Sarah E. Glenn has a B.S. in Journalism, which is a great degree for the dilettante she is. Later on, she did a stint as a graduate student in classical languages. She didn’t get the degree, but she’s great with crosswords. Her most interesting job was working the reports desk for the police department in Lexington, Kentucky, where she learned that criminals really are dumb.
Her great-great aunt served as a nurse in WWI, and was injured by poison gas during the fighting. A hundred years later, this would inspire Sarah to write stories Aunt Dess would probably not approve of.
In Murder on the Mullet Express, our three snowbirds head to Homosassa, Florida as their first stop. The characters’ motives for this destination become clear (to the detriment of Uncle Percival), but someone unfamiliar with Homosassa might wonder why we set a story there in the first place, especially in the 1920s.
Homosassa and Homosassa Springs are two communities divided by U.S. 19 in Citrus County, a fairly rural area. Today, it’s best known for its manatees and Monkey Island. We visited Ellie Schiller Park a few years ago, which has a timeline of Homosassa’s history. The Yulee Sugar Mill and Tiger Tail Island were interesting, but we found ourselves drawn to the tale of a Florida Land Boom project.
In the 1920s, the West Coast Development Company bought up a large amount of property in the area around Old Homosassa on the cheap, with an eye to reselling it as a planned community. I read the brochure from the newly-formed Chamber of Commerce, and they essentially said they were building the Biblical shining city on a hill (in a place with very few hills and fewer people). Eden might be a more accurate term; the area was overflowing with fish, game, and waterfowl.
The proposal generated a lot of interest, but getting the customers to the property was a challenge: due to the enormous number of would-be entrepreneurs, Florida railroads had put an embargo on passengers. Not to be daunted, West Coast arranged for potential investors to arrive in Jacksonville, where they would be driven across the state in the luxurious new Cadillacs. Immediately, our minds went into gear: imagine the locked-room mystery one could set in a private car during a lengthy ride!
Unfortunately, that sort of puzzle works best in short form, not a novel. Plus, it wouldn’t really involve Homosassa. A deadly ride might turn up in a future story, though.
So, back to the proposed city. Sales of premeasured lots began in early 1926. The speculators who arrived first were, for the most part, not interested in living there themselves. They were there to buy property that they could then resell at a higher price. Eventually, it would pass into the hands of someone who did want a Florida home and was willing to pay through the nose for it. That sort of mindset leads to skullduggery, and where there’s skullduggery, there’s often murder.
The planned city included an arcade and casino. In those days, a ‘casino’ could refer to a place where people gathered for social affairs, but gambling was always a possibility. Tampa, only a few hours’ drive to the south, had a thriving gambling enterprise run by organized crime in the 1920s. To make things even better, the homegrown gang, Charlie Wall’s boys, were butting heads with mobsters who had come down from Chicago. Oh look, there’s murder again.
We drew from these elements to create our characters. Once that was done, the plot began to write itself. We hope you’ll find the results colorful and enjoyable.
“Homosassa: A City in the Building”
“Charlie Wall: Tampa’s Kingpin”
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park:
Sarah’s Partner in Crime
Gwen Mayo is passionate about blending her loves of history and mystery fiction. She currently lives and writes in Safety Harbor, Florida, but grew up in a large Irish family in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. She is the author of the Nessa Donnelly Mysteries and co-author of the Old Crows stories with Sarah Glenn.
Her stories have appeared in A Whodunit Halloween, Decades of Dirt, Halloween Frights (Volume I), and several flash fiction collections. She belongs to Sisters in Crime, SinC Guppies, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, the Historical Novel Society, and the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.
Gwen has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky. Her most interesting job, though, was as a brakeman and railroad engineer from 1983 – 1987. She was one of the last engineers to be certified on steam locomotives.