The Incident of the Beer Still in the Night Time pt. 1

Here’s what I remember:

Spoiler alert, no one dies in this one.

Ira, my dad’s dad, made his own beer. One day, he and a friend realized they only had one jug of beer left.

The family was living in the gas station at the crossroads in Sonora, where 31W crosses 84. Ira managed the station for years, and the family lived in the back. The beer still was in a closet, and jugs (picture those cream and brown colored jugs) lined the shelves around it.

So, Ira and friend realized they had one jug of beer left. Anxious, they got to making more. When they were done, the shelves were once again lined with capped jugs of beer.

That night the family was awoken by explosions coming from the closet. Once they realized there wasn’t gunfire and the gas station was fine, they watched the closet door with horrified curiosity. Beer started seeping out from the bottom of the door.

They had capped the jugs too soon and the jugs had exploded from the pressure.

Things finally settled. Ira opened the closet door.

There was one unbroken jug remaining, the very same they had started with.

Here’s what’s next:

I imagine the family cowering together on a bed in the corner as the explosions went on. I imagine the one remaining jug sitting in the middle of the shelf, clearly visible when the light from the main room shone into the closet. I can smell the yeast.

The gas station is gone now. It hadn’t been a gas station since before I was born, but it had lives as other things – various little stores. I have a few other incomplete memories of stories taking place there. I have part of the beer still.

Does my aunt remember this? Was she still home when it happened?

How do you make beer at home? Is “beer still” even the right language?

Myrtle pt. 1

Here’s what I remember:

Myrtle was an aunt, married to…Henry? They lived at the end of Muriel Town Road. Myrtle would “get out” sometimes and show up knocking on Ira and Lennie’s front door (my dad’s parents). See, Myrtle was off. And this was a time when you kept it in the family.

Henry was afraid Myrtle would kill him, so he slept in the attic. You had to climb up a ladder, and he thought he’d wake up if Myrtle climbed up it. There was a light bulb hanging above where he slept.

Henry was found dead, his face having been hacked with an ax. His finger tips had also been cut off. There were shards of broken glass from the light bulb.

It seems Henry didn’t wake up when Myrtle climbed the ladder with a hatchet. But he did wake up when she raised it above her head, hitting the light bulb and breaking it. He only had time to put his hands in front of his face before she brought the hatchet down.

Times were tough. Her brother took the hatchet and hid it in a field. Myrtle didn’t go to prison, they kept this in the family. That was what you did then.

When they went back to the field for the hatchet, because you kept a good hatchet, it was gone.

Here’s what’s next:

There’s so much to unpack in this one. It truly says so much about society at the time – so first I have to figure out what time that really was. And find Myrtle in the family tree. What happened to her? Was her husband’s name Henry? What happened to the house at the end of Muriel Town Road? Where did the “mentally ill” in Larue county go at that time?

The Mule Skinner of Buzzard’s Hollow, pt. 1

Here’s what I remember:

My father was a boy scout leader. He and other troop leaders, whose names I don’t recall although his brother Dale may have been among them, took the boys out one night into the forest. Picture a group of 8-10 year old boys walking among the trees with their little flash lights in their little blue uniforms with yellow neckerchiefs. Twigs cracking, leaves crunching, small rodents rustling. An owl hooting, a coyote howling.

They came to a clearing and the boys settled down and gathered around. My dad began the story of the Mule Skinner of Buzzard’s Holler.

This was back in a time when a mule was worth more for it skin than it was alive. This old man lived deep in the woods with a bunch of cats in a little house where he’d skin mules. Every two weeks he’d go into Munfordville to the market to sell the skins.

One week, he didn’t show up. After another missed market, someone decided to go and check on him.

They found him dead. He’d been dead for awhile. So long in fact, his cats had eaten his face and fingers and toes.

Picture again the group of little boys with their little flash lights. Picture them hanging on every word. Hear the silence as my father finished the tale. Only soft night time forest sounds. And then….a small “meow.”

Now hear the screams and picture the little bobbing flashlights running through the forest. Dropped bags, trips and falls and skinned knees, laughing men.

One of the leaders had circled around behind the boys and waited until the tale wrapped up before giving a little, “meow.”

