When I was invited to take part in a cozy mystery Halloween anthology, Curses and Cauldrons, I knew what my story would be.
In my shared worlds A Witch in Time series (co-written with Ava Mallory, Stephanie Damore, Jenna St James and K M Waller), my time travelling witch is Flick Warner. She comes from a great witch lineage but she’s learning how to be independent for the first time. Her time travelling gig is paying her bills, and she’s starting to believe in herself.
(You can read her time travelling debut in A Devil of a Time)
I sent her back to 1947 New York, to deal with a cold case involving a young woman who apparently jumped from the top of the Empire State Building.
What you may not have realised is that this story was loosely inspired by a real case of a woman who jumped from that iconic building.
I certainly make no suggestion that that poor woman’s death was anything other than murder.
It’s a story that has intrigued me ever since I first heard of it.
In fact, it’s intrigued many people, and to this day, if you do an online search for ‘the most beautiful suicide’, you too will learn the sad story of Evelyn McHale.
Evelyn, born in 1923 in Berkeley, California, was one of nine children. The family relocatd to Washington DC in 1930. Her mother suffered from depression which, being undiagnosed, went untreated. This placed considerable strain on the family and Evelyn’s parents divorced.
Her father, Vincent, gained custody of all of the children and moved them to Tuckahoe, New York.
Evelyn graduated high school and joined the Women’s Army Corps, later moving to Baldwin, New York. She was employed as a bookkeeper and met her fiancé, Barry Rhodes, a college student who had been discharged from the United States Army Air Force.
On April 30, 1947, Evelyn took a train to Pennsylvania to visit Barry. The next day, she returned to New York City and went to the Empire State Building. She jumped from the 86thfloor observatory while, apparently, a security guard stood just ten feet from her.
A suicide note was found next to her coat, which she had taken off, folded neatly and let over the observation deck wall.
The note read:
I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family – don’t have any service for me or remembrance for me. My fiance asked me to marry him in June. I don’t think I would make a good wife for anybody. He is much better off without me. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.
As she wished, Evelyn was cremated with no memorial, service or grave.
Barry became an engineer and moved south. He never married and died in Florida in 2007.
As sad as this story is, Evelyn was not the only person to jump from the Empire State Building. In fact, in 1947 there were so many jumps (including one that seriously injured a pedestrian walking in the street below) that ‘suicide fences’ were introduced on the observation deck that same year.
What made her death catch the world’s attention, and continue to keep it to this day, is that an iconic photograph of her body was taken. Robert Wiles’ image shows Evelyn lying atop a limousine, the roof crumpled and dented due to the impact of her landing.
While the metal of the car is clearly damaged, Evelyn herself could be asleep, she appears to be so serene and at peace. Her feet are crossed at the ankle and her gloved left-hand is at her chest, holding her pearl necklace.
I don’t recall when I first heard about Evelyn, but her story has remained with me, and I knew that I would one day use her story very loosely as inspiration for one of my own.
I do hope that this has been interesting for you, but I’m aware that suicide is a loaded subject for many of us. If you need any support at all after reading this, please reach out to an appropriate organisation.