Bluff Public Library, 600 S. Main St.
◼️ 2 p.m. June 4 in Camden at Southern Arkansas University Tech, 6286 Coleman Road.
◼️ 6 p.m. June 6 in Fort Smith at Bookish bookstore, 70 S. Seventh St.
◼️ 6 p.m. June 7 in Fayetteville at the Fayetteville Public Library, 401 W. Mountain St.
◼️ 6 p.m. June 8 in Conway, at the Faulkner County Public Library, 1900 Tyler St.
◼️ 6:30 p.m. June 9 in Little Rock at WordsWorth Books, 5920 R St.
◼️ 6 p.m. June 10 in Hot Springs at the Garland County Public Library, 1427 Malvern Ave.
"I'm anticipating that most of these people who will be attending the talks have been interested over the years," Brickell said.
ACTOR AND DIRECTOR
Brickell was a student at the University of Arkansas in 1957 when Crawford disappeared.
After a brief career in newspapers, the history and political science major studied acting in New York, starred alongside a 700-pound black bear in the TV series "Gentle Ben" and appeared in various TV shows and movies, receiving Emmy nominations for appearances on "Hawaii Five-O" and "Bonanza."
A writer and film director today, she and her production company, Luminous Films, are in Los Angeles.
Brickell said her enduring interest in the case was "very influenced" by Sarah Yawn, who had been her eighth-grade English teacher at Camden. Yawn died in 2014 at age 103.
"She was very upset about Maud Crawford, the fact that nothing had happened, nothing had been found by the original police investigation. And she would say to me, 'Camden just wants to sweep Maud Crawford under the rug as though she never existed.' And she wanted me to do an investigation because I had a newspaper background."
"Solving the Maud Crawford Puzzle" is available online for $29.50 (including shipping) at luminousfilms.net and by mail from Luminous Films, 14254 Weddington St., Sherman Oaks, CA 91401.