Here’s what’s next:

This was another favorite story. It has hyper local flavor and the thought of the poor little boys and their bobbing flashlights has always amused me. And it’s a story within a story.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to verify the story of the muleskinner. But I can verify the story in the forest. I know I’ve seen a picture somewhere of my dad with the boy scouts. I need to find it and start reaching out. If I’m lucky, I’ll find one of the little boys in his blue uniform and yellow neckerchief and bobbing flashlight, and he can tell me his version.

the Tingle’s pt. 1

Here’s the story I remember:

Mr. Tingle was a jeweler in Louisville, but lived with his mother on Knob School House Road. She was confined to a wheel chair. He was not married.

One evening, my dad was on the back deck of the house in which I spent every other weekend, and six weeks in the summer. He was looking north across the fields and saw three men going east to west across them. They were close enough to wave.

He learned the day after that Mr. Tingle and his mother had been murdered in their home, less than a quarter of a mile away as the crow flies but hidden behind an outcropping of trees.

Mr. Tingle, everyone assumed, was loaded. He had a safe in his house full of money and maybe even jewels.

The three men he had seen had gone into the house. Mr. Tingle refused to open the safe. They’d taken Mr. Tingle’s mother across the road into a barn and tortured her, breaking her fingers with pliers. Mr. Tingle would not open the safe. They killed his mother by bashing her head in with post hole diggers. Mr. Tingle didn’t open the safe. They killed Mr. Tingle the same way.

I can’t recall if they took the safe with them or not. They were caught a few days later.

The house on Knob Schoolhouse Road always creeped me out. It was bought and sold several times, even undergoing a renovation. I remember there were apple trees in the yard. I remember one time driving by and deer being in the yard eating the apples. My dad stopped to watch and take pictures. I just wanted him to keep going. It’s since been torn down.

Musings: “The Year of Magical Thinking”

Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” is the first memoir I have read for this project. I finished it several weeks ago. It chronicles the year after the unexpected passing of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and the roller coaster of Quintana’s, her daughter’s, health and near death that year.

My father’s passing was expected. The seizure he had when I was in the sixth grade was my first awareness of his failing vitality. The descent to his death took the next ten years. I had time to prepare. Of course, there’s only so much preparation you can do, especially when you’re just 21.

My cat’s passing this past week wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I thought we’d have more time. Bullseye lived with my dad before he came to live with me, so it has brought up quite a bit, and has been very hard.


Didion writes, “Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be” (p. 27). Perhaps not the first time it’s experienced, but I disagree. Grief can be learned. Since my dad, my last living grandparent, my Mamaw, has passed. A friend who was like an aunt to me passed very unexpectedly. And just this week, Bullseye. Grief is familiar to me now. She also writes, “Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life” (p. 27). This, I find, is true. One never knows what will trigger the opening of the sternum. The wrenching and gasping as you are split and left raw and at the mercy of the wave. Whether it’s been days or years, this can happen. But if you experience it enough you can learn to ride it. You can experience a strange gratitude if you invest yourself in death positiveness (thanks Twitter), go through years of therapy, learn and accept that the death of body does not mean the end of the relationship. Gratitude for the pain because it means you loved someone so much.


Didion writes, “We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all” (p. 198). I was nine when I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I remember waking up the next day and thinking, “It was a dream.” But as I thought it, I knew it wasn’t. Life as I knew it, as I expected it to go, was over. I had a similar moment when I found out my dad had died, and when I didn’t hear Bullseye’s next breath in my arms – life is different now. There is no pretending it won’t change. They are gone and I am still here.


Didion refers to “the vortex effect” (p. 107). In short, a seemingly safe line of thinking can take you down a road to an intense moment of grief. She uses the example of watching the ice floes in the river from a hospital room, then looking at the wall paper, then then remembering a story about the hospital from when she was younger…and eventually she comes to the thought that she was writing a book when Quintana was three. She thinks about Quintana at three and John when Quintana was three. “The way you got sideswiped was by going back” (p. 113). She carefully maps her drives around LA so as to avoid places that might send her into this vortex. I can’t drive through Larue County without a story or memory coming up. Margaret Holler, where you can still here Margaret looking for her head. The hills west of Sonora that you drive over so your tummy jumps. The time the roads to St. Ignatius were all flooded. With the distance of seven years comes gratitude for these moments. With the time passed comes the abruptness of changes – trees cut down, roads re-routed, foggy memories.


The grief Didion chronicles has been very different than my own, but then no two griefs are ever the same. The prose is gorgeous. I’m studying how she jumps between time and stories. Without realizing you are in the past. It’s like going underwater in a pool and coming up to a different day. Natural and seamless.


