A Real-Life Mystery

Lois Winston 2USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Tsu at http://www.tsu.co/loiswinston, on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/anasleuth, and on Twitter @anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter at https://www.MyAuthorBiz.com/ENewsletter.php?acct=LW2467152513

I often get many of my plot ideas from real-life events I’ve read about or seen on the news. My latest release, A Stitch to Die For, Book 5 in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, is no exception. I’ve woven several recent news stories into the book.

Shortly after I finished writing A Stitch to Die For, our little suburban commuter town made national news. A short walk from my home is a house that is being stalked by someone calling himself The Watcher. Or so the owners claim. Here are the facts:

In June 2014 the house, built in 1905 and located on a street that has been designated historical, was sold for 1.35 million dollars. (By contrast, my little bungalow, built in 1927, is valued at less than a third of that!) The sellers had lived in the house since 1990. The new owners made extensive renovations to the house but never moved in. Last month they filed a lawsuit against the former owner for not disclosing that the house had been stalked for decades.

According to the new owners, the seller received a letter from The Watcher several days prior to settlement but failed to disclose it. Three days after settlement the new owners received the first of three letters from The Watcher. The Watcher claimed the house “has been the subject of my family for decades” and that he was put in charge of “watching and waiting for the second coming” after his father and grandfather before him. He went on to make threats against the new owners’ three children. No letters were ever received after mid-July of last year. Meanwhile the new owners went ahead with their renovations.

The Watcher House

The Watcher House

The new owners turned the three letters over to the police who investigated but found nothing. No letter addressed to the former owner has surfaced, and she hasn’t admitted ever having received any. Other former owners have stated there was never any problem regarding the house and all had happy memories of living there.

In February of this year the new owners put the house up for sale without ever having lived in it. The lawsuit claims they haven’t been able to sell the house, even after repeated price reductions, because of The Watcher. However, no one knew anything about The Watcher and the letters until the lawsuit became public record last month when it was filed.

Home disclosure laws vary from state to state. In some states the seller would have had to disclose information about The Watcher prior to closing. Not in New Jersey. Here the seller only has to disclose prior physical problems such as a fire or flood. And who’s to say the seller had even heard of The Watcher, let alone ever received a letter from him? That’s only on the word of the new owners, and how do they know the seller received a letter?

I have my own theories about all of this, but I’ll leave that for Book 6 in my series. It’s so nice when a plot just falls into your lap! For now, though, I hope you’ll find the real-life inspired plot of Book 5 interesting.

A Stitch to Die For
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 5

A Stitch to Die ForThe adventures of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack continue in A Stitch to Die For, the 5th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston.

Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.

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(Other books in the series include Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, Death by Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, and three mini-mysteries: Crewel Intentions, Mosaic Mayhem, and Patchwork Peril.)

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44 thoughts on “A Real-Life Mystery

  1. Thank you, Leila, for highlighting Lois/Emma today. Lois, I live in New Jersey, too, except a different location—South Jersey, close to Philadelphia, and I have watched this story unfold, but as you know, NJ is rich in folklore and bonafide ‘ghost sightings and haunted homes.’ I am not far from Atision, home of the Jersey Devil and relatively close to the Pine Barrens–Medford, Mt. Laural, Evesham region. I am very interested in your books. We have been hit with right-life murders that have made public news and are the source of several movies ( NJ and Phila.) Ira Einhorn and Holly Maddux— The infamous Unicorn Killer, Rabbi Neulander and his wife Carolyn ( the actual murderer lived in the next court from where I lived at that time). There are others as well, somewhat on the periphery, but close enough— Anne Marie Fahey and Thomas Capano and Susan Reinhardt and children. This teeny state is filled with stories and ideas. I also write and many of my ideas stem from real life happenstances.

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    • Hi Skye! Believe it or not, I never heard of the Jersey Devil until I moved to Phila. for college. That folk tale never made it up to North Jersey when I was a kid. I’m not sure the hockey team existed back then. I’d have to look it up. I wasn’t aware of hockey until college.

      The Ira Einhorn/Holly Maddox case occurred in Phila. I was still living in Philly at the time of Holly’s disappearance and later when her mummified body was found in Ira’s closet. I remember the other cases you mentioned, as well. We’ve definitely had our share of newsworthy headlines here in NJ over the years, including going back to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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      • Hi Lois:
        You were always from North Jersey? I lived in Center of Town, Phila. until I was six, so South Street was one of the many places my mother pushed me in a stroller or walked with me while she shopped. In those days, South Street was like a street in Dublin ( James Joyce)—-people selling food, bakeries, meat, fish, sewing supplies—wares—now it has been made into a replica of Bourbon Street, replete with a brothel. Poor Holly, but North Jersey is noted for the magazine Weird Jersey, and we certainly are strange. Lois, there are annals written about the Jersey Devil and the information can be traced back to the turn of the century ( not the millennium). Certain scary films were shot in the Pine Barrens, too: Fallen and certain segments of Friday the 13th ( at the girl scout camp).

        gotta read your books and I am curious as to what you will write about The Watcher.

