Missing motive complicates true-life mystery

Accountable: The Joseph Usher Story, by Nancy Panoch. Expert Subjects. 272 pages. Trade paperback $17.99. Kindle e-book $3.99.

What began as an attempt to uncover the facts about a family secret back in Iowa led Punta Gorda resident Nancy Panoch to develop a fascinating narrative that captures the flavor of early 20th century rural life, reveals the nature of several fascinating real-life characters, and examines in detail the process of a murder investigation and the consequent legal proceedings at that time.  accountable-3d-hi-res

In May of 1903, a murder takes place on the farm of Joseph Usher and his family. Joseph had built up his dairy farm, on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids, into a successful business. As we meet him, the farm family consists of Joseph, his second wife, and his two youngest sons by his first wife. Otto, at sixteen, is a sturdy and reliable worker on the farm, a good role model for his nine year old brother. The woman of the house is Lucy, a very young woman whom Joseph had taken in marriage some time after the death of his first wife. Lucy is a very pleasant and attractive person, but she shows some signs of mental instability.

Nancy Panoch

Nancy Panoch

The family has already suffered some degree of scandal from a relationship between Joseph and one of Lucy’s sisters, but that problem seems to have been smoothed over.

William Garrity is a frequent worker on the Usher farm and a good friend when he’s not drunk. On May 26, Garrity – who has been staying at the Usher home following a drinking bout – is killed. The circumstances of his death are murky, as are the reports to local officials after he is found dead in his room. At first, it seems as if he dies of natural courses, but soon enough a bullet wound is discovered. It seems to be from a weapon in the Usher household that had been hastily and ineffectively hidden.

The investigation begins with Joseph insisting that he simply found Garrity dead in his room after hearing some odd noises, but then he admits to being the murderer and claims it was an act of self defense. Suspiciously, the bedding had been burned before the investigation began. Also, Garrity’s body had been removed from the scene of the crime without proper authority. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the August 1, 2013 Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte Florida Weekly as well as the August 14 Fort Myers edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Nancy Panoch

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