Next, I think, is Amy Tan’s “Where the Past Begins,” but I’m also working on a YA Fantasy and “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered.” Dad story-wise it’s the Tingle Murders.

the unexpected

My sweet Bullseye passed. He was 15? 16? He had lived with my dad before the seven years he spent with me. It brought up a lot.

It all happened quick – blood work on Monday showed elevated liver enzymes, ultrasound Wednesday showed masses on his liver and spleen, issues with the pancreas, likely lymphoma. He was worse and different every day. The Tuesday after I had him euthanized – no bad days allowed. I brought him home, his ashes, on Friday.

I’ve started my first long piece about this – the timing, the opening of grief about him and my dad, the opportunity his death gave me, the familiarity of the pain, the pain.

And, I’m back on here. Posts forthcoming.

Project Update 8/1

The past month has been wild. I’ve already discovered more than I thought I would, but there’s so much more I want to know! I’d honestly been disheartened after the walls I hit last week, but this morning I received a text from a friend at a local news station. I’d asked her about the archives available, wondering if Carolyn’s disappearance had been mentioned, if the discovery of her remains had been covered, or if their identification had received any screen time. Unfortunately, they didn’t start archiving until the 70s. But, she had some other important information that’s given me some next steps.

First, I’ll request the records from the county coroner’s office. All the records are in Frankfort – after the LPD merger everything was moved there.

Next, I’ll reach out to Waverly Hills and see if they’ve every heard of this story.

I’m also planning to retrace some of Carolyn’s steps. There’s a photo of her on Ancestry and I know exactly where it was taken…

What else is next? Well, as this story seems to need some time to marinade, I’m going to start working on the Tingle murders (intro post to come next week!). I’m also going to start looking for a picture I need to identify someone for a future story within a story. Is that vague enough for you?

But now, a girl’s trip to Gatlinburg!

Mad thanks to Ali for helping out on this and reaching out to her colleagues!

Babyface Pt. 3

I’ll never forget the thrill I felt when I found the clipping titled, “Skeleton Found in August, 1965 is Identified.” I don’t remember what I searched or how I located it – maybe just “skeleton” and “Waverly Hills.” This was the clip that gave Babyface a name.

I’ll never forget the thrill I felt on Sunday when I found a post on findagrave.com – “flowers” left on Carolyn’s virtual grave in 2017. This time it was a sixth month subscription to Ancestry.com and a genealogical search that brought me to that page. And the words…

“The horrible Frank Loften that murdered you…and that great detective Hildebrand that solved your murder…”

According to the author of this post, self-identified as a close friend and cousin by marriage to Carolyn, Frank Loften had been incarcerated in Indiana for a different murder and Hildebrand had gone each time he was up for parole to try to have him extradited to KY and tried for Carolyn’s murder.

Talk about a jaw drop. Laughing from excitement, joy, and disbelief. Throwing my hands up and stopping my whoop of triumph just in time – I was sitting in a coffee shop, not the best place for…whooping.

Hold this joy, embrace it!

Because it’s been four days and I’ve gotten nowhere with this new information.

After trying multiple spellings of Hillenbrandt, the only Donald I’ve located was born in 1936 and died in 1972. This would have made him 29 at the time of Carolyn’s skeleton’s discovery. This works. But I can’t locate anything else about him (besides his burial spot). I can’t tie him to the Jefferson County Police. I can’t locate his name anywhere else in the Courier Journal (thank you, LFPL and ProQuest).

And Frank Loften? Nothing. I found a James Loften born in 1948 incarcerated for murder in Indiana (convicted in Floyd County). But he wasn’t convicted until 1976, and he would have only been 17 at the time of Carolyn’s disappearance. While his age isn’t impossible, it’s not likely, and if he were convicted in 1976, the Hillenbrandt I found would already be dead and not able to attend his parole hearings, corporeally at least.

So here I find myself, going over the same records trying to find something I’ve missed, trying to be patient as I click to the next page of search results across multiple search engines, trying any BOOLEAN combination I can think of.

What’s next? Well, I wrote this post. I’m considering messaging the user who posted on FindAGrave.com. But that feels…intimate. Scary. Rude. I’m not sure about that yet.

I already have more answers than I thought I would. She had a best friend who was still thinking about her and talking to her in 2017. There was a man who met her skeleton in 1965 and apparently never gave up looking for justice for her. She was my dad’s step-cousin. And she was lovely.