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        • Hi Skye! Sorry to take so long to respond. I was out all day. Yes, I’m from North Jersey originally, but I’m quite familiar with South Street, having gone to college in Philly. Weird NJ came along much later. And yes, I’m aware the Jersey Devil myth dates back to at least the 19th century. I just wasn’t aware of it as a kid. We went to Girl Scout camp up in Morris and Sussex Counties and never travelled south of Asbury Park. The first time I went to the Pine Barrens was in my early 20’s to canoe along the Batsto River.

          Hope you enjoy the books!

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  2. Looking forward to what you make of the Watcher situation, Lois! No doubt it will make a lot more sense than the real-life explanation, people being the crazy-cakes that they are!

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  3. What a plot that could be! Knowing your mind I bet it will be a good one. You are right. Plots are all around us. We just have to keep our eyes open and a journal handy to write them down

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    • And when a journal isn’t handy, use the message recorder option on your smart phone. Thanks for stopping by, Kathye!

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  4. Delightful series. Always one of my favorites. The real-life story of the Watcher brought chills. Especially the photograph. The house looks very much like a house in the town were I grew up. Spooky.

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      • Do you really think so? I love Victorian and Edwardian architecture, so I don’t see it as scary. Now if you want to see scary, you should have seen the Charles Addams house (also in our town.) It was the inspiration for all his New Yorker cartoons.

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    • Thanks so much, Kait! I think that particular architecture was quite common around the turn of the last century. There are many towns around here with similar style homes.

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  5. What an interesting story! It was nice you included a picture of that house too. I weave real life events (and people) into my books too (after fictionalizing them). I don’t think I could write a book if I didn’t. Telling readers the Watcher story will likely be included in book 6 is a sure way to sell that book. No wonder you are getting so many comments. Some posts are “so-so,” many are interesting, but I don’t often find one as interesting as this.

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  6. How wonderful to have this story “fall into your lap.” It has so many possibioitiesl can’t wait to see what you and Anastasia do with it.

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  7. Oh how weird! Maybe someone trying for a little fame?

    But if you ever feel the need to hang out with ghosts, come visit me. My male ghost that kept stealing things is gone. I only have a little one now. Not even certain what it is. But I swear it giggles. And if it goes bump in the night…it’s only a cat doing something it shouldn’t!

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    • Well, E., I’ve yet to see anything that convinces me there are ghosts, but who knows? I like to think of myself as openminded.

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      • Live here for a little while and you’ll change your mind. But really, it’s not like the stuff in movies. Just sort of an “oh” kind of thing. Mine are not scary or creepy, just odd. How could anyone be afraid of small, whirling, giggling thing that vanishes into the fireplace. Even the animals in the house watch it.

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        • The scientist in me says there’s a logical explanation for this, but I did have one unexplainable experience when we first moved into our current house 17 years ago. At the bottom of the steps on the first floor, I periodically smelled the presence of someone when no one else was in the house. It smelled like a man who hadn’t showered in several days–quite unpleasant. But after awhile it disappeared. I think it lasted a few months, and I only smelled it from time to time. I never could figure out what the smell was or where it was coming from, and then it wasn’t there any longer. I did joke about it being a ghost.

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  8. Don’t you just love it when a real life mystery falls into your writer’s lap, and this is a good one, Lois. While renovating our back patio we uncovered a gravestone. You’ve gotta believe I’ll use that one in a book! I guess we’ll have to wait for your book to find out what interesting theories you’ve developed about the watcher.

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  9. Talk about having a story handed to you on a silver platter! And in your own neighborhood. I had one handed to me when friends bought a house with a history of a murder. It hadn’t been lived in for years and I got to see it before they began renovations. They even found a hidden staircase, although we think it was actually used by the builder when the house was built. I can’t wait to read a book where you use The Watcher as a character. Great post!

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    • That is unbelievable, but then again, how many homes there must be where this truth is kept hidden for fear the house is unmarketable? Gives one thought.

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      • Skye, as I mentioned in my blog post, the laws vary from state to state, but most states do have laws that say you have to disclose if a murder occurred on the property (assuming you know about it.) The reason the people who bought The Watcher house won’t win their lawsuit is that NJ doesn’t have any laws that mentions things like stalkers. You only have to disclose prior physical damage to the dwelling such as a fire or flood. BTW, in California you have to disclose if the house was previously owned by a celebrity. (I’ve gained an incredible amount of knowledge lately when it comes to the law and real estate sales, thanks to this event!)

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        • I must have missed the post you discussed about disclosing homicides, and I wonder if letting would-be owners about whether or not a celebrity lived in a house may have something to do with Manson and the Doris Day home.

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    • Thanks, Marja! Most people won’t buy a home where a murder has been committed. I’ll bet your friends got a great deal. Some people are even spooked by homes where someone has died. The house we lived in before this one was an estate sale. The owner was in her 90’s when she died in the house. Never had any unusual things happen that would lead me to believe she was haunting it. However, she was a heavy smoker, and it took a good deal of scrubbing, wallpaper stripping, and painting to get rid of about 50+ years worth of tobacco smells.

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  10. That’s a fascinating story, Lois, and one that kind of gives me the creeps. I’ve heard of house sales being protested because of undisclosed ghosts or poltergeists, but a watcher is even scarier.

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