Carolyn Ann Crain Wooden, 1946-1965

Babyface Pt. 2

The recorded high on May 22, 1965 – the last day Carolyn was seen alive – was 82. The dew point was 65 and there was no recorded rain. If she left in the morning for work, this was likely a comfortable commute.

The average temperature that August, the month her body was discovered near Waverly Hills, was the mid 70s with very little rain.

The day of her funeral, March 31, 1967, the high was 78, dew point 48, and no rain. A beautiful day.

It’s currently 90 in Louisville and with a dew point of 72, it feels like 99. We’re under an excessive heat warning, as are 195 million others in the country.

This didn’t stop my friend Jourdan and me from visiting Carolyn’s grave in Cave Hill and taking flowers.

Section 21, Lot 391, Grave 1

This was actually the first visit to Cave Hill for either of us. It really is as beautiful as everyone says.

Carolyn is buried towards the back in section 21. You can hear traffic on Lexington Road through the border of trees. There is very little shade in this section – just hundreds of tombstones flush with the ground. No great monuments. Just quiet testaments to lives lived, and in some cases cut very short.

Sweat ran down my back and little bitty ants climbed over the map that brought us here as we sat in quiet, hearing cicadas and other buzzing insects and feeling a gentle, too fleeting breeze.

In case you’re ever sitting at a grave site you’ve never been to before, yes, that circle in the middle of the flat tombstone does lift and yes it is a vase. It’s not, as Jourdan and I momentarily feared, the urn containing the interred’s ashes. As Jourdan lifted the vase, water came gushing out, both confusing and surprising us. We stopped for a moment, gave each other confused looks wondering if we’d just irreversibly disturbed Carolyn’s slumber, before deciding we’d already come this far. Lo, a vase!

This type of tombstone is typically the most cost effective. Were the carved roses and vase extra? Did Carolyn’s mother, M. L. Revell, visit and leave flowers like the white carnations we brought today? When was the last time anyone visited Carolyn? Will the groundskeepers be surprised at the upturned vase? Will they question anything when they dispose of the flowers in ten days, or when they begin to decay, whichever comes first?

Babyface

Here’s the story I remember:

My dad’s cousin ran away to Louisville and disappeared. She had a name but was called Babyface because the metal work in her mouth made her cheeks puffy. Everyone assumed that she had gotten into drugs and probably become a prostitute. But, years later, her body was discovered on the grounds of Waverly Hills Sanatorium during landscaping. She was identified by her dental work.

I think I first heard this story when I first learned about Waverly Hills Sanatorium.

Here’s what I’ve found out, all from a single, wonderfully written, Courier Journal article from April 1, 1967:

Her name was Carolyn Crain Wooden. She was 19. She was last seen by her mother, Mrs. M. L. Revell who lived in this house in Camp Taylor.

Her skeleton was discovered near Waverly Hills in 1965 – specifically, the skull first. She was, as my dad had told, identified by her dental work, but not for another two years. One of the county patrolmen, Donald Hillenbrandt, who discovered the body (or perhaps answered the call when the body was discovered) worked through a list of 150 missing women who fit the general description of the skeleton. Between 22 and 25, between 105 and 115 lbs, and about 5’3″. He apparently did much of this search on his own time.

Her wedding ring, discovered with the body, was the first clue. Her aunt was able to positively identify it because it was identical to her own. After that, Hillenbradnt went to Carolyn’s dentist for the records that finally identified her body.

She wasn’t a prostitute. She was on her way to work as a waitress on May 22, 1965. She didn’t make it to work. She wasn’t reported missing until five days later. No foul-play suspected, no real search made. She was married, but living with her mother. Her body was discovered in August of 1965, but not identified until May of 1967. Her maternal grandmother was Delia Thompson of Glendale, apparently the connection to my dad. She was buried on April 1, 1967 in Cave Hill Cemetery.

Here’s my questions:

How did the story become she ran away and became a prostitute (was this some warning to young women in the family about moving to the big city)? Did she leave her husband and this was his revenge (isn’t it always the husband)? What drove Donald Hillenbrandt to search for this skeleton’s identity, another dead woman amongst how many? What did she look like? What did she dream about?

The chances I’ll get many answers are pretty small.

Here’s my next steps:

Visit Cave Hill Cemetery and visit Carolyn’s grave. Sit with her. Contact LMPD Cold Cases to see what’s available (I’ve sent a message, will call later this week). Figure out how she fits in my family tree. Figure out if there’s anyone alive I could talk to about his. Who was Donald Hillenbrandt?

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